On arriving in Orchha, we passed through the village and down the hill towards the bridge and our hotel. As we rounded the corner, we were all amazed to see the river. Four years ago, it had been a boulder-strewn bed with small streams meandering between the rocks. There had even been a few isolated stagnant stretches of water. This year, however, it was in full spate, fast-flowing, and the most wonderful shade of blue. There were waterfalls, rapids, and calm bathing areas in equal measure.
As we had been in Orchha at the same time of year on our previous visit, we wondered where the water had come from, as there had been no significant increase in rainfall this year. The vegetation on both banks was lush and green, and there was a muffled roar from the rapids upstream beyond the chhatris on the north bank. It was impossible to cross the river bed by jumping from boulder to boulder this year, and there was no choice but to use the bridge (which is not for the faint-hearted). Roughly 200 yards long, it is only just wide enough for a fully loaded Tata lorry to cross. Whilst the locals seem happy to balance on the edge when one passes, I'm afraid I can't - I run. The bridge, a beautiful golden sandstone, is actually three bridges that connect rock outcrops in the river.
I discovered that the Betwa River has its source in a reservoir 50km upstream from Orchha. The regional water authority opens the sluice gates on the dam at intervals throughout the dry season, having notified the village councils in advance. Unfortunately, there is no real pattern to this, so it's virtually impossible to guarantee being in Orchha at the right time. On the Sunday, the river banks were a riot of colour as villagers from miles around came to do their washing and bathing. Every boulder and rock had wash drying in the sunshine, Sadhus took up position on the rocks in the river, and hundreds of small children played in the water. There was a real holiday atmosphere about the place. Even if the river is not in full spate, the bridge itself is a beautiful piece of architecture with 20 or so arches spanning the river. There are also some wonderful walks along the river banks, where kingfishers can be seen diving into the water.