Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh combines scenic beauty, historicity and modern urban planning. It is situated on the site of an 11th century city, Bhojapal, founded by Raja Bhoja.
The founder of the existing city was however an Afghan soldier of fortune, Dost Mohammed. Fleeing from Delhi in the chaotic period that followed Aurangazeb's death, Dost Mohammed encountered the beautiful Gond queen Kamalapati, who sort his aid after the murder of her consort.
A charming legend relates how the queen would recline in lotus barge, which on moonlit nights, would drift across the lake. The two lakes of Bhopal still dominate the city, and are indeed its nucleus.
Bhopal today presents a multi-faceted profile; the old city with its teeming market places and fine old mosques and palaces still bears the aristocratic imprint of its former rulers, among them the succession of powerful Begums who ruled Bhopal from !819 to 1926.
Equally impressive is the new city with its verdant, exquisitely laid out parks and gardens, broad avenues and streamlined modern edifices.
The Begums of Bhopal
Bhopal, as we know it today, was founded by the Afghan adventurer, Dost Mohammad Khan who ruled over the city from 1708-40 a.d. He fled Delhi after the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, died in 1707. Later, Dost Mohammad met and fell for Queen Kamalapati, and ultimately extended his sway over the entire region. Bhopal survived a fearsome Maratha onslaught in the late 18th century, and finally signed a treaty with the British in 1818, to secure peace.
Bhopal is a city that is unique in the sense that powerful Begums ruled over it for over a century (1818-1926). In fact, John Lord who chronicled princely India labeled Shah Jahan
Begum as the First Lady of India.
Modern Bhopal presents a dual personality, a mixture of the old and the new. In the heart of the old city lies the Chowk, lined with old mosques and havelis (mansions) which are reminders of a bygone era. The most prominent of these mosques are the Taj-ul-Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the country, the Jama Masjid and the Moti Masjid. The architecture of the city is an amalgam of both Islamic and Hindu styles, with the odd European-style monument thrown in as well. The Shaukat Mahal combines both Gothic and post-Renaissance styles to produce a charming effect. In sharp contrast to this is the new city with its well-laid out verdant parks and gardens, broad avenues and modern offices. In short, Bhopal has the ability to accommodate change, and yet remain the same.
Bhopal - The Cradle
of Art and Culture
Bhopal is also the house of art and culture in Madhya Pradesh, and the Bharat Bhavan which sits atop the Shamla Hills, is a prime example of that. Designed by Charles Correa, the museum houses an art gallery, a repertoire company and libraries of poetry, classical and folk music. and since Madhya Pradesh has a large concentration of adivasis (tribals), a visitor at the Tribal Habitat in Bhopal gets a feel of village life in the state.
However, the most interesting facets of the district are the spectacular cave paintings at Bhimbetka, a short distance away from the city of Bhopal. Etched in rock, some of the work is more than 30,000 years old, while the more recent ones belong to the medieval period. The cave paintings are valuable, not just for their artistic merit but also because they constitute a treasure trove of information on the pre-historic age.
Bhojpur that is just a few miles away from the city. Bhojpur houses a magnificent Shiva Temple, and apparently was also the site of a huge lake that was destroyed by Hoshang Shah, the ruler of Malwa in mid-15th century. 6km north of Bhopal is Ashapuri which has some old Jain temples. And about 45km from the city is the marvellous Chiklod Palace
Culture & Cuisine
Although Bhopal is not considered to be as culturally evolved as Gwalior, the city is bursting at the seams with history, and walking down its narrow alleys is like sitting in a time machine and going back into the past.
The city's shops are famous for traditional Bhopali crafts; you will find exquisite silver jewellery, beautifully-fashioned beadwork, sequined and embroidered velvet purses and cushions. The city is a great place to visit for non-vegetarians, thanks to long years of Islamic rule.
The chief delicacies are the spicy achar gost (pickled lamb), the sumptuous keemas (minced meat), the delectable rogan josh (mutton dish) and a variety of pulaos (aromatic rice) - enough to make even the most fastidious eater lick his lips. However, the culinary delight that the city is most famous for is the Bhopali Paan (betel leaf) which both men and women chew with relish.
Major Tourists Attractions in Bhopal
Taj-ul-Masjid is the largest mosque of India and was commenced by Shah Jahan and is still incomplete. Its beautiful terracotta walls surround two white domed minarets and three white domes over the main building.
Mosques and Monuments
Bhopal has a number of important mosques. The Jama Masjid and the Moti Masjid of Bhopal were built by the local Begums in the 19th century. Shaukat Mahal and Sadar Manzil are situated in the chowk area, the heart of the old walled city. These some added attractions in Bhopal.
Started in the year 1982, Bharat Bhavan is a museum of tribal and contemporary art forms and breeding ground for traditional dance, music and drama. This huge complex is a marvel of modern architecture. It is one of the important centers in India for the preservation of traditional folk arts.
The Tribal Habitat or Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya
This is an open-air museum and is located on Shamala hills of Bhopal, depicting tribal dwellings, from all parts of India. It is an honest attempt to showcase the lifestyle, culture, art and religion of India's more than 450 Adivasi tribes.
Upper Lake and Lower Lake
Both these peaceful lakes are important tourist spots providing boating and sailing facilities. Other worth visiting places in Bhopal are The Government Archeological Museum near the Lower Lake, the chowk at the heart of the old city, Van Vihar local safari park near the Upper Lake, and the Aquarium. The Lakshmi Narayan Temple (or the Birla Mandir) and the adjacent local museum on the Arera hills are other sites to be visited.
Air : Bhopal airport is 12 km from the Old City. Indian Airlines operates daily flights to Delhi, Mumbai, and Indore.
Rail : Bhopal is an important railway station as it is on the main Delhi-Madras route. The station is near Hamidia Road. It is well linked to Delhi, Mumbai, Bhopal, Gwalior, Jhansi and Ujjain by train.
Road : Tourist places like Sanchi (2½ hours), Indore (186 kilometers 6 hours), Ujjain (188 kilometers 5 hours), Panchmari (7 hours) and Jabalpur (308 kilometers and 12 hours), and Khajuraho can be easily accessible from Bhopal.
Bhopal has a number of hotels and lodges, ranging from luxury class to budget class. So, just pick or choose one of them according to your requirements.