Fabrics and Sarees of India Part 2

In this part, we continue to check out more fabrics and sarees across India.

Karnataka

Ilkal Sarees: Known because it is produced in the town of Ilkal, an ancient weaving centre since the 8th century, the uniqueness of the Ilkal saree is in the joining of the body warp with the pallu warp with a series of loops locally called the tope teni technique. The border colour is very dominating and is usually red or maroon. The distinctive feature of the Ilkal saree is the use of a form of embroidery called Kasuti. The designs used in Kasuti reflect traditional patterns like palanquins, elephants, and lotuses which are embroidered onto the saree. The main body design is usually made up of squares and rectangles. The Ilkal saris are woven using cotton warp on the body and art silk warp for the border and pallu portion. In some cases instead of art silk, pure silk is also used. The Tope Teni seragu has been regarded as a state symbol and was greatly respected during festival occasions. The sarees that are made for bridal wear are made of a particular colour called Giri Kumukum which is associated with the sindoor worn by the wives of the priests in this region. The weaving of the Ilkal saree is a household enterprise involving the participation of female members. One Ilkal saree takes about seven days to weave and are produced on pit looms.

Mysore Silk: One of Karnataka’s most famous exports, the Mysore silk is synonymous with the city of Mysuru and the silk factory was founded in 1912 by Sri Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore. Initially, the silk fabrics were manufactured & supplied to meet the requirements of the royal family and ornamental fabrics to their armed forces. After Indian independence, the Mysore State Sericulture Dept took control of the silk weaving factory. The saree zari contains 65% pure silver and 0.65% of gold, which is also the most distinct feature of the saree, along with the use of genuine silk that gives it a natural sheen and rich texture. Karnataka produces almost 45% of the country’s mulberry silk. Mysore silk has also received geographical identification. Mysore Silks are also one of the most expensive silk sarees in India and this has led to the production of duplicate Mysore silk saree production and sales. To avoid these issues, KSIC has implemented a unique ID, hologram-based design, and unique identification barcodes woven on each saree produced.

Kerala

Kasavu Saree: Symbolic of Kerala’s tradition and culture, the traditional Kasavu saree was made by hand from cotton yarn with borders made of golden threads. Believed to have originated in the Buddhist era, the white and gold sarees are unique due to their natural hues, texture and gold border which adds to their elegance. No occasion in Kerala feels complete without the Kasavu saree. The term kasavu refers to the zari or gold thread used in the border of the saree and the name comes from a material used in the weaving and production of these sarees. The origin of the kasavu saree can be traced back to when women would wear a two-piece cloth called settu mundu, more popularly known as the mundum neriyathum. The mundum neriyathum rose in popularity during the Buddhist era, and its design has been inspired by the Greco-Roman attire, Palmyrene, a long piece of unstitched cloth with a coloured border.

The identity of the saree comes from the geographical cluster they are associated with. The Indian government has identified three clusters in Kerala – Balaramapuram, Chendamangalam and Kuthampully – that have been given a Geographical Indication or GI tag and all three clusters produce kasavu sarees. A plain saree with a simple border takes roughly around three to five days. Ones with motifs and heavier work take longer than that. The sarees are priced depending on the time taken on their production, along with the gold used in the zari or kasavu.

Madhya Pradesh

Chanderi: Emerging between the 2nd and 7th centuries, Chanderi sarees are produced from three types of fabrics – pure silk, cotton and silk cotton and are synonymous with the town of Chanderi which is on the boundary of Malwa and Bundelkhand. In the 11th century, the trade locations between Malwa, Medwa, central India and south Gujarat increased the region’s importance. Around 1350, Koshti weavers from Jhansi migrated to Chanderi and settled there and the textile business of Chanderi reached its peak during the Mughal period. Traditional coin, floral art, peacocks and modern geometric designs are woven into different Chanderi patterns. The saris are among the finest in India and are known for their gold and silver brocade or zari, fine silk, and opulent embroidery.

Maheshwari: Originating from the town of Maheshwar, the Maheshwari saree is made of silk and cotton in a variety of designs woven using brocade and zari. Dating to the 18th century, the sarees were initially made of pure silk, but over time, cotton also came to be used. An interesting story behind the origin of these sarees is that a famous queen had once ordered a large number of artisans and craftsmen from Surat and Malwa to design a unique saree of 9 yards, later termed the Maheshwari saree. These cloth pieces were used as special gifts for the royal guests of the palace. A unique feature of the Maheshwari saree is that each has a specific name of its own, which indicates its distinctness. The sarees may be plain at the centre and have neatly designed borders, or they may have different variations of stripes and checks. The sarees fall under 5 broad categories namely Chandratara, Chandrakala, Beli, Baingani Chandrakala and Parbi. The Baingani Chandrakala and Chandrakala are plain ones, while the Beli, Chandratara, and Parbi come with stripes or checks.

Maharashtra

Karvati: Hailing from the Vidarbha region, Karvati silks are made from Tussar with a grainy, textural feel. What is unique about the silk used in Karvati saris is that it is exclusive to this specific region that is rich in high-quality silk cocoons, straight from the wild. The tribes hailing from this area assume the responsibility of protecting the silk cocoons until they are ready to be harvested. The Tussar is unlike any other silk; it has a unique shade of deep yellow-brown.

The word karvat is a Marathi term that refers to a saw-tooth pattern. Karvati is the name lent to the style of the border rather than the fabric itself. What is different about the saree is the technique and the mixed usage of yarn. The border is woven out of mercerized cotton yarns with traditional temple motifs of various sizes, using an extra warp while the rest of the sari is woven using pure, hand-reeled Tussar silk which provides a texture that has irregular stubs all over. The saree is woven using a three-shuttle, tapestry style of weaving with a pit loom mounted with a wooden lattice dobby in the Nagpur style on the top of the loom. This means that it uses three different styles of weaving at the same time.

Paithani: Dating to the Satvahana Dynasty that ruled between the second century BC and the second century AD, Paithani sarees are fine silk handloom sarees get their name from the town in which they originated, Paithan in Aurangabad. Available in both six and nine yards, the most interesting part about the Paithani handloom is that both sides of the saree look the same, including the border and the pallu. This feature is the telltale sign of a handloom Paithani. As Paithani sarees are woven from naturally dyed threads, they can usually be found only in basic colours. Each saree usually has two dominating colours, one on the saree and the other on the border and pallu. The Paithani is characterised by borders of an oblique square design, and a pallu with a peacock design. Among other varieties, single-coloured and kaleidoscope-coloured designs are also popular. The kaleidoscopic effect is achieved by using one colour for weaving lengthwise and another for weaving width-wise.

The Paithani is a sari made of silk and zari with a plain weave, with weft figuring designs according to the principles of the tapestry. Traditionally, Paithanis had coloured, cotton muslin fields that often contained considerable supplementary zari patterning. However, in the 19th century, silk fields were also woven. Due to its proximity to the Ajanta caves, the influence of Buddhist paintings can be seen in the woven Paithani motifs. These sarees are made of silk in which there is no extra weft forming figures. Weaving could take between 18 and 24 months, depending upon the complexity of the design. In the days of Peshwas, the borders and the pallu were made of pure gold mixed with copper to give it strength spun into a fine wire called the zari. In recent times, zari is made of silver, coated with gold plating. In the border woven with a zari, ground-coloured silk patterns are added as supplementary weft inlay against the zari usually in the form of a flower or a creeping vine.

Odisha

Bomkai: Also known as the Sonepuri Saree, the Bomkai Saree is a handloom saree from the Bomkai village and has a GI tag. Usually made of cotton, these sarees are also made of silk for special occasions. During the time of Ramai Dev the then ruler of Patna, it was introduced in Sonepur. The borders and pallus are usually designed with fishes as it is believed to be a sign of success and affluence. The sari is normally dyed in red, black and white.

Khandua: A traditional bandha or ikat saree, Khandua is also known as Maniabandi or Kataki and is worn during weddings with a special type of fabric worn by Lord Jagannath which contain texts of the Geeta Govinda on them. The word Khandua in Odia translates to the cloth worn in the lower half of the body. Traditionally Kentuli Khandua is offered to Jagannath as lower cloth. The weaver communities of Maniabandha and Nuapatana of Cuttack traditionally wove this kind of fabric and during the rule of the Gajapatis, the sarees were made and transported to the Jagannath Temple. Nilakantha Deva, the King of Badakhemundi was offered khandua sari made of one piece of khandua silk called caukandika. Khandua is traditionally red or orange in colour with the red colour prepared naturally from the sal tree. The design motif has an auspicious elephant that represents Buddha surrounded by a trailing vine with peacocks in it, a large many-petaled flower, an animal  unique to Orissa known as Nabagunjara. The elephant in Khandua ikat from Nuapatana usually varies from elephant motives in ikat from the Sambalpuri saree as well as the ikat from other parts of Orissa. The Khandua has plain borders contrary to borders with motifs in the case of the other ikats from the state.

Pasapali: Also known as the Saktapar, the Pasapali saree is a bandha or Ikat handloom sari woven mainly in the Bargarh district. The name Pasapali is derived from pasa or gambling games using a chess board and these sarees have intricate check patterns of contrasting colours resembling the chess boards which gives it its name.

Sambalpuri: A traditional handwoven ikat where the warp and the weft are tie-dyed before weaving, the Sambalpuri saree is known for its incorporation of traditional motifs, all of which have deep symbolism in red, black and white that represent Odia culture. The high point of these sarees is the traditional craftsmanship of the Bandhakala, or the tie-dye art reflected in their intricate weaves, also known as Sambalpuri Ikkat. In this technique, the threads are first tie-dyed and later woven into a fabric, with the entire process taking many weeks. These sarees also have a Geographical Indication or GI tag associated with them. Traditionally, craftsmen created the ikats with images of flora or fauna or with geometrical patterns, but recently the ikats depict portraits and landscapes are also being designed. The unique feature of this form of designing is that the designs are reflected almost identically on both sides of the fabric. Once the fabric is dyed it can never be bleached into another colour. It is believed that this art migrated to western Odisha along with the Bhulia community who fled north India in 1192 after the fall of the Chouhan empire at the hands of the Mughals.

Punjab

Phulkari: Punjab’s folk embroidery, Phulkari which means floral work also includes motifs and geometrical shapes. In Punjabi, Phul means flower and Akari means the shape and so Phulkari means the shape and the direction of flowers which symbolise life. The main characteristics of Phulkari embroidery are the use of darn stitch on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth with coloured silken thread. The traditional varieties of Phulkaris are large items of cloth and include Chope, Tilpatr, Neelak and Bagh. Sometimes, the Bagh is given separate categorisation of its own as on other varieties of a Phulkari, parts of the cloth are visible, whereas, in a Bagh, the embroidery covers the entire garment so that the base cloth is not visible. Today, in contemporary designs, the simple and sparsely embroidered dupattas and shawls made for everyday use, are referred to as phulkari, while clothing items that cover the entire body, made for special and ceremonial occasions such as weddings are called baghs or large gardens. The Phulkari continues to be an integral part of Punjabi weddings to the present day.

In the past, as soon as a girl was born, mothers and grandmothers would start embroidering Baghs and Phulkaris, which were to be given away at the time of her marriage. Depending on the status of the family, the parents would give a dowry of 11 to 101 Baghs and Phulkaris which were also passed from one generation to the next as heirlooms. The hallmark of Phulkari is making innumerable patterns by using long and short darn stitches. There were no pattern books and embroidery was worked entirely from the reverse of the fabric and the designs were not traced. Techniques and patterns were not documented but transmitted from word of mouth and each regional group was identified with the style of embroidery or design. The most favoured colour was red and its shades. Animals and birds represented success, beauty, pride, and goodwill and different fruits symbolised wealth, prosperity, and fertility. Wheat and barley stalks with ears were also common motifs. Silk and mulmul or soft cotton muslin fabrics were used because of their purity and longevity and it was believed that the virtue and character of a woman gave shape to the Phulkari.

There are different theories about the origin of Phulkari. One such belief is that this embroidery was prevalent in different parts of the country as far back as the 7th century, but survived only in Punjab. Motifs similar to the ones found in Phulkari are also found in Kashida of Bihar and some of the embroideries of Rajasthan. Another thought is that this style of embroidery came from Iran where it was called Gulkari, also meaning floral work.

Rajasthan

Gota Patti: Gota patti or gota work is a type of Indian embroidery that originated in  Rajasthan. Small pieces of zari ribbon are applied onto the fabric with the edges sewn down to create elaborate patterns. Gota embroidery is used extensively in South Asian weddings and formal clothes. Originally real gold and silver metals were used to embroider, but these were eventually replaced by copper coated with silver as it would become very expensive and today, even more, inexpensive options are available.

Kota Doriya: A handloom fabric, Kota Doriya is woven on a traditional pit loom in such a way that it produces square checks pattern on the fabric. The delicately wrought checks are locally known as khats. Onion juice and rice paste are smeared onto the yarn making it so strong that no additional finishing is needed. Kota Doriya sarees are made of pure cotton and silk and have square-like patterns known as khats on them. The chequered weave of a Kota sari is very popular with a very fine weave and weighs very little.

It is said that Jhala Zalim Singh of Kotah brought weavers from Mysore, in the mid-17th century, as they wove a characteristic small squared lightweight cotton fabric that looked like graph paper and was suitable for turbans. Since the weavers had come from Mysore, the fabric produced was called Kota Masuriya and was woven on narrow 8-inch looms to make the traditional paags or turbans and later on, broader looms were used for gossamer-light saris. Silk was added to the cotton in a 20:80 ratio approximately to give the sari strength. Nowadays hand woven silk Kota Doriya saris have also become popular. At first, the design known as a buti was small and regular but larger designs are now made according to fashion and taste. A very ornate saree can take one month to make and is an heirloom piece to be treasured. A genuine Kota Doriya sari will contain the GI mark woven in one corner indicating that it has been hand woven using real silver and gold thread.

Leheriya: Leheriya is a traditional style of tie and dye practised in Rajasthan which is bright in colour, with a distinctive pattern. The word Leheriya comes from the word leher, meaning wave and the tie-dye technique results in diagonal stripes, which look like waves on the fabric. To create diagonal stripes, the craftsmen use a special method of resist-dyeing, where the material, is rolled up diagonally length-wise and then tied tightly at intervals before the actual dyeing process begins. Delicate, light fabrics such as thin cotton voile, fine silk and chiffon are preferred, as they allow the colour to penetrate through the rolled cloth. The fabric is wrapped around a wooden pole, usually while it is still wet or in a semi-dry state. The thread that ties up the fabric acts as a resist, yielding a pattern of diagonal stripes after dyeing. The thickness of the thread and the distance between the ties may be varied to obtain stripes of different widths.

An astounding variety of Leheriya fabrics are produced using this simple process. A panchranga or five-colour design is the most auspicious since the number five is considered special in Hindu scriptures. Another beautiful pattern is the satranga, flaunting the seven colours of the rainbow.

Tamil Nadu

Kanjeevaram: A silk saree which is worn on special occasions, the Kanjeevaram or Kanchipuram is made in the Kanchipuram region. This saree has also been recognised and given the Geographical Indication tag by the Indian government. The sarees are distinguished by their wide contrast borders with temple borders, checks, stripes and floral patterns as traditional designs. The patterns and designs in the Kancheepuram sarees are inspired by the images and scriptures in South Indian temples or natural features like leaves, birds and animals and have rich woven pallus showing the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. As of 2008, an estimated 5,000 families were involved in sari production with 25 silk and cotton yarn industries and 60 dyeing units in the region.

The saris are woven from pure mulberry silk thread, which along with the zari or gold thread comes from South India. To weave a Kanjeevaram saree. three shuttles are used. While the weaver works on the right side, his aide works on the left side shuttle. The border colour and design are usually quite different from the body. If the pallu has to be woven in a different shade, it is first separately woven and then delicately joined to the saree and the part where the body meets the pallu is often denoted by a zigzag line. In a genuine Kajeevaram silk saree, the body and the border are woven separately and then interlocked together. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the saree tears, the border will not detach and this differentiates the Kanjeevaram silk saree from the others. The sarees vary widely in price depending on the intricacy of work, colours, patterns, craftsmanship and materials used.

Koorainaadu: A traditional handloom weaving centre, Koorainadu sarees are by their checks and stripes pattern for which plain looms are used. It is made with pure silk and fine-twisted mercerized cotton yarn, in both warp and weft, in the ratio of 2:1, giving every Koorainadu saree a silk look. A peculiar characteristic of this saree is the formation of cotton checks by the interlacing of warp and weft during weaving which can be woven only by an experienced weaver. The sarees are hence stiffer and easier to hold the pleats which make them easier to wear. Koorainadu sarees are mostly worn by the womenfolk of the Hindu community green and yellow colours are used to make it auspicious and so it is often worn by married women wishing for long-lasting wedlock. The nine-yard Koorainadu saris are made with cotton or cotton and silk, in checks or striped patterns with a contrasting border in yellow. Saris with wide borders are called temple saris because they are offered to the deities in the temple.

Sungudi: Traditional cotton sarees from the Madurai area, Sungudi sarees are defined by the pattern of block prints and tie and dye designs. The origins of Sungudi can be traced back to the Sourashtrians who brought the art with them when they migrated to South India under the patronage of King Thirumalai Naicker in the 17th century. In Saurashtra, the word sungudi relates to the Sanskrit word sunnam meaning round, representing the circular dots that are printed on the fabric as a prominent and special motif.

The dots in the saris are said to be inspired by the cosmos which is why most Sungudi sarees remind one of a starry night. Tying the knots of the sari demands a great amount of precision from the craftsman. Ideally, a three-inch gap between the body and the zari border and also with the pallu lends a neat and symmetrical look to the crude dots. The designs are sometimes marked with a pencil on the fabric for ease in the process. The Sungudi art has seven basic designs that can be modified with different permutations and combinations to provide variety and highlight the creativity of the craftsman. The smaller the dot the better the expertise and this comes only with extensive practice and time. In the early days people used rudimentary methods like tying the knots with mustard or peppercorn seeds. Although this seems like a rural and unpolished method, its success lay in its simplicity. Authentic Sungudi is more than just tying knots. There is a lot of meticulousness that goes into producing a piece that looks effortless.  Once the knots are tied in the desired pattern, the sari is clamped which involves pleating, twisting, folding and wrapping it tightly before dyeing it for around two hours. Then the sari is subjected to two rounds of washing with cold water with an organic fixing agent followed by drying and ironing. The resultant fabric is a beautiful sheet like stars in the sky. In 2005 the art of Sungudi tie and dye got the GI recognition tag.

In the next part, the last one, we will do the last few states and also learn about some interesting saree drapes.

Travel Bucket List: India – Madhya Pradesh Part 6

Gwalior is closer to New Delhi and Agra than the capital of Bhopal and not too far from the state borders. Gwalior is a major city in this area which occupies a strategic location in the Gird region of India. The historic city and its fortress have been ruled by several historic northern Indian kingdoms, from the Kachchhapaghatas in the 10th century and the Tomars in the 13th century, it was passed on to the Mughal Empire, then to the Maratha in 1754, followed by the Scindias in the 18th century. Gwalior was also the winter capital of the state of Madhya Bharat which later became a part of the larger state of Madhya Pradesh. Prior to Indian independence, Gwalior was a princely state of the British Raj with the Scindia as the local rulers. High rocky hills surround the city from all sides, on the north it just forms the border of the Ganga- Yamuna Drainage Basin. The city however is situated in the valley between the hills. Gwalior was one of the major sites of rebellion during the 1857 uprising and post-independence, it has emerged as an important tourist attraction in central India.

According to local tradition, Gwalior owes its name to a sage. Suraj Sen, a local prince, is said to have lost his way in the forest when he an old man on a secluded hill, the sage Gwalipa, whose presence there took him by surprise. Upon asking the sage for some drinking water, he was led to a river, where the waters not only quenched his thirst but also cured him of leprosy. Out of gratitude, the prince wished to offer the sage something in return, and the sage asked him to build a wall on the hill to protect the other sages from wild animals which often disturbed their yajnas or pujas. Suraj Sen later built a palace inside the fort, which was named “Gwalior” after the sage, and eventually the city that grew around the fort took the same name. The river from which Suraj Sen quenched his thirst later also came to known as Swarnrekha Nadi.

The earliest historical record found at Gwalior is the Gwalior inscription of the Alchon Hun ruler Mihirakula. Around the 9th century, the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty controlled Gwalior and during their rule, they constructed the Teli ka Mandir temple. In 1231 Iltutmish captured Gwalior after an 11-month-long effort and from then till the 13th century it remained under Muslim rule. In 1375, Raja Veer Singh was made the ruler of Gwalior and he founded the rule of the Tomar clan. During those years, Gwalior saw its golden period. The Jain Sculptures at Gwalior Fort were built under Tomar rule. Man Singh Tomar made his dream palace, the Man Mandir Palace, now a tourist attraction at Gwalior Fort. By the 15th century, the city had a noted singing school which was attended by Tansen. Later in the 1730s, the Scindias captured Gwalior and it remained a princely state during the British Rule.

Gwalior is also known for not participating in the 1857 rebellion, mainly due to non-co-operation with Rani Lakshmibai. After Kalpi or as it is known today, Jhansi, fell into the hands of the British on 24 May 1858, Lakshmibai sought shelter at Gwalior Fort. The Maharaja of Gwalior was not willing to give up his fort without a fight as he was a strong ally of the British, but after negotiations, his troops capitulated and the rebels took possession of the fort. The British attacked Gwalior in no time, the battle was fought by Lakshmibai. Indian forces numbered around 20,000, and British forces around 1,600 troops. Lakshmibai died fighting, and Gwalior was free from rebels.

The Scindia state of Gwalior became a major regional power in the second half of the 18th century and figured prominently in the three Anglo-Maratha Wars. Gwalior first fell to the British in 1780. The Scindias held significant power over many of the Rajput states, and conquered the state of Ajmer. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the city was briefly held by rebel forces in 1858 until they were defeated by the British. The Scindia family ruled Gwalior until India’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, when the Maharaja Jivajirao Scindia acceded to the Government of India. Gwalior was merged with a number of other princely states to become the new Indian state of Madhya Bharat. The ruling family is also very involved politically, with various members of the family being leaders in different political parties.

Gwalior Fort: Referred to as ‘the pearl amongst fortresses in India’ by Mughal emperor Babur, the Gwalior Fort is one of the most impenetrable fortresses in India. Situated on top of a vast rocky mountain near Gwalior, this imposing structure dominates the city. It is also the place where the second oldest reference of the number ‘zero’ has been found in the form of a carving inside a temple on the top of the fort. The construction of Gwalior Fort took place in two parts and in two different time periods and so, this architectural marvel has an intriguing history attached to it. It was passed from one dynasty to the other, multiple times.. The exact period during which the Gwalior Fort was constructed is not yet known. According to legends, this imposing fort was built in the 3rd century by a local king Suraj Sen. The king had recently been cured of leprosy with the help and blessings of a sage named Gwalipa, who had offered him water from a sacred pond. The grateful king then built this fort and named it after the sage. The word Gwalior is derived from the saint’s name – Gwalipa. The sage bestowed the title Pal, which means protector, upon the king; and declared that the fort would remain in his family’s possession as long as they bore this title. Interestingly enough, the fort remained with the 83 descendants of Suraj Sen Pal, but the 84th descendant named Tej Karan lost the fort. In the years that followed, the Gwalior Fort has witnessed many ups and downs. It also changed hands many times and has been held by the Tomars, Mughals, Marathas, and the British, before finally being handed over to the Scindias.

Surrounded by concrete walls of sandstone, the Gwalior Fort encloses three temples, six palaces and several water tanks, and is truly an architectural marvel. The different palaces and temples are a reflection of the architectural finery and skill that existed during those times and continues to be appreciated till date. The most beautiful palace in the fort is the Man Mandir Palace, which, with its amazingly elaborate structure, seems to hang at the edge of the striking fort. Blue ceramic tiles form the facade of this breathtakingly beautiful palace. The Teli-ka-Mandir, built in the 9th-century Dravidian style, rises to a height of over 100 feet and is famous for its blend of South Indian architecture with North Indian decorative motifs, as well as an exquisitely sculpted exterior. The Saas-Bahu temples on the eastern side of the fort are also larger than life examples of the 11th-century temple architecture.

The fort hosts a spectacular sound and light show every evening which is extremely well executed and makes you feel as if you are a part of the rich history of the fort and the love story of Raja Man Singh and his queen Mrignayani. The show takes place in the amphitheatre at the Man Mandir every day at 7:30 pm in Hindi and at 8:30 pm in English. Open from 6 am to 5:30 pm, the entrance fee to Gwalior Fort IINR 75 per person for Indians, INR 250 per person forforeigners and children below theage of 15 do not pay anything.

Man Mandir Palace: Located at the North-east end of the fort, the Man Mandir Palace was built between 1486 and 1516 by the Tomar ruler, Man Singh Tomar. The palace didn’t survive the ravages of time, however the remains of the palace still showcases the beautiful carvings and designs of that era. The palace has two open courts in between with apartments on two levels. There are underground prison cells as well, built later by Mughals. This was the place where Aurangzeb prisoned his brother Murad and poisoned him slowly to death by using opium. If you can find a local guide, he/she would be able to tell you various secrets about the place and show you various parts of the palace, which otherwise you won’t be able to see. Nearby is the Jauhar Kund where various Rajput women committed mass suicide to avoid rapes by the forces of Iltutmish who was the king of Delhi in the 13th century. The palace is also surrounded by other monuments like Jehangir Mahal, Shah Jahan Mahal and the Gujari Mahal. Man Mandir Palace is open all day of the week from 10 am to 5 pm and does not have any entry fees.

Teli Ka Mandir: Located in the Gwalior Fort, the Teli Ka Mandir temple dates back to the 9th century and is the highest building in Gwalior at 100 ft. This temple was used to process oil before the Britishers occupied the Gwalior Fort. The temple is famous for its unique architecture as the temple holds a Dravidian look, but the sculptures are typically North Indian. The temple is open every day between 10 am and 6 pm and entry fees are around INR 20 per person.

Saas Bahu Temple: Also built in the 9th century and contrary to what the name suggests, the Saas Bahu Temple does not mean Saas or Mother-in-law and Bahu or Daughter-in-law temple, but is a short form of Shastra Bahu, which is another name of Lord Vishnu. These are two temples situated adjacent to each other and are decorated with beautiful carvings and sculptures.

Suraj Kund: With the blue hills of Aravalli in the background, Surajkund is an old reservoir constructed around the 10th century by Suraj Pal of the Tomar Dynasty, who himself was a sun worshipper and therefore built a Sun Temple on the western bank of the embankment. The word Surajkund literally translates to the ‘Lake of the Sun’, and the destination is presently surrounded by the ruins of an ancient sun temple, coupled with a beautiful garden and a pool by the name of Siddha Kund. The tank is believed to have magical powers with the water from the tank acting as medicinal water that is assumed to cure chronic diseases, with the belief that Suraj Sen was cured of his leprosy after drinking the water from this tank. The sunrise and sunsets here are beautiful.Noticable thing of the Suraj kund is the sunset and sunrise.

Jai Vilas Palace: Also known as the Jai Vilas Mahal, the Jai Vilas Palace was built to welcome King Edward VII, the then Prince of Wales in 1874. Today, the palace serves as a residence for the descendants of the Scindia family and also also serves as a museum which stretchs over 35 rooms, houses the Chitrangada Raje Art Gallery and a library that comprises more than 5,000 books. The palace also has a collection of swords that date back to the times of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, and the original shield that belonged to Rani Laxmibai. Covering a floor area of about 75 acres, the Jai Vilas Palace, inspired by the Palace of Versailles, has an intricately designed Durbar Hall, which houses some of the world’s biggest chandeliers, gilt furnishings, and a large plush carpet, said to be one of the largest in the world. The custom-made chandeliers, ordered from Vienna, are each 40 feet high and weigh 3.5 tonnes each and are amongst the largest in the world, even today. The layout of the Jai Vilas Palace is reflective of the colonial period and was designed by Sir Michael Filose. The first floor is fashioned in the Tuscan style, while the second and third floors are inspired from the Italian-Doric and Corinthian periods respectively. All 400 rooms are furnished with Italian marble flooring, Persian carpets, ornamental accessories and rare antiquities from France, China and Italy. A unique feature of the Palace is an elongated dining table, on which a silver train with cut glass carriages is rallied around to serve delicacies, after-dinner brandy or cigars to important delegates during get-togethers. A section of the palace consisting of 35 rooms has been converted into a museum with its primary purpose to serve as a central site for research and learning of ancient Indian arts and culture. The place includes a museum shop, café and library and there is provision for specialised tours, which can be booked after 5 pm and includes high tea and/or dinner. The palace is open from 10 am to 4:45 pm between April and September and from 10 am to 4:40 pm between October and March and is closed on Wednesdays. Entry fees for Indians is INR 500, while foreigners pay INR 600. You need to pay INR 60 to take in a camera or a smartphone while a video camera will incur a charge of INR 150. Children under the age of five and physically challenged people need not pay any entry fee.

Sun Temple: The Surya Mandir or Sun Temple as the name suggests is a temple is dedicated to the Sun God and was constructed in 1988 by G.D. Birla. Built on the lines of legendary Sun Temple at Konark in Orissa, the Sun Temple blends exquisite architecture in red sandstone and pearly white marble. The outer edifice is made of red sandstone which is built in the manner of gradual slots that reach up to the peak of the facade. A splendid idol of the Sun Lord is enshrined in the temple. The temple is open every day from 6:30 am to 12 noon and then again from 1 to 6 pm. There is no entry fee.

Padavali and Bateshwa: Situated around 40 km north from the main town, Padavali is a fortress comprising many ancient temples. The temples have intricate carvings and one of the temples also have erotic carvings and hence famous as mini Khajuraho. These temples were discovered in 2005 as a result of excavation by the ASI and the archeological work is still ongoing. Most of the temples here are dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu and are believed to built between the 8th-10th century and is built mainly using red sandstone.

Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhod: Associated with Guru Har Gobind Saheb, his imprisonment in Gwalior Fort and his release along with the 52 kings who were held captive, Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhod holds immense religious importance to the adherents of the Sikh faith.

Tomb of Tansen: One of the greatest musicians of India and an eminent vocalist in the court of Emperor Akbar in the 16th century, Tansen was also among one of the nine gems of the Mughal court. Believed to be able to create magic, cause rains even though it was not the season for it and enchant animals with his music, Tansen was a student of Mohammad Ghaus who taught him Hindustani classical music. He was a proponent of Dhrupad style and he developed the Gwalior Gharana style of music. He was buried near his guru and this burial site is a beautiful piece of architecture. The annual Tansen music festival is held here every year in the month of November when prominent musicians from all over the country come and perform various classical shows. The tomb is open for visitors from 8 am to 6 pm.

Tomb of Ghaus Mohammed: The tomb of the 16th century prince-turned-sufi is located in Tansen Nagar in Gwalior. This beautiful mausoleum exhibits stunning Mughal architecture which gives the place a sense of serenity and peace.

Gopachal Parva: Famous for its 7th and 15th century rock-cut Jain mounuments dedicated to Jain Teerthankaras – Adinatha, Mahavir, Neminatha and Rishanabhanatha – whose idols can be seen in a meditative posture, Gopachal Parvat are a part of 100 monuments located in and around the city.

Chhatris of the Scindia Dynasty: Centophs built in the memory and honour of the rulers of the Scindia dynasty, the first Chhatri was constructed in the memory of Jayaji Rao Scindia in 1817. The Chhatri is famous for its architectural beauty with elegant domes and beautiful pavilions made of pink and yellow sandstone set amidst lush green lawns. The Chhatri is open from 9 am to 5 pm.

Gujari Mahal: The State Archaeological Museum also known as Gujari Mahal was built by Man Singh in the 15th century for his favorite wife Mrignayani. While Gujari Mahal is now in ruins, it is an archaeological museum today as it showcases various sculptures, statues and other remains dating back to 1st and 2nd century. Entry fees is INR 10 for Indians, INR 100 for foreigners, INR 50 to bring in a camera and INR 200 to shoot videos in the museum. The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm.

Scindia Museum: Dedicated to Jivaji Rao Scindia, this is one of the most prominent museums of Madhya Pradesh. It occupies around 35 rooms of Jai Villas Palace and was established in the year 1964. The museum is famous for its collection of manuscripts, sculptures, coins, paintings and weapons and is a great place to connect with the history of Gwalior, especially the Scindia dynasty.

Sarod Ghar: Also known as Kala Vithika, the Sarod Ghar is a museum of music which has been set up in the ancestral house of the legendary Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan and is a must for any music enthusiast visiting Gwalior. This museum houses musical instruments which were used by legendary Indian musicians of the past and also exhibits a great collection of documents and photographs with the aim of promoting Indian classical culture and music. Open from 10 am to 6 pm every day except Sunday, the entry fee for Indians INR 20 and INR 100 for foreigners.

Gwalior Zoo: Established by Madhao Rao Scindia in 1922, the Gandhi zoo as it is also known, is actually a section of a larger garden known as Phool Bagh and houses various rare species of animals. Golden peasants, sambhars, bison, hyena, spotted deer, black bucks and a white tiger forms the variety of wild animals that can be found here. Several smaller populations of crocodiles, snakes, monkeys, and birds have also made the zoo their home. Due to the rare species of wild animals here, the 8 hectares of land that constitutes the zoo has been declared to be a protected site, maintained by the Municipal Corporation of Gwalior as part of its inheritance. The Phool Bagh was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales almost a hundred years ago, and it continues to be well-maintained and conserved even today and also houses a prayer hall, gurudwara, mosque as well as a theosophical lodge. Closed on Fridays, the Zoo is open from10:30 am to 5 pm on other days. Adults pay INR 20 while children pay INR 5 to enter the zoo.

Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary: Located about 150 km south of Gwalior, the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary is a hidden gem hiding amidst Vindhyan Hills. This wildlife sanctuary is a well kept secret and a safe haven for a large number of flora and fauna. The tranquil wilderness and serene rivers makes this place look magical. The dense lush green trees hide many treasures amidst them and this wildlife sanctuary is an offbeat destination not visited many and hence is quite peaceful. A few hours spent with trees, flowers, animals and birds will make you appreciate mother nature and you would want to stay here forever. You can either explore the dense forest using your own vehicle, the condition being it should not be older than 5 years or tske the jungle safari organised by the sanctuary. The jungle safari takes place twice a day, once in the morning from 6 to 9:30 am and the then in the evening between 4 to 6 pm.

After travelling about 480 km south of Gwalior, we get to Jabalpur and Bhedaghat

An ancient city located on the shores of river Narmada, Jabalpur is today an industrial city which is gaining popularity as a tourist destination because of its splendid ghats, the 98-foot high Dhuandhar waterfall, marble art, and historical and cultural structures. The Bhedaghat-Marble Rocks and Dhuandhar Falls are the most prominent tourist attractions in Jabalpur. Apart from this, the 17th-century Madan Mahal Fort situated near Narmada river and the famous Chausath Yogini Temple located near Roopnath are must-visits. Besides them, Balancing Rock is another site which is must-see for tourists in Jabalpur. A bustling city with modern amenities, it is home to varied working-class people and some British architecture along with beautiful natural landscapes. Kanha National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park are also nearby making Jabalpur a central location to visit these wildlife locations.

Bhedeghat is known for the Duandar Falls, a huge cascade of water that falls from a height of 98 feet. Boating in Bhedaghat especially during the moonlit night is an unforgettable experience. The boatmen of these place are storytellers that will tell you about the place in the form of interesting stories. Also regarded as the Marble Rocks of Bhedaghat, this small town has earned a reputation for the massive 100 ft rocks on either side of the Narmada. Bhedaghat lies less than 25 km east of Jabalpur and about 285 km east of Bhopal. Other notable attractions here include the 64 Yogini Temple and ‘Bandar Kudini’, a spot where two cliffs are so close to each other that monkeys hop over from one side to another.

Our next destination is the town of Panna, about 220 km north of Jabalpur

A former Gond settlement, Panna is a small city in the heart of the country, which boasts of being the only city with diamond reserves. Panna is also most notably known for the Panna National Park which is a world heritage site and a significant initiative towards wildlife conservation in India. Panna is also famous for the temple of Padmavatipuri Dham, which is a haven for devotees or the numerous intriguing stories of the Bundela rajas. Another reason that Panna is well-known is for the legend of the peripatetic sage Mahamati Prannath and his disciples, who on reaching Panna realized the message of the awakening of one’s soul. Panna has a large reserve of diamond deposits along the Vindhya mountain range. Despite not having very large diamonds, the Panna diamonds are extremely popular and are auctioned off every year in the month of January. They are classified into 4 categories – the clear Motichul, the orange tainted Manik, the green-tinted Panna and the sepia coloured Bunsput. The National Mineral Development Corporation manages the diamond mines in Panna.

260 km west of Jabalpur lies the hill station of Panchmarhi.

The only hill station and the highest point in the state, Pachmarhi is also often known as “Satpura ki Rani” or the “Queen of the Satpura Range”. Situated at an altitude of 1,067 metres, the picturesque town is a part of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, home to leopards and bison. Five sandstone cut caves on the hilltop are believed to be the spot where Pandavas stayed in Pachmarhi during their exile, making it a popular spot among religious tourists. Being at an elevated height and surrounded by bewitching forests of the Satpuras with the streams and waterfalls, Pachmarhi is a perfect weekend getaway from the nearby cities of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Since the town was discovered and developed in modern times by Captain James Forsyth of the British Army, it houses charming churches built in colonial style architecture.

Let’s go back to Jabalpur and travel east this time to Amarkantak which is about 225 km from Jabalpur.

Also known as “Teerthraj” or the king of pilgrimages, Amarkantak is located amidst the Vindhya and Satpura mountain ranges at an altitude of 1065 meters with some of the most exquisite temples that one will ever see. The Narmada river, one of India’s holiest rivers, originates from Amarkantak and apart from being the birthplace for the river Narmada, Amarkantak also serves as the confluence point for the rivers Narmada, Sone and Johila. The dense forests of Amarkantak have plants rich in medicinal properties, making it significant from the ecological point of view. It is believed that the mystic poet, Sant Kabir, meditated here on Kabir Chabutra. Amarkantak is known for its rich cultural heritage.

Less than 200 km from Amarkantak is the Bandhavgarh National Park.

Formerly a hunting ground for the Maharajas of Rewa, the Bandhavgarh National Park is world-renowned as a tiger reserve and it is known to have the highest density of Bengal tigers in the world. The frequent sightings of royal tigers make this national park a must-visit for all wildlife enthusiasts. In 2012, around 44-49 tigers were living in the park. There are more than 22 species of mammals and 250 species of avifauna. The park got its name from the Bandhavgarh fort situated at the height of 800 m high cliffs nearby. The fort is in ruins now, but an hour trek to the fort is worth it as it provides ample views of the surroundings. The jeep safaris are amongst the most popular activities taken by visitors. The best time to visit the park is between October to May. Unlike other national parks, there are three types of safaris offered by the authorities – jeep, canter and elephant. Jeep and canter safaris are more popular among the tourists because it is easily available and cheaper than the elephant safari.

Another 200 km south of Bandhavgarh National Park is the Kanha National Park

The Kanha National Park is the largest National Park in central India and has been ranked as one of the best parks in Asia. Among the 22 species of large mammals, the royal Bengal tigers are one of the major attractions. One of the best tiger reserves in India, the present-day area stretches over the 940-kilometre square which is divided into two sanctuaries: Hallon and Banjar. The park was established in the year 1955 and has since actively contributed to the preservation of many endangered species. The National Park was taken under the Project Tiger Reserve in 1974. Abundant in flora and fauna, the Kanha National Park houses one of the rarest species of deer- the Barasingha. It is known for the unique Barasingha conversation to save the species that were once on the verge of extinction. One of the most scenic wildlife reserves in Asia today, this National Park came to be known the world over through Rudyard Kipling’s book- The Jungle Book. The park is famous for its wildlife safaris and attracts tourists from all over the world. Other important animals in this park are leopards, wild dogs, wild cats, foxes, sloth bears, hyenas, langurs, wild boars and jackals. Reptiles including pythons, cobras, krait and other varieties of snakes are also found in this National Park. The Jeep Safari is the best way to explore Kanha. Since the costs are typically per jeep, its advisable to share your jeep in case seats are available. The safaris are allowed in two slots: morning from 6 to 11 am and afternoon from 3 to 6 pm. The morning slot typically has more chances of spotting tigers with costs around INR 1000-2000 for a jeep. The evening safaris are slightly cheaper than the morning ones. You can book a 4 seater safari from your resort and they will also pack breakfast for you in the morning slot. The elephant safaris could be very exciting and are typically available in the morning slot costing around INR 300-600 per head.

The Pench National Park is situated 200 km east of the Kanha Tiger Reserve.

With the majestic Pench river flowing through the greens and a variety of wildlife to be spotted in the rocky terrains, the Pench National Park served as an inspiration for the famous novel ‘The Jungle Book’. One can enjoy many different experiences along with the wildlife safari on the boat rides, such as catching a glimpse of the tribal life and viewing some famous local dams and temples along the way. The Pench National Park is open to visitors from 1st October to 30th June each year. It remains closed during the monsoon season. Generally, the months of November to February is considered to be the best time to visit the park. The entry fee to the park is INR 15 for Indians and INR 150 for foreigners. The timings are from 6 am to 11 am in the mornings, and then from 3 to 6 pm. Light vehicles and 15 seater buses are allowed on the premises. An open jeep Jungle Safari is available for both day and night. There is also the option of taking a beautiful boat ride or boat safari to explore Pench and the surrounding areas, across a stretch of 17 km.

I have only managed to scratch the surface of what this amazingly rich and diverse state has to offer. I am more then tempted to visit as soon as I can. What about you?

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.

Travel Bucket List: India – Madhya Pradesh Part 4

Our next Madhya Pradesh destination is the town of Maheshwar. Indian women would easily recognise the name which is eponymous with its famed Maheshwari sarees. Located about 100 kms south of Indore and on the north bank of the river Narmada, Maheshwar was the kingdom of Chaktavartin Samrat Sahastraarjun, a Heheya king and the capital of the Malwas during the Maratha Holkar reign till 6 January 1818, when the capital was shifted to Indore by Malhar Rao Holkar III. The word Maheshwar in Hindi means Great God, an epithet of Lord Shiva and many writers have identified Maheshwar to be the ancient town of Mahishmati.

Maheshwar is believed to be built on the site of the ancient city of Somvanshya Shastrarjun Kshatriya, and was the capital of king Kartavirya Arjuna or Shree Shastrarjun, who is mentioned in the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. According to a popular legend, one day the King Sahasrarjun and his 500 wives went to the river for a picnic. When the wives wanted a vast play area, the King stopped the mighty river Narmada with his 1000 arms. While they were all enjoying themselves, Ravana flew by in his Pushpak Vimana. Downstream, when he saw the dry river bed, he thought it was an ideal place to pray to Lord Shiva. He made a Shivalinga out of the sand and began to pray. When Sahasrajuna’s wives were done playing and they stepped out of the river bed, he let the waters flow. The voluminous river flowed down sweeping Ravana’s Shivalinga along, messing up his prayers. Furious, Ravana tracked Sahasrajuna and challenged him. Armed to the hilt the mighty Ravana was in for a huge surprise. The mighty Sahasrarjuna with the 1000 arms pinned Ravana to the ground. Then he placed 10 lamps on his heads and one on his hand. After tying up Ravana, Sahasrarjuna dragged him home and tied him up to the cradle pole of his son. A humiliated Ravana stayed prisoner until his release was secured. Jamadagni rishi, Renuka Devi and Lord Parashurama with whom Kartavirya Arjuna’s story is closely associated also lived nearby.

In the Mahabharata, there is a narration of an unusual tradition wherein marriage as a civil institution was not universal in Mahishmati unlike in rest of Aryavarta, which is also narrated in the Telugu-language Andhra Mahabharata in ‘Sabha parva’. As per the legend, there was a Nishada king named Nila who ruled over Mahishmati. King Nila had a daughter who was exceedingly beautiful. So much so that Agni, the Lord of fire fell in love with her which was reciprocated. The princess always used to stay near the sacred fire of her father, causing it to blaze up with vigour. And king Nila’s sacred fire, even if fanned, would not blaze until agitated by the gentle breath of her lips. Agni, assuming the form of a Brahman starts courting the princess. But, one day the couple was discovered by the king, who became furious. Nila thereupon ordered the Brahman to be punished according to law. At this the illustrious deity flamed up in wrath and beholding the terrible flame, the king felt terrified and bent his head low on the ground. The king bowed down to Lord Agni and says he cannot punish a God who was responsible for the origin of Vedas, source of all knowledge and virtue. Pacified Agni then grants a boon to Nishada, and the King requests for the protection of his kingdom from any invasions. Agni swears to protect his kingdom on the condition that the king should sanctify pleasure out of pure love a legitimate action in his kingdom. Liberated from the orthodoxy of marriage as a prelude, women of Mahishmati enjoyed freedom that was then unheard of elsewhere in ancient India. Years later, after the epic Kurukshetra war the victorious Yudhishthira plans on conducting a Yagna by winning over everyone else on earth. Sahadeva, the youngest of Pandavas knowing that Lord Agni was protecting the Nishada kingdom, prays to Lord Agni successfully and moves to the Saurashtra kingdom. Even today, the Sahasrarjun temple at Maheshwar lights 11 lamps in honour of Lord Agni blessing the Kingdom. Alternatively, this tradition is attributed to Sahasrarjun queens humiliating captive ten-headed Ravana by lighting up candles on his foreheads.

In the late eighteenth century, Maheshwar served as the capital of the great Maratha queen Rajmata Ahilya Devi Holkar. She embellished the city with many buildings and public works, and it is home to her palace, as well as numerous temples, a fort, and riverfront ghats which are broad stone steps which step down to the river.

Maheshwar has been a centre of handloom weaving since the 5th century and is home of one of India’s finest handloom fabric traditions. It is noted as a centre for the colourful Maheshwari sarees which rose to popularity under the rule of Queen Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar. Ahilya Bai wanted royal gifts for the royal guest and hence weavers from Mandu and Surat were hired and the Maheswari saree and turban were woven. It is said that Ahilya Bai herself designed first saree and these sarees were worn by the female members of the royal court and gifted to royal guests. The inspiration for the saree designs can easily be seen in local architecture which are woven with distinctive designs involving stripes, checks, and floral borders.

So on to see what Maheshwar has to offer

Holkar Fort: A prime example of Maratha architecture, as its name suggests, the Holkar Fort was the palace of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar which is why it is also known as the Queen’s fort. Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the river Narmada, the fort is also known as Ahilya Fort and is over 250 years old and was the capital of Queen Ahilyabai Holkar between 1766 and 1795 though currently it has been converted into a hotel, managed by the son of the last Maharaja of Indore. Among the most highlights of the fort are its magnificent chhatris, protruding balconies, well-groomed gardens and the royal seat. In addition to this, there are a number of temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and his incarnations within the fort premises itself. Besides the striking Maratha architecture and the age old charm, the fort also offers magnificent views of the quaint Maheshwar town and its gorgeous ghats. There is also a weaver’s cooperative society in its premises. Visitors can also enjoy boating here at sundown.

Rajwada: Legend has it that this splendid architectural wonder was constructed under the rule of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar. Not only does the palace showcase Maratha architectural styles, but also boasts of designs inspired from Mughal and French architectural styles. One of the major attractions here is the statue of Rani Ahilyabai standing tall right at the entrance.

Ahilyeshwar Temple: Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Ahilyeshwar Temple is also testament to the splendid architectural skills of the Maratha workmen. The temple comprises of intricate designs and artwork in honour of the deity. Apart from being the shrine of Lord Shiva, this temple also has a shrine of Lord Rama. The temples are open 7 am to 6:30 pm with aartis fixed at 8 am and 6 pm.

Rajarajeshwara Temple: Located close to the Ahilyeshwar temple, the Rajaraheshwara Temple is also another temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and boasts of a very rich and intricate architecture. The shrine is regarded as the temple of the 11 Akhand Jyoti Deepak or the eternal flame lamps. One of the major offerings at the temple is the ghee that is used to enlighten the lamps.

Jaleshwar Temple: Like the other Maheshwar temples, the Jaleshwar Temple is also dedicated to the third God in the Hindu triumvirate, Lord Shiva. He has many benevolent and fearsome forms. At the highest level Shiva is limitless, unstoppable, unchanging and invincible. To honour this, the Jaleshwar Temple was constructed.

Pandrinath Temple: Unlike other temples in Maheshwar, the Padrinath Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the protector of the whole universe and not Lord Shiva. Legend has it that at the end of the Dwapara Yuga, Lord Krishna incarnated on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the holy month of Shravana. Due to this, Lord Krishna is also called Pandrinath. This temple like the other temples of Maheshwar is also an architectural marvel. The doors of the temple best reflect this.

Mandleshwar: A town of temples situated on the bank of the Narmada River, Mandleshwar has been mentioned in the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata as a splendid city also known as Mahishmati. It was the capital of southern Avanti during the rule of King Kartavirya Arjun. This town which is situated in quiet beauty is well-known for its temples, fort complex and bathing ghats. Located in the Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh, the sarees of this town are famous for their floral designs throughout the country. The temples and fort of Mandleshwar have a remarkable charm to it due to the grandeur of its wonderful architecture.

Mandleshwar was the name given to the city which means the home of Lord Shiva. Earlier, the city was known as Mahishmati which was later changed to Mandleshwar. Tourism and religion have a lot of importance in and around Mandleshwar due to the presence of ancient temples known as Bawangaja, Shiv Jyotirlinga Mandleshwar and Mandav. A lot of Bollywood, as well as Tamil movies including Ashoka and Tulsi too, have been shot here thereby making the city famous amongst tourists. It is an amazing place to be visited by a lot of foreign nationals as well having interest in the art and spiritual values of India. Mandleshwar is a must-visit for all the tourists out there if you are a planning a trip to Madhya Pradesh due to its history and tourist places.

From Maheshwar, let’s travel about 65 km east to another holy town, the town of Omkareshwar.

Located on the island of Mandhata, next to the banks of Narmada River, Omkareshwar is a famous pilgrimage centre that that includes one of the 12 idolised Jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. The name Omkareshwar means ‘Lord of Omkaara’, which is one of the Dwadasa Jyotirlinga shrines or the 12 shrines dedicated to lord Shiva in the form of a Jyotirlingam. It’s a sacred island which is shaped like the Hindu symbols ‘OM’, drawing millions of travellers from all across the globe. It has two ancient shrines including Omkareshwar and Amarkareshwar. This holy place is located on the meeting point of Narmada and Kaveri River, making a must-visit pilgrimage destination for Lord Shiva devotees and leisure travellers alike. Set in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, Omkareshwar is forged by the sacred Narmada River. Built in the Nagara style, the Omkareshwar temple is featured by an eminent Shikhara.

As per the myth, when Narad, the great prophet visited to the god of Vindhya Mountains, he was quite raging after knowing that there was no dwelling for Lord Shiva and so, the god of these mountains referred himself to very strict nonindulgences. Lord Shiva was very delighted when the deity of the mountain said that he would make Omkareshwar one of his homes and that’s why the place is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Over and above, the entire area of this holy place is bordered by mountains, making an enchanting view for travellers. If you’re here you must take a Parikrama around the island as it is considered to be very religious.

Shri Omkareshwar Jyotirlinga Temple: Reckoned among the holiest shrines of India, Omkareshwar Jyotirlinga is one of the 12 treasured jyotirlingas in the country. The temple is perched on an enticing island of Mandhata which falls on the confluence point of Kaveri and Narmada rivers. Mandhata island has its shape resembling the sacred symbol of “OM” which makes this land even more divine. The temple boasts Nagara style architecture with its detailed and intricate carvings. The beautiful balconies and column carvings of varied shapes add to the visual appeal of the temple. The Jyotirlinga which is installed on the base floor of the temple remains immersed in water. You may also find 20 shrines which are devoted to several deities including Ganesh, Krishna, Narmada, and Shani. The temple remains open from 5 am to 10 pm.

Mamleshwar Temple: The actual name of the Mamleshwar Temple is the Amreshwar Temple. It is a protected monument which exhibits the extraordinary architectural style of ancient India. The Mamleshwar temple is spread over a smaller area which covers a hall and a sanctum. 22 brahmins perform the Lingarchan rituals on a daily basis in this temple since the reign of Maharani Ahilyabai. However, now the number of Brahmins have been brought down to just 5. Around 1000 Shivalingas are planted on a wooden board to perform the daily rituals. The temple walls are adorned with the Mahimna Strotam inscriptions. The temple remains open from 5:30 am to 9 pm.

Kedareshwar Temple: Built as a tribute to Lord Kedar, the Kedareshwar Temple is known for its intricate architecture. The temple is just 4 Km away from Omkareshwar Temple and is from the 11th century, cradled on the banks of the river Narmada. Kedareshwar Temple also bears an uncanny resemblance with the Kedarnath temple, which is why it is a very popular temple in Omkareshwar. The Kedareshwar temple remains open from 5 am to 9:35 pm.

Omkar Mandhata Temple: The exquisite Omkar Mandhata Temple stands on the beautiful Mandhata island and draws millions of pilgrims every year. The Omkar Mandhata Temple was constructed on the soft stone which highlights its intricate artwork. The upper side of the temple displays popular frieze figures and its shrine exhibits finely carved stones. The temple remains open from 5 am to 10 pm.

Siddhanath Temple: Located on a small plateau on Mandhata Island, the Siddhanath Temple was attacked by Mahmud of Ghazni but it still stands tall symbolising its strength. The detailed carvings on the pillars and walls of the temple represent its spiritual value, as well as, rich architecture. One can visit this temple between 6 am to 8 pm.

Gauri Somnath Temple: Holding a striking resemblance to the Khajuraho Temples in its design and artwork, the Gauri Somnath Temple comprises a huge 6-feet linga which is made up of black stone. The linga is said to possess some predictive quality which adds to the fame of this Shiva temple. One can also get to see Goddess Parvati idol and Shiva consort behind this linga. To get a glimpse of this star-shaped architectural beauty, one needs to climb around 200 stairs. The temple is open to visitors from 5 am to6 pm every day.

Peshawar Ghat: Peaks bifurcated by gorges, transparent flow of streams, and majestic mountain ranges, the Peshawar  Ghat is one of those places in Omkareshwar which offer a blend of beauty and religion. This scenic spot falls which falls in the centre of the town, is the point where the Narmada and Kaveri rivers merge.

Sri Govinda Bhagavatpada Cave: It is said that this is the very cave where Adi Shankaracharya learned his lessons from Govinda Bhagavatpada Granth. Adi Shankaracharya is said to have walked thousands of miles crossing the dense forests, valleys, and majestic mountains to reach Govinda Bhagavatpada who had his cave on the banks of pristine Narmada. These caves are near where the Narmada and Kaveri rivers merge and are open between 9 am to 6 pm daily.

After Omkareshwar, let’s head about 100 km westwards to the town of Mandu.

Mandu or Mandavgad is an ancient city in the present-day Mandav area. In the 11th century, Mandu was the sub division of the Tarangagadh or Taranga kingdom and this fortress town on a rocky outcrop about 100 km southwest of Indore is celebrated for its architecture.

An inscription discovered from Talanpur, which lies around 100km from Mandu states that a merchant named Chandra Simha installed a statue in a temple of Parshvanatha located in the Mandapa Durg. While “Durg” means “Fort”, the word “Mandu” is a Prakrit corruption of “mandapa”, meaning hall or temple. The inscription is dated around 555, which indicates that Mandu was a flourishing town in 6th century. Mandu gained prominence in 10th and 11th century under the Paramaras. In 1305, the Muslim Sultan of Delhi Alauddin Khalji captured Malwa, the Paramara territory. With the help of a spy, Multani’s forces found a way to enter the fort secretly and Mahalakadeva was killed while attempting to flee, on 24 November 1305. When Timur captured Delhi in 1401, the Afghan Dilawar Khan, governor of Malwa, set up his own little kingdom and the Ghuri dynasty was established and his son, Hoshang Shah, shifted the capital from Dhar to Mandu and raised it to its greatest splendour. His grandson and third and last ruler of the Ghuri dynasty, Mohammed, ruled for just one year till his poisoning by the militaristic Mohammed Khalji who established the Khalji dynasty of Malwa and went on to rule for the next 33 years. He was succeeded by his son Ghiyas-ud-din, who had a large harem and built the Jahaz Mahal for housing the women, numbering thousands. Mughal forces led by Adham Khan entered the fort of Baz Bahadur of Malwa in 1561 and in 1526, Mahmud II the sixth Khalji ruler made no resistance against the invading Bahadur Shah of Gujarat who conquered Mandu. In 1534 Mandu came under Humayun’s rule and he ordered large scale massacre of prisoners there. Humayun lost the kingdom to Mallu Khan, an officer of the Khalji dynasty. Ten more years of feuds and invasions followed and in the end Baz Bahadur emerged on top. After Akbar added Mandu to the Mughal empire, it kept a considerable degree of independence, until it was taken by the Marathas in 1732 by Peshwa Baji Rao I. The capital of Malwa was then shifted back to Dhar by Marathas under Maharaja Pawar, re-establishing Hindu rule.

Jahaz Mahal: The splendid architecture of Jahaz Mahal was built during the reign of Mandu Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji, who is believed to have as many as 15,000 women as his consorts. To accommodate the women belonging to the royal harem, Jahaz Mahal was built in second half of the 15th century. Jahaz Mahal best captures the medieval history of Mundu. Here ‘Jahaz’ refers to a ship and ‘Mahal’ refers to a palace, which is a reflection of the edifice itself. Surrounded by pond water, it seems to be floating gently above the surface of the water. The architecture and structure of Jahaaz Mahal are both awe-inspiring and marvellous in terms of its engineering. Emulating the appearance of a mighty ship, the palace is an amalgam of Afghan, Mughal, Hindu and Mesopotamian architecture styles and was built with a meticulous precision that followed acoustic water supply patterns, subtly reflecting the pond that lies overlooking the palace. The balconies are constructed in a way that amplifies sound such that reverberates through the entire body of Jahaz Mahal. Jahaz Mahal is open from 6 am to 7 pm and Indians need to pay IN5 while foreigners need to pay INR 100 as entrance fees. To take a video camera inside, you will need to pay INR 25 per camera.

Rani Rupmati’s Pavilion: If history is to be believed, this structure stands as testimony to the legendary tragic love story of Baz Bahadur, the mid-16th century Sultan of Mandu, a great musician, and his queen, Rani Roopmati, a singer of repute. The original design, without pavilions, was built as an observation post for the royal army as a low, large hall with a pair of rooms on each side and a heavy sloping base. A symbol of their undying love, it was later transformed into the abode of Roopmati with a western side extension along the plinth. It was extended so as to enable the queen, who fervently worshipped the Narmada, to see the river and perform religious rites without stepping out of the fort. Make sure you are here during sunset to see a dazzling display of nature at her best at the pavilion’s top with lush forests, plateaus, valleys and vast stretches of far away hills stretch before you.

Baz Bahadur’s Palace: Lying on the hill-slope to the east of Rewa Kund and is set in the midst of picturesque setting, Baz Bahadur’s Palace was was designed and built in 1508 by Nasir-ud-Din, the sultan of Malwa, which then underwent repairs and renovation during the reign of Baz Bahadur. Big courtyards and high terraces are distinct aspects of the palace that is an aesthetic blend of Mughal and Rajput architectural styles. Halls and rooms with arched gates skirt the huge courtyard which is adorned by a stunning cistern with crystal clear water in the centre. The palace terrace is further adorned with a couple of chhatris or elevated domed pavilions. One of the big rooms, that even today has astounding natural acoustics, served as the music and dance hall of the palace.

Jami Masjid: The giant red-stone Jami Masjid mosque is visible even from a few kilometers away, thanks to the dominating architectural techniques used by Hoshang Shah who took inspiration from Omayyed Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Unfortunately, Hoshang Shah could not see the monument before its completion as construction took a whopping 49 years and was completed under Mohammed Khilji. Despite its simplicity, it is considered to be the finest and largest examples of Afghan architecture in India.

Hindola Mahal: A palace which means Swinging Palace, Hindola Mahal is today a T-shaped building which is being used as an audience hall or an open-air theatre. Believed to have been constructed in 1425 during the reign of Hoshang Shah, it was modified to what it is today under the reign of Ghiyasuddin Khilji in the 15th century. It perfectly portrays the Malwa-Sultanate architecture and the simplicity of its architecture is what separated it from other monuments. The Mahal was constructed from sandstone with exquisitely carved columns with the provision of hot and cold water connected with the rooms situated underground. Munj Talao which is a collection of ruined monument covers the Hindola Mahal in the north and provides a fantastic tour to people who are interested in archives.

Champa Baoli and Hammam: An extensively constructed step well inspired from the styles of the Turkish baths, this well and bath was named Champa Baoli because it is believed that the aroma of the waters resemble that of the Champa flower. The vaulted rooms known as Taikhanas were so well connected with the baoli that even during atrociously hot temperatures, these rooms were constantly kept cool.

Jain Temple: Amidst other architectural marvels inspired by Islamic methods, the Jain Temple stands totally different. It is a modern day architectural structure boasting of silver, gold and marble statues of Jain Tirthankaras.It also has a theme park-esque Jain museum which is inspired by Shatrunjaya, the hilltop temple complex at Palitana in Gujarat.

Hoshang’s Tomb: Largely regarded as the oldest marble edifice in India, this architectural wonder has been said to have influenced Shah Jahan. It is also said that Shah Jahan had sent his workmen and Ustad Hamid to inspect the structural site and draw inspiration from it to build his lasting legacy, the Taj Mahal. The crescent that is crowned on the top of the tomb is considered to have been imported from Mesopotamia or Persia.

From Mandu, let’s travel 260 km southeast to the town of Burhanpur

A historical town based on the banks of the Tapti River in Madhya Pradesh, the most interesting piece of trivia in Burhanpur would be that Mumtaz Begum, the wife of Emperor Jahangir and the reason why the Taj Mahal was built, died in Burhanpur while giving birth to her fourteenth child. The city was also known as the entry point into south India as a result of its strategically poised position. The Queen who immortalized love was buried here, waiting for the completion of her famed tomb in Agra. Burhanpur is also blessed with an amazing water supply system that was developed during the Mughal rule. Burhanpur also served as the capital of the mighty Mughal Kingdom and is a city that is famous for its fascinating heritage.

After Burhanpur, we will go to the town of Chanderi which is about 550 km north and for which w will need to go through the capital of Bhopal.

Travel Bucket List: India – Madhya Pradesh Part 3

After Bhopal, we move westward to the largest and most populous city in the state, Indore. Located on the southern edge of Malwa Plateau, Indore is a tier 2 city very densely populated. The city traces its roots to its 16th century founding as a trading hub between the Deccan and Delhi. The city and its surroundings came under Maratha Empire on 18 May 1724 after Peshwa Baji Rao I assumed the full control of Malwa. During the days of the British Raj, Indore State was a 19 Gun Salute princely state which is a rare high rank ruled by the Maratha Holkar dynasty, until they acceded to the Union of India. Indore served as the capital of the Madhya Bharat from 1950 until 1956. It has been ranked as India’s cleanest city four years in a row as per the Swachh Survekshan for the years 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Gupta inscriptions name Indore as ‘Indrapura’. It is believe that the city is named after its Indreshwar Mahadev Temple, where Indra is the presiding deity. It is believed that Indra meditated in this place and led sage Swami Indrapuri to establish the temple. Later, Tukoji Rao Holkar renovated the temple. Gupta Empire inscriptions on copper plate inscriptions dated 146 Gupta era or 465 AD  mention Indore as the city of Indrapura. These are also some of the earliest mentions of Indore where the city is mentioned as ‘Indrapura’. Indrapura was then known for its sun temple, where around 464-65 AD, the Gupta king Skandagupta had made an endowment for the permanent maintenance of the city’s sun temple. The temple was constructed by two merchants of the city – Achalavarman and Bhṛikuṇṭhasiṁha.

In 1733, the Peshwa assumed the full control of Malwa, and appointed his commander Malhar Rao Holkar as the Governor of the province and on 29 July 1732, Bajirao Peshwa-I granted Holkar State by merging 28 and one-half parganas to Malhar Rao Holkar, the founding ruler of Holkar dynasty. His daughter-in-law Ahilyabai Holkar moved the state’s capital to Maheshwar in 1767, but Indore remained an important commercial and military centre. In 1818, the Holkars were defeated by the British during the Third Anglo-Maratha War, in the Battle of Mahidpur by virtue of which the capital was again moved from Maheshwar to Indore. A residency with British resident was established at Indore, but Holkars continued to rule Indore State as a princely state mainly due to efforts of their Dewan Tatya Jog. During that time, Indore was established the headquarters of British Central Agency. Ujjain was originally the commercial centre of Malwa. But the British administrators such as John Malcolm decided to promote Indore as an alternative to Ujjain, because the merchants of Ujjain had supported anti-British elements. In 1906 electric supply was started in the city, fire brigade was established in 1909 and in 1918, first master-plan of city was made by noted architect and town planner, Patrick Geddes. During the period of Maharaja Tukoji Rao Holkar II who ruled between 1852 and 1886, efforts were made for the planned development and industrial development of Indore. With the introduction of Railways in 1875, the business in Indore flourished during the reigns of Maharaja Shivaji Rao Holkar, Maharaja Tukoji Rao Holkar III and Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar.

After India’s independence in 1947, Holkar State, along with a number of neighboring princely states, acceded to the Indian Union. In 1948, with the formation of Madhya Bharat, Indore became the summer capital of the new state. On 1 November 1956, when Madhya Bharat was renamed and merged into Madhya Pradesh, the state capital was shifted to Bhopal. Today, Indore has been transformed from a traditional commercial urban center into the modern dynamic commercial capital of the state.

So let’s go and see what delights await us in Indore.

Rajwada: Located near the famous Kajuri Market, the Rajwada is a magnificent and historical palace built in a blend of the Maratha, Mughal and French style of architecture. When viewed from the southern side, the structure looks Mughal; while from the eastern side, it looks European. The palace was constructed by the Malhar Rao Holkar in 1747. A seven-storied structure located near the Chhatris, the Rajwada serves as an excellent example of royal grandeur and architectural skills. Nestled between the crowded streets of the Kajuri Bazar and facing the main square of the city, the Rajwada palace also faces a well-maintained garden that houses a statue of Queen Ahilya Bai, an artificial waterfall and some beautiful fountains. The Rajwada Palace was constructed in 1747 A.D. by the founder of Holkar Dynasty, Malhar Rao Holkar. The palace was once the centre of all the trading activities in the city. The Rani Ahilya throne, Ganesha Hall and Darbar Hall have been constructed in the French fashion. The Rajwada has been burnt three times since its construction. Now, only the front part of the original structure remains. The palace has recently been renovated, which has managed to bring back glory to an extent. In the rear part of the palace, a beautiful garden has been created, containing fountains, an artificial waterfall and some magnificent pieces of 11th-century sculpture. A splendid sound and light show takes place at the Rajwada Palace from Tuesdays to Sundays, at 6:30 pm and is a must watch for those who wish to know more about the palace and unravel its mysteries. While the lower three floors are made of stone and have been painted in dark brown colour, the upper floors have been constructed using wood. The windows of the palace have been outlined and give an impression to the onlooker that several eyes are looking right back at the street. The current building is rectangular, with circular bastions on all four corners. The palace also houses the office of the Joint Director of Archaeology and a Souvenir Shop, which is managed by the Archaeology Department of the State. The Rajwada is open to the public from 10 am to 5 pm and the entry fee for Indians is INR 10 while foreign visitors need to pay INR 250. If you plan on photography inside the the palace, you need to pay INR 25 for a still camera and INR 100 if you need to film inside.

Lal Bagh Palace: The residence of the Holkar rulers, the Lal Bagh Palace is sprawling and is spread over an area of 28 acres. An example of architectural magnificence, this palace once contained one of the best rose gardens in the country. Situated on the banks of the river Khan, about 32 km away from the city centre, the construction for the Lal Bagh palace begun during the reign of Tukoji Rao Holkar in 1886 and was completed 35 years later by his successor Tukoji Rao Holkar in 1921. Today the palace is a museum with some of the most exquisite artifacts from the Maratha Empire and Holkar dynasty, as well as a rare coin collection, dating back to the Mughal period. The interiors of this palace are rich with Italian marble columns, grand chandeliers, rich Persian carpets, murals on the ceiling, Belgium stained glass windows, Greek mythological reliefs, Italian style wall paintings, stuffed leopards, and tigers, amongst others. The palace is closed on Mondays and on other days it is open for visitors between 10 am and 5 pm.

Kanch Mandir: Made entirely out of glass, the Kanch Mandir or Glass Temple is a Jain temple which exhibits exquisite artwork on glass panels depicting the various aspects of Jainism. Close to the Rajwada, the temple, though not very big, is completely made out of Belgian stained glass and mirrors, from the floor to the ceiling, including walls and stairs. The dazzling domed ceiling displays intricate designs crafted from glass pieces. Its grandeur is enhanced manifold when it is lit up with lights and candles on certain Jain festivals like Mahavir Jayanti. The temple is open from 5 am to 12noon and then again between 4 to 8 pm every day.

Bada Ganpati: Literally meaning Big Ganesh, the Bada Ganpati temple earns its name due to the size of Lord Ganesha’s idol which is at a height of about 25 feet from crown to foot and is said to be one of the largest idols of the Lord in the world. The statue is made of a peculiar mixture of limestone, jaggery, bricks and sacred soil and water from the major pilgrim places in the country. There are conflicting accounts of how the temple came into existence. Established in the year 1875 by Shri Dadich, the construction of Bada Ganpati Temple was brought about by the family members of the Holkar dynasty, especially Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar.  The temple is open twice a day: once in the morning between 5 am and 12 noon and then again in the evening between 4 to 8 pm.

Annapurna Temple: Dedicated to the Goddess of food and the kitchen, the Annapurna temple also also houses the shrines of Lord Shiva, Lord Hanuman and Lord Kalabhairava. The entrance of the temple is adorned with four-life size statues of elephants. A rare depiction of the four vedas in the Vedhshala is another reason to visit the temple and spend some peaceful moments in the presence of divinity.

Khajrana Temple: The Khajrana Ganesh temple is one of the most powerful shrines of the Lord Ganesha. It was built by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar to safeguard the idol of Lord Ganesha from Aurangzeb. The temple has since grown from being housed in a small hut to a big temple with large inner and outer sanctums.

Gommat Giri: A pilgrimage site for those professing the Jain faith, Gomatgiri is located at just a 10-minute drive from the airport. A 21 feet statue of Gomateshwar which is a replica of the gigantic statue of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola is a major attraction. The statue of Gomateshwar is situated on a hill. Apart from this, there are also 24 temples, each representing the 24 Tirthankaras of Jainism.

Indore White Church: A colonial British-era church, the Indore White Church is testimony to awe-striking European architecture, with the entire structure being made of milk white stone and marble. The church comes into its own during Christmas time when it is decorated and is a sight to see then.

Museums in Indore: A small unique museum dedicated to the study of wild life and reptiles, the Kanha Museum also has artefacts related to the past and the history of Indore. The Royal Museum of Indore is a tiny museum famous for housing a collection of thrones, photographs and weapons etc. Most of these artefacts belong to the 19th century which was under the rule of Serfoji II. Exhibiting artefacts dating as far back to the prehistoric era, as well as recent findings from the modern era, the Central Museum of Indore is a history buff’s paradise. The museum also houses mythological carvings, coins from different ages, arms of various eras and sculptures dating back to the 11th century. Be sure to check the rare dried botanical creatures on display too. This museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm.

Meghdoot Garden: Also known as Meghdoot Upavan, Meghdoot Gardens is one of the oldest gardens in Indore. Luxuriously dense landscapes with different shades of green make the perfect environment to relax and rejuvenate. The park is dotted with beautiful misty fountains and also has a special children’s play area. The garden is open from 8 am to 10 pm and the entrance fee for Indians is INR 10 while foreigners will pay INR 200. Children below the age of 7 can enter without paying any entrance fee.

Waterfalls around Indore: Plummeting from a height of 300 meters, the Patalpani Waterfall is the most scenic photo stop in Indore. These falls lie about 30 km south from the centre of the city and are enveloped by refreshing mist and dense verdure making them the favourite local picnic spot. The monsoons swell the falls and may make it risky for close encounters causing accidents. It is best to maintain cautious distance from the waterfall during the rains. The breathtaking sight of water falling from a height is always thrilling, and Mohadi Falls, which lie about 29 km south of the city centre is the perfect spot where you would take your family to visit for a picnic. Located 25 kilometres south of the city, the Tincha Falls are one of the most popular waterfalls in the region. The milky white cascade is located in the Tincha village, also where the falls derive their name from. The roaring plunge of water at a height of 300 feet is a rain fed waterfall and is primarily a monsoon destination. Surrounded by lush green vegetation on all sides and an exhilarating experience in itself, the falls attract visitors, especially during the monsoon months. The falls are also a canyon, nuzzled in between valleys and there is a small pond near the foot of the falls, with the juxposition of the stillness of the pond against the roaring descent of water a sight not to be missed.

Pipliyapala Regional Park: Spread over an area of a whopping 122 acres and housing a ginormous 80-acre lake, the Pipliyapala Regional Park is an absolute treat for adults and children alike. Engage in some fun-filled activities like pedal-boating and motor-boating and witness the magical allure of the Mist and Musical Fountain, French Gardens, Labyrinths, Artist Village, etc. Be sure to try the savoury delicacies available at the Fast Food Zone. Open from 11 am to 9 pm, the entry fee for the park is INR 25 per person for Indians and INR 10 for children.

Ralamandal Wildlife Sanctuary: The oldest sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, the Ralamandal Wildlife Sanctuary packs a treat for wildlife and avifauna enthusiasts alike. The River Narmada, which is 150 million years older than River Ganga, runs through the sanctuary. Home to deer, wild hare, tigers and an umpteen variety of birds, you can access the sanctuary from 9 am to 6:30 pm. Entrance fee to the sanctuary is INR 5 per person.

Now that we have done visiting Indore, let’s travel 55 kms north to the holy city of Ujjain.

Ujjain is the fifth largest city in Madhya Pradesh and a famous Hindu pilgrimage centre with the Kumbh Mela held here every 12 years. The famous temple of Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga is also located in this city. An ancient city situated on the eastern bank of the Kshipra River, Ujjain was the most prominent city on the Malwa plateau of central India for much of its history. It emerged as the political centre of central India around 600 BCE. It was the capital of the ancient Avanti kingdom, one of the sixteen mahajanapadas. It remained an important political, commercial and cultural centre of central India until the early 19th century, when the British administrators decided to develop Indore as an alternative to it. Ujjain continues to be an important place of pilgrimage for Shaivites, Vaishnavites and followers of Shakta. Ujjain is one among the five places in India where the Jantar Mantar is located. Ujjain is also known as Greenwich of India or navel of earth because it is located where tropic of cancer and zero meridian of longitude intersects.Even today for astronomic calculations Ujjain’s time which is 29 min behind the Indian Standard Time is considered to be the best.

Excavations at Kayatha which lies around 26 km from Ujjain have revealed chalcolithic agricultural settlements dating to around 2000 BCE. According to scientists, Avanti, whose capital was Ujjain, was one of the earliest outposts in central India and showed signs of early urbanisation around 700 BCE. Around 600 BCE, Ujjain emerged as the political, commercial and cultural centre of Malwa plateau. The ancient walled city of Ujjain was located around the Garh Kalika hill on the bank of river Kshipra, in the present-day suburban areas of the Ujjain city. According to the Puranic texts, a branch of the legendary Haihaya dynasty ruled over Ujjain. In the 4th century BCE, the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta annexed Avanti to his empire. From the Mauryan period, northern black polished ware, copper coins, terracotta ring wells and ivory seals with Brahmi text have been excavated at Ujjain which emerged as an important commercial centre, partially because it lay on the trade route connecting north India to the Deccan, starting from Mathura. It also emerged as an important center for intellectual learning among Jain, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. After the Mauryans, Ujjain was controlled by a number of empires and dynasties, including local dynasties, the Shungas, the Western Satraps, the Satavahanas, and the Guptas. Ujjain was an important city and first capital of the powerul Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. In 1235 CE, Iltutmish of Delhi Sultanate plundered the city, and destroyed its temples. With the decline of the Paramara kingdom, Ujjain ultimately came under the Islamic rule, like other parts of north-central India. The city continued to be an important city of central India. As late as during the times of the Mughals, their vassal Jai Singh II constructed a Jantar Mantar in the city.

During the 18th century, the city briefly became the capital of Scindia state of the Maratha confederacy, when Ranoji Scindia established his capital at Ujjain in 1731. Madhadji Shinde constructed a grand palace with a hundred rooms around which the Maratha sardars constructed their own mansions. Ruined and destroyed temples were restored and newer ones were built. But his successors moved to Gwalior, where they ruled the Gwalior State in the latter half of the 18th century. The struggle of supremacy between the Holkars of Indore and Scindias (who ruled Ujjain) led to rivalry between the merchants of the two cities. After both Holkars and Scindias accepted the British suzerainty, the British colonial administrators decided to develop Indore as an alternative to Ujjain, because the merchants of Ujjain had supported certain anti-British people. After India’s independence, Ujjain became a part of the Madhya Bharat state. In 1956 Madhya Bharat was fused into the State of Madhya Pradesh. Since Ujjain is a holy city for Hindus, the temples are the stars of this city.

Mahakaleshwar Temple: One of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India, the Mahakaleshwar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it is said the Mahakal lingam at this temple is believed to be Swayambhu or self-manifesting, obtaining currents of Shakti or power from within itself. Mahakaleshwar is also one of the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas in India. Another interesting thing about the temple and what makes the temple one of the most revered Jyotirlingas in India is the fact that the Mahakaleshwar idol is Dakshina Mukhi, which means it is facing south, unlike all the other Jyotirlingas. The Bhasma-Aarti of Mahakaleshwar Temple is hugely popular amongst the devotees. The temple complex has a spacious courtyard which is influenced by Maratha, Bhumija and Chalukya styles of design and has impressive lingam sculptures of Mahakaleshwar. It also has the inscriptions of Omkaresvara and Nagachandresvara and images of Ganesha, Kartikeya and Parvati. The temple, which is spread over five levels, sees a huge throng of devotees during the Maha Shivaratri festival. The temple Pooja timings from the months of Chaitra to Ashwin which translate to around mid March to mid Octoberr are the morning Pooja from 7 to 7:30 am, the midday Pooja from 10 to 10:30 am, the evening Pooja from 5 to 5:30 pm and the Aarti Shri Mahakal from 7 to 7:30 pm. During these months, the temple closes at 11 pm. In the months of Kartik to Falgun which according to the Gregorian calendar roughly corresponds to  mid October to mid March, the morning Pooja is from 7:30 to 8 am, the midday Pooja is from 10:30 to 11 am, the evening Pooja is from 5:30 to 6:00 pm, the Aarti Shri Mahakal from 7:30 to 8 pm and the temple closes at 11 pm. The daily Bhasma Aarti is done at 4 am. There is no entry fee, but you need to pay INR 250 for a VIP darshan. Though there is no dress code for a normal darshan, please be mindful of religious sentiments and not wear scanty clothes. If you are planning to do a Jalaabhishek, men need to be attired in a dhoti and shawl which can be purchased in the shops outside the temple or you can rent them at the temple. Women are expected to wear a saree.

Kal Bhairava Temple: Bhairav is a fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva, and Kal Bhairava is the most important among the eight Bhairavas. If ancient scriptures are to be believed, the Kal Bhairav temple is said to be related with the Tantra cult, a secret religious sect who thrived upon black magic. There is a Shivalinga in this temple which during Mahashivratri attracts thousands of visitors. The temple is open from 5 am to 7 pm all days of the week.

Ram Mandir Ghat: One of the four locations in India which host the Kumbh Mela once every 12 years, the Ram Mandir Ghat is considered to be one of the oldest bathing Ghats in connection with the Kumbh celebrations. Millions of people throng this place during the mega Kumbh festival as it is believed that a dip here can wash off all you sins. Watching the sunset from the Ram Mandir Ghat is one of the most enchanting scenes you’ll experience.

Harsiddhi Temple: Boasting of an idol of Annapurna painted in dark red colour between the idols of Mahasaraswati and Mahalaxmi, the Harsiddhi Temple was almost in an irreparable condition, until the Marathas decided to repair it and the reason why you can see a touch of Maratha architecture in the temple. The temple is open from 5 am to 7 am every day of the week.

Kaliadeh Palace: Situated on an island based in the Shipra River, and constructed in 1458, this palace holds immense religious significance. The Palace is flanked on both sides by the waters of the rivers and you can see how well the man-made tanks and channels have been constructed. It was said that Emperor Akbar and Jehangir visited this gorgeous monument which is reflected in the two Persian inscriptions that are found in one of the corridors of the palace. It was broken down during the reign of the Pindaris, but Madhavrao Scindia restored it.

Jantar Mantar: Also known as the Vedh Shala Observatory, the Jantar Mantar, established in the 17th century is the oldest to be constructed among the group of five observatories viz. Jaipur, Delhi, Ujjain, Mathura, and Varanasi. Maharaja Jai Singh constructed it in 1719 to help Hindu scholars and astrologers with their research and studies. Visiting the place would make you learn about the ways by which time, revolutions, and position of celestial bodies were calculated in the bygone age. The studies of motions and orbits constituted here have bought it the name of ‘Yantra Mahal’. It has different yantras such as Samrat Yantra, Sun Dial, Niyati Chakra, etc. The primary purpose behind the construction of Jantar Mantar was to illustrate and compile the data collected by astronomical calculations, the results of which helped in the study of the movement of sun, planets and their moons. Moreover, the observatory in Ujjain is the only observatory where astronomical research is still carried out. Several data including the study of planetary motions get published every year. The Jantar Mantar is open every day between 7 am to 7 pm. Entry fees for Indians above the age of 15 is INR 40 per person while foreigners need to pay INR 200 per person. A camera will incur a cost of INR 50 while an audio guide will set you back by INR 50.

Chaubis Khamba Temple: Dating back to the 9th or 10th century, the Chaubis Khamba Temple is a historical wonder. The entrance showcases the images of guardian goddesses of the Temple – Mahalaya and Mahamaya with their names inscribed on the footsteps of the temple. The temple is open from 5 am to 7 pm every day.

Mangalnath Temple: Considered as the birth place of planet Mars, the Mangalnath Temple is visited by hundreds of devotees daily to get rid of dark energies and stubborn life problems. You can also seek the blessings of Mahadeva here, the guardian deity of the city.

Gopal Mandir: A majestic marble towered structure at the centre of the market square, the Gopal Mandir is famous for the beautiful Krishna idol it houses. The idol is a whopping 2 feet tall, rests on a silver-plated altar and is entirely cloaked in silver and gold jewellery. Also, the infamous door stolen by Ghazni from the Somnath temple has now been installed here.

After Ujjain, let’s quickly head to Alampur, a short 20 km drive south of Ujjain on the way to Indore.

A historical town, Alampur is named after Alam Shah Pavar who was the governor of province. No one knows about the origin of the Alampur fortress but based on it’s architecture, it is assumed to have been built around the 14th or 15th centuries. The town is famous for the chhatri of Malhar Rao Holkar and a Fortress at Alampu. A chhatri is a dome-shaped pavilion which originated as a canopy above tombs and served as a decorative element.

Malhar Rao’s Chhatri was built by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar in 1766 and is marked by beautiful carvings. Built on the pattern of the chhatris of Holkar rulers at Indore, the chhatri is famous for its outstanding carving of floral and leaf patterns. The first storey of the chhatri is a pillared hall decorated with fascinating paintings. This canopy is located on the left side of the entrance of Alampur. Carvings filled with colors are on the roof of the encompassing path and vines are carved on the walls of sanctorum inspired by Iranian Style. Carvings are also there on the balcony of the sanctorum with sun on the middle of north, east and south while a tortoise on the west balcony. The sanctorum also has windows all around. The wall on the left side of canopy has statues of the ruling family with five panels of such.

The origin of the Alampur Fort is shrouded in mystery today but based on its architecture, it can be safely assumed to have been built in the 14th or 15th century. There are two entrance one at East and other one at North, however the door at the east was the main entrance of the fortress and it seems that door at the north was built later. The ramparts of the fortress are damaged now, but it can be supposed that the fortress was very strong in the past. The Shala Bhavan inside the fortress which looks similar to the main receiving hall has cracks in many places. Today, a trust office is located in the second building which is in good condition and possibly was the residence of the governor of the province. A shrine and a Shiv temple are situated just in front of this building.

Other historical temples and monuments in Alampur include the Harihareshwar or Badi Mata temple, Batuk, Malharimarthand, Surya, Renuka, Ram Hanuman Temples, Shriram Temple, Laxmi Narayan Temple, Maruti Temple, Narsinh Temple, Khanderao Martand Temple and the memorial of Malhar Rao.

Let’s contine and travel about 142 km south to the town of Maheshwar