India, Travel in India

“The Heart of India”- a trip to Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh has often been referred to as “the heart of India” and with a sense of the epithet. Not only does the state lie strategically in Central India- it is indeed an enigma, a region so vast, so diverse in culture & tradition and so rich in history that any visitor will be left spellbound by its magic. Charming colonial hill stations, wildlife parks, temple towns, historic cities, food streets, a calendar full of exciting festivals- Madhya Pradesh is indeed a state for all seasons. In whichever direction of the state you drive, you will be surprised by how gifted the region is.

The city that was praised to the skies for its forts & temple by Ibn Batuta (and much later, Warren Hastings), Gwalior, finds its charms in the chaos & commotion of the city. A city where Miya Tansen came from, Gwalior is a pilgrimage for art & history lovers. Ancestral capital of the Scindias, the city with its forts, palaces, temples, towers, canons & battlements are truly larger than life. The Gwalior fort is known to be the oldest surviving Hindu fort & dates back to 3rd century AD.

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Man Singh Palace
Photo credit: Carol Mitchell / Foter / CC BY-ND

Mysterious rocky silhouettes rise up into the velvet sky as ghats merge into the Satpura ranges. Soaring in glittering splendor, the marble rocks at Bhedaghat rise to a hundred feet on either side of the Narmada & provide the perfect reason to take a boat down the glistening water. Boating on a moonlit night is a MUST DO, when the whole stretch of water is transformed into a sheet of liquid silver is absolutely magical.

Dotted with hundreds of water bodies, Mandu becomes the countries romance capital in monsoons. The historic town of Mandu with its fantastic palaces still rings out loud with the story of love that has become the stuff of legends. Add to it the legend of Rani Rupmati & Baz Bahadur, and you have the recipe for a holiday full of drama.

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Jahaz Mahal, Mandu
Photo credit: Rahul Chhiber / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

A visit to the rock shelters of Bhimbetka is an experience of its kind. The rocks are situated approximately 45kms from Bhopal on the road to Hoshangabad. These rocks have paintings, some of which date back to the Mesolithic time, almost 10,000 years ago! It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. This could perhaps, give you a feel of time-travel.

If what you seek is an adventure in the wild, there are perhaps only a few places better than MP. Bandhavgarh, at the core of M.P.’s tiger belt, is a national park where you are likely to see more than just pugmarks. A must visit within the park is the Bandhavgarh fort. Elephant & open vehicle safaris are a good way to venture into the wild.

Sanchi is one of those places custom-built for black-and-white history text books. Known for one of the best conserved stupas, monasteries, temples & pillars in the world, dating from 3rd century BC to 12th century AD. There are a cluster of structures from the Ashokan period.

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Sanchi Stupa
Photo credit: Eileen Delhi / Foter / CC BY-NC

Orchaa, once the capital of the Bundela Rajputs, has a splendid collection of palaces, forts & temples sitting on the banks of the Betwa River and with a skyline consisting of chhatris that rise like apparitions from densely forested banks. There are 3 spectacular palaces on Orchha that stand fortified & the history of the town comes alive with the sound and light show in the evenings. The heritage town of Orchha is also where rafting safaris on the Betwa River are conducted.

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Orchha in Madhya Pradesh
Photo credit: Rita Willaert / Foter / CC BY-NC

Had it not been for the British soldier called Burt, we would have been deprived of this wonderful carnival in stone. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, Khajuraho group of temples built under the Chandelas, is a lot more than the erotic sculptures it is famous for. Today, only 22 out of 85 temples have survived the ravages of time, the walls of which depict a celebration of religion, love, joy & creativity; as a collective paean to the ultimate fusion of man with its creator. A sound-and-light show is also held daily when the temples come to life & it is bound to leave you gawking in admiration. Against the backdrop of the beautifully carved temples, ghunghroos resonate as leading dancers from India & the world over perform classical dances during the Khajuraho Festival of Dance.

The Khajuraho Group of Monuments in Khajuraho (Photo courtesy : flickr/rossburton)

The Khajuraho Group of Monuments in Khajuraho
(Photo courtesy : flickr/rossburton)

 

Khajuraho has the largest group of medieval Hindu and Jain temples, famous for their erotic sculptures (Photo courtesy: flickr/asianu)

Khajuraho has the largest group of medieval Hindu and Jain temples, famous for their erotic sculptures
(Photo courtesy: flickr/asianu)

Madhya Pradesh encourages the visitors to experience & indulge in not just culture and history, but also offers a great culinary and shopping experience. The street food capital of Madhya Pradesh, Indore is a shortcut to foodie heaven. Relish the flavours of MP, irrespective of whether you are a vegetarian or non-vegetarian, as in Indore, there is something for everybody. The most popular dishes are Bafla, Bhutte ki keesh & kababs. With a variety of sweets & savouries that the city offers, don’t be surprised if your jeans feel tight round your stomach after a guilt-free binge in Indore.  Ask a bhopali for Nawab-era food & you will be directed to nalli nehari, mutton samosa, sheermal & kababs. MP is also famous for Shahi Tukda, morena gajak, malwa shikanji and jalebi-rabdi….a sweet-tooth’s dreamland.

A must-buy while in MP are the locally made traditional handicrafts & the famous colourful Chanderi & Maheshwari sarees. A great place to go for shopping is Gwalior as the colourful bazaars of the city are perhaps the oldest in MP. For souvenirs you could pick items like lacquer ware, dolls, hand woven carpets, tribal jewellery & gun metal from MP. A popular pick would however be a miniature stone-carved replica of the sculptures of Khajuraho. Ujjain also has its own tradition of papier-mache work, and here you can find anything from decorative items to furniture.

The ‘jabua,’ right in the tribal heartland, is dominated by the Bhil tribe. Visit a weekly haat at any of these villages & meet local people. While at it, also look out out for tribal silversmiths & pick up rather attractive Bhil jewellery.

It is a state where the residents welcome visitors with open arms and are bound to make you feel at home. So, come & live the magic that is Madhya Pradesh. “Hindustan ka dil dekho”.

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