Nicknamed the Heart of India because of its central location, the state of Madhya Pradesh is the historical home to countless grand monuments and chest-pounding natural beauty. The mystical atmosphere of legendary pilgrimage sites and the fascinating discovery of untouched nature in the realm of the Tigers top off the Madhya Pradesh Tour program!
Dhar was once the princely state of the Central India Agency of British India. The region was annexed to the Mughal Empire in 1560 by the great mughal emperor Akbar and was lost again in the Maratha wars. In 1742, the Peshwa of Pune gave the Maratha chief Udaji I Rao Puar some of the areas of Malwa during the feud. In the following decades, much of it was lost however some of the land was recovered with the help of the British. Dhar became a British protectorate in 1819 (until 1947). Raja Udaji Rao II Puar (1898-1926) was a lieutenant colonel in the British-Indian Army and in 1918 was bestowed with the title of Maharaja. In 1941 Dhar was approximately a 2000-square-mile area with more than 279,000 inhabitants. Dhar executed its annexation to India on June 15, 1949 and acceded on June 16 to the Prince Union of Madhya Bharat (Madhya Pradesh). On November 1, 1956, all princely states in the Union were dissolved or terminated and annexed to the state of Madhya Pradesh.
The Jhira Bagh Palace was built by Maharaja Ananad Rao Puar III in 1860 as a guesthouse for foreign visitors. Until 1943, stayed here British officers, governors-general and viceroys. Then, the last ruler of Dhar, Ananad Maharaja Rao Puar IV, made the palace to his private residence, and let the renovation of the property in the Art Deco and Bauhaus-style. Since a short time ago, the Jhira Bhag Palace is a nostalgic heritage hotel with spacious suites. The operator attaches great importance to environmental protection and adopted appropriate measures for the responsible use of natural resources. Solar energy, bio gas and water treatment are important pillars of the environmental concepts, products from own cultivation to batten without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and ensure healthy meals in local recipes. Overnight at Jhira Bagh Palace!
Later full day excursion to Mandu (approximately 18 miles)
The once royal city of Mandu (in middle age also known as the “City of Joy”) today still reflects its former richness in different historic buildings. In the Vindhyachal mountain ranges lies the old abandoned capital of the pre-Mughal dynasties of Central India hidden in the midst of lush vegetation and artificial ponds and lakes. The famous fort is secured by a 130-foot-long wall with ten mighty gates making it the world’s largest fortification. Behind the city walls you will find the ruins of 75 magnificent monuments, mosques, palaces and pavilions. The palaces of the royal enclave represent glory and the power of the Hindu ruler of Malwa during the period of the sultans. Because of its combination of scenic beauty and historical attractions, Mandu is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Asia. You will find your tour through the deserted ghost town a profound experience. The unique palaces and historical ruins are surrounded by water reservoirs that awake the memories and the love story between Sultan Baz Bahadur’s and his queen Rani Rupmati. The ruler, under the influence of the beautiful dancer, had abjured any kind of war-like activities and devoted himself totally to the music. It is said that he had built especially for his beloved a pavilion overlooking the river Rewa, because otherwise she would not have married him. However their story didn’t have a fairy tale ending. When Adham Khan approached the city in 1561 with his troops, Baz Bahadur absconded and left Rupmati behind. The queen eluded the conquest by committing suicide. Among the notable buildings of Mandu is the tomb of the Hoshan Shah, built by him. It is said that the master-builder of the marvelous Taj Mahal let himself be inspired by its construction.
Return to Jhira Bagh Palace for overnight stay!
Omkareshwar is one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in India. The temples and sacred sites are located on an island where the rivers Narmada and Kaveri meet. The island has the shape of the sacred symbol Om, which gives this place the name Om-kareshwar. In the Shiva temple of Shri Omkar Mandhata, you will discover one of only twelve Jyotirlingams (shiva Phallus) that are there on the Indian subcontinent. The shiva Phallaus of Omkareshwar attracts pilgrims from all over India. The island of Omkareshwar with the palace of the former Maharaja of Omkareshwar is accessible from the village over two bridges. The island is surrounded by a 20-mile pilgrim’s path through which the Hindu pilgrims move reciting the prayers in honor of God Shiva. On Narmada, about two miles upstream from Omkareshwar, a dam is built for producing electricity. The dam after completion will generate an output of 520 megawatts and make a significant contribution in reducing India’s energy problem. The project is however is being fought by environmentalists, plus a protest movement is fighting against the relocation of villages. One of the most prominent opponents of the dam is the Arundhati Roy, author of the novel “God of Small Things”.
Drive on to Maheshwar (65 Km)
Maheshwar, situated on the banks of the River Narmada, has been an important cultural and political center of India since the beginning of civilization. The city is mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabharata under its old name Mihishmati. In 1741 it was ruled by the Maratha Dynasty of Holkar. Queen Ahilya Bai became the main figure of this ruling dynasty and ruled from Maheshwar for 18 years. According to the legend, she built 91 temples throughout India and is, therefore, widely revered. It is also noted that she allowed her own son to be publicly trampled to death by an elephant after he suppressed his subjects and deprived them of their reward.
The Ghats (bathing steps) on the banks of the Narmada can be seen from the mighty walls of the fortress which is adorned by small memorial temples. Along the Ghats you will find memorials erected to the widows who committed Sati (Sati is an old Indian ritual in which the widow commits suicide on the pyre of her just died husband). In memory of Queen Ahilya Bai, admirers travel from afar to pay her homage and pray in front of the life-size statue, which is placed in the former audience room on the original throne. Maheshwar is famous for its cotton saris of its weaver’s cooperative, which was established in the 1970’s by the Holkar family, to fight unemployment. You have the option to stay overnight in Heritage Hotel Ahilya Fort, situated directly on the bank of River Narmada.
Overnight stay in Maheshwara!
Ujjain is situated on the banks of the river Shipra and is one of the seven holy places of Hindus, where every 12 years the largest Indian bathing and purification festival (the Kumbh Mela) is held the next Kumbh Mela in Ujjain will held in 2016. During the years there are smaller Melas (Fairs) but during the rest of the year when the festival is not being held, pilgrims flock to the city to visit the Mahakaleshwar Temple from which a lingam (phallic symbol of Lord Shiva) projects. No matter what time of year you visit, there will be long lines to get into the temple. Further religious landmarks are the Mangalnath temple on the Hindu prime meridian (the birthplace of the planet Mars, according to the Hindu doctrine) and the Sandipani Ashram, where according to legend, god Krishna, his brother Balaram and their friend Sudama received instructions for 64 days from Guru Sandipani. In Ujjain, you will also visit the Sree-Kal-Bhairava temple where people bring flasks filled with schnaps’ where during chants pour half of the liquor in a bowl by the priests, which is then placed at the mouth of the stone figure of God (and is said to drink it). The rest of the liquor is drank by the person. Another ritual is held in honor of Kal Bhairava, the Black Lord of time and death revered by two sects of Shivaism. His vehicle is a dog. Therefore dogs are revered as God’s creature and given delicacies.
Excavations north of Ujjain uncovered traces of human settlement from the period of 8th Century BC. The ancient city was an important regional capital of the Maurya ruler. Formerly known as Avantika, Ujjain was located on the main trade route from India to northern Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to Hindu mythology, Shiva once changed its name to Ujjaiyini, meaning “conquered with proud” to emphasize his victory over the demon king Tripuri. It was later ruled by the Sultans of Mandu, the Mughals and Raja Jai Singh II of Jaipur. Jai Singh II of Jaipur built one of his five observatories (Jantar Mantar) in Ujjain. The long Ghats (steps leading to river) instills the atmosphere of the hustle and bustle in the holy city of Varanasi.
Overnight stay in Ujjain!
Today morning, after breakfast we drive to Bhopal. The name Bhopal is recognized worldwide for one of the most devastating industrial disasters of modern history: on December 3, 1984, around 40 tons of methyl isocyanine (MIC) were released into the atmosphere at the plant of U.S. firm Union Carbide. This highly volatile, highly reactive fluid that can cause skin and mucus membrane chemical burns, eye damage and pulmonary edema, built up into a chemical cloud over the ground by an adjacent slum. Due to this disaster1600 people died immediately, and about 6000 more later on. About one fifth of the 500,000 people, who were exposed to the gas, now suffer from chronic and incurable diseases, while thousands more lost their eyesight. A higher rate of cancer has also been observed. Union Carbide paid a total of 690 million U.S. dollars to the Indian state.
Bhopal dates from the 11th Century, when Raja Bhoj (1010-53), Parmar king of Dhar, was told by his minister, to murder his mother where the nine rivers of his kingdom joined. After one of these rivers was blocked by a dam, the ruler founded on the banks of the two resulting lakes his new capital Bhojapal. At the end of the 17th Century, Dost Muhammad Khan (1672-1740), an opportunistic soldier of fortune, ex-soldier and former General of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1618-1707) conquered the territory so he could build his own city on the ruins of the Mughal Empire. In 1723, the place Bhopal was declared the capital of the princely state, and has continued to be the capital of Madhya Pradesh until today. The Islamic dynasty founded by Dost Muhammad Khan, became one of the most important ruling families of Central India, whose relatives belong to the favored few amongst Britain’s viceroys. They were honored by a salute of 19 gunshots – in recognition of their support to General Thomas Goddard (1740-83) in his march to the Hindu Maratha State in 1778. From 1820 to 1926, Bhopal was governed exclusively by women. The Begums (princesses) administered the scepter from behind the Purda (curtain; separate from men living quarters, veils) and led the erection of the three sandstone mosques which dominate the landscape today.
Worth visiting is the Mosque (Jama Masjid) in Old Town quarter. The Jama Masjid mosque, with its red sandstone walls and stout minarets, was built in 1837 by Qudsia Begum (1801-1881), the first monarch of Bhopal. East of the city stands the Moti Masjid (also known as Pearl Mosque), built in 1860 by Qudsias’ daughter Sikander Begum (1818-1858). The Pearl Mosque is known for its slender minarets covered with gold spires and sandstone domes. The most impressive building in the city is the Taj-ul-Masjid. The largest mosque in India with its colossal pink-colored minarets that over tower the city gives it the name “mother of all mosques”. Also worth seeing is the Adivasi-Centre, located on a hill on the east coast of the lake, where you will see the Indian tribes in their natural environment. Also visit the museum inside the Adivasi Centre. Bhopal is an ideal starting point for your tour of the world heritage sites of Sanchi and Bhimbetka and the Cave Temples of Udaygiri. You will stay overnight in Bhopal!
The cave temple of Udaigiri (about an hour’s drive away from Bhopal) dates from the Gupta period and originated during the reign of Emperor Chandragupta II (382 – 401 AD). Particularly noteworthy is Cave 4 with a Shiva Lingam plus a carving of Shiva’s face with the third eye. Cave 5 is dominated by an impressive depiction of Vishnu (in his incarnation as Vahara, boar), which bears the earth goddess Pritrhvi. A richly ornamented frieze of the god images entwine Vishnu-Vahara-Figure and also adorn the entrance of the Cave 6. The ceiling of the Cave 7 that was exclusively destined for the emperor is crowned by a lotus decoration. On the crest of the hill, you will find the ruins of a sun temple from the 6th Century. A few miles away is Heliodorus pillar, which was built in 140 AD by a Greek ambassador from Taxila (now in Pakistan). The local inhabitants use the pillar for mystical rites when during the full moon someone is chained to the pillar to win strength and drive out evil spirits. If an exorcism is successful, a nail is driven in the trunk of a huge tamarind and a (sweet) lime; a piece of coconut and a red lace are attached to it, which symbolizes the defeated demon.
Drive on to Sanchi (25 Km)
On a hill near the small town of Sanchi, you will see the oldest Buddhist stupas of India. They are over 2000 years old. Stupas in Buddhism symbolize the sacred tree of life and enlightenment. After the death of Buddha, it was the great Maurya emperor Ashoka, who discovered Buddhism for himself and during his golden period in India, helped build 84,000 large and small stupas in honor of Buddha. The Great Stupa of Sanchi is over 35 feet high and is considered as the ideal type of Buddhist Stupa. The massive, windowless shrine fulfills a symbolic function: Expression of one’s own faith, serve as a guide for others, and follow Buddha’s teachings. According to legend, each stupa contains at least one grain of Buddha’s ashes. The four entrances to walk around the Stupa are decorated with magnificent gates. The intensely lively and detailed reliefs exhibit the high level of skills ancient India’s carvers. Each gate varies its own main theme: the east gate tells Buddha’s birth, the south gate shows the fight for his remnants, and the magnificently decorated north gate depicts miracles that are attributed to Buddha.
For the numerous visitors the come from all over the world, these gates represent the real pinnacle of the temple complex. The city is used today as a quiet place of meditation and the followers of Buddhism view it as the symbol of compassion, tolerance and peacefulness. The eight oldest stupas at Sanchi were constructed under the reign of King Ashoka from the Maurya dynasty (reigned about 268 BC – 232 BC). Further stupas and religious buildings were added in the following centuries until the 12th Century, until Buddhism was completely superseded by the growing Hinduism and Islam. Later, the Buddhist monuments were no longer respected by the population and extensively fell into disrepair. Structures of Sanchi document almost the entire Buddhist period of India which lasted over 1500 years.
In 1818, a British colonial officer, General Taylor, discovered the ruins. As a result, amateur archaeologists and treasure seekers plundered the sites, until 1881 when the professional restoration work began. Between 1912 and 1919, further restorations were ensued under the direction of the archaeologist Sir John Marshall. Today, the historic area of Sanchi includes 50 structures – three stupas and several temples. The “Great Stupa”, whose oldest parts date from the time of King Ashoka, was almost entirely rebuilt during the middle of the 2nd century BC. Around 35 BC, four stone gateways (Toranas) with detailed reliefs were built. During the Gupta period (330 AD- early 6th century) it became usual to represent Buddha in human form, not only represented by symbols such as the “wheel of doctrine” (Sanskrit: Dharmachakra), the “footprint of the Buddha” (Buddhapada), the Bodhi tree or just the stupa – the four stone sculptures of the Buddha were erected on the walls that front the gates. Since 1989, the monument of Snachi is included in World Cultural Heritages by UNESCO.
You will return to Bhopal (about 31 miles) and stroll through the narrow streets and markets of the Bhopal Chowk.
Overnight in Bhopal!
In 2003, the caves of Bhimbetka were added to UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list. They lie at the edge of the Vindhyachal Mountains north of the Satpura ranges. The entire region is covered with dense forests and vegetation. It is rich in natural resources such as perennial spring of waters, natural drifts, a rich forest flora and fauna.
Bhimbetka was first mentioned as a Buddhist site in Indian archaeological records based on information from local tribes. In 1957, the archaeologist VS Wakankarl saw on the train journey to Bhopal rock formations similar to those he had seen in Spain and France. He visited the area together with a team of archaeologists and discovered several prehistoric rock grottoes. Since then, more than 700 caves have been identified of which 243 are located in the Bhimbetka group and 178 in the Lakha Juar group. Archaeological investigations revealed a continuous colonization by Stone Age cultures (from the Mesolithic to the Middle Stone Age) as well as the oldest stone walls and floors of the World. The oldest rock paintings (petroglyphs) probably originate from the Middle Stone Age. A rough dating of the findings was carried out, while a detailed chronological classification is still pending. The paintings in the rock grottos and caves of Bhimbetka represent in vivid images the lives of people who lived in these caves and their natural environment. The caves and paintings depict the oldest evidence of human life in India. One of the rocks (in the vernacular it is called “Zoo Rock”) represents Elephant, Sambar, bison and deer. Paintings on another rock show a peacock, a snake, a deer and also the sun. On another rock, two elephants are depicted with tusks. In this collection of prehistoric paintings one finds also hunting scenes with hunters, who are carrying bows and arrows, swords and shields. In one of the caves, a bison is depicted giving a chase to a hunter while his companions are standing by defenselessly. In another scene you see riders along with archers. Their rock paintings date from the Mesolithic and show the everyday life of the former inhabitants of the caves. The colors of the drawings, even after up to 12 000 years, are still vibrant and not faded. It is believed that the colors were produced from colored earth, vegetable dyes, roots and animal fats. The brushes were made of plant fibers.
Drive on to Jabalpur (275 miles, 6 hours).
Jabalpur—home to over 1 million people–is an important industrial site, and an important transportation hub for tourists due to the rail system. The so-called Marble Rocks in nearby Bedaghat, as well as the local waterfalls and the Durga temple are favorites of both local people and tourists. It’s exciting to sail down the Narmada ravine, which is bordered by unusual marble cliffs. The boat owners will charge extra to take you to “special sites” along the way. The whole place is dominated by innumerable vendor stalls, which offer arts and crafts made of marble.
You will stay overnight in Jabalpur!
Bandavgarh: The former hunting ground of the Maharajas of Rewa became a national park during 1968. In 1994, the 920-square-mile area was declared a tiger reserve. The chance to see India’s tigers is exceptionally good here. In the heart of the park you can see a variety of wildlife such as the nilgai -antelope, wild boar, jackal, gaur, Sambar deer and porcupines, as well as many bird species. Bandhavgarh is home to the white tiger. In 1915, the Maharaja of Rewa caught a white tiger cub and kept it until its death. He also sent a white tiger cub as a gift to the English King George V. Maharaja Shri Martand Singh caught a white tiger cub which he had in his courtyard, but it escaped. After it was captured again, it was named Mohan and was used in a breeding program. Several male tigers were born of the golden color, but when bred to one of his daughters the four cubs in the first litter were all white. Since then breeders have used inbreeding to produce white tigers. The problems associated with inbreeding include distorted bones, shortened legs, and a convergent look. Tiger breeders concluded that it is safer to out cross a white tiger with a yellow tiger, and then breed their offspring to each other, which can result in a litter of white tiger cubs. The 160 white tigers worldwide are all related to Mohan.
You can take a tour of the park on a wildlife jeep safari. The guests set off each morning and afternoon with experienced naturalists to tour the park in jeeps on fixed routes. Up ahead of the jeeps are trackers on elephants, watching for fresh tiger spoors. If they spot a big cat, they radio the naturalist in the jeep. Once the jeep arrives at the spot where a tiger is spotted, you will mount elephants to get closer to the tiger, but be safe on the back of an elephant.
After arrival in Bandhavgarh we check-in our Jungle lodge and after lunch, we proceed for the afternoon Jeep Safari in the National Park.
You will stay overnight in Bandhavgarh!
Early morning and late afternoon excursions in the reserve of Bandhavgarh. You will stay overnight in Bandhavgarh.
Today morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, drive to Khajuraho. After arrival, transfer to your hotel.
Late afternoon, sightseeing of the erotic temples of Khajuraho. At the end of the 19th century, the temples in Khajuraho were discovered and quickly became news around the world. Although the buildings were in disrepair, the temples feature dramatic scenes of eroticism. Today the temples are on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.
Khajuraho was one of the world’s finest cities from 950 to 1050 AD. In those days, it was the headquarters of the Chandelas, a bellicose Rajput tribe. Out of the original 85 temples, 22 are now well preserved. The reliefs show birds of prey, nymphs, demons and revolts, Gods in cosmic evolution, people, fear, doubt, jealousy, love and passion. Together they represent the finest and best of the art from India’s medieval period. Some scientists believe the erotic sculptures represent Kamasutra in stone; however, in addition to the literally acrobatic positions and occasionally quite humorous depictions of love, there are also many scenes of everyday life. The temples are located just a few minutes walk away from your hotel in Khajuraho.
You will have dinner, and settle in for your overnight stay in Khajuraho!
A relaxed morning drive takes us to Orchha on the picturesque banks of River Betwa. Orchha is a village of immense historic importance and natural beauty. Added to that is life that cruises at snail pace, a far-cry from your busy life. You get to experience the village life, which forms the core of India. The rural landscape is just breath-taking. After exploring the serene countryside, we reserve the afternoon hours for more historic sightseeing involving temples, forts and the ruins of Orchha’s yesteryear glory.
The small town of Orchha was founded during the 16th Century and unifies a large variety of styles. Particularly impressive is the Jehangir Mahal palace, whose upper floors offer a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. The palace was built by the local ruler specifically for the visit of Mughal Emperor Jehangir in 1606 and since then has never been inhabited.
You will stay overnight in Orchha!
Drive on over Jhansi (location of the Rani Laxmi Bai with a huge and massive fort), Datia (with the now abandoned but well-preserved seven-story palace of Raj Singh Deo) and Sonagiri (impressive temple town of the Jain religion) to Gwalior, the former capital of the Scindia dynasty (95 miles, about 3 hours).
The foundation of Gwalior is associated with a nice legend: The incurably ill (sickened with leprosy) prince Suraj Sena once hunted on the steep cliffs of Gopagiri. When he became thirsty, he asked a meditating sadhu for a sip of water. The water he sipped not only quenched his thirst, but immediately cured his disease. In gratitude Suraj Sena built a fort, and expanded the pond, from which he received the healing potion. With the construction of the fort began the checkered history of vindication and conquest. Gwalior occupies a strategic position in the northern region of India, with the famous fort situated in the center of several historic kingdoms of North India. Gwalior was the capital of the homonymous state and the Principality of Maharajas of Scinidia.
The 5th-century fortress of Gwalior stands on a sandstone cliff over 180 feet above the surrounding plains. As you enter the fortress, you will pass through one of six major gateways decorated with sculptures. While climbing the path, you will see the super-sized statues of Tithankara (Jain saints) encircling the walls of the fortress. Within the fortress walls, you will find palaces, temples and cisterns. The impressive building of the Gwalior fort is the Man Mandir Palace built from 1486 to 1516 under Rajah Man Singh. The palace reflects the high standard of Hindu architecture from those days, its highly decorated façade makes it one of the most photographed buildings in India. The six round towers are crowned by small cupolas, which were once gold-plated and decorated with blue, green and yellow tiles. The beautifully decorated small rooms at the two interior courtyards are presumably provided for the ladies of the royal court. The iron rings in the walls were used for swings and decorative wall hangings.
You will stay overnight in Gwalior!