A vacation in the heart of India

While travel within India and outside it is my primary passion, what with one thing and another, I have never been to MP as much as I would have liked to. Of course, we went for our honeymoon to Panchmarhi and visited Gwalior and Shivpuri later on, but for a vast state like MP that is too little. I had been several times to Bhopal for work and like the city. In 2014 when I took my son there for his SSB interview, I could see that the city had changed a lot and wanted to spend some time there.

With the children in college and my current work as a Consultant, it is easier for me to plan travel now compared to earlier times. I looked at clubbing it with our anniversary, it was kind of romantic to go back to the same place where we had gone during our honeymoon 🙂 I looked at 3 days in Bhopal, a couple of days in Kanha and finally two days in Jabalpur where we have some first cousins who we had not met for long.

The planning part was reasonably easy – train tickets to Bhopal and Jabalpur and flight tickets from Jabalpur were booked online. We booked the hotels in Bhopal and Jabalpur through GoIbibo and Kanha travel was booked through an agent. We had some issues in getting cash for the trip, especially the 100 Re notes. A couple of days to various banks and numerous ATM’s enabled us to get about 20000 out of which 6000 was in 100 Re notes.

So with all of this done, we set out on 23rd evening to Bhopal by AP Sampark Kranti express. Fortunately, our tickets in AC 2 Tier had got confirmed finally which caused a major mood improvement of Lipi !! The train journey was quite comfortable and after checking in to the hotel next morning, we set off to Bhojpur and Bhimbetka. The Shiv temple in Bhojpur is definitely worth a visit if you are either religious or are interested in heritage. It has the largest Shiva Lingam in India and there are a large number of people there for daily worship. I was very impressed with the plans of the temple which were drawn on stones near to the temple. To think that 1000 years back, Engineering feats were planned and executed meticulously was definitely awe inspiring.

The rock shelters of Bhimbetka were definitely out of this world. To merely think that there were people inhabiting the place 50000 years and more back and they drew pictures on the same rocks we were seeing now will fill you with wonder. The site is very well kept by MP tourism and the Guide we had was quite knowledgeable as well as articulate. In the evening we went to the Upper lake or Badi Talab, which is the center of all evening activities in Bhopal. The lake is beautiful with a lot of food joints around as well as all kinds of boating options. The speed boat we chose was a rather thrilling ride and the setting sun formed the perfect backdrop to the experience. We had some chaat at the local eatery, followed it up by a rather sumptuous dinner of seekh kabab and Chicken at a joint close to our hotel before calling it a day.

The next day started well with another elaborate breakfast comprising Aloo and Gobi parathas. After that we set out to do some local places in Bhopal, taking an auto this time. Birla mandir was the first stop, quite a serene place with very nice views of the surrounding. Museum of Man or Manav Sangrahalaya was very impressive. You will get to learn a whole lot about evolution of mankind as well as get a fantastic overview of how our tribes live their lives. My own knowledge in this area has benefited immensely through the time we spent there. The good thing is that the whole experience is fun rather than dry and pedantic as many older Indian museums normally are. The open air models of the dwellings of tribal people from different parts of India are worth a mention. After this we had brief stops at the Nawab’s palace which was in a rather decrepit state and the Taj Ul Masjid which was quite majestic.

In the evening we first went to a famous local sweet shop named Manohar. It was good to see that the shop was doing bustling business despite all issues of cash availability. After that we went to visit an old school mate of mine, who has been working in BHEL Bhopal throughout. Booking an Uber cab in Bhopal was fortunately easy and it saved us from spending more of our already depleting cash reserves. Till now we had only been able to spend the 100 Re notes and only a few were left. Meeting Aniruddha and his family was a great feeling – it was almost as if the years had just not been there as we could catch up on memories of long back. We also got a lot of inputs from him and his wife Kaberi about MP and what all we need to see there. We had a sumptuous dinner again, which Kaberi had managed to rustle up at a rather short notice. Aniruddha dropped us back at the hotel and we turned in soon – next day was going to be a long one.

The next day was our anniversary and we started off to Sanchi after checking out early. The road to Sanchi was a good one and we made good time. Unfortunately, there was a fair going on close to the stupa site and the police had stopped the entry of cars on that road. This resulted in us having to walk about 2 Kms, part of which was uphill. Not a great prospect with the mid morning heat, but there was really no alternative. The sight of the stupas made all of it more than worthwhile though. “Majestic” is a word used rather commonly today but the structures here can definitely be termed that. The structures are good viewing as are the views of the surrounding areas.

Out of Sanchi we went on to the Udayagiri caves, not to be confused with the ones in Orissa. These caves were built during the Gupta times and has great value aesthetically and culturally. These caves are difficult to get to and seeing them completely involves a fair climb which needs a decent level of physical fitness. However, once you see the sculpture of the Varaha Avtaar of Vishnu, you will probably feel all the effort is well worth it.

Back from Udayagiri we went to see a Jain temple near Bhojpur, notable for the 22 feet statue in black. Further on we visited the MP Tribal Museum. This one focuses on the life and culture of the indigenous tribes of MP and is being developed on a rather grand scale. We were very impressed with the level of efforts made to get the authentic look and feel of how the tribes carry out their lives.

Final stop before boarding the train to Jabalpur was the Jehan Numa palace hotel. I had been to this hotel many times in the past when I visited Bhopal frequently. Lipi and I had also spent a day here when we were on our way to Panchmarhi through Bhopal during our honeymoon, way back in 1993. In many ways we both had a sense of deja vu visiting the coffee shop there. The chicken sandwiches and drinks we had were obviously far more expensive now but the hotel has retained the great quality over time.

If MP is the heart of India then Bhopal is probably the heart of MP. Our trip to this city was a great experience and we went on to Jabalpur that night. More on it in the next post, this one has already got way too long.


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