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Guys, welcome to the fourth part of my Amazing Madhya Pradesh series 🙂

For those of you visiting me for the first time, I suggest going through my previous posts in this series. Here are the links:

Madhya Pradesh, The Heart of Incredible India

Amazing Madhya Pradesh (Part I):  Indore

Amazing Madhya Pradesh (Part II): Ujjain

Amazing Madhya Pradesh (Part III): Omkareshwar & Maheshwar

Today, I’m going to share with you all the story of my four-day stay in Bhopal, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh. Before that, here’s a brief introduction to the wonderful city. Happy reading 🙂

 BHOPAL

 

One of the greenest cities in India, Bhopal – the state capital of Madhya Pradesh – is also known as the ‘City of Lakes’. Its landscape is dotted with a number of lakes, two of them situated in the centre of the city. The Upper Lake commonly known as Bada Talaab (or Big Lake) and the Lower Lake. The Upper Lake is a vast lake spanning almost 10 square miles, which dominates the landscape and adds to the beauty of the city. Dating back to the 11th century, it’s the oldest manmade lake in the country. With a catchment area of over 36 sq km, this lake is the city’s main source of potable water. Besides providing scenic beauty, it offers water sports activities like paddling, rowing and motor boating. An over-bridge separates the Upper Lake from the Lower Lake called Chota Talaab (or Small Lake). The lakeside promenade in the city centre is a very prominent location.

Bhopal is like two cities within one. It has two starkly contrasting sides. Towards the North is the old city, a congested area with mosques, narrow lanes and crowded bazaars. A predominantly Muslim area, it houses most of the city’s old palaces. South of the two lakes is the new Bhopal – a modern planned area full of parks and gardens, and with wide roads and upmarket shopping malls. The plush locations here are the Arera and Shamla Hills, which overlook the lakes and the old city beyond. The central district is known as New Market. Mahavirgiri is the city’s highest point offering a panoramic view and a thrilling ropeway ride.

Bhopal has a rich history. The city was founded in the 11h century by the legendary Paramara King of Malwa, Raja Bhoja, who also built the Upper Lake. He named the city Bhojpal, which over a period of time came to be known as Bhopal. In the later years, the region soon came under Mughal rule and remained a part of that empire till 1707.

The unique phase in Bhopal’s history was the reign of female rulers, the Begums. Unparalleled in the history of India. The Begums were great administrators, reformists and patrons of education, art, culture and public works. They built several elegant buildings, which still exist. The first Begum came to power at the young age of eighteen in 1819. The reign of the fourth and the last Begum ended in 1926. During this more than 100 year old era, the city Jama Masjid, Gohar Mahal Palace, Moti Masjid, Moti Mahal, Shaukat Mahal, Taj Mahal Palace, Taj-ul-Masajid – one of the largest mosques in Asia, Sadar Manzil, Barah Mahal, Qaser-e-Sultani Palace – which now houses the Saifia College, Noor-us-Sabah Palace – which is now a heritage hotel, Minto Hall – which housed the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha till 1996, Edward Museum and Hamidia Library.

In modern times, the state government has made significant efforts to make Bhopal an important centre of art and culture. Some of the city’s notable cultural centres are located along the Upper Lake.  Foremost among them is Bharat Bhavan, a pivotal museum and centre for verbal, visual and performing arts. Beautifully designed with terraced gardens by renowned architect Charles Correa, the institute houses art galleries, an amphitheatre, two indoor auditoriums, a museum and a library, all of which provide a unique platform for the promotion of fine arts, literature, theatre, cinema, dance and music.

Also along the lake and surrounding hills is Van Vihar, a zoological park with the status of a national park.  Just next to it, sprawled on a small hill over an area of 200 acres is the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (IGRMS) also known as The National Museum of Mankind. An exceptional one-of-a-kind museum in the world, it showcases the lifestyle of over 400 tribal communities in India. A place not to be skipped at any cost. Other interesting museums in the city include the State Museum, the Tribal Museum and the Regional Museum of Natural History. Most of the tourist sights are closed on Mondays except for Van Vihar which is closed on Tuesdays.

Bhopal is famous for its melas, or fairs. Bhopal Haat, Gauhar Mahal, Bittan Market Ground and Dusshera Maidan are the main venues.

For food lovers, the city offers a wide variety of mouth-watering vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies from chaats, biryani, kababs and tikkas to sweet goodies like jalebi.

Bhopal’s must-buys include the exquisite Chanderi and Maheshwari saris. These saris with intricate golden zari border are famed for being lightweight and thin. Chanderi sari was, and still is, a symbol of superlative beauty and status. Even the British invaders with their mill-made cotton couldn’t defeat the moonshine radiance of the fabric created by Indian weavers using raw spun cotton. With time, these matchless artisans started using Japanese silk with cotton. A safe bet for handicrafts and handlooms is the state government’s exclusive handicraft store, Mrignayani. The city is popular for its silver jewellery, embroidered sequin cushions and purses and colourful beadwork. Its signature embroidery art, Zardosi, has been in practice for over 300 years.  Hand embroidery done of velvet, silver and gold threads along with semi-precious gems is found on everything, from clothes to purses and shoes. The three main shopping areas are Chowk Bazaar (old city market), New Market and Bittan Market. The old city market is famous for the traditional glittering ladies purses and wholesale tussar and raw silk fabrics. However, with narrow and congested lanes, it takes a long time to explore the market. New Market and Bittan Market are better organised, with neat rows of shops. New Market is a shopping and commercial zone housing eateries, restaurants, cloth shops and showrooms, bakeries, mobile stores, etc. Most big brands have their showrooms here, including the state emporium, Mrignayani.

Bhopal shot into international news as the site of the world’s worst industrial disaster which took place in the early morning hours of December 3, 1984 when a highly volatile and deadly gas escaped from the Union Carbide pesticide factory claiming the lives of thousands and leaving several thousand permanently or partially disabled. The Bhopal Gas tragedy has left a deep scar on the city which has managed to retain a clean, green look which is sadly not evident in most metropolitan cities in India.

Bhopal is the base to travel to some of the beautiful tourist destinations in Madhya Pradesh. The state’s only hill station, Pachmarhi, fondly known as the ‘Queen of Satpura Ranges’ is 200 kms away. Surrounded by forested area, Pachmarhi was designated by UNESCO as biosphere reserve in May 2009. This picturesque hill station with a distinct colonial atmosphere was discovered by a British Army officer in 1857, and is administered by the Indian Army.

For wildlife lovers, Satpura National Park, home to the bison, tiger, Leopard, bear, four-horned deer, blue-bull and a rich variety of birds, is 150 km away.

The UNESCO world heritage site of Sanchi, one of the world’s most important Buddhist pilgrim centres housing Buddhist monuments dating from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D, is just 45 km Bhopal. Thirteen kilometres from Sanchi and 8 KM from Vidisha, the 5th century Udayagiri Caves are home to some of the oldest Hindu images and cave temples      in India. Eight kilometres away at Vidisha is a famous monolithic pillar built in 90 BC by the Greek Ambassador in the court of Takshashila (Taxila) kingdom, Heliodorus, who was a self-confessed worshipper of Lord Vishnu.

Also about 45 km from Bhopal, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bhimbetka Caves exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India by way of a large number of prehistoric cave paintings. Some of the rock shelters with natural pigment paintings depicting the prevailing social life, were inhabited by man more than 100,000 years ago.

Bhojpur, 28 km away, is renowned for its 11th century Shiva temple, which is home to one of the largest Shiva Lingam in the world.

The important cities of Ujjain, Indore and Jabalpur are 180 KM, 200 KM and 350 KM respectively from Bhopal.

 

Now read my story 🙂

22 April 2015

 

My bus from Indore reaches Bhopal at around 3PM. It passes by different areas of the city to drop passengers at the bus stops close to their destinations, giving me a good glimpse of my new travel destination.

A vast picturesque lake, charming lakeside promenade, clean and wide roads, large green spaces in every corner… Bhopal looks so very beautiful! I had assumed it to be an overcrowded, polluted city, still reeling under, from the after-effects of the world’s worst industrial disaster – the Bhopal Gas tragedy of 1984. But no, my first impressions of the state capital of Madhya Pradesh are very flattering.

I get down at the bus stop outside Hotel Palash Residency in TT Nagar. My hotel is a short distance away, in the New Market area. It’s the city’s shopping and commercial zone, hence a very convenient location for travellers.  The luxury hotels are mostly located at Shamla Hills and the lakeside.

Hotel Sarthak is a nice business hotel, and the room shown to me is quite nice too. They tell me that it’s the best one in the hotel. Happily, I get a 20% discount. So, 2500 rupees including tax is a good deal.

An hour later, I’m ready for some city sightseeing. Instead of taxi, I opt for an autorickshaw. The hotel arranges it. Four hundred rupees for a four-hour tour.

My first stop is the Laxmi Narayan Temple (also known as the Birla Mandir)…

Perched atop the Arera Hills, the oh-so-peaceful place with fresh air, offers a good view of the city and surrounding lakes. An amazing place…

Next stop is Gauhar Mahal, an old royal palace on the bank of the Upper Lake, on the beautiful lakeside VIP Road.

The Upper Lake (or Bada Talab) is the largest manmade lake in India…

The lake is also known as Bhojtal. A large stone statue of Raja Bhoj, the city’s founder stands alongside the lake.

Gauhar Mahal (or Gohar Mahal) is a blend of Hindu and Mughal architectures. Unfortunately, it was closing time so I didn’t get to see much of the interiors.

Old Bhopal city, a Muslim-dominated area, is home to a number of architecturally impressive heritage structures, all built by the Begums of Bhopal. These include two famous mosques, Taj-ul-Masajid and Moti Masjid.

Moti Masjid or the Pearl Mosque, built in 1862…

Close by is Shaukat Mahal, a royal palace built in European style of architecture. It is said to have been designed by a Frenchman belonging to the royal Bourbon dynasty.

Watch my video:  Shaukat Mahal

There’s not much to see of the palace exteriors, just a dilapidated building in a congested area.

Close to Shaukat Mahal is Sadar Manzil, which served as the hall of public audience for the Begums of Bhopal. The name on the building states that it is the head office of the Municipal Corporation.Watch my video:  Sadar Manzil

The main gate is closed. I’m about to leave, when a youngster comes to my assistance. He introduces himself as a fireman and immediately invites me inside when I express my interest in looking around the place. The municipality office shifted elsewhere a month ago, and the building now houses the offices of the Fire Department, which is just opposite the building.

The lovely interiors…

I find some more staff members of the Fire Department hanging around in the front lawn. On learning that I’m from Mumbai, they tell the youngster to turn on the fountain and switch on the lights so that I can get some nice photos.

Yours truly at the fountain…

Watch my video: Fountain inside Sadar Manzil

Watch my video: Inside Sadar Manzil

At their behest, the fireman gives me a tour of the place. The old, narrow staircase leading to the top floor is filled with paper…

The rooms are in a state of total chaos. It’s a strange and disturbing sight… municipal files and documents lying around like trash.

A view from the top…

From the balcony, I get this beautiful view of the scene below and the lakeside.

Yours truly on the balcony ledge…

Beyond me, in the background is the Upper Lake and the Boat Club. The sign far beyond, illuminated in red, reads “CITY OF LAKES”. It’s a lovely quiet evening on the top, away from the road traffic noise. The cool breeze is refreshing.

Watch my video: View from top of Sadar Manzil

My next stop is the Taj-ul-Masajid (‘Crown Among Mosques’), the country’s largest mosque and one of the largest in Asia. Construction of Taj-ul-Masajid was started by Sultan Shah Jahan Begum, the last Begum of Bhopal. After her death in 1926, due to lack of funds the project came to a halt. It was resumed in 1971.

It’s close to 7:00 PM when I reach the place. Walking towards the entrance, my eyes are fixated on three massive white-coloured spherical domes and two tall minarets, looking captivating with night illumination.

Check the crescent moon in the sky…

Watch my video: View of Taj-ul-Masajid

The mosque stands within a walled enclosure of around 23,500 sq ft.  It’s my first-ever visit to a mosque, so I’m surprised to learn that footwear has to be removed before walking inside. The marble flooring is cold and soothing under my bare feet, as I walk around taking photos in the sprawling courtyard. Hardly any people here. They are all in the prayer hall. When I approach it, a man invites me to step in for a look. But I politely turn down the offer. I feel uncomfortable. Because I’m dressed in a low-neck tightfitting top that rises up from time to time resulting in a bit of skin display. And I have doubts… Forget being a girl, is a non-Muslim allowed inside? This man is kind enough to invite me, but the others inside could be nasty… worse, even terrorists!

I continue my photo session in the courtyard. But the heavy fluorescent lighting is obtrusive.  So I put aside my camera and take in the beauty of the place. A gentle, cool breeze sweeps by as I stand in the dark appreciating the fabulous building, the bright, shining moon, and the peace around. I feel happy. And then, the loud call for azaan breaks the silence.

Watch my video: Taj-ul-Masajid

After the prayers are now over, the man in the prayer area invites me inside again…for the third time! Since it’s my first time inside a mosque, I’m curious. Okay, why not?  I follow him, in alert mode, as he shows me each nook and corner of the place built by a “lady” (the last Begum, of course). Very soon, I realize that my doubts were unwarranted for. I had expected the place to be filled with men. But no, I see just a few of them. The mosque is also used as a madrassa (religious school) which accounts for the presence of women and children. The ornate pillars in the prayer hall have Urdu scrawlings to know which class is conducted at which place.

One of the ornate pillars…

After the pleasant experience, I start off for dinner. The narrow and crowded roads of the old city make it a long and noisy drive. On the way, the rickshaw driver stops to show me this beautiful temple of a goddess…

The old city has many non-vegetarian eateries. Chatori Galli, is a famous street with food stalls serving modestly-priced non-vegetarian fare like kababs, tikkas, etc. lined on both sides. But street food is not my kind of thing. I have planned on dining at the country’s first broad-gauge rail coach restaurant, Bhopal Express (or Shaan-E-Bhopal) in Hotel Lake View Ashok, one of Bhopal’s luxury hotels located on Shamla Hills.

The Bhopal Express…

A mock platform serves as the outdoor non-AC seating of the restaurant.

Watch my video: Bhopal Express, Hotel Lake View Ashok

The coach interiors…

The windows are actually LCD panels playing outdoor scenery accompanied by background music of a moving train. A clever way of giving a feel of being seated in a moving train.

Watch my video: Inside Bhopal Express

Another clever detail: the coach moves and gives slight jerks when you stand at a particular place.

Yours truly at Bhopal Express…

My dinner: chicken soup, chicken curry and steamed rice.

I’m the sole diner inside the coach. A little later, a soon-to-be-married young couple enter accompanied by a small team of cameramen. The girl is dressed in a black gown, her partner in a black suit. A photography and video-shooting session ensues in the aisle. Everything goes on fine till it’s time for a video-shoot of the couple dancing together. The girl is unable to get her moves right. Minutes pass by, and the cameramen seem to be getting tired and impatient. Eager to help, I leave my table to take the girl’s hand. A few quick moves, a twirl and… the onlookers are left open-mouthed in amazement. I’m flattered that the girl has danced well with me. When her man takes over, she’s ready for the camera. This time, there’s no problem. The couple dances very well. The cameramen are happy. Shoot over, they exit the coach.

Despite being a delicious meal, I’m unable to finish it. The rice and chicken servings are large, so I ask for a doggy bag knowing that the rickshaw driver and his family would be thrilled to have a five-star meal. Outside the coach, I stop for a meetha paan at the paan stall.

Yours truly at the piano outside the coach…

When I hand the rickshaw driver my dinner parcel, I can sense the old man’s joy even though he doesn’t express it in words. Shortly, I’m back on the new city’s wide, clean, well-lit and tree-lined roads. It’s a little past 9:00 PM, when I return to my hotel.

23 April 2015

 

My second day’s city sightseeing programme starts late in the morning at 11 AM. I’m keen on visiting the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (or National Museum of Mankind), which is located near the Upper Lake. Bhopal has an excellent bus network. Like Indore, it too has BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) bus service. Besides, there is a MP tourism bus too. But to make up for the lost time, I climb into an autorickshaw. It costs me 70 rupees. The driver tells me that by entering the museum through Gate 1, which is farther away, I can exit through Gate 2 which is along the Upper Lake. It sounds good to me. This way, I will be able to visit the Boat Club too.

Being a hot summer’s day, the road right till the museum entrance is deserted. I soon realize my mistake in not hiring the rickshaw for the museum tour. The driver had strongly recommended it. But how was I to know that the museum grounds would be so HUGE? I thought he was just trying to fleece me. At the entrance gate, I pay for the 10-rupee ticket. The security guard gives me an incredulous look when I tell him that I intend to walk around the entire place. Sure, I’m not carrying an umbrella, but I do have a cap to cover my head and a stole to cover my face and arms.  The guard provides me with a museum map with a recommendation to begin my visit with Veethi Sankul, the indoor museum of the Sanghralaya. Map in hand, I start my long trek along the road running through the sprawling grounds.

A quick look through the pamphlet gives me an idea of the vast area covering over 200 acres. The National Museum of Mankind is a unique park-cum-anthropology museum designed to showcase the folk and tribal heritage of India. It includes over 400 tribal and folk communities. The tribal and folk exhibits are designed and displayed by the community members themselves. The museum exhibitions are divided into three categories: open-air exhibitions, indoor exhibitions and periodical or temporary exhibitions. Open-air exhibitions feature life-size dwellings of tribal or folk communities highlighting their architecture, crafts and pottery.

The open-air exhibitions include life-size dwellings of various communities of India, built by the community members themselves. The materials which are traditionally used for construction in their respective regions, were specially transported here to create the replica. The entire work, right from structural designs and construction, placement of household objects in each location within and outside the dwelling to collecting the sacred flora and ritualistic objects to be planted outside the house-type has been done by the communities themselves.

The National Museum of Mankind is one of the few in the world having shelters of the prehistoric humans in its premises, with paintings drawn by them. The museum’s open-air exhibition, Rock Art Heritage, displays 36 such original painted rock shelters.

Medicinal plants form a part of the museum’s open-air exhibitions too. Another interesting open-air exhibition is the Traditional Technology Park which presents the knowledge or wisdom practiced by indigenous communities in the utilization of locally available resources to fulfil their sustained way of living. For more information, visit: http://igrms.gov.in/en

The first exhibit alongside the way to Veethi Sankul…

And then, this lovely park…

Veethi Sankul, the indoor museum that presents an integrated story of the evolution of man and culture with special reference to India…

Extending over an area of about 12,000 square metres, Veethi Sankul was dedicated to the nation in March 2005. The sand-stone structure is constructed on a rocky terrain incorporating difficult levels of the sloppy land. The spacious exhibition halls, a reference library, indoor & outdoor auditoriums, etc. have been constructed on approximately sixteen levels.

After collecting my entry and photography tickets, I walk in to find that I have the entire place to myself. Just five minutes ago, a large group of school children had been here. Now, it’s just me and the museum staff.

In the entrance hall, the first thing that awaits me is the museum’s exhibit of the month – an object from the Kathiawar Peninsula of western Gujarat, the Dhabla

A few more details…

Utilisation of Dhabla: The floral design of lotus and symbolic energy radiation of the sun depicted in the Dhabla reflects keen affiliation and belongingness towards solar dynasty (Surya Vansha). The great epics of Puranas, particularly the Vishnu Purana, the Ramayana of Valmiki and the Mahabharata of Vyasa all contain accounts of this dynasty. This traditional metal vessel is uniquely fashioned to stand on three legs with massive attachments of casted latch, hinges and handles. At the time of marriage processions, it is utilized for carrying dowry gifts including ornaments, clothes, beadworks, etc. by the bride to her in-law’s house. The number and size of Dhabla displayed in the drawing room depicts the socio-economic status of the family. The heirloom of this kind is inherited matrilineally from mother to daughter.

Watch my video: Dhabla 

I find it the Dhabla very interesting as I had travelled through that region just two months ago and had become familiar with the culture prevailing there.

The story of mankind in time and space is depicted in twelve galleries of the museum. The first gallery, Human Bio-Cultural Evolution, presents the biological evolution and variation of mankind, culture and society in pre- and proto-historic times. And the early locations of human bio-cultural evolution in India. All this is done through models, photographs, charts, sketches, etc.

Eleven other galleries provide glimpses of contemporary cultural patterns from different ecological zones of the country. These include tribal festivals, ritual art, ethnic art, music and performing art of tribal and folk people, food and culinary traditions, masks and various other subjects depicting the life and ways in Indian societies.  A unique feature of these galleries is that the cultural exhibits have been curated by the tribal and folk communities themselves.

Displays include material cultural objects on settlement patterns, subsistence and aesthetic activities of hunter-gatherers, shifting cultivators, pastoralists, peasants and ethno-medical practitioners in India.

Tribal art, lifestyle and festivals…

Watch my video: Tribal and Folk Art

Scaled models of tribal dwellings…

Watch my video: Scaled models of tribal dwellings

Ritual objects, photographs, masks, memorial pillars, paintings, etc. narrating cosmology, belief systems and rituals of different communities…

The exhaustive list of exhibit categories includes travel and transport, textiles, spinning and weaving, rituals, weapons, ornaments, narcotics, musical instruments, fishing, hunting, household items, games and entertainment, basketry, animal husbandry, agriculture and agricultural implements, arts and crafts, toys, metalcraft, etc.

A repository of varieties of traditional masks collected from different parts of India…

Watch my video: Traditional masks

Weaponry…

Watch my video: Traditional weapons 

Agricultural implements…

Watch my video: Musical Instruments

Jewellery…

Traditional technology and culinary traditions…

A traditional wooden almirah (or cupboard)…

Majjus, a wooden almirah from Gujarat…

Traditional textiles…

The cultural heritage of North Eastern States of India…

The cultural heritage of the two union territories of India: Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Island…

Besides the display in the twelve galleries, a significant number of specimens from reserve collections are on display for informed visitors…one of the few museums to do so.

It takes me two hours to finish a hurried tour of the museum. After an extremely enriching experience at this simply incredible museum, I head straight for the canteen located in Tribal Habitat, an open-air exhibition.

It’s a short trek on higher ground, offering an excellent view of the surroundings and the Upper Lake beyond.

View of the Upper Lake…

Watch my video: Tribal Habitat

The Tribal Habitat has life-size dwelling complexes of different tribal communities of India. A Naga dwelling…

Close by are two other open-air exhibitions, Himalayan Village and Desert Village. Himalayan Village represents houses from the Himalayan region like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, whereas Desert Village has typical dwellings from Jaisalmer of Rajasthan and Kutch region of Gujarat.

It’s a long walk under the burning sun. At times, cars and bikes drive past, but otherwise the road is totally deserted.

Watch my video: A long walk in the Sun

I stop at the Mythological Trail, which depicts myths and legends of various folk and tribal communities through crafts of terracotta, wood, stone, iron, etc. These include incarnations of folk deities and traditional paintings…

Close by is the River Valley Culture exhibition. It has a display of paintings by the tribal communities living alongside the sacred Narmada River. The river flows not just on the ground but in and between the minds of the people. And is lovingly worshipped as ‘Narbada Mai’ (Mother Narmada). Numerous folk stories inspired by the much revered river are the theme of the art and crafts created by these communities.

Further down the road is the Bhopal Gallery, an indoor museum displaying numerous old photographs of the city. The fine collection of old photographs and royal antiques are of tremendous help in discovering the colourful history of the city and its surroundings.

Old photo of Sadar Manzil, the heritage building that I had visited the previous evening…

Twenty minutes later, I reach the Coastal Village. This open-air exhibition has dwellings from coastal parts of India: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

One of the main attractions is Kerala’s famous wooden race boat – Palliyodam, also known as snake boat…

This is the first or the last exhibition of the museum, depending on the entrance gate taken. The second entrance gate is close by. The museum is a strict must-see, definitely not to be avoided.

Just a short walk away is the city’s famous Boat Club – a major attraction, and a haunt of water sports lovers. Walking along the lake promenade is an enjoyable experience. The breezy air offers respite from the heat…

The Boat Club…

Boating facilities are available in the mornings and evenings. There’s an island, just a twenty-minute boat ride away…

Watch my video: Boat Club

It is 3:30 PM. Boating is closed, so not many people around.

A 52-year-old rail steam engine ‘Hill Stallion’ is another attraction of the Boat Club. It served the Indian Railways for 34 years and was first run in North-Eastern Railways in Assam.

The ‘Hill Stallion’…

The lakeside road is lined with restaurants. Tired and thirsty, I stop at one for a bottle of water.  A litre of water is not enough to quench my thirst and I end up have two ice-cream candies. Alongside the road are three other city attractions: Kamla Park – one of the finest picnic spots in the city, Bharat Bhavan – a centre for performing and visual arts designed by the famous architect Charles Correa and Van Vihar National Park, an open zoological park. Too tired, I decide to return to my hotel.

At 5:00 PM, I set out again, this time to the station side. Having skipped lunch, I intend to try out some yummy snacks at one of the oldest and most popular food joints in the city… Manohar Dairy & Restaurant. The specialty of the place is chole bhature. Much as I love eating chole, the greasy bhatura is something that I have successfully avoided for almost 20 years. But I’m keen to try it out here. I board a bus to MP Nagar. The ticket costs 12 rupees. The bus ride is an eye-opener. I was under the impression that the lakeside promenade and the Boat Club environs were the only haunts for fitness buffs. That’s till I see the beautiful parks, gardens and walking tracks on the way. A welcoming sight in the busy evening traffic. I’m almost tempted to get down from the bus for a walk in the lush green surroundings.

The scene changes as the bus nears the station side. Searching for the restaurant, I chance upon a Natural ice-cream outlet. It’s nice to see Mumbai’s popular ice-cream chain in Bhopal. I walk in to slurp on my favourite flavour.

A little later, I’m at Manohar Dairy & Restaurant, a sprawling three-storeyed building. Its sweets and snacks shop is on the ground floor. The restaurants serving Indian, Italian and Chinese food are on the upper floors.

My chole bhature meal comes with two bhaturas.

Chole Bhature

I keep one bhatura aside, knowing that I won’t be able to eat two. It’s difficult to finish even the one in my plate. So I’m sure about not having the large, deep-fried bread again. A cold drink helps me get over the greasy taste.

An hour later, I’m at the city’s popular marketplace close to my hotel, the colourful New Market. A roadside music performance sponsored by the state tourism board has attracted a small crowd of people.

Watch my video: Roadside Music Performance at New Market

After enjoying the music for a while, I walk around the marketplace. There’s a temple, a mosque and hundreds of small stalls and shops selling food, clothes, shoes, fashion accessories, electronics, etc. Everything is available here in the narrow congested lanes.

Watch my video: New Market

And there are many large stores around too, including the state government’s exclusive handloom and handicraft store, Mrignayni. I buy two lovely saris before returning to my hotel.

 

24 April 2015

 

Today, I’m going to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sanchi. I leave at 10:30 AM in a tourist car booked by the hotel. Good for me that the car driver is the travel agent himself. Lucky me, he’s an avid talker and offers me non-stop information about the city and Madhya Pradesh.

Passing through a poor district on the edge of the city, he points out this memorial statue…

A woman with a child in her arms running away from a deadly poisonous gas emitted by the Union Carbide pesticide factory. It is in remembrance of the worst industrial disaster of India and the world that took place here in 1984.

“In the early morning hours of December 3 in 1984, about 40 metric tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a highly volatile and deadly gas, escaped from Union Carbide pesticide factory, and spread throughout the city. Residents awoke to clouds of suffocating gas and began running desperately through the dark streets, victims arrived at hospitals; breathless and blind. The lungs, brain, eyes, muscles as well as gastro-intestinal, neurological, reproductive and immune systems of those who survived were severely affected. Within three days, as many as 10,000 people lay dead. They died in agony, drowning in their own bodily fluid as their lungs collapsed. Between 3,500 and 25,000 people died as a result of contact with the cloud of toxic gas. About 500,000 more people suffered agonizing injuries with disastrous effects of the massive poisoning.

When doctors called Union Carbide, desperate for treatment information, company officials claimed that the gas was no more than a mild irritant and advised medical authorities not to give a potentially life-saving drug. About half a million people were exposed to hazardous levels of toxins. Many suffered debilitating illnesses or were disabled for life. To this day, Union Carbide has refused to disclose critical details about the composition of the gas and its effect on people — information vital for providing effective medical treatment.

In 1998, the Supreme Court of India reached a settlement with Union Carbide: They had to pay 470 million US dollars to the Indian state. At that time Union Carbide made a turnover of about 9.5 billion dollars, 20 times that amount. In return, there would be no further prosecution.

One of the reasons why many people are still suffering is that the terrain where the plant stands is still contaminated with mercury and other carcinogenic substances. Dow Chemical who owns Union Carbide refuses to decontaminate the soil. Greenpeace has estimated that decontamination would only cost around 30 million USD.”

The memorial statue is close to the infamous Union Carbide factory which continues to remain abandoned. And to think that I had been curious to see this site – a major topic of political discussion, some 30 years ago – when I was a kid. Now, I get the true, full account of the tragic happening known as Bhopal Gas Tragedy from the driver who was a 15-year-old school boy when it took place. He and his family had escaped the tragedy as they lived far away from the factory.

A roadside view of the deserted Union Carbide factory…

A 40-minute-drive later, passing through the village of Sukhisimaniya, the line of Tropic of Cancer…

Read: Amazing Madhya Pradesh (Part V):  Sanchi and Udayagiri Caves

By 5:00 PM, I’m back from my tour of Sanchi and Udayagiri Caves. That’s right, I visited the latter too. The driver said it was a very interesting place not far from Sanchi. And he was right! So, my car hire charge for the day came to 2500 rupees. Not bad considering that I gained a good deal of information from the driver. Be it about agricultural crops grown in each region or the beautiful marble mountains of Bhedaghat through which the sacred Narmada flows. Till then, I was not aware that Madhya Pradesh was the country’s major producer of wheat, soya bean and mustard, among other food crops.

He recounted some interesting details too. Poppy (or khuskhus) or opium (or afim) is grown in the state’s Mandsaur, Neemuch and Ratlam districts, one of the highest producers of opium in the country. Farmers working on government land are given contracts to grow afim. The plants are counted, but farmers grow additional plants and sell the additional afim in black market. Sap from the plant is boiled to make the brown-coloured afim. Some make addictive tea out of it. Even birds, mostly parrots, get hooked on opium poppy. And many die of the addiction. Sigh… Another one, on the Chambal Valley or Behaad in the state’s Morena district. He told me about mitti ke teelay or sand towers in this region. A rare phenomenon, the sand towers are formed at dawn and disappear by dusk.  The dacoits of Chambal Valley who flourished through the 1950s-1970s used these sand towers to their advantage. Still, I didn’t find any material on these sand towers in my Google search.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bhimbetka Caves and the famous Shiva Temple of Bhojpur, housing one of the largest shiv linga in the world, are two places close to the city that I did not visit due to lack of time. I will be returning to Indore tomorrow, but leaving Bhopal without tasting its famous kababs doesn’t appeal to me. At the hotel desk, I’m strongly recommended to visit Hakeem, one of the oldest restaurants in the city, located close by in the New Market area. So late in the evening, I’m back in the market’s narrow lanes looking for the restaurant. It’s a famous name and I find the place very soon after one or two enquiries. Looking at it, I wonder if I have reached the right place. I’m in two minds, whether to enter or not to enter. It doesn’t look hygienic to me. See, I’m a very fussy eater. Having food on streets or at night food markets is not my thing. And yet, with heavy feet I climb up the narrow stairs leading to the small upper floor area. The menu is limited, food is modestly-priced. I order seekh kabab, chicken curry and roti. It’s good, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining the condition of the kitchen.

Just like the previous evening, I stop to enjoy this small-time pop group giving street performance…

Two ice-cream candies later, I return to my hotel. When I tell the desk clerk about the small eatery, he’s horrified. I had been to the wrong place! The Hakeem Hotel he had recommended was a nice place, one of the city’s coolest hangouts. Sigh…

 

25 April 2015

 

Around 9:40 AM, I check out from the hotel. Its helpful manager had booked my bus ticket for Indore at https://www.redbus.in two days ago. At 10:00 AM sharp, the bus arrives at Hotel Palash Residency bus stop. When it passes the Upper Lake, I quickly grab my camera for one last photo…

Watch my video: Upper Lake

Guys, I really hope you all enjoyed this post 🙂 Stay tuned for my next post… meanwhile, keep visiting me 🙂 See you all soon, till then take care 🙂

 

Coming soon: Amazing Madhya Pradesh (Part V):  Sanchi and Udayagiri Caves

 

 

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