This is the heartland of India, a state packed with surprises, where tigers roam the jungle, and fortified towns, temples, stupas and cave paintings lure the visitor
Madhya Pradesh, literally translated, means "middle land", and it does spread across Central India. Most of the state is upland plateaus and hills, interspersed with the deep valleys of rivers that flow east into the Bay of Bengal and west into the Arabian Sea. Much of India's forest is located here. It consists of some of the finest deciduous hardwoods in the world — teak, sal, hardwickia, Indian ebony and rosewood. Bamboo is prolific in the hills and there are magnificent fruit and flowering trees. The Mahadeo Hills of the Satpura Range are the home of the tiger, panther, Indian bison and the myriad herbivores that make the jungle their home. Madhya Pradesh Tour Packages...
The state is also home to many Adivasi groups. Among the most populous are the Gonds, found across the Madhya Pradesh and into neighbouring Chattisgarh. Western Madhya Pradesh is inhabited by the Bhils, a group of warriors and hunters who once held the powerful Mughal army at bay. Eastern Madhya Pradesh is dominated by the Oraons, now largely Christian.
Madhya Pradesh has many crafts, from the weaving of Chanderi and Mahesh-war, to the carpet-making of Vidisha, Mandsaur and Sarguja. Other crafts include, carpentry, pottery, textile printing and dyeing, metalworking, wood-carving and leather work.
Madhya Pradesh is quite easy to reach. One can fly to the state from Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Gwalior, Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Raipur and Khajuraho are on the air map. There are excellent train services throughout the region. Road journeys are interesting because the routes pass through forests and cultivated areas in succession and skirt villages. Most places have adequate, if simple, hotel facilities.
The cuisine varies from the wheat and meat-based food of northern and western Madhya Pradesh to the rice and fish domination in the south and the east. Gwalior and Indore abound in milk-based preparations. Bhopal produces exquisite meat and fish dishes, of which spicy rogan josh, korma, keema, biryani and kababs such as shami and seekh, are the most famous. They are eaten with thin slices of unleavened bread called rumali roil ("handkerchief bread") and leavened, flat loaves called shirmal. Also interesting are the bafla (wheat cakes), dunked in rich ghee and eaten with dal, a pungent lentil broth, whose tongue-tingling sharpness is moderated by the accompanying ladus (sweet dumplings).
The best time to travel is from the mild autumn of October to the spring at the end of March. April to mid-July are very hot. The monsoon months of July, August and September can also be very pleasant.
The northernmost city, Gwalior was established in the 8th century AD and named after Saint Gwalipa. The city is dominated by its hill top fort (open 8am- 6pm), one of the most redoubtable in the world. Rajput valour and chivalry are redolent in the 15th-century palace of Raja Mansingh located in the citadel. The fort also houses Teli-Ka-Mandir, an ancient temple. Gujri Mahal at the foot of the fort has one of the finest museums of sculpture in use country (open 10am-5pm, closed Fri). Gwalior also has the distinction of being a centre of Indian court music. Miya Tansen, one of the nine jewels of the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, is buried at Gwalior. One of the greatest music festivals of India is held here each December to commemorate this great musician.
Gwalior is a good starting point to visit two of the loveliest places in Madhya Pradesh; Orcha and Shivpuri. Orcha , 120 km (75 miles) from Gwalior, is a medieval town, which boks today much as it must have in the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was built. It was founded in the 16th century by the Rundela king, Rudra Pratap, on the banks of the sparkling Betwa River.
The countryside undulates gently and the builders of Orcha dotted the landscape with palace and fortress, temple and cenotaph. The architecture is a synthesis of traditional Hindu, hybrid Indo-Saracenic and ornate Mughal. One of the finest sights is the view of the cenotaphs from across the river: green hills in the background and the architecturally stunning chatries or cenotaphs sharply etched against an azure sky, with the blue Betwa in between. Palace rooms can be rented overnight and there are riverside cabins.
About 100 km (60 miles) from Gwalior is Shivpuri , the former summer capital of the Scindias of Gwalior.
Shivpuri is on the Vindhyan plateau, and the contrast with the Gangetic Plain is immediate. Here are the two lakes of Sakhia Sagar and Madhav Sagar. Surrounding them is the Madhay National Park, home of a variety of deer, chinkara or Indian gazelle, sambhar, blue bull, black buck, barking deer and four-horned antelope. Also seen are wild dog and sloth bear. Bird life abounds and peacocks are to be seen in hundreds. In the nearby Karera Bird Sanctuary is the Great Indian Bustard, an endangered species that has been rescued by sensitive conservation. The lakes are home to the Indian mugger crocodile.
In the west is the large city of Indore , on the Malwa Plateau known for its cottonfields. Indore is an industrial centre and has the appearance of a boom town. On its periphery is Dewas, made famous by E.M. Forster in The Hill of Devi. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in India.
The land of Mahva is sacred and two of the 12 Jyotirlingam or naturally occurring lingam, are to be found at Mahakaleshwar Temple at Ujjain , 60 km (35 miles) from Indore, and at Mandhata at Omkareshwar. For Hindus, these two places enjoy a sanctity equal to that of Varanasi. Every 12 years Ujjain has the great fair of Kumbh Mela or Simhastha as it is called locally. The mela moves every three years between Ujjain,Allahabad and Haridwar on the Ganga, and Nasik on the Godavari River.
The sacred river at Ujjain is the Sipra. The gods and the asuras (demons) fought for 12 days for possession of the Kumbh, or pot, of amrit, nectar of immortality, that came from the churning of the milk-ocean. As they fought four drops were spilt that fell on the places where the Kumbh Melas are now held. Every 12 years, millions of Hindus congregate to worship at these spots.
Ujjain is also a centre for textile dyeing. The chipas, or dyers and printers. are found at Bherugarh, a suburb of Ujjain. Using vegetable dyes and hand-carved teak blocks, with designs and patterns that are centuries-old, the chipas produce the most exquisite and colourful block-printed cloth for saris. tapestries and hangings, as well as bedsheets and floor coverings.
A tour of Malwa would be incomplete without a visit to Mandu . 90 km (55 miles) from Indore. You approach the capital of the Sultanate of Malwa either from the plains of Dhar or from the mountain pass at Manpur. The first sight of Mandu is impressive; there is a chasm, a deep wooded ravine that is crossed by a narrow bridge, and on the skyline is the largest-standing fortified city in the world. The walls have a circumference of more than 75 km (45 miles).
One enters through the Bhangi Gate, a fearsome defensive bastion. Once inside the gates there are lakes and groves, gardens and palaces. The Jahaz Mahal, or ship palace, floats serenely on its lake, and the Hindola Mahal, or swing palace, built of massive stone, appears to sway gently in the breeze.
The Jama Masjid has acoustics so perfect that a whisper from the pulpit is heard clearly in the furthest corner of the huge courtyard. There is also the Nikanth Temple, a standing monument to the tolerance of the Emperor Akbar.
Close by is the Rewa Kund, a gem of a lake, said to be filled by the waters of the Narmada River 90 km (55 miles) away and 600 metres (2,000 ft) lower down. Rewa Kund and, in fact, the whole of Mandu, are living monuments to Sultan Baz Bahadur and his Hindu Queen, Rupmati. Legend has it that she was a commoner whom Baz Bahadur met on the banks of the Narmada River when out hunting. He married her on a promise that he would bring the Narmada to Mandu, and Rewa Kund is the fulfilment of that promise. On its banks he built a palace for himself and, further up, at the very edge of the escarpment, a pavilion for Rupmati, from the terrace of which she could see the Narmada as a silver thread on the horizon. A sheer drop of 600 metres (2,000ft) from the pavilion terrace ends in the plains of Nimar, through which the Narmada river flows.
The state capital, Bhopal , was tragically put on the world map in 1984 by the gas leak from a pesticide plant owned by the US multinational Union Carbide, which killed at least 2,000 and affected hundreds of thousands of others. However, Bhopal is far more than this. The city enjoys a moderate climate, and is built on seven hills and round three lakes. The architect Charles Correa designed Bharat Bhavan, a fabulous multi-arts centre; it contains a Museum of Adivasi Art (Open 2-8pm, closed Mon) that displays striking exhibits. Bhopal is one of greatest centre of art galleries, museums, theatres and library.
Bhopal's Industries give the city an air of briskness. State government is its Bhopal's occupation. The city was founded in the 10th century AD by Raja Bhoj. The Bhojpur Temple, even in its ruined state, speaks of the greatness of this king, as do the remains of the magnificent Tal lake, which once covered 600 sq. km (230 sq. miles) and whose destruction in the 15th century by Sultan Hosang Shah of Malwa altered the climate of the region.
Just 30 km (18 miles) away is Bhimbethka, where more than 500 caves with neolithic rock paintings have been discovered. Five periods have been identified, from the prehistoric upper paleolithic to the early historical and medieval. At Sanchi, 46 km (28 miles) from Bhopal, a great stupa covers relics of Gautama Buddha. Noted for exquisite carvings in honey-coloured stone, Sanchi is a place of Buddhist pilgrimage.
Northeast of Sanchi are Vidisha and Udaygir (8 km/5 miles) and Gyaraspur (50 km/30 miles), the cradle of Mauryan civilisation and the rocks on which the tide of ancient Grecian conquest broke. The exquisite sculptured salbhanjika, or divine attendant of the gods, is preserved here.
South of Bhopal is Kipling country, with the Narmada River as the cord which binds the Satpura and Vindhyan Hills together. This is one of the great rivers of India, but it is now part of one of the largest hydroelectric schemes in the world. Its damming and the subsequent displacement of peoples, with little compensation for their loss of land, have provoked fierce protest from local groups and caused international outrage.
The Kanha National Park , and its sister sanctuary, Bandhavgarh, are perhaps the state's top attraction. These parks have grassy maidans (meadows), which are home for deer. The jungles teem with leopard, bear and wildcat, and there are some tigers. In some cases, the numbers are prodigious, with spotted deer alone numbering more than 17,000. Tiger is king, but not set to rule over gaur, the Indian wild ox; where the gaur browses, the tiger makes a wide detour. Kanha is home to that unique species of 12-horned swamp deer, the barasingha (Duvaceli branderi), the only swamp deer that has adapted to dwelling on hard ground. It faced extinction before the great naturalist and administrator, M.K.S. Ranjitsinhji, rescued it.
Two places in Madhya Pradesh deserve special mention: Pachmarhi and Bedaghat. Pachmarhi is in the Satpura Hills, 210 km (130 miles) southeast of Bhopal; a special place for trekkers, rock climbers and nature lovers alike. Bedaghat , is 22 km (14 miles) from Jabalpur. Here the Narmada river flows through a 5-km- (2-mile-) long gorge, between towering white marble cliffs, particularly spectacular on full-moon nights. Below the gorge are the Dhuandbar Falls, literally "smoky falls".