Hidden away in peaceful wooded countryside in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the abandoned city of Orchha is one of the country’s most atmospheric attractions. Capital of the local Bundela rulers for over 200 years, the city was founded by Raja Rudra Pratap, but his untimely death in 1531 (while allegedly trying to rescue a cow from the claws of a tiger) prevented him from completing his grand designs. His successors took up the challenge, adding embellishments until Mughal and Maratha attacks forced them to abandon the city in the 18th century. Most of its magnificent buildings have lain empty ever since.

Royal cenotaphs on the banks of the Betwa river, Orchha
Royal cenotaphs on the banks of the Betwa river, Orchha

Many survive in remarkably good condition – a fascinating tangle of temples, palaces, havelis, and cenotaphs. Among the highlights are a pair of sumptous palaces: the Raj Mahal, adorned by rich murals, and the Jahangir Mahal, built as a present to welcome the great Mughal emperor Jahangir, its fanciful roofline topped with dozens of domes and cupolas. Nearby soar the towers of the great Chaturbhuj temple, while a stately line of 14 royal cenotaphs, constructed for successive rulers of the city, stand imposingly alongside the banks of the tranquil Betwa River.

Practical Information

Getting There and Around Travel by train from Delhi to the town of Jhansi.

From here local buses make the 16-mile (25-km) journey to Orchha.

Where to Eat The restaurant in the Sheesh Mahal hotel, set in Orchha’s old fort, is particularly atmospheric.

Where to Stay Try Amar Mahal, an elegant, Mughal-style resort set amid spacious gardens.

When to Go Between November and February.

Budget per Day for Two US$75

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