The name Orchha means 'hidden' in Hindi and that is just what the small village was until it was discovered by the Lonely Planet brigade about five years ago. In those days the huge 16th and 17th century palaces were visited only by the weeds and the occasional villager going about his daily business. Like Mandhu, Orchha was an olden day regional stronghold for the Sultans and other rulers that was abandoned in 1783 when the kingdoms fell and remained hidden for centuries.
Nowadays it is still more secluded than its fellow temple towns like Khajuraho but it is steadily being invaded by the tourist trade. In the five years that Orchha has boomed, the number of guesthouses has mushroomed from two to nearly two dozen. Despite all this, Orchha is hardly overrun with tourists. Almost all the visitors, restaurants, internet cafes, travel agents and guesthouses are centred around a couple of small streets. The rest of the town is quite peaceful and tout-free.
From our hotel, the Shree Mahant, we have a grand view of the Jehangir Mahal Palace and the Chhaturbhuj Temple in downtown Orchha and the Lakshmi Narayan Temple on the hill behind us.
For our first afternoon/evening we just wander around, appreciating the relative calm of Orchha. The town square is a vehicle-free zone, making it seem eerily quiet compared to any other downtown area in India. The cobblestoned courtyard surrounding the Ram Raja Temple is the main market
area, featuring local handicrafts, piles of dye powder in vividly bright colours and the regional delicacy, a kind of fudge made from condensed milk. A bunch of old men with long beards and bright robes sit on the ground playing instruments and, as everywhere, cows wander freely, even irking shopkeepers by sampling their merchandise. We are attracted to one vegetable stall, both by the lure of fresh veges and by the piercing blue eyes of the young boy selling them. Our selection is limited, for health reasons, but we pick up a pineapple, some guavas and, fatefully, some snap-peas (mange tout) that Jane nibbles on as we walk back to the hotel.
As soon as we find a suitable guesthouse in Orchha, at 5.30am, we drop our bags and we are sound asleep before our heads hit the pillow. When we wake up we are ready for lunch and head out to explore our surroundings.