Journey to the mysterious land of Orchha

Journey to the mysterious land of Orchha

Naturally fortified by craggy mountains, dense forests and Betwa River, it was impenetrable for external forces to invade Orchha

Gita HariUpdated: Saturday, June 24, 2023, 09:51 PM IST
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Orchha is cloaked in enigma. Its very name means masked or concealed. Nestled on the banks of Betwa River, the ancient town of Orchha in the Bundelkhand region in Madhya Pradesh times seems to have come to a standstill. Known for its iconic chhatris (cenotaphs), the architectural marvels, its splendid temples, the

UNESCO World Heritage site of Orchha ranks high on the bucket-list of history, food and culture buffs.

The intriguing Jahangir Mahal has 236 chambers, out of which 136 are underground, in a humongous, central courtyard. It lends its fort-like presence to the massive wooden gate, and huge bastions in its four corners. Built as a mark of respect for a friendly welcome of Emperor Jahangir, during the latter’s first visit to the city.

Adjacent to it is Raja Mahal by Raja Rudra Pratap Singh. It reflects the amalgam of Mughal and Rajput architecture. We could spot the glorious, twinkling mirror work on the top floor walls as the sunlight fell on them. The intricate stone jali work in the two audience halls — Darbar e khass and Darbaar e aam —are an art lover’s delight.

Our next stop was Ram Raja Temple housed in the Rani Mahal. This is the only temple where a gun salute is accorded to the deity. Ram is worshipped as a king. The evening aarti is a sight to behold and the gun salute resonates piercing through the night.

Cenotaphs of Orchha rulers of Bundela clan are called Chhatris. They resemble temples with a central chamber and four chambers. The Sound & Light Show was an exciting moment. Great battles, feats of heroic exploits, unrequited romantic lore, were recreated in front of our eyes as we were transported to another era, for a thrilling experience. The show also rendered an insightful idea of the architecture, paintings and culture of Bundelkhand.

No tour can be complete without tasting the local flavours. Wheat, rice, sorghum, millet and gram/ split gram prevail over Bundelkhandi cuisine. We found a liberal use of red chilies, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, oil or clarified butter (ghee), coriander as condiment, tomato, potato, onion, garlic, ginger, aubergine, green leafy veg, comprise the regular ingredients of cooking.

Our visit to the village of Kundalpur had us experience the bucolic life by way of a bullock cart ride, regional food and folk dance. We sat under mahua trees munching on scrumptious palak pakodas. The forest bears trees like mahua and kaitha berries which are included in the culinary offerings.

Influenced by the local tribes of Madhya Pradesh, the food was a classic style of preparation of tribal cuisine. The tribal women got together to whip up a thali for us using traditional methods like grinding kabit chutney on sil-bhatta, firing rotis and tikkad (thick whole wheat bread) and cooking a variety of dishes on chulhas. Kabit or kavit ki chutney is unmissable. Its unique zest comes from wood apple, senda namak, toasted cumin, fenugreek and fennel seeds with a little onion. All these ground together with green chillies, coriander leaves and jaggery make for a finger-licking relish.

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The thali is made out of joining palash leaves, with also the cups to hold gravy items, made of them. The first service was a flat bara — similar to our dahi vadas — soaked in chaas or buttermilk and served with powdered sugar. The accompaniments like launji (tomato relish) and sannata raita (takes its name sannata for silencing stomach problems) made it an interesting meal.

Desserts are not extravagant but delectable. Extracts of mahua flower finds its way along with milk and millet in the sugarless dessert Ras ki kheer. From buknu — a salted masala spread on rotis and sabzis — and Bundeli kadhi to thadula (deep-fried flatbread with four types of dals and masala) each preparation was distinct for its earthy flavours and distinct aroma.

To complete the Bundelkhandi experience, a local dance and music troupe entertained us with folk dance and songs!

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