Friday, July 1, 2011

Orchha, A Small Historic Town on the bank of Betwa

Orchha is a place with historical importance. This is a small town in Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh. This historical town lies on the bank of Betwa River.
I had to visit this place during my filming of The Last Hope, my short documentary film on Asian Vultures.  I visited the place to find vulture chicks. 
With no prior idea about the place I collected some information that there is a good population of Long Billed Vultures at Orchha. And I had to shoot some footage of vultures’ chick, so decided to check the place once on the month of March, 2011.
As per plan, one evening of late March I started my journey from Bangalore by “Samparkranti Express” which took more than 28 hours to reach Jhansi, which is the nearest railway junction of Orchha. I booked my hotel from Bangalore and they arranged a car for me to pick me up from Jhansi which is 15 km far. I reached Jhansi at around 3 hours in morning. This is the first time I touched any city in central India ever.  My car was waiting outside of Jhansi Railway station which took almost 20 minutes to drop me in the hotel and quickly I freshened up and took a quick nap. However I woke up early and had a quick breakfast. I was ready to explore the town and to find out the best places where I can collect the footage of vultures’ chick.  At the first sight the town seems so beautiful. It was a small historic town with lots of memorials of “Mughal” (Hindi word) Era and with beautiful people. I was happy to see the town is small so I didn’t have much trouble to find out the right places as I didn’t have much time to spend at Orchha.
My driver was a young lad with full of enthusiasm. He guided me to “Jahangir Mahal” (Hindi Word) which is the biggest palace in Orchha. I found the whole town is not very crowded with tourists but many foreigners who actually doing some research on either Indian history or on ancient palaces. When I came to the top of the “Jahanghir Mahal” (Hindi Word) I noticed a group of Long Billed Vultures, but I couldn’t be much happy as there was no sight of their nest and they were sitting in a place which is not ideal for any good footage. 

Jahangir Mahal
Soon, I came out from “Jahangir Mahal” (Hindi Word), my driver took me another place called “Biwi ka Maqwara”(Hindi Word). This place was much smaller than “Jahangir Mahal” (Hindi Word) and no tourist at all. As soon as I reached there, my heart jumped in joy and hope. I could see the nest of long Billed Vultures from the gate. I could see many Long Billed Vultures around the palace. The small river Betwa was flowing just by the side of the ruins of some old monuments. The place was calm and beautiful. The gatekeeper of the palace stopped me for ticket and after checking my ticket when he came to know that I was there to film the vultures and I am making a film on vultures he was really helpful to give me the information from where I can get the footages. I entered the one of the monuments of the palace and placed myself in a place from where I can collect the footages of the vultures. I spent 4 hours and was really satisfied to collect some good footage of the Long Billed vultures, its chick and the conversation between mothers and chicks. 

Long Billed Vulture on the top of one of the monuments

After a satisfactory work I came back to hotel for lunch. At that time temperature was rising rapidly and the sun was very harsh at noon.  After taking a good shower and lunch I jumped into the bed for a good sleep as I was very tired. Again I left the hotel at around 4 PM in evening to the same place where I was in morning. Central India is known for very hot and dry weather in summer, and in the beginning of summer Orchha was not the exception.  In the evening 4 there was plenty of light and it was hot. However this time I went to another monument of the palace and found a chick which is younger than the morning one. My evening went behind the camera shooting the beautiful chicks in different angle.  I was truly satisfied the way the day one gone. With the soft light of the setting sun the ruins of ancient “Mughal” (Hindi Word) Era was looking fabulous in the side of River Betwa. With the light gone I didn’t have many things to do except coming back to hotel, reviewing the images and footages I had taken the whole day and finally go to bed after having a good dinner early.
Ruins beside the river Betwa
The next day started very early for me. I met Dr. Patrick Benson, one of the famous vulture scientists in the word who is known for his cape vulture work for more than 25 years. He came to Orchha to count the number of chicks of this nearly extinct breed and to observe their health and behavior. We have been introduced earlier by email and knew each other. But meeting with this great personality was a big experience for me. We went to the same “Biwi ka Maqwara” (Hindi Word) and went on a top of a monument from where we can watch the vulture movements. Pat has given me an interview for my film stating how fast the decline of the Asian Vulture happened in India and this subcontinent. The time was running very fast; Pat was working on his project and I was filming his work, vultures and chick silently. In between work Pat was sharing his experience and knowledge with me which was all valuable piece of information to make a documentary film.
Biwi ka Maqwara
It was the last day for me at Orchha, so I was trying to collect footages as much as possible. So we roam around the whole day around the town. Though the summer was scorching but it couldn’t stop us to visit all the monuments and ruins in that town. Even we climbed to ”Laxmi” (Hindi Word) temple which was quite high under the mid day sun to find vultures and chicks. We went to one temple which was a bit far from the town, but when we reached there the Orchha was visible from the top of the temple and it was so beautiful. I was happy that I could utilize the days properly and by then I almost had all the footages I require. In evening the time came to say good bye to Dr. Pat. I thanked him for all the help and rushed towards the hotel. I had to pack up and to leave for Jhansi. 
Orchha Town from far. Left is Jahangir Mahal and the top monument is Laxmi temple

2 days in Orchha took me those old days where a small town beside a small slow moving river. People are used to with a very slow and peaceful life. One can feel the history around this place and the town has it unique charm around it which is quite far from the city madness of 21st century.
Climibing Laxmi Temple in search of Vulture chick

Dr. Patrick Benson

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