Another Bhopal

This is a city with a proud heritage,
an unrelenting spirit that helps it
overcome the greatest tragedies, writes Swaati Chaudhury

A tourist in Bhopal can quite easily forget the Bhopal gas tragedy,
perhaps this is because the epicentre of the disaster is in the industrial
part of town and there is so much to see in the older quarters. Or
perhaps, when you are touring on a vacation you don’t really care for grim
realities. But when I happened to see Raghu Rai’s Bhopal photographs at a
show in Kolkata the first thing that hit me was that I DIDN’T KNOW!! I had
been so close, maybe even brushed shoulders with gas victims but the
Bhopal I carried back with me was a serene place with beautiful lakes and
wildlife resorts, imposing architecture and ancient traditions.

This capital city of Madhya Pradesh is one of the few in India to offer a
delightful blend of the old and the new. A discovery of Afghan ruler, Dost
Mohammad Khan, Bhopal offers a wide array of tourist attractions.

A family friend had been pressing us to visit his new house in Bhopal and
we decided to check it out that October.

The legendary Paramar ruler of Dhar, Raja Bhojadeva, is said to have built
Bhopal sometime in the 11th century AD. The region witnessed a major power
struggle and the Mughals took over. The decline of the Mughal Empire with
the death of Aurangazeb (AD 1707) led to another political turmoil. The
small princely state of Bhopal and the present-day city was founded by an
Afghan soldier Dost Mohammad in 1723. As the second largest Muslim state
during the rise of British power in India, it sided the British against
the Marathas. During India’s independence, Bhopal was a separate state,
until 1949, when it acceded to India.

Bhopal lies along the slopes of a sandstone ridge, a part of the Malwa
plateau. The weather in Bhopal during summers (April-June) is quite hot,
but winters (November-February) are cool and pleasant.

We reached Bhopal at midnight and halted at a PWD guest house in TT Nagar
where we had booked in advance. The next morning, found us being treated
to a hearty breakfast by our friend Surendra Tiwari, at his residence.
Tiwari the proprietor of a reputed Hindi daily of Bhopal, Nai Dunia, had
gathered all necessary travel info for us and very kindly put his car to
our service.

So we drove off to Bhojpur with a light heart. The 28 km-long drive took
us to a quaint, little town. Prime attraction here is the magnificent but
incomplete Bhojeshwar temple devoted to Lord Shiva. The 12th century
shrine, a protected monument of national significance is popularly known
as the ‘Somnath of the East’. The temple attracts devotees and tourists by
the hundreds. We spend an hour admiring this artistic gem. Set on a raised
stone ramp, its richly ornate dome supported by four massive pillars with
tapering ends, this structure is truly amazing. The lofty west facing
edifice raised on a huge platform of 32.25 m long, 23.50 m wide and 5 m
high. The colossal lingam in the sanctum also stands on a huge
square-shaped platform of 21.5 feet. Made of three limestone blocks, the
actual structure rises to a height of about 7.5 feet. This rare
architectural blend adds to the solidity and lightness of the lingam. The
interiors are done up with a large ornate ceiling with concentric rings
inlaid with tastefully modelled mythical figures.

From Bhojpur, we returned to the walled city of Bhopal that wears the

traditional old world charm. The Chowk in the city hub was bustling with
vibrant markets and shops in narrow alleys that offer Bhopali craft items
like silver jewellry, beadwork, sequinned cushions and velvet handbags at
highly affordable rates.

We dropped in at Taj-ul-Masjid, the largest mosque in India that was
initiated by Shah Jehan Begum, the queen of Bhopal. The presence of
inter-arched roof, broad façade and spacious courtyard sets apart the
towering structure from other mosques in India. There are other monuments
that deserve special mention like the Jama Masjid with gold spikes
adorning the minarets, the imposing Moti Masjid and the Sadar Manzil at
the entrance of the Chowk.

The new city is spruced up with verdant landscapes, well -maintained
parks, broad avenues and streamlined structures. We had a hurried glance
of the renowned Bharat Bhawan, a creative destination for culture and
visual arts. A dream project of highly acclaimed architect, Charles
Correa, the contours of the centre with its spacious landscape create an
aura of elegance. The centre remains closed on Mondays and prides itself
in its art gallery, museum, a workshop for fine arts, stage plays, outdoor
and indoor auditorium and well-stocked libraries of Indian literature,
classical and folk music.

Other must-visit sights are Birla temple and Gandhi Bhawan with its museum
flaunting rare moments from Gandhiji’s life.

Post-lunch we decided to visit the two man-made lakes at the centre of the
city, the picturesque Upper and Lower Lakes. An over bridge separates the
two lakes and Madhya Pradesh Tourism’s Yacht Club offers all groups
exciting cruising facilities with the right ambience. The lakes offer some
wondrous wide angle glimpses of the city. They also forms a winter refuge
for migratory water birds.

Later we took the road running parallel to the Upper Lake for the Van
Vihar National Park. This safari park forms the green lung of the city.

This green patch on a hillock was recognised as a National Park in 1983.
The over 445 hectares of untamed landscape showcases an exemplary
conservation effort with its rare faunal wonders. The park offers
sanctuary to a wide spectrum of faunal lives like cheetal, nilgai, black
buck, chousingha, wild boar, barasingha, langur and porcupine. The white
tigers from Rewa and albino sloth bear are the prime attractions here.

We spent hours roaming through this animal kingdom. We found the animals
quite easily lazing around in open-air enclosures. Cruising down the lake
provided us still better views of the rejuvenated landscape of Van Vihar.
We took two hours to cover the park. As dusk descends, the tranquil sunset
on the lake with the park in view was a mesmerising moment a point when we
suddenly experienced our inner ties with the natural world.

When we returned to our guest house late that evening we were all too full
of beautiful Nature. Turning once more to the city again we found that it
was decked in festive lights and colour. It was Navratri and Bhopal
surmounting its countless odds was determined to celebrate.

Access: The city is well connected with regular flight services from
Delhi, Mumbai, Gwalior and Indore. It lies on the Delhi-Chennai railway
route and has sound motorable roads making it easily accessible with major
towns of the state.

Accommodation: Madhya Pradesh Tourism runs opulent hotels that include
Hotel Palash, Ashok Lake View and Hotel Panchanan. The heritage groups of
hotels are Jehan Numa Palace Hotel and Noor-us-Sahab in the heart of the

For further information, contact:
Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation Limited, 4th Floor,
Gangotri Building, TT Nagar,