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Bhopal and Bhimbetka

bhopal and bhimbetka lead.jpg

In the early years of the 18th Century, the death of the last Great Mughal Aurangzeb, and the subsequent uncertainty and turmoil that followed provided the opportunity for several able and ambitious if unscrupulous military officers to set up in ‘private business’.

One such was an Afghan, Dost Muhammad Khan, who traded up from mercenary chief to ruler of what became the princely state of Bhopal.

Amazingly for the times and the circumstances Bhopal was ruled by four women over the next century and a half – a period that saw the establishment of modern government, women’s education, civic services and the embellishment of the city with several notable mosques, palaces and public buildings.

Of these the Taj ul Masjid – possibly the biggest mosque in Asia is the most notable. If you head out on a heritage walk with one of our specialist guides through the crowded, narrow but intriguing gallies or lanes of Old Bhopal you will stop by some fascinating old houses, temples and mosques like the lovely Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) and perhaps pause at a kebab stall to taste the delicious wares.

Perhaps due to the disaster of 1984, this is one of India’s most under-rated cities. It is hugely attractive situated as it is on low hills curving around two lovely lakes called the Upper and Lower Lakes.

Two superb museums – the Museum of Man tracing the arc of human history in India and the State Archaeological Museum housing some of the most stunning ancient artefacts – are found here.

Astonishingly for modern India, the city encompasses a national park with it’s boundaries that merges with the Rata Pani Wildlife Sanctuary and other connected reserves. In recent years tigers have been regularly reported on the outskirts of Bhopal

Bhopal is also the gateway to two of the most important ancient sites in India – both World Heritage Monuments.

The first is the great Buddhist Stupa of Sanchi built over 2000 years ago. First discovered by British antiquarians almost 200 years ago Sanchi was one of the great commemorative Buddhist monuments built by the great Emperor Ashoka – the man responsible for catapulting a local sect into a world religion.

Interestingly, the sumptuous, profuse and elaborate sculpture that covered the stupa and its subsidiary shrines and ornamental gateways, provided the key clues that allowed the unravelling not just of the story of Ashoka “Devanampiya” (Beloved of the Gods) but also of Buddhism itself.

The other un-missable site is that of Bhimbetka. Situated on a hill-side above a densely wooded valley, this extraordinary site protects the dwellings of Palaeolithic man. Over 600 caves have been identified of which 12 are open to visitors and they send a shiver down your spine as you walk amongst the magnificent rock paintings that record the lives, religion and the world inhabited by our ancient ancestors.

Bhopal is also the gateway to some brilliant wildlife experiences and to hurry through this gem of a city is to miss out on some of the greatest treasures of Central India.

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