Madhya Pradesh, the state situated in the heart of India, offers a wonderful amalgamation of heritage and nature. Its prehistoric rock shelters, deserted towns, forts, palaces and delicately sculpted temples offer a peek into the various phases of history. Forests cover a large part of this state and have given birth to many wildlife sanctuaries. Two of them, Kanha and Bandhavgarh, are amongst the finest sanctuaries of India. Madhya Pradesh also has a few towns situated along the rivers and revered as pilgrimages.
Gwalior was centred around its hilltop fort until the lavish Jai Vilas Palace was built. It is hard to determine the origin of Gwalior, but the fort as we see it today dates back to the 15th-century when Man Singh of Tomar Dynasty ascended to the throne. The construction that was done under him made Gwalior Fort one of the finest hilltop castles in India. It is a beautiful example of Rajput art and architecture. After the Tomars, several clans ruled here in succession. Before India turned into a republic, Gwalior was in the partial control of Scindias who had maintained good relations with the British. Scindias built the magnificent Jai Vilas Palace here in 1875 during the reign of Maharaja Jayaji Rao Scindia. Read More
Location: Gwalior is 329 km south of Delhi and 120 km south of Agra. Bhopal is 450 km south of Gwalior.
Orchha was established by Bundela rulers on an island of the Betwa river in 1531. It served as their capital until 1738, when they deserted it to shift to Tikamgarh. What they left behind are magnificent palaces, beautiful temples and quaint cenotaphs. This deserted medieval town showcases the Bundela art and architecture. Along with the heritage explorers, Orchha also attracts river rafters and solitude seekers. Read More
Location: Orchha is 124 km south of Gwalior.
Pachmarhi town, the only hill station in Madhya Pradesh, is a saucer-shaped plateau surrounded by craggy cliffs, ravines, gorges, forests and waterfalls. Pachmarhi is a part of the Satpura National Park, which means restriction on construction and development. This has saved Pachmarhi from the onslaught of mass tourism and has served to keep it clean, green and serene. There are some fantastic lookout points around the town along with the waterfalls and pools. Pachmarhi must have been inhabited in the ancient times which is evident from its cave art. Like many hill retreats of north and south India, Pachmarhi was also developed by the British who have left behind a cantonment and a few churches. Read More
Location: Pachmarhi is 190 km southeast of Bhopal and 250 km southwest of Jabalpur.
Mandu, a medieval town, enjoys a picturesque setting. It straddles a plateau, surrounded by steep and wooded ravines, in the Vindhya hills. Mandu encloses some of the finest monuments of Madhya Pradesh. It has palaces, mosques and pleasure pavilions and water reservoirs; most of them date back to the 15th-century. The interestingly named palaces – Jahaz Mahal (ship palace) and Hindola Mahal (swinging palace) – are wonderful pieces of architecture. Baz Bahadur’s Palace and Rupmati’s Pavilion are equally charming. Read More
Location: Mandu is 94 km southwest of Indore.
Bandhavgarh national park, a tiger reserve, is spread over 448 sq km in the Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh. The density of Tigers in Bandhavgarh is said to be good. Along with the tiger, there are leopards, deer, hyenas, foxes, packs of dhole and sloth bear. This park also teems with birdlife, some 250 species of Birds have been recorded here. Bandhavgarh hill, situated in the centre of the park, is surrounded by low hills. At the crest of the Bandhavgarh hill, lie the ruins of the ancient Bandhavgarh Fort. There are many caves, comprising of shrines and inscriptions, around the base of the hill. Read More
Kanha is a splendid mosaic made up of lush deciduous forests, hills, grassy meadows and gently meandering streams. Spread over 940 sq km, Kanha National Park is one of the most well-managed parks in the country. The creatures that call this park their home are: tiger, leopard, spotted deer, jackal, swamp deer, langur monkeys, black buck, hyena, four horned antelope, gaur, python, sloth bear and about 200 species of birds. No sanctuary can offer guaranteed sightings of the most sought after ‘Tiger’ and Kanha is no exception. Having said that, Kanha’s magnificent beauty and its rich and diverse fauna do offer prospect of a good holiday. Read More
Sanchi is one of those sites that offer you a peek into the era when Buddhism was flourishing in India. The site at Sanchi is a collection of the remains of stupas and monasteries spread across on a hill. Standing in Sanchi, it is easy to imagine maroon-robed monks living in the quarters and performing their daily rituals around stupas. The big stupas had been damaged by the British officers and the Indian locals in the search of relics. Archaeological Survey of India, under the supervision of Sir John Marshall, repaired these stupas and restored the site in between 1912 and 1919.
Travel Tip: The site at Sanchi is off the road, on a hill. You can drive up the hill, but, if time is on your side, climbing up is more enjoyable. If you want to spend more time at Sanchi to enjoy the serenity, you can put up at ‘The Gateway Hotel’ run by Madhya Pradesh tourism. This mid-range hotel is spic and span, has a huge campus which houses a big courtyard and a restaurant.
Location: Sanchi is 49 km northeast of Bhopal.
The temples of Khajuraho are known world over for their intricate, creative and thought-provoking carvings. This temple town was built by the Chandela rulers who gained prominence in the 9th century AD. They built about 85 temples here in between 9th and 11th centuries. After the fall of Chandela empire in the 14th century, Khajuraho was forgotten. The entire site was hidden in the forest till T.S. Burt discovered it in 1838. Khajuraho is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. In all 22 temples have survived which are divided into western, eastern and southern group. The carvings on Kandariya Mahadev, Lakshmana and Vishvanatha temples in the western group are the most ornate. The carvings depict gods and goddesses, dancers, musicians, imaginary creatures, nymphs, beasts, warriors and erotic scenes. From Khajuraho, you can also plan excursions to the nearby forts of Ajaigarh and Kalinjar. Read More
Location: Khajuraho is 282 km southeast of Gwalior and 412 km southeast of Agra.
Marble Rocks (Bheda Ghat)
Narmada river, after cascading down at Dhuandhar, flows through the craggy mounds of Marble rocks before continuing its further journey. These Marble rocks, some of them 100 ft high, are worth gazing at from the cafe of Madhya Pradesh Tourism. You can even enjoy a boat trip through the rocks for a closer encounter. The small and sleepy village where Marble rocks are situated is called Bheda Ghat. It has a bazaar where you can buy marble-made figurines of Gods, lampshades, plaques and various other objects. At the southern end of Bheda Ghat is a popular temple called ‘Chausath Yogini Temple’.
Location: Bheda Ghat is 26 km east of Jabalpur.
Dhuandhar literally means ‘smoke cascade’. This is the place where the gushing waters of Narmada river pour down from a wide cliff. While the height of the fall is hardly 30 m, the volumes are very high. The fall creates roaring noise and sends out fumes of water. There is a platform for the visitors to take in this spectacle closely. The downstream water makes its way through the marble rocks before moving towards the Deccan.
Location: Dhuandhar waterfalls are situated near Bheda Ghat which is 26 km east of Jabalpur.
Ujjain is a city of temples situated on the banks of Shipra river. It is one of India’s seven sacred cities and is also among the four cities that host Kumbh Mela – a Hindu festival celebrated on a massive scale. As per history, Ujjain was a major centre during the time of Mauryas. Ashok, who later became the ruler of the Maurya Empire, was a governor here. Today, Ujjain is one of the religious centres in Madhya Pradesh.
Location: Ujjain is 56 km north of Indore.
Indore, the commercial centre of Madhya Pradesh, was ruled by the Holkars from 1733 to independence in 1947. Malhar Rao Holkar, the founder of Holkar dynasty, had earned this region as a reward from Peshwa Baji Rao with whom he worked as a commander. He was succeeded by his daughter-in-law Ahilya Bai Holkar who transformed Indore from a village into a planned city. Malhar Rao had built a huge palace here in 1749 called Rajwada Palace. Break out of fire in 1984 destroyed much of this seven-storeyed structure, leaving only the facade. There is one more palace in Indore: Lalbagh Palace. The construction of this lavish palace was initiated in 1886 and it ended in 1921. This Neoclassical structure was designed by the British designers. Read More
Location: Indore is 195 km east of Bhopal.
Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh, is a city of mosques and museums. Stretching along the shores of two artificial lakes, Bhopal is a delight for the travellers interested in the excavated artifacts and the regional culture of India. The museums of Bhopal are very well managed and they beautifully display the excavations dating back to the prehistoric and historic era. These museums also offer an insight into the tribal cultures of various parts of India along with the tribal culture of Madhya Pradesh. Raja Bhoj had founded this city in the 11th-century, but by the end of the 17th-century, it fell in the hands of Muslim rulers. Many of the Muslim rulers of Bhopal were women – called ‘Begums’. Read More
Location: Bhopal is 752 km south of Delhi and 775 km northeast of Mumbai.
Jabalpur, a crummy and crowded town, serves as a base to visit Dhuandhar falls and the adjacent Marble rocks. Jabalpur is also the gateway to two of the India’s finest sanctuaries: Kanha and Bandhavgarh. The ‘Gond’ rulers had ruled Jabalpur from 12th to 16th centuries. The remnants of a fortress-cum-pleasure-palace buit by a Gond ruler, Madan Shah, can be seen on the top of a hill. Of all the Gond rulers, Rani Durgavati is remembered the most.
Location: Jabalpur is 305 km west of Bhopal.
Udaygiri is a small village known for its rock-cut cave temples. These 5th-century temples are spread on a hillside, with some of them at the base. Don’t forget to check out cave no. 5 which has a superbly carved image of boar-headed Varaha – a form of Lord Vishnu.
Location: Udaygiri is 27 km north of Sanchi and 76 km northeast of Bhopal.
Bhimbetka has rocks and boulders spread over a vast area in the middle of a sanctuary. These area had been a shelter to the human beings of various prehistoric eras who have tried to narrate their lives by drawing pictures on the rocks. That ancient graffiti is still visible in Bhimbetka. More than 600 rock shelters have been identified on a hillside in the northern fringes of Vindhya range and 500 of them have rock art over them. Some of these caves have been opened to the visitors and are managed by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Location: Bhimbetka is 45 km southeast of Bhopal.
Along with Bhopal, Raja Bhoj had also established Bhojpur. The Bhojeshwar Temple here is the only attraction. Though having remain unfinished, this temple is intricately sculpted. The sanctum of the temple has a massive lingam, 17.8 ft in circumference and 7.5 ft in height.
Location: Bhojpur is 25 km north of Bhimbetka and 28 km southeast of Bhopal.
Maheshwar, a temple town situated on the banks of Narmada river, used to be the capital of Holkar rulers. The famous ruler Ahilyabai Holkar had built a fort here from which she governed the kingdom. This town is the site of the ancient ‘Mahishmati’ city which has mention in both ‘Mahabharat’ and ‘Ramayan’. Today this is a small town with shrines and ghats doting its riverfront. For an experiential stay, opt to put up at Ahilya Fort which is now a luxury hotel.
Location: Maheshwar is 95 km southwest of Indore.
Omkareshwar receives its name from Shri Omkar Mandhata Temple, one of the twelve ‘Jyotirlingas’. This pilgrimage town is, in fact a small island, whose shape resembles ‘Om’ symbol. Situated near the confluence of Narmada and Kaveri rivers, Omkareshwar is surrounded by rocky hills. The town has a few ancient temples and a ruined palace. Read More
Location: Omkareshwar is 80 km south of Indore
The biggest draw of this forgotten town is its seven-storeyed Bir Singh Palace. The same Bundela ruler who built the splendid Jahangir Mahal at Orchha, Raja Bir Singh Deo, was behind the construction of this massive edifice. This 130 ft high structure, standing atop a hillock, took nine years to complete and interestingly it was never occupied. Worth observing inside are: arches, canopies, intricate ‘jalis’ (screens), murals and frescoes. There are beautiful views of the surrounding countryside from the topmost floor. In Datia, you can also visit another palace, called Rajgarh Palace; it houses a museum.
Location: Datia is 77 km south of Gwalior on the way to Orchha.
Sonagiri, 15 km from Datia, has numerous Jain temples and shrines dotting the hillocks. Most of these are from 9th and 10th centuries. Sonagiri is a pilgrimage for Digambar Jains.
Location: Sonagiri is 69 km south of Gwalior and just 16 km from Datia.
Shivpuri, the erstwhile summer capital of Scindia rulers, was once a thickly forested place. Today it is visited for its magnificent white marble cenotaph of Madhav Rao Scindia. This cenotaph is an interesting amalgamation of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles. Nearby is the Madhav National Park spread over 156 sq km. Along with deer, sloth bears, leopards and blackbucks, it also houses a former hunting lodge.
Location: Shivpuri is 117 km southeast of Gwalior and 125 km east of Orchha.
Panna National Park
Panna National Park comprises of the forests spread along the banks of Ken river. Panna was declared a tiger reserve in 1994, though it’s hard to spot one owing to their dwindled population. It is easy to spot Gharial crocodiles here, which are often found resting on the sands of the river bank. The other residents of this sanctuary are: deer, langur monkeys, sloth bear, leopard, hyena and numerous species of birds.
Location: 22 km southeast of Khajuraho.