Rural Delight : Around Orchha

Being a person who uses 100 words where only 10 suffice, I couldn’t possibly say enough in one post about this small place about a kilometer and half from Orccha. Ganj can be called a part of Orccha and yet is as distinctly different a place from Orchha, which is a conglomeration of majestic monuments.I had a taste of Ganj quite by chance.As I drowsily sat in the Train from Khajuraho to Orchha, I realised I was clueless about where should I stay if I wished to avoid the backpackers lodging.Going through the internet connected me to a very interesting tag ‘ Friends of Orchha’.A few reads and I immediately messaged the person to figure out any availability.The person Ashok,affirmed the same and guides me where to wait to be picked up.

Friends of Orchha is an initiative started by a Dutch couple in 2006.One can find about them easily on the net,highly popular in the  foreign tourist circuits.The initiative was started with the intent to provide a source of alternate livelihood to the drought affected people of  Ganj.The society funds the  the families under the programme to build guest houses within their own premises, complete with sanitation and basic furnishing. These are offered to tourists, who can savour a slice of authentic Bundelkhandi village life complete with their staple diet. Whenever a guest stays at such premises a part of the rent received goes towards the  cost of construction of rooms, a part goes towards accounts created for the family and a part goes directly to the familes. All the meals served by the families get paid for directly to them. I was informed by Ashok, I would be accomodated at Hari’s family.

The way to Ganj is an interesting transition from the hustle bustle of the Orchha chowk.A silent road just about 15′ wide climbs up and snakes its way through arid landscape.Contrast to the grandeur of  yellowed stucco covered Orchha world, the streets on way to Ganj are joyous bright melange of colorful canvases.One needs to have torch handy if walking long this way back in evenings. The houses are spread quite apart , road cuts through a hillock and there are no street lights in the area.

Beautifully painted in  bold colors, these little single storeyed structures are a delight to look at.The doors and windows with their lovely bright blues, highlighted with designed pelmets colored in bright greens and oranges, stand out starkly against the hilly plains of Ganj.The facade of the homes flanking the main door have small decorated niches used to keep lamps during festivals.Most of the houses have a front verandah open or semi closed.The Laxminarayan temple looms tall on one side as we move on to Hari’s house.

Little Boards citing ” Friends Of Orchha ‘ can be sighted along the way and finally we arrive at a fork in the road that leads to a small settlement area of about 8 odd houses. The architect in me just loves this whole setting. The Lanes are clean , zero litter,neatly finishing with mud plaster, it can put the city dwellers to shame. Signs of essential for livelihood are seen in the form of farming equipments, ironsmith works, tied up goats and cattles along the little lane. A lovely cosy warmth greets me as little tiny tots beam into my face, wide eyes and eager smiles, wanting just a smile back and nothing more.I loved the fact that the place inspite of being used to foreign tourists , is still able to retain the honesty and innocence that is often secondary where money steps in.I have seen kids often fall prey to the mentality of seeking pennies in such places.Ganj seems to have retained the innocence. They seek nothing than your warmth and words in return for their bubbly greetings.

Hari’s home last in the lane, is a simple premise with a small house constructed next to his own abode. Hari is busy laying bricks for the entrance when we arrived.The sight of the house inside thrilled me, as much as the view outside the same. From where the house is located,One can see the citadels of the distant Orchha palace, the folding landscape and breath the freshness of the vast open stretch around.

‘Friends of Orchha’ has taken care to make the stay with the hosts ,devoid of any monetary transactions. All and anything is to be paid for to the representative of the organisation on the day of departure. The insides of the house are warm and cosy. A double bed with soft fluffy matress and pullovers,sidetables with paper lampshade, some inviting cane chairs,an extra bed on the side, few wooden shelves with some information folder about Orchha and surroundings.Lovely terracotta flooring stretches out under my feet. A pinboard inside the room, displayed the family tree of the hosts, complete with names, age and what each member of the family does. The attempt is to bridge the gap between you and the family and make you feel at home. I stepped out of my outhouse and into their family home , nostalgia gripped me as i saw the inside neatly smeared with cow dung. Hari’s wife with her warm beaming smile greeted me and served a cup of tea.Since I had plans to see Orchha I vowed to socialize more the following day.

Morning at Ganj is series of lovely frames that would be remain with me forever. I stepped out to see the beautiful dawn over Orchha, chirping birds,mehing goats, Hari milking the cows for my morning tea and Haris wife making some yummy poha right there in the courtyard over the earthern chulah. As i sat at the threshold of their house, sipping away on my fresh milk tea , Laxmi chatted away with me as she made the poha.That  morning hour spend idly with her , connected me with her as a person, her family, her life and even her pain.

I spend another hour outside with the neighbours kids, a naughty lot of 2 and 3 yr olds.Loitering in the lane I visited a couple of more families , inquisitive to look into the quaint bright houses.the warmth of the poeple in Ganj is unmistakable. The society has taught the kids to make terracotta frescos of divine figures on cardpaper smeared with a special mixture.These form excellent memorabilia quite fit to the famous frecsos adorning the walls of Orchha monuments.Since I stayed just one night at Ganj, there was not much time I could spend with the family  and the village, but whatever few hours I did,I found myself longing for more.I am sure there is lots to stumble upon around this lovely hospitable village.

Apart from Ganj,I had a chance to visit a tribal settlement around Orchha the next day. The owner of the lodge i stayed at,asked me if I would like to accompany him for a small errand within the sanctuary.More than glad  I joined them to the small hamlet nestled within the forests of Orchha, Lotana.Lotana lies at a distance of appx 4km into the sanctuary.It has proximity to the swelling Betwa river within the sanctuary.During heavy monsoons, the hamlet is cut off for months from rest of the world , due to flooding of the rivers and roads around, with no electricity as well.

When we reached Lotana, it was raining lightly, the place was deserted and quite sparsely populated.It bore the same kind of rural architecture as present in Ganj. Here are a few images of the hamlet , which looked pristine in after showers.For the wanderer in you who loves to get lost , to gain more, Orchha offers a lot beyond the history, it offers warmth and solace in its raw beautiful landscapes.

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