What to see in Gwalior, Jhansi and Orchha


We had originally planned to drive down from Gwalior to Jhansi, a distance of some 100 kms. We were advised to take the Shatabhdi instead. It took only one hour against 2-3 by road. Since Jhansi is in Uttar Pradesh going by road means crossing states means additional cost for car owner and us.

We reached Jhansi by about 11ish and were surprised to see bus loads of foreigners at the station. We were told that Khajuraho is 4 hours from Jhansi so what a number of tourists do is to take the Shatabdi from Delhi to Jhansi (4 hours) and a luxury bus thereafter. As we got out of the station auto rickshaw owners were all over us. We will take you to Jhansi fort and Orcha (our next stop some 19kms from Jhansi) for Rs 600/ 500/ 800/. After waiting for a while we got someone for Rs 250/.

Since Jhansi is the hometown of the hockey wizard Dhyanchand we asked the auto guy if there was a memorial or museum in his name. Unfortunately there was none. Enroute to the Jhansi Fort we saw a Rani ki Jhansi ka Museum. We were greeted by a huge statue of Rani on her horse, an icon of her husband Maharaj Gangadhar Rao. Besides stories of the Rani there was a section on Bundeli Paintings.

“The Bundeli paintings are marked by their exuberance, verve and dynamism-attributes which reach us through a myriad of red, ochre, blue, green, yellow and grey colors and offer a fascinating glimpse of the multifaceted world of thoughts and beliefs that went on to define the various aspects of Bundeli culture. Over dominantly religious in nature, the themes include the life stories of Rama and Krishna as well as Puranic tales and imageries.

The Bundel Kalam as the Bundeli School of paintings is commonly known as impresses everyone through its artistic beauty which is maintained in almost all the subjects under view.

The features of the Bundela regime permeate through many of the paintings of Orchha & Datia. It is noteworthy that this is much more evident in the paintings of Lord Rama where his kindly attributes are displayed in opulent style. Keshav Das’s ‘Rasikpriya’ and ‘Kavipriya’ and ‘Matiram’s Rasraj’ were translated into visuals through both wall paintings and miniatures. The Datia Kalam boasts of a wide repertoire of miniatures based on Devkavi’s ‘Ashtayam’ and ‘Bihari Satsai’. The Bundeli miniatures are also distinct from the accepted styles of Mughal and Rajput art forms in having more elaborate scenes from the Ramayana as well as in the imparting of local flavor in the context of musical details and natural ambience.” Writing in museum. For more see pictures on site.

Our next stop was Rani Mahal one of the residences of the Rani of Jhansi (RJ). The palace has a small number of rooms. Visit the Durbar Hall that is painted in brilliant colors with floral and fauna designs. The ground floor of the Mahal contains stone sculptures from nearby areas like Madanpur, Dudhai and Chandpur. See picture.

Lastly we reached the famous Fort. It was built by Raja Bir Deo in 1613, with concentric walls, 5.5-9 m high and ten gates. The fort is not an imposing structure with high walls or on a great height so the first site was a letdown of sorts but that was more than made up when we walked around the fort. Before you enter the fort some artisans have used statutes to create a mock battle showing the British bribing their way to the town. See pictures of board and the icons.

There is a site map as you enter the fort. Please see:
1. Kadak Bijli Cannon – this was the biggest canon operated by Gulan Gaus Khan.
2. Ganesh Temple – RJ used to worship here regularly.
3. Bhavani Shankar Canon – This was operated by lady gunner Moti Bai.
4. Baradari – in this place Raja Raghunath Rao entertained himself by dance and music of the dancer Gajra bai.
5. Shahar Darwaza – this is the entrance that leads to the city now closed.
6. Samadhiyan – the collective monument of the martyrs in war.
7. Panch Mahal- RJ lived with her husband Raja Gangadhar Rao. After his death she lived in the city Rani Mahal referred to above.
8. Jumping Spot – when the Britishers surrounded the fort the RJ with her adopted son jumped with the horse and moved towards Kalpi.
9. Kal Kothri – was full of darkness. This was the place where freedom fighters considered dangerous by the British were kept.
10. Hanging Tower – where the British hanged people.
11. Amod Garden – RJ visited the place with her friends.
12. Shiv Temple – is where RJ offered prayers daily.

Normal guide charges are Rs 50/. I think the ticket seller at the counter sensed we were from Mumbai and said Rs 100/. The guide did an excellent job so did not mind paying.

See the Panch Mahal. When you see it from a distance it looks like it is 2 storeys but from the rear you see it is 5. Also see the Jumping spot. It looks like Rani of Jhansi jumped atleast 30-40 feet.

Jhansi was earlier known as Balwantnagar. Foundation for fort was laid in 1602 by Maharaja of Orchha Raja Bir Deo and completed in 1613. Rani of Jhansi father was Morpant Tamkar and mother Bhagirathi Bai. They hailed from Vai village of district Satara in modern day’s Maharashtra. On 4/6/1858 she jumped from the fort wall and headed towards Kalpi/Gwalior. She was born in Varanasi. Her pet name was Manu. In 1853 her husband died. Her horse’s name was Badal.

Kadak bijli canon was not used when the British attacked Jhansi because if used it would destroy Kalmosar temple on hill that seemed quite a distance. This great canon of Gangadhar Rao’s period is still visible in the eastern side of the rampart. It used to lighten from its nozzle at the time of operation which is curved like a lion’s mouth and as such it received this name. Gulam Gaus Khan terrorized enemies with this. Its total measurement is 5.5 mt by 1.8 mt and having a diameter of .60 metres.

Bhawani Shankar Cannon is placed in North South direction having a crocodile face design in its front portion and the lateral portion is designed like a elephants face. Total measurement is 5 mt by .60 mt with a diameter of .52m. Just in the middle of the cannon is an inscription of 4 lines that tells us the name of CB Shanker the name of Guru Jairam dated 1781. This was not used when the British attacked Jhansi because if used it would destroy Kalmosar temple on hill that seemed quite a distance.

We spent about two hours in the fort and were truly inspired. It took about 40 minutes to reach Orcha. Since we were happy with his service we paid him Rs 300/. We told him that were he more sporting we would have given him Rs 350/. Note that autos have to pay a road tax of Rs 20-30 since they cross from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh to Orchha in Madhya Pradesh.

To see pics of Jhansi Fort Click here


We took a 9.30am Shatabhdi from Gwalior to Jhansi, reached at 10.30am, spent a couple of hours seeing the Fort and then took an auto to Orchha to reach by 2.30ish. The distance from Jhansi to Orchha is about 19kms. There was something likeable about the town as we drove through it. Could it be the lay out, clean cemented roads or well equipped shops? It looked like a very compact town.

We headed straight for the MP Tourism bungalow Betwa Retreat. The hotel overlooks the Betwa River and offers tents, cottages and heritage rooms. After checking into our Tent we had a really tasty meal. Food+service was excellent all through our stay. The hotel manager Sanjay Malhotra was very helpful. Since it was Diwali time his wife was busy making a Rangoli in the hotel garden.

The main market has restaurants that serve Italian, Israeli and Indian food. Orchha attracts a number of foreigners; Indians are fewer to come by.

While wifey relaxed I began to discover the place. There is a small bridge across the river that takes you to a wildlife sanctuary. I walked back to the market place and visited the palace hotel Sheesh Mahal. Except for the suite none of the other rooms were impressive. I returned in an hour after which wifey and me went to the Ram Raja Temple (Mandir).

The Ram Raja Temple also within the fort was originally a palace but turned into a temple with its soaring spires and palatial architecture. According to tradition Rani Ganesh Kunwari, wife of Madhukar Shah brought the icon from Ayodhya to Orchha to install it in the temple. It was kept temporarily in the palace. When the icon had to be shifted to the temple it was impossible to move it. It is the only temple in the country where Ram is worshipped as King because of the icon of God in the palace. We spent an hour there and attended the aarti. The place is full of insects at night so be sure you cover yourself fully.

We had dinner at one of the roadside restaurants in the main market which I must say was neither tasty nor value for money. Places to see are Chhatris (cenotaphs), Chaturbhuj Temple, Orchha Fort complex, Ram Mandir and Laxmi Narayan temple.

The next morning we went River Rafting on the Betwa river at 7am. For Rs 1200/ MP Tourism take you for a one hour trip that starts from the Retreat, goes through three rapids and you end up about 4 kms from the hotel. While rafting we got an excellent view of Orchha’s chatris, temples and fort. The raft guides provided us with an excellent commentary on Orchha and gave us simple tips on rafting. The hotel serves you with tea and snacks at the end of the trip.

As we got into the raft we saw a number of villagers cooking food on the river side. On inquiry we were told that come Diwali people from far and near reach Orchha in bus loads and visit the Ram Raja Mandir. They were found in large number at the Chaturbhuj Mandir where they perform a peacock dance. With peacock feathers in their hands they perform in a unique way. They cook on the river side and sleep in the bus.

We returned to the hotel and had nice Gobi parathas for breakfast. After that we first went to the Chhatris that are on the river banks. The Chhatris or cenotaphs the memorial of the Bundels is situated near the Kanchan Ghat present a wonderful site. In a way they symbolize the beauty of Orchha. We spent an hour playing around with water. Loved it. Very relaxing to put your feet in cold water. Do not forget to walk on the river bridge around sunset and see how beautiful they look against the backdrop of the setting sun.

Next we went to the Chathurbuj Temple. The temple is reached by a flight of steps and was built by Madhukar Shah for his queen Kunwari. According to tradition the icon of Lord Ram was to be kept here permanently. It is because the icon could not be removed from the Ram Raja Mandir that this temple could not be used for that purpose.

A tall shikhara (spire) rises over the sanctum. This is an amazing and huge structure. To go on the top of the temple you need to go through very narrow steps that are best climbed with the help of a local guide. From there you get an amazing view of Orchha, its fort, chatris and temples. I saw a Pandit performing pooja for a new car. Here again saw a number of locals performing the peacock dance.

A stone path links the Ram Raja Temple to the Lakshminarayana Temple which fuses elements of fort architecture in temple moulds. The interiors contain some of the most exquisite murals and walls of the Bundela School of painting. It has paintings depicting scenes from the Ramayan & Mahabharat, fight by Rani of Jhansi, Krishna Bhagwan ki leela. It was built on an elevation and on a rectangular plan by Veer Singh Deo in 1622 and renovated by Prithvi Singh in 1793.

Came back for lunch and then headed for the Orchha Fort complex. It is a huge palace fort with multiple mahals/rooms. After that we came to the hotel. Spent the evening on the hotel terrace which overlooks the Betwa river.

Orchha is famous for its Bundela School of Painting. The fort and Laxmi Narayan mandir have their walls and ceilings exquisitely painted. A four arched bridge leads to the fort complex on the island. The Jahangir Mahal which was built by Bir Singh Deo in the early part of the 17th century to mark the visit of Mughal king Jahangir is an important monument in the fort. The 70m square palace has a small interior courtyard with a central fountain around which are apartments and terraces in three storeys. A dome caps each corner bastion. Windows and terraces over the Betwa river. Within the fort are numerous shrines, memorials and monuments. The architecture is a blend of traditional Hindu and elaborate Mughal.

Raj Mahal, the second palace in the fort is well known for its murals depicting religious themes. The deeply religious Madhukar Shah built it in between 1554 and 1591. It's plain exterior, a solid single block crowned by chhatris (umbrella like memorial cenotaphs). In the Janana chamber is a huge courtyard that overlooked the Queens rooms and where I saw an enterprising guide dancing with Italian tourists.

Rai Praveen Mahal was built for the beautiful paramour of Raja Indramani (1672 to 76) who was a poetess and musician. She was a superb dancer and singer. Jahangir wanted to marry her but she refused.

Shahid Smarak which commemorates freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad who lived in Orchha in 1926-27 now houses a library and museum.

We left for Khajuraho the next morning at 6am. To hire a taxi call JP Sen at 9425342418. We hired his Indigo and were very happy.


Orchha is a medieval city built during the 16th century by Bundel Rajput Chieftain Rudrapratap. The successor of Rudrapratap, Bir Singh Deo developed this city during the 17th century. The word Orchha means ‘hidden’ and verily the town stands for it. It is indeed a beautiful town i.e. hidden from most Indians.

Blood, war and sacrifice are the keywords to describe the Rajput Bundela dynasty that ruled over Orchha for over two centuries starting 1531AD. The word Bundela means, ‘the offerer of the drops (of blood)’. Sacrifice is the very essence of Bundela life and the Rajput history amplifies this fact.

Bir Singh Deo the ruler of Orchha from 1605-27 got into serious trouble with Akbar when he as associated with Jahangir. Things changed when Jahangir became governor in 1605. In 1606 Jahangir visited Orchha. Till 1627 the Bundelas had good relations with the Mughals. In 1627 Bir Singh revolted against Shahjahen but was defeated. In 1783 the Bundelas shifted their capital from Orchha to Tikamgarh (from where Uma Bharati fought and lost the 2008 assembly election).

The best time to visit Orchha is October to March. We went end October when days were sunny but evenings had a slight nipp in the air. Keep atleast one and a half if not two days for Orchha.

We loved Orchha and strongly recommend you visit. Hired a vehicle and headed to Khajuraho i.e. about a three hour drive.

This is based on inputs from a book published by Mittal Publications, MP Tourism booklet and our own experiences.

To see pictures of
1. Orchha
2. Bundela Paintings

Receive Site Updates