Travel Bucket List: India – Madhya Pradesh Part 5

Let’s now go about 215 km north of the capital city of Bhopal to the town of Chanderi, another place associated with a saree, found in every Indian woman’s wardrobe.

A town of historical importance, Chanderi is surrounded by hills southwest of the Betwa River as well as lakes and forests and has several monuments of the Bundela Rajputs and the Malwa sultans. It is famous for ancient Jain Temples.

Located strategically on the borders of Malwa and Bundelkhand, Chanderi’s history goes back to the 11th century, when it was dominated by the trade routes of Central India and was proximate to the arterial route to the ancient ports of Gujarat as well as to Malwa, Mewar, Central India and the Deccan. Consequently, Chanderi became an important military outpost. The town also finds mention in Mahabharata. Shishupal was the king of Chanderi during the Mahabharata period. Chanderi is mentioned by the Persian scholar Alberuni in 1030. Ghiyas ud din Balban captured the city in 1251 for Nasiruddin Mahmud, Sultan of Delhi. Sultan Mahmud I Khilji of Malwa captured the city in 1438 after a siege of several months. In 1520 Rana Sanga of Mewar captured the city, and gave it to Medini Rai, a rebellious minister of Sultan Mahmud II of Malwa. In the Battle of Chanderi, the Mughal Emperor Babur captured the city from Medini Rai and witnessed the macabre Rajput rite of jauhar, in which, faced with certain defeat and in an attempt to escape dishonor in the hands of the enemy, women with children in their arms jumped in a fire pit to commit suicide, which was made for this specific purpose, against the background of vedic hymns recited by the priests. Jauhar was performed during the night and in the morning the men would rub the ashes of their dead women folk on their forehead, don a saffron garment known as kesariya, chew tulsi leaves, symbolizing their awareness about impending death and resolve to fight and die with honour. In 1540 it was captured by Sher Shah Suri, and added to the governorship of Shujaat Khan. The Mughal Emperor Akbar made the city a sarkar in the subah of Malwa. According to Ain-e-Akbari, the autobiography of Akbar, Chanderi had 14000 stone houses and boasted of 384 markets, 360 spacious caravan sarais or resting place and 12,000 mosques.

The Bundela Rajputs captured the city in 1586, and it was held by Ram Sab, a son of Raja Madhukar of Orchha. In 1680 Devi Singh Bundela was made governor of the city, and Chanderi remained in the hands of his family until it was annexed in 1811 by Jean Baptiste Filose for the Maratha ruler Daulat Rao Sindhia of Gwalior. The city was transferred to the British in 1844. The British lost control of the city during the Revolt of 1857, and the city was recaptured by Hugh Rose on 14 March 1858. The city was transferred back to the Scindias of Gwalior in 1861, and became part of Gwalior state. After India’s independence, Gwalior became part of the new state of Madhya Bharat, which was merged into Madhya Pradesh on 1 November 1956. Chanderi has been a major centre of Jain culture and  was a major centre of the Parwar Jain community.

Chanderi Fort: Standing proudly at a eight of 71 feet above the town on a hill, Chanderi Fort is fortified by a 5 km long wall. Built by King Kirti Pal in the 11th century, the fort has witnessed several attacks and has been re-built a number of times. The fort has three gates as entrances with the uppermost gate known as Hawa Paur and the lowermost gate is known as Khooni Darwaza. The southwest side of the fort has an interesting gateway called the Katti-Ghatti. There are several attractions situated inside the Chanderi fort, like the Khilji Mosque, Naukhanda palace, tomb of Hazrat Abdul Rahman, etc. A rest house situated on the northern ridge of the fort is the main attraction of the monument as it presents a wonderful view of the town below.

Badal Mahal Darwaza: A singular structure of a gate, the Badal Mahal Darwaza doesn’t lead to any palace or mahal. This historic gate enjoys a central location in Chanderi, near the Jama Masjid and was constructed by Sultan Mehmood Shah Khilji, the King of Malwa, in the 15th century to mark a significant victory. The Badal Mahal Darwaza has a height of 100 ft and features elaborate carvings and impressive motifs. The top of the gate features an arched design and two tall minarets stand guard on both sides. The specialty of the structural design is that a gap exists above the arched top of the gate, which is followed by another arch, which brings up the end of the gate. This gate served the purpose of welcoming and honouring the state guests and visiting kings in a grand manner.

Koshak Mahal: An impressive palace at a distance of 4 km from Chanderi, the Koshak Mahal palace was built by the Sultan of Malwa, Mehmood Shah Khilji, in 1445 to mark the victory of Mehmood Shah in the battle at Kalpi over Sultan Mehmood Sharki. Koshak Mahal is a square structure with large impressive arched doorways and consists of four mansions of similar size and equally spaced from one another with a network of passages and overhead covered corridors connect them. The superstructure of the palace does not exist today, but the beauty of the palace can still be felt in the remaining portion standing there. Koshak Mahal was constructed from white local sandstone with all four mansions featuring an identical style of architecture and design. The palace today stands with three complete storeys and an incomplete fourth storey.

Raja Mahal: A seven storied palace in Andar Shehar, Raja Mahal is one of the few remaining palaces that still grace the landscape of Chanderi. Chanderi once had around 260 palaces, of which only 43 have managed to exist. The palace features architectural style of the 15th century and is a beautiful structure constructed from grey and white sandstones and has elaborate carvings to display. The palace is truly a magnificent structure that has large courtyards, elegant stairways, beautifully carved pillars and open pavilions on the terrace. The palace has an underground passage connecting it to another palace standing nearby. This smaller palace is known as the Rani Mahal, which is quite different in architecture and style to the Raja Mahal. These two palaces together are known as the Rajmahal.

Rani Mahal: The smaller of the two palaces, Rani Mahal is a four storied structure that is connected to the Raja Mahal through a secret passage. The Rani Mahal displays the Bundela style of architecture with the exact period of construction of the palace not known though it is believed to be prior to the 16th century. The palace is an enclosed structure with a large courtyard surrounding it with spacious corridors beautiful pillars. The terrace was built with pavilions that were used as watch towers.

Shahzadi ka Rouza: An impressive monument built on a 12 ft high podium, the Shahzadi ka Rouza is situated near the Parmeshwar Pond. The outside wall features a tall first storey and a short second storey. The eaves at both these levels are held by uniquely designed serpentine brackets. The inside of the structure comprises of just one storey and has a single room that is square in shape. The monument originally had 5 domes, but most of them are ruined now. This structure is a tomb built in the 15th century by the then Hakim who governed Chanderi and constructed in memory of his daughter Mehrunissa who was in love with the chief of Hakim’s army. But due to Hakim’s disapproval, the young couple died at the spot where the memorial stands today. The Hakim buried his daughter there and built the structure as her memorial.

Battisi Bavdi: The most famous and the largest step-well in Chanderi, Battisi Bavdi is believed to always have water as long as water exists in the oceans. The amazing feature of this wonderful well is that the water remains at the same level inside the well all year through. The step well is square in shape with a dimension of 60 ft by 60 ft and has a depth of around four storeys. The stairs start from the main entrance and lead to the base of the well. The end of the main steps at each storey leads to beautiful platforms or ghats that surround the well on all sides. There are 32 flight of steps in the well, which gives it its name. Battisi Bavdi was built by Sher Khan in 1485 during the rule of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Shah Khilji.

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Old Chanderi: Situated at a distance of 19 km from Chanderi city and lying on the bank of river Urvashi, Old Chanderi is also known as Buddhi Chanderi. It has a lot of historical and Vedic significance attached to it and finds a position in the epics and pages of history. The village of Old Chanderi is famous as an important centre of Jain culture, mainly the Parwar Jain community. It has several Jain temples belonging to the 9th and 10th century and is considered as a pilgrimage centre by the Jain people. The architecture of the sculptures and structures present in Old Chanderi reveal a rich style of construction that is impressive to watch.

Let’s continue by moving on to Shivpuri, located about 140 km north of Chanderi and on the way to Gwalior.

Situated at an altitude of 1,515 feet above sea level, Shivpuri is a tourist destination in the monsoon season as it has a number of waterfalls as well as many lakes and the city is known for its greenery, forests and also as the former summer capital of the ruling Scindia family of Gwalior. A leader and general of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Tatya Tope was hanged in Shivpuri in 1859.

The first historical mention of Sipri, which is the od name of Shivpuri was of Emperor Akbar hunting elephants there in 1564. In the 16th Century, Shivpuri, like all of Gwalior, was part the Maratha Empire. The empire weakened at the end of the century, and during the Gardi-ka-wakt, or ‘period of unrest’, the Rajputs of Narwar secured the town and district. The Scindias, under Daulat Scindia, captured the town and district from the ruler of Narwar in 1804, and made the town their summer capital. The place enjoys pleasant weather for the better part of a year, but the best time to visit is between October and March.

Madhav Vilas Palace: Locally known as the “Palace”, the Madhav Vilas Palace has beautiful turrets, numerous terraces and immaculate marble floors make the palace truly resplendent even by today’s standards. The exterior of the palace has a dusty-rose colour that sets the palace apart from its surrounding. During it’s heyday, the palace was the summer palace of the Scindias. The palace is today the training centre for the Intelligence Bureau of the Government of India.

Narwar Fort: Located just east of the river Kali Sindh, the Narwar Fort is a remnant of the resplendent past of India. 43 km northwest of Shivpuri, the fort is of historical significance and was known as Nalapura till the 12th century. Raja Nala, after whom the town and fort was named, finds mention in the Epic Mahabharata in relation to Damayanti and their love saga. The Narwar Fort sits atop a hill at an elevation of 500 ft above sea level and spread over 8 sq km. The Rajput influence in the architecture of the fort is evident in the flat ceilings and the fluted columns.

Mahua Shiva Temple: A small nondescript village in Shivpuri where the temple is based, Mahua has treasures from the 6th and 7th century hidden in plain sight. Mahua village is a part of the ancient area known as Madhumati in the Ranod inscription and inscriptions suggest the importance of the area amidst Shaiva Saiddhantika believers. There are a few temples that have survived the sands of time to stand resplendently today as a stark reminder of a long lost history. The Shiva Mandapika is one of the few monuments that can be assigned to the latter half of the 7th century. The temple as it stands today may point to an incomplete construction or an incomplete restoration. The Shiva temple in Mahua is an exemplary temple from the 7th century dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple reflects the Nagara style of architecture and has carvings depicting the river Goddesses Ganga and Yamuna on either side of the doorway that leads to the sanctum sanctorum.

A tourist village with a natural spring, Bhadaiya Kund is a scenic area within the municipality of Shivpuri. spring is not very far from Shivpuri. The natural spring at Bhadaiya Kund is known to have a high mineral content and is believed to have therapeutic properties. The monsoon season is the best time to visit, when the waters are especially full and a soothing sight to city weary eyes.

Madhav National Park: Famous as hunting grounds all the way from Akbar’s reign to the British colonial rule, the Madhav National Park is spread over a total area of 354 sq km with rolling hills and flat grasslands around the lake. Akbar is rumored to have captured an entire herd of elephants for his stables from the forest. The bio-diversity here is second to none, offering glimpses into wildlife relatively unadulterated by human interference. George Castle is a beautiful retreat built by the Scindia King Jivaji Rao Scindia within the national park. The colonial architecture makes for a charming structure from the pre-independence period. The sunset views from the castle are rumoured to be stunning and is not to be missed. The Sakhya Sagar boat club gives adventurous tourists a chance to get up close to the crocodiles living in the lake. 

Karera Bird Sanctuary: Considered to be the holy grail for avid bird watchers and avian photo enthusiasts, the Karera Bird Sanctuary is a protected park with the wildlife within the park largely untouched allowing them to flourish. A visit to the sanctuary is not only an opportunity to witness birds but also numerous wild animals in their natural habitat. The sanctuary is home to many endangered species of birds and also to migratory birds. The Indian bustard is a celebrity resident of the bird sanctuary. A rapidly endangered species, the Karera Bird Sanctuary is one of the few places where birds live in their natural habitat. With over 245 recorded species of birds living in the sanctuary, it is no surprise that bird watchers come in from across the world to witness the unique avian world. The best time to visit the sanctuary when the avian tourists are in residence is between November and March.

About 110 km north of Shivpuri lies the town of Orchha, which is our next destination

A historical town located on the banks of river Betwa, Orchha is known for its grand palaces, and intricately carved temples. Famously known as the city of palaces, it is world-renowned for the classic mural paintings, frescos and Chhatris or cenotaphs that were constructed to commemorate the Bundela rulers. Orchha’s old-world charm casts a spell on tourists from all around the world. Founded in 1501 by Bundela Rajput Chief, Orchha literally means ‘a hidden place’. It was the capital of one of the most powerful dynasties to ever rule in India- the Bundelas. The major attractions in Orchha include Ram Raja Temple, the only place where Lord Ram is worshipped both as a God and a king, the Laxmi Narayan Temple which is known for its unique architecture which is a melange of a fort and a temple, and the Jahangir Mahal, built in hour of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. The medieval architecture of Orchha’s palaces and temples is a visual delight for photographers.

Our next destination is the world famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Khajurao group of mounuments, which lie about 175 km east of Orchha.

Located nearly 400 km east of the capital of Bhopal, the Khajuraho Group of Monuments is a group of Hindu and Jain temples in the Chhatarpur district. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the temples are famous for their nagara-style architectural symbolism and their erotic sculptures. Most Khajuraho temples were built between 950 AD and 1050 AD by the Chandela dynasty. Historical records note that the Khajuraho temple site had 85 temples by the 12th century, spread over 20 square kilometers. Of these, only about 25 temples have survived, spread over six sq kms. Of the surviving temples, the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple is decorated with a profusion of sculptures with intricate details, symbolism and expressiveness of ancient Indian art. The Khajuraho group of temples were built together but were dedicated to two religions, Hinduism and Jainism, suggesting a tradition of acceptance and respect for diverse religious views among Hindus and Jains in the region.

The Khajuraho temples were in active use through the end of the 12th century. This changed in the 13th century; after the army of Delhi Sultanate attacked and seized the Chandela kingdom. The central Indian region, where the Khajuraho temples are, was controlled by various Muslim dynasties from the 13th century through the 18th century. In this period, some temples were desecrated, followed by a long period when they were left in neglect. The remoteness and isolation of Khajuraho protected the Hindu and Jain temples from continued destruction by Muslims. Over the centuries, vegetation and forests overgrew the temples. In the 1830s, local Hindus guided a British surveyor, T.S. Burt, to the temples and they were thus rediscovered by the global audience.

The name Khajuraho, or Kharjuravahaka, is derived from ancient Sanskrit, kharjura, which means date palm and vahaka meaning “one who carries” or bearer. Local legends state that the temples had two golden date-palm trees as their gate which were missing when they were rediscovered. Hisotians also state that Kharjuravahaka also means scorpion bearer, which is another symbolic name for the deity Lord Shiva, who wears snakes and scorpion garlands in his fierce form.

An ancient local legend held that Hindu deity Shiva and other gods enjoyed visiting the dramatic hill formation in Kalinjar area and the temple complex reflects the ancient Hindu tradition of building temples where gods love to pray. The temples are clustered near water, another typical feature of Hindu temples. All temples, except one, which is the Chaturbhuja face the sunrise. The artwork symbolically highlight the four goals of life considered necessary and proper in Hinduism – dharma, kama, artha and moksha. Of the surviving temples, six are dedicated to Shiva, eight to Vishnu and his affinities, one to Ganesha, one to the Sun god and three to Jain Tirthankars. The temples have a rich display of intricately carved statues. While they are famous for their erotic sculpture, sexual themes cover less than 10% of the temple sculpture. Of all temples, the Matangeshvara temple remains an active site of worship. It is another square grid temple, with a large 8.2 feet high and 3.6 feet diameter lingam, placed on a 25 feet diameter platform. The most visited temple, the Kandariya Mahadev, has an area of about 6,500 sq ft and a shikhara or spire that rises 116 feet. The Jain temples are located on the east-southeast region of the Khajuraho monuments. The Chausath Yogini temple features 64 yogini, while Ghantai temple features bells sculptured on its pillars.

Built in the year 1130 the Dulhadev Temple enshrines a beautiful shivalingam and striking sculptures of Apsaras and other ornamented figures. The temple also has a stunning sculpture of Lord Shiva with his wife Parvati, the intricate details of the carvings adding to the charm of the overall architecture.

Built around 1025-1050 AD, the Kandariya Mahadev Temple is one of the most stunning of the Khajurao sites with its artistically engraved shrine with over 800 images of women, most of which are more than 3 feet high. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has a shivalingam at the centre of Garba Griha. Made of a typical sandstone structure, the artisitic representation of eroticism on the walls of this temple are bound to give a new perspective on India’s cultural heritage.

The oldest and most aesthetically pleasing temples among the Western group of Temples, the Lakshman temple is named after the ruler of that time. The trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is depicted in the horizontal beam over the entrance of the temple.

The Parsvanath Temple is the largest among the Eastern group of temples and has intricately detailed carvings on its walls. The most intriguing side of the architecture of this temple is the aesthetic blend of Hindu, muslim and Buddhist styles. The highlights of the temple are the sculptures on the northern outer walls.

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Vishwanath Temple is one among the western group of temples. It has a beautiful marble shivalinga as the main deity. An imposing image of Brahma is also housed in this temple. A massive sculpture of Nandi the Bull is also enshrined alongside the Shivalingam.

Dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu deity of wealth, the Lakshmi Temple houses some moderate shrines and is comparatively smaller than the other temples in Khajuraho.

Initially built as a Vishnu temple, the Devi Jagdamba temple has beautifully carved erotic figures. The Garba Griha houses a stunning sculpture of the Goddess of the Universe. The temple also houses a beautiful image of Goddess Parvati, with the image of Mithuna.

The Adinath Temple is a Jain temple dedicated to the Jain Tirthankars. With exquisite sculpted figures, including yakshis this is one of the most beautiful jain temples in Madhya Pradesh.

The Chaturbhuj Temple is situated in the Jatakari village of Khajuraho and is also known as Jatakari Temple. Enshrined by Lord Vishnu, the temple is free of any erotic carvings or sculptures and hence is considered a unique temple in the region. Rectangular in shape, the shrine built on a raised platform.

The Varaha Temple is built in the Western Group of Temple Complex in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh and is enshrine by a massive idol of Varaha – the incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of a boar. Made in sandstone, the sculpture has numerous carvings all over its body and depict Goddess Saraswati at one certain place on the body.

Built among the Western Group of Temple Complex, the Matangeshwar Temple is a rather plainly designed temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Made of sandstone, the temple houses a large shivalinga which has Nagari and Persian inscriptions carved on it and a popular site among Shiva devotees.

The Vamana Temple is dedicated to Vamana, the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The exterior walls of the shrine have erotic carvings of nymphs and celestial bodies and different women in several different postures.

The Chitragupta Temple’s main deity is the Sun God, Surya and dates back to the 11th century. The presiding deity is shown as riding a chariot with seven horses. The exterior walls of the shrine have carvings of several gods and erotic couples.

The Shantinatha Temple is a Jain temple presided by the Lord Shantinatha; however, it has idols of other Jain tirthankaras as well, including a colossal statue of Adinatha. The temple has been renovated but still bears inscriptions from the bygone era.

The oldest temple in the complex, the Chausath Yogini Temple is a late 9th century Devi temple which though now is in ruins, but the shrine cells and other remnants remain at the site. There are no sculptures found here. A monument of national importance, remnants of this temple have been found in other places around the region. The Khajuraho museum hosts three ancient statues of goddesses Brahmani, Maheshvari, and Hingalaja that were found in this temple. It is believed that this temple was the home-ground for a cult of Yoginis.

State Museum of Tribal and Folk Art is housed within the Chandela Cultural Complex and is a well maintained tiny repository of old scriptures of tribal art and culture in the form of masks, terracotta sculptures, folk- paintings, bamboo articles and other collectibles. The museum also has a beautiful garden surrounding it. The museum is closed on Mondays and open from 12 noon to 8 pm on other days. Entry fee are INR 10 for Indians and INR 250 for foreigners.

The Archaeological Museum is located near the Western Group of Temples and was originally known as the Jardine Museum. Housing over 2000 items, the museum has relics from the 10th and 12th century temples of Hinduism and Jainism. The museum is closed on Fridays and open from 8 am to 5 pm on other days. Entry fee are INR 10 for Indians and INR 250 for foreigners.

Also known as Maharaja Chhatrasal Museum, the Dhubela Museum is located in Dhubela, 62 kms from Khajuraho. Boasting of a serene setting on the banks of Dhubela lake and housed in the premises of Maharaja Chhatrasal Palace, the museum displays an extensive collection of sculptures, arms, armoury, miniature paintings etc., spread over 8 galleries. The museum is closed on Mondays and open from 10 am to 5 pm on other days. Entry fee are INR 10 for Indians and INR 100 for foreigners. Cameras taken inside will need a entry fee of INR 50. Located in the Jain Temples Complex, Jain Museum is a circular building housing huge statues and sculptures of Jain tirthankaras and yakshis. The entrance gate is flanked by the mythical creatures – Makara Torana. Closed on Sundays, the museum is open from 8 am to 5 pm and entry fees for Indians is INR 10 and foreigners need to pay INR 250.

Our next destination lies about 310 km northwest of Khajurao which is the city of Gwalior.

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