iFeature | Awestruck in Orccha

This post was originally penned for the Travelyaari blog and was hosted here

Zeroing on the where
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

 What/Who is ‘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

Exploring Orchha
The homestays are a part of the Ganj village which is a mere walking distance away from all the guidebook hotspots you may consider visiting.

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

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 Mahal

Orchha Fort and Jahangir Mahal

Orchha Fort - Symmetry

Stop no. 3: Laxminarayan Temple

Laxminarayan Temple

Laxminarayan Temple at sunset

The homestay 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 cities.
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
If you've liked this three-part series on my experiences in Madhya Pradesh, you might also like these:
The iDemythify series
Taken For A Ride At Khajuraho
Charmed in Chanderi
Girl Unescorted

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