The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has since long enjoyed its status as a premier tourist hotspot. A number of factors have actively contributed to its reputation of being a fully-fledged package for visitors having a diverse taste in their preferences. Lip smacking local dishes, diverse range of flora and fauna, cultural and literary festivals, tribal arts & crafts are just a few names on a seemingly endless list!
There is however one aspect of Madhya Pradesh that goes unnoticed amongst its other, more favored features. There are a number of ancient and heritage places in Madhya Pradesh that are often forgotten about, mainly because of the high popularity of states like Rajasthan in terms of heritage tourism in India. So just to bring you up to date with some of the best forts, palaces and historic sites in the state here is a list of the most awesome heritage places in Madhya Pradesh!
1. Bhimbetka Rock Shelters - Bhojpur Raisen
Bhimbetka Rock Shelters are probably one of the oldest signs of intelligent human era in the Indian subcontinent with the various rock paintings having been dated back to 30,000 years in the past. Bhimbetka literally translates into ‘sitting place of Bhima’, and Bhima was an important character of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, thus further strengthening the connection between the attraction and local folklore.
As the artwork spans several thousands of years, it gives an interesting glimpse into the activities, culture and daily life of the people who used to roam the area in that era. Many caves have paintings which show people dancing, hunting, celebrating, engaged in daily chores and even depictions of animals that are supposedly extinct now. The rock shelter is a World Heritage Site since 2003 and careful preservation work is being done to increase the life of this precious archaeological site.
2. Great Stupa - Sanchi
Probably one of the most famous attractions of Madhya Pradesh, the Great Stupa at Sanchi was constructed under the reign of Emperor Ashoka the Great. These Buddhist monuments are considered to be the oldest stone structures in the country with building work having begun in the 3rd Century BC. The carvings and Satavahana decorations in the stupa are extremely intricate and so detailed that it never ceases to amaze even the repeat visitors to Sanchi. Though only the Great Stupa was built under Ashoka, other stupas and religious structures were added over the years.
The most interesting fact about the Sanchi illustrations is that Lord Buddha is never depicted as a human! Instead, he is represented by different characters like a horse, bodhi tree and even a foot. It is quite fun to check out all the illustrations and find out all of his different depictions!
3. Udayagiri Caves - Vidisha
Not to be confused with sites in other states with the same name, the Udayagiri Caves in Madhya Pradesh are some of the oldest still-standing Hindu sculptures, images and cave temples in the world. Some of the earliest carvings date back to the 4th Century AD and are said to have been constructed under the rule of Gupta Dynasty. The impressive complex boasts of 20 caves, fortifications, buildings that have fallen to ruins and a number of other historical structures.
Some of the must see attractions of Udayagiri Caves include an astounding relief sculpture that shows Lord Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) avatar, resting Narayana with a kneeling devotee besides him, fascinating inscriptions from the Gupta era and some sculptures depicting Shiva and Ganesha. Udaygiri Caves are so vivid in detail and show such an amount of artistic skills and dexterity that visitors are usually blown away at first glance.
4. Gwalior Fort - Gwalior
The grand fort of Gwalior is more than a thousand years old, in fact, it is said to have been built somewhere in the 8th Century AD by the local ruling monarch King Suraj Sen in that period. Over the years ownership of the fort has changed multiple hands and this has resulted in an incredible fusion of arts, craftsmanship and architecture which is evident from the various palaces and historic structures within the fort complex.
While visiting Gwalior a visit to the Fort is an absolute must! The imposing location and grand buildings like the Gurjari Mahal and Man Mandir make this fort an absolute visual spectacle. Inscriptions dating back to more than 1500 years are a surreal sight for avid history buffs! The Fort also holds a museum inside that is home to priceless artifacts like the Shalabhanjika statue recovered from Gyaraspur. The statue was installed at the entrance of Sanchi Stupa and sculpted somewhere around 10-11th century. Because of its strange smile, the statue has been termed as the Indian Mona Lisa. It indeed is a jewel of Madhya Pradesh.
5. Chanderi Fort - Chanderi
Though Chanderi is now considered to be a small town now, there used to be a time when this idyllic city in Madhya Pradesh used to be a centre of economic and military power. The kingdom finds mention in great Hindu epics like the Mahabharata and has been a stronghold of Bundela Rajputs and Malwa Sultans in the latter part of its history.
Though many of the buildings and palaces inside the grand fort are credited to Bundela Kings, the fort itself has many Mughal inclinations. It is built on top of a hill which overlooks the whole city and must have provided a highly strategic military advantage during sieges by invading forces. Some of the most popular tourist attractions in Chanderi Fort include the main gate of the complex called ‘Khooni Darwaza’ meaning ‘Bloody Gate’ as anyone found guilty was punished by being thrown from the top of the gate into the abyss below, the Hawa Mahal, Nau Khanda Mahal and another gate from the hill side called Katti Ghatti.
6. Dhar Fort - Dhar
The striking Dhar Fort built out of red stone and located on the hilltop of a small town Dhar has a rather tumultuous yet fascinating history behind it. Though built under the orders of Mohommad Tughlak, the fort came under the rule of Pawar dynasty, which made many changes to the original design and architecture. The famous Maratha Peshwa Bajirao II is said to have been born in this very fort.
Though years of vandalism, mismanagement and ignorance have severely deteriorated the once magnificent Dhar Fort, recent repairs and urgent restoration work has somewhat tried to restore the fort to its former glory. Some of the must-see attractions within Dhar Fort are the Dara Shikoh, Sheesh Mahal and Kharbuja Mahal. Kharbuja means muskmelon and is such named because of the similar shape of the palace. Another reason for the fort’s high importance within Indian history books is because during the First War of Independence in 1857 it was occupied by Indian freedom fighters and served as an important base for their struggle movement.
7. Jahaz Mahal - Mandu
Jahaz Mahal or ‘Ship Palace’, as it can be called because of its resemblance to a ship floating on a water body, was built by the then Sultan of Mandu - Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji to serve as his royal harem and retreat. This is the reason the Mahal is extremely luxurious and leaves no stone unturned in providing all material comforts to the royalties who stayed here.
Though the palace has now fallen into shambles now, there is still something about the whole look and feel of Jahaz Mahal that visitors are left bewitched at first sight. Water wells and fountains cover all of the pathways that are spread over the gardens of the palace, the window arches show a great precision in workmanship and the overall design serves the original purpose of providing a romantic retreat for the royal couple.
8. Ahilya Fort - Maheshwar
Located in the erstwhile capital city of the Maratha Holkar Empire, the Ahilya Fort is one of the rare palatial structures that was built on the behest of a woman, and not just any woman, but a warrior queen of exceptional courage and tact. Named after Queen Ahilyabai Holkar, the Ahilya Fort has a very splendid architecture, majestic view of the Narmada River flowing next to it and a regal legacy.
Presently this royal fort has been converted into a luxury guest house cum hotel and is a favorite amongst visitors both foreign and local. The city of Maheshwar is a very popular tourist attraction and at an ideal distance from other important tourist hotspots like Ujjain, Omkareshwar and Indore.
Located at close distances from each other, all three historic sites make up for a great sightseeing tour in the Chambal Valley region. Padavali and Bateshwar are sites that are said to even predate the Khajuraho temples! Morena is another famous historical site, popular especially for the Chausath Yogini Temple. It is a huge circular temple dating back to the 14th century. The Indian Parliament House in Delhi has been built on the archaeological design of this very temple. The design is said to be so solid, that it can withstand earthquakes of high intensity too! The Chambal River is one of the rare Indian rivers that is said to be left unpolluted. The valley area is a biological hotspot with a number of flora and fauna. Apart from being home to several species of crocodiles, turtles, river-dolphins and otters it also boasts of birds like black-necked storks, sarus cranes and lesser whistling duck. Thus it is a hotspot for major eco-tourism.
Soak in the regality and royalty of Madhya Pradesh with a visit to all of these wonderful sites that will surely keep you enchanted and make you gasp with awe at the sheer brilliance in its grandeur. These are just the tip of the iceberg! Explore MP Tourism right now to experience in detail what more fun awaits you in the heart of India.