Travel Special: How Bhopal can be full of surprises for the uninitiated
From historic mahals, scenic lakes, and unusual museums that celebrate mankind as well as India’s rich tribal culture, Bhopal might just be the untapped escape that will woo every kind of travel junkie
The ‘Thing’ about travel is that it picks you up from your current life situation and throws you into new surroundings, lifting the spirit and bringing back the old sparkle. So if you ever have the blues, needing a break, simply get on the next bus/train/flight and GO.
It’s just what we did when we walked into the warm embrace of Bhopal. Situated in the heart of India, and surrounded by water bodies, this city ruled by Begums makes a pretty picture. After reaching our destination, we couldn’t help but marvel at the many gorgeous heritage buildings and the beautiful upper and lower lakes that sped past us.
“There is so much to see in Bhopal, you can’t possibly stop everywhere”, my friend quipped. Convinced, we shortlisted five treasures that grabbed our eye during our time in Bhopal.
(From top) Pots in a tribal home at the Tribal Museum; Facade of a tribal home; Terracotta art at Manav Sangralay, Bhopal. PICs/SUPRITA MITTER
1. Gohar Mahal
Our first stop was the gorgeous Gohar Mahal, situated beside the Upper Lake. The architecture of this palace is a perfect blend of Hindu and Mughal styles and was built by the first woman ruler of Bhopal, Gohar Begum in 1820. Sadly, this heritage building has not been maintained adequately, but it’s beautiful façade and arches are vivid reminders of its past glory. Various artists were using the outer courtyard of Gohar Mahal for an exhibition of pottery but we only had time for a brief look at some of the unusual pieces before heading out to the next gem to keep to our deadline.
At: VIP Road, Nakkar Khana, Peer Gate Area.
Time: 8 am to 6.30 pm
A column displaying tribal art at the Manav Sangrahalaya. Pics/Suprita Mitter
2. Van Vihar National Park
Adjacent to Upper Lake is the Van Vihar National Park, notified in 1983 but developed and managed as a modern zoological park, following the guidelines of the Central Zoo Authority. It is beautifully landscaped, and houses over 300 species of animals, reptiles and birds which are kept in their near natural habitat. Most of the animals are either orphaned, brought from various parts of the state or exchanged from other zoos. No animal is deliberately captured from the forest. It has a beautiful open café facing the lake that serves average fare.
At: Post Box No: 348, Central TT Nagar.
Time: 7 am to 11 am, 3pm to 5 pm
Call: 0755 2674278
Tribal gate at Bhopal’s State Tribal Museum
3. Manav Sangrahalaya
This open-air exhibition has many tribal artifacts and specimens from tribal villages. It is a display of life-size dwellings, typical of contemporary tribal cultures in various Indian states. Manav Sangrahalaya highlights architectural features and displays elaborate interiors. The surroundings have been reconstructed to match some of the interesting ambiance of tribal villages. A favourite of ours, this.
At: Dr Salim Ali Road, Lower Lake View, near Boat Club, Shymala Hills.
Time: 10 am to 5.30 pm
Call: 0755 2661458
Display of tribal art at Bhopal’s State Tribal Museum
4. State Tribal Museum
Bhopal’s State Tribal Museum deserves more than a dekko. India’s diverse tribal rhythms, geometrics, materials, forms and aesthetics inspire its architecture. The museum gives the visitor a sense of the way various tribes live their day-to-day lives; their houses, beliefs, rituals, games and entertainment. Tribal artisans, supported by anthropologists, sociologists and social workers, have created the exhibits on display.
At: Shyamala Hills.
Time: 12 pm to 8 pm
Call: 0755 2661948/2661640
5. Bharat Bhavan
After a long day, we decided to watch a play, and were lucky to catch director Atul Kumar’s Hindi musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s 12th Night, titled Piya Beharupiya at Bhopal’s famous Bharat Bhavan. This is a thriving centre for visual arts and performances. Sitting at the ground level, which is at the same level at which the artists perform, is an experience to remember.
At: J Swaminathan Marg, Shamla Hils.
Time: 10.30 am to 5.30 pm
Call: 0755 2660239/2661398
From Mumbai 774 km
Must-do in Bhopal
Go shopping Bhopali style at the Chowk Bazaar. In the heart of the city, the Chowk is a buzzing market place lined with old mosques and havelis that transport you back to a bygone era. We meandered through the shops in the narrow lanes, picking up a variety of fabrics at wholesale rates, Bhopali crafts like silver jewellery, beadwork and embroidered velvet purses (called batwas) are enticing.
How to get there:
By Air: Bhopal airport, also called Raja Bhoj Airport is located 15 km southeast of the main city centre and is connected to all major cities
By Rail: Bhopal Railway Station, near Hamidia Road, connects it to different parts of the country. Bhopal is one of the two major Delhi-Mumbai railway lines and is the main railway junction of the West Central Railways.
By Road: The roadways that lead to Bhopal are well maintained and motorable. The bus station is near the railway junction in Old Bhopal. Extensive bus services (state/ private) are available for getting to various places in and around Madhya Pradesh.
Log on to: www.mptourism.com for further information on hotels and accommodation.
>> IslamnagarPlan a quick excursion to see the magnificent palace at Islamnagar, 11 kms from Bhopal, and you will be glad you did. It was built by the Afghan commander Dost Mohammad Khan who established the princely state of Bhopal, and declared Islamnagar as his capital city in 1708.
The architecture is again a mixture of both Hindu and Islamic styles and has richly decorated columns and pavilions. The palace is divided into various sections— Chaman Mahal, Rani Mahal and Gond Mahal — and reveals the grandeur and the luxurious lifestyle of its owners. However, his rule was short-lived as the fort changed hand, first to Nizam-ul-Mulk in 1723, then the Scindias from 1806 to 1817, after which it was returned to Bhopal.