This post was originally penned for the Travelyaari blog and was hosted here
When I sit back to think of how I zeroed in on Madhya Pradesh as
my next solo travel destination I am at a loss. Being the travel enthusiast
that I am, my social media newsfeeds are a constant source of inspiration to
satiate my ‘where next’ quest.
That’s how I’d first come across Orchha. It had palaces, forts,
temples… said a post. Nothing seemingly unusual except that I’d had a string of
monastery destinations – Ladakh, Bhutan and Spiti in almost quick succession
interspersed with places where nature took my breath away – Coorg, Kutch,
Gokarna, rural Maharashtra – over the past couple of months.
So, palaces, forts and temples were a welcome change. Little did I
know then that visiting Orccha would be more than just that!
Homestays are integral to all my travels around India. As luck
would have it I stumbled upon ‘Friends of Orchha’ to help me scout one during
my stay in Orchha.
|Orchha from Laxminarayan Temple|
‘Friends of Orchha’
Friends of Orchha is a registered NGO which aims at providing
sustainable livelihood linked to eco/rural tourism for the locals. Presently
there are a few households (eight homes with a capacity for 19 persons) that have
‘signed up’ and opened their doors but more importantly hearts to
tourists/travellers who visit Orchha. What you learn from their website is that
the organisation was founded by Asha
D'Souza and Louk
Vreeswijk, an Indo/Swiss - Dutch couple, who moved from Geneva to Orchha
in 2006. They now live in Almora but continue to look after the home-stay and
are in daily contact with the staff in Orchha
As a homestay guest you can expect to be taken care of in every
sense of the term right from a very gracious welcome followed by refreshments.
Do not be surprised (or should I say prepare to be surprised) if your room
seems much more warmer and homely than that one you’ve left behind.
|Warmer than your home|
The homestays are a part of the Ganj village which is a mere
walking distance away from all the guidebook hotspots you may consider
Ganj has the vibe of the idyllic sleepy village. There’s nothing
of the proverbial hustle and bustle with autorickshaws honking their way
through the tiny zig-zag lanes. On the contrary, from the outside it seems as
if everyone has their own internal pace – whether filling water where there’s a
village hand pump installed or stopping the hand cart right at the centre of
the road because the vendor needed to greet an acquaintance mayhaps! Given its
proximity to the tourist must-sees I expected a different vibe AKA more
touristy (that I was extremely grateful not to have run into).
I did walk past a couple of tourists during my post lunch tour of
Orchha – mostly foreigners. It seemed rather unfortunate that one doesn’t
encounter too many fellow Indians while traversing through small towns with
their hidden gems!
Speaking of hidden gems, you can be assured that beyond your
guidebooks even a generic Google search will throw up a host of things you
should cover while in Orccha. I took no route map nor guide or even local along
with me. I merely went where my feet took me.
Stop no. 1: Chaturbhuj Temple (right next to the RajaRam Mandir)
|Chaturbhuj Temple - on the outside|
|Chaturbhuj Temple - view at the top|
|Chaturbhuj Temple - view from the top|
Stop no. 2: Raja Mahal/Orchha Fort that houses even the Jahangir
|Orchha Fort and Jahangir Mahal|
|Orchha Fort - Symmetry|
Stop no. 3: Laxminarayan Temple
|Laxminarayan Temple at sunset|
experience at Ganj
The lack of adequate signages and proper upkeep of these monuments
are a bit of a let-down. On the other hand however the charm of a homestay
living experience in Ganj is un-paralled. There’s something rustic about the
air courtesy the open spaces we don’t have the luxury of experiencing in the
While that might sound like a bit of over-romanticization, besides
the natural habit what leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy is the very homeliness
of the hospitality.
I was surrounded by the constant chatter of kids one of who would
check-in with me periodically if I needed something. Friends of Orchha have
introduced a scholarship program through which guests who visit can contribute
to the school fees of the children of the host families.
Though I had a very short stay – I had to prepone my departure and
leave early the very next morning to catch my train – what will remain most
memorable are the meals I’ve had. The meals served to the guest are the same as
the meals that are had by the family. This may be another aspect that keeps
bringing me back to a homestay experience. I’m glad Orchha offered me the same.
Cooked over the chulha the local cuisine retained its own distinct flavour.
|Sumptuous home cooked food|
Labels: female solo traveller, guest blogger, India, Madhya Pradesh, Orchha, solo travel