WESTERN MADHYA PRADESH: BHOPAL, INDORE, AND THE HOLY HINDU CITY OF UJJAIN

MADHYA PRADESH

Madhya Pradesh is the second largest state in India (after Rajasthan) and one of the poorest. The poverty of the state is quite noticeable if you enter from the relatively wealthy state of Gujarat as modern highways give way to dirt tracks. Madya Pradesh has a large tribal population. Many houses are made earth and stone, with tileroofs and whitewashed walls. Website: www.mptourism.com

Madhya Pradesh state covers 308,252 square kilometers (119,017 square miles), is home to about 73 million people and has a population density of 240 people per square kilometer. About 70 percent of the population live in rural areas. Bhopal is the capital with about 1.8 million people. Indore is the largest city, with about 2 million people.

Situated in middle of India, Madhya Pradesh is very diverse. It has been home to cultural and spiritual heritage of almost all the religions. There temples, stupas, forts and palaces all over the State. The natural beauty of the state is equally varied. Consisting largely of a plateau, the State has everything, from mighty mountain ranges to meandering rivers to miles of verdant forests. In fact a large part of Madhya Pradesh is under the forest cover, offering a unique and exciting panorama of wildlife. In the National Parks of Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench you can spot the tiger, bison and a wide variety of deer and antelope.

Water sports, caravan journeys, river cruise, sound and light shows and views of tribal life can all be enjoyed in Madhya Pradesh. Among the main attractions are the Marble Rocks of Jabalpur; Mandu, and the moonlight legend of the poet prince Baz Bahadur and his beautiful consort Roopmati; and the trails of Prince Rama in Chitrakoot. There are magnificent chhatris, palaces and forts in Orchha and Gwalior. The temples of Khajuraho are famous for their sexually explicit sculptures.. The state is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Sanchi, Bhimbetka and Khajuraho. Sought-after shopping items include beautiful Maheshwari and Chanderi textiles and bell metal crafts from Bastar One of the nicest things about Madhya Pradesh is its “Heart of India” location ans its accessibility to major cities and tourist destinations all over India.

See Separate Article on KHAJURAHO

Bhopal

Bhopal (600 kilometers south of Delhi) is the capitol of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Known mainly as an industrial city, where a chemical disaster at Dow chemical plant killed thousands of people, Bhopal has the greatest concentration mosques of any Indian city, including a unique Art Deco one. Near Bhopal are forest sanctuaries, fortified settlements and beautiful temples town.

Bhopal is situated in central India in an agricultural region surrounded by rolling hills and dense forests. Founded in 1728, it is home to about 1.8 million people and factories that produce electrical goods, jewelry, and cotton cloth. The city lies in the shadow of the Shamla Hills, which overlook Bhopal’s lakes and the old city. One of the greenest cities in India, Bhopal os located in area with many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

Bhopal is divided by the picturesque and pristine Upper Lake and Lower Lake. On one side of the lakes is the bustling old walled city, which is a labyrinth of narrow streets and chowks. It has a score of bazaars that are always teeming with locals haggling with shopkeepers over sundry items, and several mosques and alleyways. Its cosmopolitan counterpart, sitting to the south of the lakes, can match the pace of any metropolis in the country. The central district is known as New Market and is characterised by shopping centers, luxurious hotels and multi-cuisine restaurants.

Getting There: By Air: Raja Bhoj Airport is the nearest airstrip, 15 kilometers away. By Road: Bhopal is connected via good roads to its nearby areas. By Train: The city has its own railway station that is well connected to other major cities.

History of Bhopal

Founded by Paramara king Raja Bhoj in the 11th century, Bhopal was earlier known as Bhojpal after a pal (dam) constructed by one of the king’s ministers. The city is a confluence of old-world cultural heritage and new-age urban planning. Still retaining the imprints of the powerful female rulers, who reigned between 1819 and 1926, in the form of various monuments like the Gohar Mahal, the city is a unique amalgamation of the old and the new. It also bears footprints of the Mughals and the Afghans and showcases influences of Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism that have been woven together with perfection.

One of the most interesting things about Bhopal's history is that it was ruled by a dynasty of woman nobles. Between 1819 and 1926, it was ruled by four women – Begums – unique in the royalty of those days. Qudsia Begum was the first woman ruler, who was succeeded by her only daughter Sikandar Begum, who in turn was succeeded by her only daughter, Shah Jahan Begum. Sultan Shah Jahan Begum was the last women ruler, who after 25 years of rule, abdicated in favor of her son, Hamidullah Khan. The rule of Begums gave the city its waterworks, railways, a postal system and a municipality constituted in 1907.

Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan Begum's son, Nawab Hamidullah Khan, ascended the throne in 1926. He was Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes. He was the last ruling nawab of Bhopal. The eldest daughter of Nawab Hamidullah Khan and presumptive heiress, Abida Sultan, gave up her right to the throne and opted for Pakistan in 1950. Therefore, the Government of India excluded her from the succession and her younger sister Begum Sajida succeeded in her stead. In 1971, all princely titles and privy purses were abolished by the Indian government.

Bhopal Disaster

The world's worst industrial disaster ever took place in Bhopal, India on December 2, 1984, when lethal methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from a Union Carbide pesticide plant blanketed the city, killing as many as 16,000 to 30,000 people (one of the highest estimate) and injuring 500,000 others. The deadly gas escaped from plant, located on the outskirts of the city, and passed over the towns of Jaiprakash and Chhola to strike Bhopal.

Estimates of the death toll vary quite a bit in part because many were killed over a period of time from illnesses related to the disaster. The official immediate death toll was 2,259. As of 2008, the government of Madhya Pradesh had paid compensation to the family members of 3,787 victims killed by the gas release, and to 574,366 injured victims. A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. Others estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.

Union Carbide was one of the first American companies to invest in India. It set up the Bhopal factory in 1980 to produce the powerful pesticide Sevin and “help the country’s agricultural sector increase its productivity and contribute more significantly to meeting the food needs of one of the world’s most heavily populated regions.”

The MIC gas that did the damage was used to make pesticides. Twenty-seven tons of it leaked out of a large storage tank after an explosion and drifted over Bhopal neighborhoods near the factory while people were sleeping. People awoke gasping and choking on their own body fluids. The tank was 90 percent full even though safety regulations s specified it to never be more than half full. At the Union Carbide facility in West Virginia MIC is kept in small concentrations to minimize the risk.

The cloud of gas, which some said sparkled in the street lights, drifted towards the train station and slums near the factory. Some died in their sleep. Some were trampled to death try to escape it. Entire neighborhoods tried to flee from the gas. One man reported seeing a ball of gas bouncing down a road and watching it envelop his wife and children and kill them instantly. When a train pulled into the station passengers were horrified to see bodies piled on the platform. As they got off they too inhaled the gas and died. People lost control of the bladders and bowels as they fled. It took a while to get the Bhopal story out to the world. Bhopal had no international telephones lines and the story had to be "pigeoned" out on the 3:00pm flight to New Delhi.

The cause of the disaster remains a matter of debate. The Indian government and local activists say slack management and poor pipe maintenance caused a backflow of water into a MIC tank, triggering the disaster. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) has argued for decades that water entered the tank through an act of sabotage. According to Amnesty International: “On the night of 2nd December, 1984, toxic gas had leaked from a pesticide factory run by Union Carbide, India Ltd spreading fumes over a large residential area in Bhopal. Between 7,000 and 10,000 people died within just three days of the leak, our researchers at Amnesty International have since estimated. Hundreds of thousands more were poisoned. Despite the deaths, the many years gone by, and the numbers of people who today still suffer from chronic health conditions as a result of the leak, justice is yet to be served. Survivors have not received adequate compensation for their injuries, the polluted factory site has not been cleaned up, and the companies involved have not been held to account.

Sights in Bhopal

Bhopal has the greatest concentration mosques of any Indian city, including a unique Art Deco one. Among the sights in Bhopal are the Taj-ul-Masajid, reported to be the largest mosque in India. There is also a center of performing arts, a museum of fine arts, some lakes and an old city lined with mosques, havelis, shops and alleyways. Upper Lake And Lower Lake are two stunning lakes separated by an overbridge called Pul Pukhta. The lakes are flanked by vast green gardens. Upper Lake plays host to migratory birds in the winter. There are many places to bike and walk.

Taj-Ul-Masjid is said to be the largest mosque in India. With a name that means “crown among mosques,” it sprawls over an area of 23,912 square feet and is a fine example of Mughal architecture, comparable to the iconic Jama Masjid in Delhi. It boasts a broad pink façade, spacious courtyards, smooth marble flooring and an inter-arched roof. The minarets rise to a height of 67 meters. The mosque has 27 interlinked ceilings, 16 of which are adorned with petal motifs. Every year, a three-day congregation used to be organised at Taj-Ul-Masjid, but it has since moved to Islam Nagar because its popularity grew so much that even the large mosque proved too small for hosting the event. The masjid's construction was started by Nawab Shah Jahan Begum (1868-1901). His daughter, Sultan Jahan Begum, continued its construction throughout her lifetime. After remaining in a dormant state for decades, its construction began once again in 1971 and ended in 1985.

Laxmi Narayan Temple (in the Arera Hills) is dedicated to Goddess Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, and her divine consort Lord Vishnu. There is a statue of Lord Shiva with his wife, Goddess Parvati too. The temple structure has carved archways and is surrounded by well-manicured lawns, where visitors can enjoy a moment of quiet meditation.

Moti Masjid bears stark resemblance to New Delhi’s Jama Masjid. It was built by Sikander Begum, then ruler of Bhopal, in 1860. Sikander Begum was an incredibly progressive and forward-thinking woman of her time, who commissioned roads, bridges and other monuments like the Moti Masjid to be built in Bhopal. Due to the huge presence of umpteen mosques here, Bhopal is often called the city of mosques. The mosque has two dark red towers topped by golden spikes, but its façade is white, earning it the moniker of the pearl mosque. There is a pool in the middle of the courtyard, with arched and pillared corridors on three sides of it. The masjid is an important religious building for the Muslim community of Bhopal and welcomes locals and tourists alike all year round.

Museums, Zoos and Art Centers in Bhopal

Birla Museum (next to Laxmi Narayan Temple) has an extensive sculpture collection from various districts of Madhya Pradesh, such as Mandsaur, Sehore, Shahdol and Raisen; this unique collection dates back to the 12th century, when art and culture were celebrated and encouraged by the Paramara dynasty (9th to 14th centuries). The museum is closed on Mondays.

Bharat Bhavan is one of the most prestigious national institutes of performing and visual arts in India. Designed by architect Charles Mark Correa, this multi-art center was set up to create an interactive proximity among verbal, performing and visual arts. Bharat Bhavan has an art gallery, a theater, rehearsal rooms, and libraries of Indian poetry, workshop for fine arts, classical and folk music as well as indoor and outdoor auditoria. Over the years, Bharat Bhavan has organised many programs including exhibitions, film shows, readings and music concerts, including but not limited to the World Poetry Festival, International Print Biennial (eight events), Biennial of Contemporary Indian Art, Commonwealth Countries’ Theater workshop, National Drama Festivals, Sarangi Mela, Jaipur Gharana Music Festival, Purush Dance Festival, Swayamsiddha (centerd on the creativity of women), Kavi Bharti and Samvaya, among others. The bhavan has several wings responsible for different events: Roopankar (museum of fine arts), Rangmandal (theater library), Vagarth (center of Indian poetry), Anhad (center of classical and folk music), Chhavi (center of classical cinema) and Nirala Srijanpeeth (creative writing).

Van Vihar (on a hill near the Upper Lake) is an open zoological park that houses huge enclosures where carnivores like lions, tigers, bears, panthers and hyenas are kept safely away from humans, but herbivores like blackbuck and cheetal are allowed to freely move around. Birds gather in large numbers is the same places were crocodiles and tortoises bask in the sun. A major attraction in Van Vihar is the reptile unit, where you can find snakes like python, Russel's viper and cobra. There is a special section dedicated to a variety of insects and butterflies as well.

Near Bhopal

Bhojpur (20 kilometers southeast of Bhopal) is an ancient town deeply rooted deep in history and spirituality. The main attraction is the magnificent Bhojeshwar Temple, which is a fine specimen of Indian architecture. Popularly known as the Somnath of the East, the temple has an imposing and richly engraved dome that is supported by four exquisite pillars. As you enter the premises, you are greeted by a gorgeously carved gateway that has two beautifully sculpted figures on either side. The unusual thing about the temple is that it is only partially complete. Its structure is square with over 66-ft-long sides. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple is one of the most significant spiritual sites in the city.

During the festival of Shivaratri, devotees from across the country flock to this legendary temple to seek blessings of Lord Shiva. The main idol is the lingam, which soars to a height of 7.5 feet and is set upon a huge platform. The lingam has been carved out of a single stone and has a striking architecture. The origin of the temple is credited to the legendary 11th-century Paramara king, Raja Bhoj. A short distance away from Bhojpur lies a Jain shrine that houses three statues - one of Mahavira and two of Parsvanath.

Satpura Tiger Reserve (near Pachmarhi, 130 kilometers southeast of Bhopal) is home to wild bisons, tigers, panthers, wild bears, four-horned deer, flying squirrel, rhesus monkeys and blue bulls, along with a wide variety of avian species like paradise fly-catcher, honey buzzard and Malabar pied hornbill. The Sanskrit name “Satpura” translates to seven hills and the park boasts a topography of ravines, waterfalls, rivulets, narrow gorges and dense forests. Spread over an area of 524 square kilometers, the park was set up in 1981. It is a part of the Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve, with 50 species of mammals, 254 species of birds, 30 species of reptiles, 50 species of butterflies and several types of trees and shrubs.

Pachmarhi

Pachmarhi (130 kilometers southeast of Bhopal) is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Located at a height of about 1,067 meters above sea level, and nestled in the verdant valley of the Satpura range, the town was established in 1857 by Captain James Forsyth. The forest of Pachmarhi is home to many birds and animals, including tigers and elephant, and is blessed with rich plant life. Fragrant blackberry plantations and thick clusters of bamboo are also found in Pachmarhi.

Pachmarhi is one of the most popular hill stations in Madhya Pradesh and has a number of attractions, including a series of ancient Buddhist caves in the Mahadeo Hills. One of the country’s highest waterfalls, Rajat Prapat, is also located here along with Jamuna Pratap, another waterfall, Apsara Vihar (fairy pool), Irene Pool and several others.

According to UNESCO: The Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve is located in the biogeographical region of the Deccan Peninsula and the Biotic Province of Central India. The Satpura mountain ranges cross India from west to east and Pachmarhi lies directly in its center. The highest peak is the Dhoopgarh, which reaches 1,352 meters above sea level, while the Pachmarhi hills are characterized by steep slopes in the northern regions. The eastern boundary of the biosphere reserve lies along a road with cultivation farms, close to the Dudhi River, while the southern boundary borders the Tawa plateau. Pachmarhi comprises three protection sites: the Bori Sanctuary, Satpura National Park and Pachmarhi Sanctuary – otherwise known as the Satpura Tiger Reserve. The Pachmarhi Plateau is also known as the ‘Queen of Satpura’, because it contains valleys, marshes, streams and waterfalls, all of which have led to the development of a unique and varied biodiversity.

“Surface area (terrestrial) of the reserve is 4,982 square kilometers, which include a core area of 1,555 square kilometers; a buffer area of 1,786 square kilometers; and a transition area of 1,641 square kilometers. Forests represent approximately 63 percent of the biosphere reserve’s area, while agricultural lands (30 percent), waste lands (2.18 percent), water bodies (5 percent) and human settlement areas (0.54 percent) account for the remainder. Tectona grandis (Teak) and Shorea robusta (Sal) are the most common and unique flora species found in the forests, with the latter found nowhere else in India. Tropical moist deciduous forests, tropical dry deciduous and central Indian sub-tropical hill forests are the major ecosystem types within Pachmarhi. The climate differs at all mountain levels and is characterized by strong monsoons.

“There exist more than 150 species of flora used for medicinal purposes. In addition, 60 species of pteridophytes have been recorded, 48 of which are types of fern. Important species include Psilotum triquetra (whisk fern) and Ophioglossum nudicaule (Adder’s-tongue ferns). The largest wild herbivores found in the reserve are Gaura, which together with bears, tigers and leopards, Ratufa indica (Giant Squirrel) and Spilornis cheela (Crested serpent eagle) are rare and endangered. Lastly, over 50 mammal species, 254 bird species, 30 reptile species and 50 butterfly species live in the Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve.

“The Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve is characterized by high population growth, with Gond tribes accounting for 50 percent to 90 percent of the tribal population. They live in the forests and therefore have a special connection to the reserve. Korkus tribes introduced the cultivation of potatoes and made use of honeycombs to produce honey in significant quantities for commercial use. The area used to be notorious for hosting evil spirits, diseases and dangerous beasts.

“Captain J. Forsyth discovered the area in 1862 and remarked upon the extensive cave network. These caves are of great archaeological interest, containing rock paintings up to 2,500 years old. Today, many Hindus festivals are celebrated near the reserve. ‘Nagpanchmi’ is celebrated in summer and the ‘Maha Shivratri’ fair occurs in March. Conservation tactics were first introduced in 1865 with the banning of slash-and-burn agriculture. A number of Reserve Forests were introduced, the most notable of which is the Bori Reserve Forest. Large sites also exist for grazing purposes, but with advent of severe overgrazing, particular grazing areas were created that permit only limited grazing activities.”

Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

Bhimbetka Rock Shelters (46 kilometers south-southeast of Bhopal) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. According to UNESCO: “The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka are in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau. Within massive sandstone outcrops, above comparatively dense forest, are five clusters of natural rock shelters, displaying paintings that appear to date from the Mesolithic Period right through to the historical period. The cultural traditions of the inhabitants of the twenty-one villages adjacent to the site bear a strong resemblance to those represented in the rock paintings.” The site is important because: 1) Bhimbetka reflects a long interaction between people and the landscape, as demonstrated in the quantity and quality of its rock art. 2) Bhimbetka is closely associated with a hunting and gathering economy as demonstrated in the rock art and in the relicts of this tradition in the local adivasi villages on the periphery of this site.

According to Glorious India: “A total of 750 caves spread over a 10-x-4 kilometer area. The caves depict paintings belonging to the Paleolithic (10,000 B.C.), Mesolithic (5,000 B.C.) and the Chalcolithic (2,000 B.C.) periods. The most famous cave is the Zoo Rock where one can see paintings dating back to 10,000 B.C. made with limestone and also some paintings made between 5,000 years and 7,000 years ago with vegetable colors and iron. The Zoo Rock depicts a variety of animals from horses to elephants and from bulls to antelopes. There is a distinct difference in the paintings made in 10,000 B.C. and those made in 5,000 B.C. It makes one wonder if the animals themselves evolved or was it that man just became a better artist.There are also caves that depict paintings of man's daily life thousands of years ago. You have paintings showing group dance and others depicting hunting scenes. [Source: Glorious India <>]

“Some caves have paintings, which date back to 2,000 B.C. Here, man is shown wearing clothes and the weapons are more sophisticated. The paintings too have improved. For instance, while horses were shown as nothing but line sketches in the 10,000 B.C. paintings, a horse painted in 2,000 B.C. The superimposition of paintings shows that the same canvas was used by different people at different times. The colors used by the cave dwellers were prepared combining manganese, haematite, soft red stone and wooden coal. Sometimes the fat of animals and extracts of leaves were also used in the mixture. The colors have remained intact for many centuries due to the chemical reaction. <>

“The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods: Period I - (Upper Paleolithic): These are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge figures of animals such as bisons, tigers, and rhinoceroses. Period II - (Mesolithic): Comparatively small in size, the stylised figures in this group show linear decoration on the body. In addition to animals, there are human figures and hunting scenes, giving a clear picture of the weapons they used: barbed spears, pointed sticks, bows and arrows. The depiction of communal dances, birds, musical instruments, mother and child, pregnant women, men carrying dead animals, drinking and burials appear in rhythmic movement. Period III - (Chaleolithic): Similar to the paintings of Chaleolithic pottery, these drawings reveal that during the period the cave dwellers of this area had come in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains and started an exchange of their requirements with each other. <>

Period IV & V - (Early Historic): The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style, and are painted mainly in red, white and yellow. The association is of riders, depiction of religious symbols, tunic-like dresses and the existence of scripts of different periods. The religious beliefs are represented by figures of yakshas, tree gods and magical sky chariots. Period Vl & Vll - (Medieval): These paintings are geometric, linear and more schematic, but they show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style. <>

Indore

Indore (120 kilometers west of Bhopal, 520 kilometers northeast of Mumbai) is located in on the Mumbai-Agra Road in the center of the Malwa Region, which has good agricultural land and plentiful t rainfall. Indore has cotton mills and several other light industries; cotton, peanuts, millet, wheat, and barley are grown in the region. Sights include two palaces and an old British Residency. The population of the city is about 1.9 million.

Indore is home to grand monuments and temples and architectural gems, such as the 18th-century Indreshwar Temple.A trading hub between the Deccan region and Delhi during the 16th century, Indore was founded in the 18th century by Rao Nandlal Chaudhary, the chief of the landlords of the region. As one flips through the pages of history, it is revealed that the ancestors of the city were landlords of Malwa. It flourished as a well-planned capital city of the Holkars on the banks of River Saraswati (now nonexistent) and River Khan (Kahn).

Getting There: By Air: The city of Indore is conveniently connected to major cities including Mumbai and Delhi via Bhopal and Gwalior. By Road: The city of Indore is conveniently connected to major cities including Mumbai and Delhi via Bhopal and Gwalior. By Train: Indore has a dense network of railways and is connected to the main line between Delhi and Mumbai via Ujjain. It is also connected to various cities like Jabalpur, Pachmarhi, Agra, Gwalior, etc.

Sights in and around Indore

Mahatma Gandhi Hall Or Town Hall is a classical red-colored building and is one of the most striking colonial structures in Indore. Made in Seoni stone, the hall is an excellent example of Indo-Gothic architecture. Its domes and steeples make it a worthy landmark of the city. The central hall can accommodate approximately 2,000 people at a time. The hall also hosts book and painting exhibitions throughout the year. There is a popular clock tower in front of the Town Hall, referred to as Ghanta Ghar. It also houses a library, a children's park and a temple in the premises.

Lal Bagh Palace (the outskirts of Indore) is one of the grandest monuments built by the Holkar dynasty. An opulent multi-storey structure, it features a replica of the gates used in London's Buckingham Palace and were exclusively shipped from England. As you enter the gates, you come across a beautiful and well-laid out rose garden that surrounds the palace. The interiors of this palace are quite lavish and include Italian marble columns, imposing chandeliers, carpets from Persia and impressive carvings. The exquisite ballroom of the palace is an awe-inspiring sight. The palace also boasts Georgian style furniture and arresting contemporary paintings from India and Italy. The palace has been converted into a museum now and takes you through the pages of the rich history of the royalty.

Indore Museum , or the Central museum, houses a fine collection of art and artefacts from medieval and pre-medieval eras. The exhibits on display range from sculptures of Hinglajgarh, an ancient fort in the Mandsaur district to sculptures from the early Gupta and Parmara times. It is believed that the Parmara style originated in the city of Indore and its main features include depiction in stone, intricate ornamentation and proportioned figures. While the first gallery of the museum houses stone tools, ornaments and domestic use articles, its second gallery displays an exquisite range of Hindu mythological carvings. The museum is located near the General Post Office in Indore and is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm on all days, except Monday.

Kanch Mandir is a fine specimen of glass architecture, exquisite windows, brilliantly designed domes and beautiful mirror work. From its walls and floors to ceilings and pillars, every inch of the temple is adorned with thousands of mirrors. colorful ceramic tiles featuring impressive patterns, cut-glass chandeliers and glass lamps resembling lanterns add to the beauty of the temple. One of the major highlights of the temple is the special glass chamber that houses an image of Lord Mahavira in black onyx. The glass in the image is used in such a way that it creates an effect that the statue seen in the mirror multiplies into infinite numbers, mesmerising the spectators. The entrance of the temple is also noteworthy as it is adorned by a collection of marvellous paintings. The temple was built by Sir Seth Hukum Chand (1874-1979), a leader of the Jain community.

Omkareshwar is home to one of the 12 jyotirlinga temples in the world. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple is nestled in the Omkar mountain, an island in the middle of River Narmada. The temple has a large sabha mandap (prayer hall) standing on 60 brown huge stone pillars. The five storeys of the temple have different deities each and three prayer services are conducted in the temple everyday. While the morning prayer is done by the temple trust, the other two prayer meetings are held by the priests of the Holkar and Scindia states. The temple draws pilgrims in large numbers who also visit the nearby Mamleshwar temple. Taking a dip in the Narmada river before going inside the temple is considered auspicious. The ancient lingam (phallic symbol honoring Shiva) in the temple is barricaded by a glass box to avoid destruction.

Rajwada Located at the heart of Indore's Khajuri Bazaar, Rajwada is the first building in India that was restored using the same materials and in the same style that it was originally constructed in. Dating back to the 1747, Rajwada served as the residence of the Holkar dynasty. The current royal family of Indore restored the palace in 2006 and since then, it has been bustling with visitors who come to admire the opulence of the place. The seven-storeyed palace is a beautiful blend of Maratha, Mughal and French styles of architecture. While the upper floors of the palace are made of wood, the lower floors are made of stone. The carved stone and wooden jaalis, jharokhas and chattris of the palace are its most striking features. Visit the palace for a close interaction with the royal past of the rulers of Indore.

Dhar (70 kilometers west of Idore) is picturesque town surrounded by barren hills. Dotted with forts, temples and mosques, Dhar has a mysterious charm that appeals to travelers. One of the most visited spots in the scenic town is the Bhoj Shala mosque, which was built by Raja Bhoj (1010-1055) of the Paramara dynasty, who was a great lover of literature. Other famous places include the Lath Masjid and the Bagh Caves. Art lovers should definitely visit the Fadke Studio of Art, which was built in the memory of renowned sculptor Raghunath Krishna Fadke, who was invited to Dhar in 1933 to promote art in the town. The studio houses a great collection of sculptures of famous Indian personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekanand.

Mandu

Mandu (42 kilometers southeast of Dhar, 112 kilometers southwest of Indore and 300 kilometers southwest of Bhopal) is former royal city built around water tanks and places that are characterized by a truly unique form of architecture. The city’s most famous ruler, Baz Bahadur, was a Muslim known for his undying love for his Hindu queen Rani Roopmati. Worth checking out are Jahaz Mahal, a 375-foot-long, two-story-high "ship palace" sandwiched between two artificial lakes; Hindola Mahal, a sandstone palace with beautiful columns, delicately carved trellis work and sloping side walls; the 15th century Hoshang Shah's Tomb, India's first marble monument; and Jami Masjid, a mosque inspired by the Great Mosque of Damascus.

Mandu was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: There are 61 monuments including fort wall protected and declared as monuments of national importance. The most significant ones are described below- l) Caves and Temples: The rock-cut caves known as Lohani caves were probably excavated in or about the eleventh century A.D. The area around them yielded 80 sculptures. Some Saiva temples appear to have existed near the caves which were destroyed for use in the Muslim buildings. To the south of the cave stands a monolithic pillar about 5 meters high probably attached to a temple originally. 2) Dilawar Khan's Mosque: The earliest Indo-Islamic building at Mandu is Dilawar Khan's mosque. It consists of a central courtyard, enclosed by colonnade all around and mehrab on the west. The prayer hall has ceiling in Hindu style and its architecture is considerably influenced by Hindu workmanship. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India}

3) Hindola Mahal: This building is "T" - shaped in plan, with a main hall and a transverse projection. On both sides of the hall are six arched openings. This hall originally had a massive vaulted roof. The side walls are strengthened with massive sloping buttresses which have given the name "swinging" (Hindola) palace to the building. Architecturally, the palace is assigned to the end of the fifteenth century A.D. 4) Jahaz Mahal: It is known as "Ship Palace" as it is on the narrow strip of land between the waters of the Munj and Kapur tanks. The ground floor of the building consists of three large halls, with corridors in betwen the narrow rooms at the extreme ends. Its spacious terrace, approached by a lengthy flight of steps is adorned with domed pavilions.

5) Tomb of Hoshang Shah: The tomb is square in plan, with well-proportioned and artistic arched openings on three sides supporting the marble dome above. The mausoleum stands on a square marble platform. The walls are 9.6 meters high from the plattorm. The interior of the tomb is 14.9 square meters. Externally, the dome is flat and heavy, adorned with small domed turrets at the four corners. The finial of the dome is crowned with a crescent, a feature which seems to have been imported to Mandu. The tomb is influenced by Hindu style of architecture. 6) Jami Masjid: This majestic building was started by Hoshang Shah and completed by Mahmud Khalji in A.D.1454. On plan it is 97.4 sq.m with a huge dome on the porch and approached by a flight of thirty steps. The facade of the plinth has been arranged into a verandah, 1.8m deep, with arched openings. The interior of the mosque consists of a spacious hall about 13.7 sq.m with jali screens on the sides.

7) Madrasa or Ashrafi Mahal: The bnildings here belong to two different stages of construction. The earlier representing a college or Madrasa, attached to the Jami Masjid, is a great quadrangle enclosed on all sides by a number of small cells for students. At the four corners of the quadrangle were round towers, three of which are still extant. Amongst these the northeastern tower was later raised seven storeys high by Mahmud Khalji to commemorate his victory over the Rana of Mewar in Rajasthan. The basement of this tower is 9.8 meters high. Here the tomb of Mahmud Khalji was erectod on the western projection of the quadrangle. The interior of this tomb is 19.9 sq.m. It was repaired during the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar.

8) Malik Mughith's Mosque: Malik Mughith, the father of Mahmud Khalji, built the mosque in A.D.1432. The plan of this building consists of a central court and other usual parts. 9) Dai-Ki-Chhoti Bahen-Ka-Mahal: It is a tomb octagonal in plan with arched openings on four sides 10) Baz-Bahadurts Palace: The palace is approached by broad steps with landings at intervals. The passage through the gateway is covered with rooms for the guards on both sides and with a vaulted ceiling. The passage further leads to the outer court of the palace with its main doorway in front. The main portion of the palace consists of a spacious open courtyard with halls and rooms on all the four sides and a cistern in its center.

11) Rupmati's Pavilion: The building has undergone two or three stages of construction in different periods. On the terrace of the original portion there are pavilions, square in plan at the base and crowned with hemispherical domes, fluted both outside and inside. It is said that Rupmati came here daily from the palace nearby to have a view of river Narmada, which is seen from here on a clear sunny day. The style of the arches and pillars show that the pavilions were probably built a century earlier than Rupmati's time. 12) Darya Khan's Tomb: The most interesting feature of this building are the small domes at the four corners surrounding the main dome in the center. The interior is a square with arches built across the corners to support the dome above. The tomb was built for Darya Khan in A.D.1510-26

Ujjain

Ujjain (60 kilometers north of Indore) is an ancient city and one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in India. Situated on the eastern banks of Kshipra (Shipra) River, it is the most prominent city on the Malwa plateau and was the capital of the ancient Avanti kingdom. Home to about 500,000 people, it emerged as a political center of Central India around 600 B.C. and remained an important center of political, commercial and cultural activities until the 19th century, when the British decided to develop Indore as an alternative center for commercial activities. It’s an important pilgrimage site for various sects among Hindus. Historical figures like poet Kalidas, legendary emperor Vikramaditya and king Bindusar, father of Emperor Ashoka have associations with this city. The month-long Maha Kumbh Mela — Simhastha — is held held every 12 years on the banks of River Kshipra in Ujjain. The one In April and May 2016 attracted millions of people.

“The town fallen from heaven to bring heaven to earth”, was how the famous Sanskrit poet Kalidasa described the ancient city of Ujjain. Located at the heart of Madhya Pradesh, this ancient city is a labyrinth of bustling lanes that weave through temple clusters, earning Ujjain the moniker, “the city of temples”. One of the seven sacred sites of Hinduism, Ujjain attracts millions of devotees who take a dip in the Kshipra river, believing that the act absolve them of their sins and help them attain moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Since the city has been under the patronage of various rulers, its rich heritage and vibrant Arts And Crafts are diverse and unique. It is very popular for traditionally printed textiles like batik, bagh, Bhairavgarh print and screen. Shop for saris and yardages printed in any of these techniques. It is said that even in 600 B.C. Ujjian was home to hundreds of temples. It is also said that in the 3rd century B.C., the great Emperor Ashoka was sent to Ujjain by his father Bindusara to subdue an uprising. He was injured and was treated by Buddhist monks, the king's first encounter with Buddhism, a religion he later converted India to. Its temples and buildings span a long period of time and many have associations with astronomy. The Vedha Shala Observatory was built in the 18th century and still is use today. Interesting pilgrimage temples include Mangalrath, regarded as the birthplace of Mars; Navagraha, dedicated to the nine planets; and Mahakaleshwar, with a soaring shikhar that dominates the skyline of Ujjain.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is Indore’s Devi Ahilya Bai International Airport, about 55 kilometers away. By Road: Regular buses from various Indian towns and cities are connected to Ujjain with good roads. By Train: Ujjain Railway Station is connected with all towns and cities through a wide network of rail routes.

Sights in Ujjain

Gomti Kund was once a major source of water for Sandipani Ashram. This water tank is set amidst serene environs. It is believed that taking a dip in the sacred water of the tank can help cure the problems of devotees, who come here to pray. According to legend, Lord Krishna collected the water of holy rivers from different pilgrimage centers and put it in here. The kind is also home to a lot of monkeys! The Sandipani Ashram is named after the saint who was the teacher of Lord Krishna and his brothers. The ashram has a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva that is a must-visit while you are at the kund. At this temple, the figure of Nandi (bull god) stands guard in front of Lord Shiva.

Ram Mandir Ghat (near the Harsiddhi Mata Temple) visited by thousands of devotees, who believe that taking a dip in the waters of the holy Kshipra river would absolve them of their sins, during the period of Kumbh Mela. Tourists can also pay their respects at the various temples lining the ghat. One should especially visit the ghat for the evening prayers when the lights and diyas make for a mesmerising sight. It is a great place to take a leisurely stroll and soak in the atmosphere of Ujjain. Moreover, tourists can get splendid views of sunsets from the ghat, which is believed to be one of the oldest sites of Kumbh celebration. Gaze in awe as the burning orb of the sun slides down the horizon, painting the sky in myriad shades of red and orange.

Kaliadeh Palace (near the Kal Bhairav Temple) is set amidst a beautiful landscape, with the River Kshipra flowing on both its sides. From afar, it looks like an isle. There are water channels and man-made tanks within the complex, which is surrounded by lush landscape that lends the palace a spectacular look. Visits of Mughal emperor Akbar and his son Jehangir are recorded in two inscriptions in one of the corridors here. Traces of Persian style of architecture can be witnessed in the palace's central dome along with inscriptions on the walls and the structure of the central hall. The palace was restored in the 1920s by Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia after it was demolished completely by the Pindaris. One of the most remarkable landmarks of Ujjain, the palace was built by Sultan of Mandu in 1458. According to local hearsay, there was also an ancient Sun Temple in the premises with two water bodies - Surya Kunda and Brahma Kunda.

Siddhavat is a huge banyan tree on the banks of River Kshipra. Pegged as a paap-mochan (sin purifier) teerth, the tree is believed to have been planted by Goddess Parvati when she had come to worship and perform penance. Saints of the Nath cult throng this place all-year-round to worship and meditate. There is a restaurant in the vicinity for pilgrims and travelers to relax in. Devotees also take a holy dip in the sacred Kshipra river. This is believed to wash away their sins. The temple opens as early as 4am and a lot of visitors come here on Sarvapitra Amavashya to pray for the peace of the departed souls.

Temples in Ujjain

Mangalnath Temple (on the outskirts of Ujjain) is among the most important shrines on the tourist circuit. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Shiva or Mahadeva, who is worshipped by devotees from far and wide. According to Matsya Purana, the Mangalnath Temple is considered to be the birthplace of Mars. It is said that during ancient times, the temple was one of the best places to get a clear view of Mars and a great spot for astronomical studies. Located on the banks of River Kshipra, the temple is associated with the belief that it will rid visitors of their dark energies and problems. From here, visitors can also get a picturesque and sweeping view of the holy Kshipra river.

Gopal Mandir (in the market square) is a fine example of Maratha architecture. It was constructed in the 19th century by the Queen of Maharaj Daulat Rao Shinde- Bayajibai Shinde. A towering marble structure, the temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna. While the sanctum sanctorum has been inlaid with marble and has silver-plated doors along with a patch of gemstone plate, the inner sanctum was taken away to Ghazni. Thereafter, it was taken to Lahore by Mahmud Shah Abdali. The sanctum sanctorum houses the idols of Lord Krishna (black) and Goddess Radha (white). There are also statues of Devi Rukmani and Shiv Parvati on either side of the main shrine. The temple hosts a grand celebration annually on the occasion of Bhadrakrishna Janmashtami.

Gadkalika Temple (near Ujjain) is dedicated to Goddess Kalika. Legend states that poet Kalidasa, though formally uneducated, was able to acquire unparalleled literary knowledge and skills because of blessings by this Goddess that he was utterly devoted to. Goddess Kalika is associated with universal energy. At the entrance of the temple, devotees are met by a sculpture of a lion that is facing towards the stone deity who is painted saffron with a crown of silver sitting prettily on the head. The building has a hollow, pyramid-shaped dome with layers carved into it. Devotees can also pay their respects to the idol of Lord Ganesha within the grounds. Though the origins of the temple remain unknown, it was once renovated by emperor Harshvardhan, ruler of the Vardhana dynasty (606-647) in the 7th century AD and once again during the Paramara period (9th to 14th centuries). The current structure of the temple was given its shape by the erstwhile state of Gwalior.

Mahakaleshwar Temple is one of the 12 jyotirlingas in the country and among the most prominent temples in Ujjain, Mahakaleshwar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The lingam (a symbolic representation of Lord Shiva) at Mahakaleshwar resides in a subterranean chamber and is believed to be swayambhu or self-manifested. The present temple is a five-storey structure and was constructed midway during the 18th century. Built in Bhumija, Chalukya and Maratha styles of architecture, the temple is an architectural marvel. Of note are its marble walkways that were restored in the latter half of the 19th century by the Scindias. Three floors of the building are occupied by lingams of Mahakalesvara, Omkaresvara and Nagachandresvara, respectively. The Nagachandresvara lingam is accessible for devotees only on the occasion of Naga Panchami. There is also a kunda (tank) in the premises called Koti Tirtha that has been built in the sarvatobhadra style. On the path from the stairs of the kunda to the temple you will come across several images of the original structure of the temple, reflecting its grandeur during the period of the Paramaras (9th and 14th centuries). Located near Rudra Sagar, the temple holds a special Bhasma Arti for which devotees gather here as early as 4 am. There is an enthusiastic vibe in the air and the lit diyas make for a stunning sight.

Kal Bhairava Temple (on the banks of River Kshipra) is believed to have been built by King Bhadresen. Worshipping eight Bhairavas (incarnations of Lord Shiva) has been a tradition for the Shaivite sect devotees with Kal Bhairava being the chief among them. In Avanti Khanda (a chapter) of the Skanda Purana (religious text), there is a mention of Kal Bhairava Temple and it is believed that worshipping here has always been a part of the Aghora and Kapalika sects as well. Images of Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesha and Lord Vishnu were once recovered from the temple. The current temple structure reflects the Maratha architectural style. Traces of paintings made in Malwa style are still visible on the walls of the temple. The village of Bhairogarh, where the temple is situated, is also known for a certain art form of printing.

Bada Ganesh Mandir (across the Kshipra river) is prominent temple of Lord Ganesha. Dated to the 12th century, the rebuilt temple is pristine white structure, with turrets at its entrance and fine-carvings on the stone pillars inside. A bronze idol of five-faced (panchmukh) Lord Hanuman adorns the heart of the temple complex, along with a statue of Lord Krishna in the arms of mother Yashoda. Visitors can also take Sanskrit and astrology classes at the temple. Legend states that the humongous idol of Lord Ganesha in the sanctum is swayambhu (self-manifested). It is flanked by the lord's consorts, Riddhi and Siddhi, on either side. It is said that this self-manifested idol of Lord Ganesha contains elements from the pilgrimage sites of Kashi, Ayodhya, Avantika and Mathura, along with traces of gold and silver.

Chintaman Ganesh Temple (across holy River Kshipra) is the biggest and the most ancient shrine in Ujjain that is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. The temple's idol is believed to be self-manifested. The deity is known as Chintaharan/Cintaman Ganesha- the one who gives an assurance of freedom from worldly anxieties, the reliever of all tensions. The consorts of Lord Ganesha, Riddhi and Siddhi, are placed here on both sides of the lord. The entire temple is built wholly of stone and in the assembly hall are beautifully carved pillars that date back to the Paramara period (9th to 14th century). Visitors can also pay their respects to the idol of Lord Vishnu in the premises of the temple.

Kumbh Mela at Ujjain

Kumbh Mela is probably the largest spiritual gathering in the world, held in four parts of India - Haridwar, Ujjain, Allahabad and Nashik. It is held every four years in one of the four cities. The fair held in Ujjain is called Simhasth Kumbh Mahaparv and is held on the banks of the holy Kshipra river. It is widely considered as a Hindu pilgrimage in which devotees from all over the globe come together to take a dip in the sacred river. This is in effect to the belief that taking a dip in the waters would absolve them of their sins. The mela itself is a vibrant and awe-inspiring event and a great place to soak in culture and tradition.

There is an interesting story behind the origin of this popular festival. The gods (devtas) and demons (asuras) were fighting over a pot of nectar (kalasha of amrit) that they had found during the churning of the primordial sea (Samudra Mathan). Since the demons were more powerful, the gods entrusted the pot of nectar to four devtas - Brahaspati, Surya, Chandra and Shani, who ran away with it to keep it safe. The demons chased after them for 12 days and nights around the earth. During the chase, the gods kept the pot at Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nasik. Another legend says that a fight ensued between the gods and demons in which the pot tipped over, and the nectar fell at these four places.

There are 10 auspicious days for bathing, including three for the ‘Shahi Snan’ (Holy royal bath/dip): April 22, May 9 and May 21). The Ghats for bathing included: Ram Ghat (ancient and holiest ghat), Triveni Ghat (at the confluence of rivers Kshipra, Khan and the invisible Saraswati), Ganga Ghat, Mangalnath Ghat, Gau Ghat, Kabir Ghat, Siddhwat Ghat, etc. In the camps of various Akharas carried out rituals and engaged in different kinds of yogic and tantric practices. All shops at Kumbh Mela accepted credit cards. Seventy ATMs and employees from various banks were deployed.

Kumbh Mela at Ujjain in 2016

In April and May, 2016, the month-long Maha Kumbh Mela — Simhastha — was held on the banks of River Kshipra at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. Ujjain is an ancient city situated on the eastern banks of river Kshipra. the most prominent city on the Malwa plateau and the capital of the ancient Avanti kingdom, it emerged as a political center of Central India around 600 B.C. Ujjain remained an important center of political, commercial and cultural activities until the 19th century, when the British decided to develop Indore as an alternative center for commercial activities. It's an important pilgrimage site for various sects among Hindus. Historical stalwarts like poet Kalidas, legendary emperor Vikramaditya and king Bindusar, father of Emperor Ashoka were associated with this city.

Debobrat Ghose wrote in First Post, “With the sunrise, the first holy dip in the river Kshipra (Shahi Snan) by nearly one million (10 lakh) devotees from various parts of the world, including 1.25 lakh sadhus (seers), marked the beginning of the Simhastha — the largest congregation of Hindus in the world. Amidst the sound of conches and traditional musical instruments such as Dhol (drum) and Nagada, a large group of Naga sadhus belonging to Juna Akhada jumped into the river for a holy bath followed by others. [Source: Debobrat Ghose, First Post, Apr, 23 2016]

Massive arrangements have been made for the grand event, which attracts many foreign tourists. “Today, we have made arrangements for 400 buses and 100 vans to take pilgrims from their destinations to bathing ghats. Besides this, we have full-fledged medical arrangement to take care of the devotees," a Simhastha administration official said. In a first, eunuchs and transgenders have participated in this Maha Kumbh under the umbrella of Kinnar Akhara. “This is the first time we are participating in Maha Kumbh and will be a part of various rituals. We also have our programs to showcase during the Mela," said Rishi Ajay Das, in-charge of the Kinnar Akhara.

The Kumbh Mela township is spread across more than 3,000 hectares and is divided into six zones and 22 sectors. The festival is called Simhastha due to celestial configuration. The ‘Simhastha Maha Kumbh’ in Ujjain occurs when the Sun (Surya) is in zodiac sign Aries (Mesh) and Jupiter (Guru) in Leo (Simha). Fourteen 14 bridges and roads worth Rs 362 crore a permanent 450-bed hospital were built. An ambulance with 14 stretchers has been created to carry patients from the Mela site to nearby hospital. Water from the Narmada river has been brought to the Kshipra. Digital displays tell a person from 30 km distance about parking facility and position.

According to MP government estimated 5 crore pilgrims would visit Kumbh Mela from across the world. Budget for the event was earmarked at Rs 3,500 crore but likely to touch around Rs 5,000 crore; this is an increase of more than 10 times in the budget allocation for Simastha 2004. For the first time in the history, Kinnar Akhara or Pari Akhara — a group of about 1000 eunuchs and transgenders from across the country — participated and had their own procession.

Thirteen akharas (group/ school/institution of sadhus) — including Juna, Nimrohi, Digambar, and Nirvani — participated at Maha Kumbh Mela in Ujjain. Of these akharas, seven followed Shavism (a Shiva sect), three followed Panchayati and three were Vaishnavite (Vishnu followers). The main types of sadhus at Simhastha were: 1) Naga sadhus, naked sadhus who smear their bodies with ash and have long matted hair; 2) Shirshasinse, who remain standing, sleeping with their heads resting on a vertical poles, and meditating standing on their heads; 3) Kalpvasis, who remain by the river banks and devote their time to meditating, performing rituals, and bathing numerous times a day; 4) Urdhwavahurs, who have emaciated bodies from rigid spiritual practices; and 5) Parivajakas, who who have taken a vow of silence. Constant exposure to the weather makes the Naga sadhus resistant to temperature extremes. Their eyes are bloodshot from constantly smoking charas (marijuana), which they believe aids enlightenment. [Source: Debobrat Ghose, First Post, Apr, 23 2016]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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