Orchha and the stunning Jehangir Mahal

There are so many highlights in the Indian subcontinent that small towns like Orccha can easily be overlooked.

Founded in the 16th century, this capital of a former Rajput state in northern India boasts some beautiful examples of Mughal architecture.

As I only vaguely knew before visiting India, the Muslim Mughal Empire ruled large parts of India for three centuries. During that period they built some of the country’s most impressive landmarks, such as the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Delhi’s Red Fort.

My visit to Orccha was far too brief to see everything (just a couple of hours), but enough to marvel at what’s probably its main attraction, the stunning Jehangir Mahal.

Orchha is a sleepy town that seems very far from the overwhelming crowds of Jaipur or Delhi. As far as I could tell, these two street scenes represent well “urban” life in this town.

(All photos are © Fernando Cortés-Cabanillas. Please contact me if you’d like to use them).

Hair "salon" in Orchha, India

Woman with sari in Orchha, India

Jehangir Mahal

Even in its relatively poor state of conservation, Jehangir Mahal palace impressed me right away. Thankfully, there were no more a couple dozen visitors, so the visit was really pleasant.

Main gate, Jehangir Mahal

West façade, Jehangir Mahal

Jehangir Mahal, Orchha

The exquisite remnants of paintings on walls and ceilings depicted the usual mix of battle and religious scenes, and gave a rough idea of the palace’s magnificence at the time of its construction in early 17th century.

Mural and ceiling paintings, Jehangir Mahal

Mural paintings, Jehangir Mahal

Mughal (or Indo-Islamic) architecture mixes Persian, Islamic and Indian elements such as onion-shaped domes, latticework windows and covered walkways.

Inner courtyard, Jehangir Mahal

At the back of the palace, overlooking the valley, we found this gate with exquisite carvings and two stone elephant statues.

Elephant gate, Jehangir Mahal

Elpehant statue carved in stone, Jehangir Mahal

East wall with latticework windows, Jehangir Mahal, Orchha

The three levels of the palace showed a complex array of galleries, platforms, staircases, domes and hanging balconies.

Courtyard, Jehangir Mahal

Looking across the courtyard from the upper levels, there was something almost Escheresque about the architecture.

Woman amongst platforms and stairs, Jehangir Mahal

In its heyday, many of the palace’s walls were decorated with beautiful turquoise tiles, of which only a small fraction remain today. Here you can see some in the row under this balcony, or at the upper level of the tower in the second picture.

Latticework windows in Jehangir Mahal

Jehangir Mahal, Orchha

The numerous domes and latticework galleries in the uppermost level made for some interesting silhouette photos against the late-afternoon sun.

Silhouette shot of domes in Jehangir Mahal

The last part of our rushed visit to Orchha took us to a narrow bridge across river Betwa for sunset views of the royal cenotaphs (chhatris). There are about a dozen of these memorial structures honoring the rulers of Orchha.

Sunset view of cenotaphs (chhatris) by river Betwa

Although you can see some power lines running across the top half of the photo (which I found to be a regular niggle in the palace too), I had to clone out in postprocessing three more obvious ones that would’ve ruined the shot.

All in all, Orchha was a really pleasant surprise, and I think most people in the group I was travelling with felt the same. Not only the architecture was stunning, but the place was mostly tourist-free, which is always a bonus. If you’re in the area on your way to Khajuraho temples, I think you really should make a stop in Orchha.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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