HIGH ON HERITAGE
Travel+Leisure India|July 2021
In the brief lull between two waves of the raging pandemic, a trip uncovered assorted treasures in Madhya Pradesh: from the ornate palaces of Orchha to the iconic temples of Khajuraho, and the wild denizens of Panna Tiger Reserve.
RASHIMA NAGPAL

DAY 1 OLD IS GOLD IN Orchha

A WIDE STRETCH OF River Betwa flowing in front of my guesthouse is a sight for sore eyes. It is midafternoon, but the gentle breeze on the riverbank mellows the sun’s gaze. The placid water body stretched like a panorama on either side, and the deserted riverbank betrays Orchha’s laid-back vibe. Home to roughly 10,000 people, the sleepy little town feels far removed from the worries of modern life. “Small town, small problems. But everyone knows everyone’s problems,” laughs the local guide showing us around.

Until the 16th century, the town of Orchha didn’t exist. The semi-arid jungles of the Vindhya Range dominated this terrain. It is not hard to picture that time, especially from one of the many vantage points in town. As we arrive at Laxmi Narayan Temple, set on a rocky outcrop in the western part of the town, I can see plateaus in the distance. However, the real marvels await me inside the temple-fort, which dates back to the 1660s. The structure exhibits a blend of Bundeli and Mughal architecture. Interestingly, the site does not house any idols of deities. In the middle of a triangular court, an octagonal dome soars high above the temple’s square-walled periphery with cannon slots on the roof. Arched doorways lead me to galleries with curved ceilings featuring intricate hand-painted frescoes. These artworks tell tales from Hindu mythology, captivating enough to make me linger longer than I’ve planned.

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