For the past three-day weekend, we decided to revisit a site we’d already visited, and to take in a new site on the way back. One should probably choose one of the two for an ideal weekend trip, and I will provide the logistics for those preferred itineraries.
Khajuraho is a peaceful small town in Madhya Pradesh famous for the amazing sculpture, much of it erotic and some of it downright “pornographic”, on its 10th/11th century Hindu and Jain temples. Khajuraho is certainly worthy of a revisit, but what really drove it as a destination for us this past weekend was the relatively last minute availability of overnight train tickets–on the UP Sampark Kranti which departs Delhi’s Nizamuddin Station at 8:15 PM and arrives in Khajuraho at 6:35 AM. The rail connection to Khajuraho is fairly new–when we first visited in 2003, Khajuraho was, for those who didn’t want to fly, a painful multihour jeep/bus journey from the nearest railheads–and the rail connection seems to have caused fairly positive developments in Kharuraho’s tourist infrastructure, including a better selection of hotels and restaurants and a pedestrianized area in the core of the town near the greatest set of ruins. We stayed at the Hotel Surya, which cost less than 600 rupees for a non-AC room booked online. (I should note that while there are some upscale hotels in town, none of them are walking distance from the ruins.)
One could easily spend two nights or more in Khajuraho. The town is peaceful, the selection of food and lodging pretty good, and, even if the ruins themselves would occupy only a day of sightseeing, there are likely pleasant walks and bicycle rides that could be had, strengths that come from it’s being pleasantly quasi-rural for a major Indian tourist site. But because my time was limited, we didn’t want to take an overnight train back to Delhi and Khajuraho still has no nonstop flights to Delhi (flights to Khajuraho go on a triangular Delhi to Khajuraho to Varanasi to Delhi routing), we stayed only one night in Khajuraho and took a rather painfully slow daytime passenger train to Orchha, which left Khajuraho at 12:30 PM and arrived after sunset. To return directly from Khajuraho to Delhi, you could take the UP Sampark Kranti back, which departs Khajuraho at 6:20 PM and arrives at Nizamuddin at 5:30 AM, if you are okay with an overnight return trip, or take the Khajuraho – Udaipur InterCity, which departs Khajuraho at 9:10 AM, and then transfer to a Delhi train (such as the Shatabdi, see below) at Jhansi, Gwalior or Agra (probably the first, in order to have the safest connection).
From Orchha station, which is right before Jhansi Junction, we caught an auto rickshaw to Orchha town, about a 20 minute journey for which you will certainly be overcharged. By the time we checked into our hotel (unremarkable but cheap Fort View Guest House), it was dark. Were we to do it again, or arrive at Orchha earlier, we would certainly try to book the Maharaja Suite at the Hotel Sheesh Mahal, which is the state-run establishment that is the only lodging in the fort itself. Being a state-run hotel the Sheesh Mahal is not fancy, but the Maharaja Suite is fairly impressive, and for a relatively low price of around $100 allows you the experience of staying in a unique and private part of the old palace. The Maharani Suite, next to the dining room, is nowhere near as impressive–we imagine the substantially cheaper regular rooms may be more appealing. The Sheesh Mahal is also, by our limited experience, probably the best place to eat in town. We visited some of the more upscale hotels located just away from the town center but were not really drawn to any of them (despite really wanting to be). With one’s own transport the Bundelkhand Riverside may be okay, and we didn’t visit the fanciest hotel in town (the Amar Mahal), though its location didn’t inspire us.
Orchha may be one of the most impressive sites in India that are not commonly visited. Though seemingly well frequented by tour groups (including especially Korean tour groups), which may find it an easy stop from Khajuraho, there are not very many tourists considering the tremendousness of the fort. The Jahangir Mahal, in particular, is extremely explorable, and in most ways just as impressive as any of the palaces in Rajasthan. Chaturbhuj Temple, which is in Orchha town, is also unique–a vast cathederal-like Hindu temple with an impressively high roof with a good view. Like Khajuraho, Orchha is also pleasantly rural (and less tourist-oriented to boot), and would be a good base for walks and bicycle rides (we are also intrigued by the “mud-hut home stays” listed in the Lonely Planet). Of the places we’ve visited “near” Delhi so far, Orchha is the one that we could most easily imagine visiting repeatedly.
To return to Delhi from Orchha, we took an auto rickshaw to Jhansi Junction and then the comfortable Shatabdi to New Delhi Railway Station, which leaves Jhansi at 5:59 PM and arrives in Delhi at 10:45 PM (though odds seem to be that it will run late). The excellent timing of the Shatabdi return trip makes a simple weekend trip to Orchha easy. Any number of overnight trains departs Delhi for Jhansi, including the Dakshin Link SF Express, which departs Nizamuddin at 11:00 PM and arrives in Jhansi at 5:20 AM, giving you a full 1.5 days in Orchha for a two-day weekend. If you want to arrive Friday night, a few different trains leave Delhi in the afternoon and make it to Jhansi Junction about five to six hours later, though unless you leave a bit earlier in the afternoon that would mean an Orchha arrival after midnight.