Off the Beaten Path


Whenever I take these extensive trips, I try to fit in a day or two of backwater travel. A short quest for those sleepy little towns that don’t make it onto many tourist’s itineraries. Smack dap in the middle of the Taj Mahal- Khajuraho route was Orchha, a town with little more than a small square and temples on either side of a parched river. It’s more a jumping point to bigger, better destinations but one I was glad I hadn’t passed by.

On the tops of houses and temples ambled a few families of monkeys, some descending into the streets to snag a snack before running back to their perches. Cows lurked about, performing their typical duties of eating refuse and blocking traffic. And life moved slow, or at least slower than it had in New Delhi and Varanasi.

Orchha’s Chaturbhuj temple, which reminded me of castles I’d seen on journeys across Europe, dominated the landscape on the town’s western side. From its top, I got a stunning view of the nearby farms, huts and Jehangir Mahal and Raj Mahal palaces across the river.

I also made a friend: Gorup, a young boy who showed my friend Brian and I around the plaza area and told us about the town before leading us to his mother’s souvenir stall (we fell right into that trap).

That evening we made our way across the river for a night-time performance. I had no idea what was going on, and no one nearby seemed to be able to explain the story to me, but we attracted the usual “stranger in a strange land” attention and questions, just two white guys sitting among a sea of Indians and enjoying the show.

Orchha reminded me a lot of my own hometown, Tamaqua. Not many people go out of their way to visit my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region, but those passing through have had good things to say. Quaint, quiet, salt of the earth people and a slew of other compliments — that’s Tamaqua to the outsider, and that’s roughly how I felt about Orchha in India. Slow, simple, perfect Orchha.

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