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Bhopal | Sanchi | Bhimbetka | Khajuraho | Orchha | Mandu

Bhopal, often referred as the 'City of Lakes', takes it's name from Bhoj Tal( Lake), Bhoj being the 11th century king from the Parmar Dynasty. Now known as the Upper Lake, the lake is one of the largest artifical water bodies in the world, surrounding the city from most sides. The city has immense archaeological, historical and political importance attached to it. One of the oldest cities in India, Bhopal still retains the old charm. 

The decline of the Parmar Dynasty led to the rise of the Gonds around the 18th century. After that the reigns of the city came under the Afghan warrior Dost Khan, who is credited for building the the Bhopal of today. The  descendants of Dost Khan formed the Nawabs of Bhopal including the 107 year rule of the 5 queens( begums). An interesting turn came in the history of Bhopal, when in 1819, 18 year old Qudsia Begum (also known as Gohar Begum) took over the reins after the assassination of her husband. She was the first female ruler of Bhopal. Although she was illiterate, she was brave and refused to follow the purdah tradition.  She built the Jama Masjid of Bhopal. She also built her beautiful palace - 'Gohar Mahal'. Bhopal has been ruled by several famous dynasties like the Mughals, Rajputs and the Afghans. They have enriched the city's landscape with beautiful monuments, lakes, palaces, temples and mosques.

Amongst the monuments constructed during the Nawab Legacy of Bhopal is the Shaukat Mahal, a blend of French and Islamic Nature. Islamngar, a retreat for the Queens has three palaces including the Royal Hamam.

Bhopal has the largest Islamic place of worship in India in the form of Taj Ul Masjid or the Crown of Mosques. The city also has the Musuem of Man, where one can see the Tribal Culture of India in detail and its entire diversity. To add to the Musuem of Man is Bharat Bhawan, where one can see the work of the best sculptors of India.  The city also has a National Park where one can see the White Tiger in it's full glory along with migratory birds and crocodiles.

On a trip to the old city(chowk) one can see unique architecture in the form of arches, turrets and balconies. The chowk has a 200 year old heritage. It also has the Taj Mahal built in 1884

Founded by the legendary Parmar King of Dhar, Raja Bhoj (1010-1053), Bhojpur, 28 km from Bhopal, is renowned for the remains of its magnificent Shiva temple, or Bhojeshwar Temple. It was never completed and the earthen ramp used to raise it to dome-level still stands. As it is, despite the ravages of time, it remains one of the best examples of temple architecture of the 11th--13th centuries. A stone’s throw away from Bhopal lies Islam Nagar, built by Dost Khan between 1708 and 1726. It was a period of great turmoil at the Imperial Court in Delhi, following the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707. The Islam Nagar palace is a luxurious one, and lovely gardens surround both the palace and the pavilion nearby. It's a mixture of both Hindu and Islamic art and has columns richly decorated with floral motifs.

The capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal is truly a heritage city.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Sanchi is one of the centres of the great legacy of Buddhism. It is unique, not only for having the most perfect and well preserved stupas, but also for offering the visitor a chance to see, in one location, the genesis, flowering, and decay of Buddhist art and architecture during a period of about 1500 years -- almost covering the entire range of Indian Buddhism. This is surprising since Sanchi was not hallowed by any incident in Buddha's life nor was it the focus of any significant event in the history of Buddhism. On the contrary it's history goes back to the Mauryan Empire. The great King Ashoka was the builder of Sanchi's first monument around the third century BC in the form of a monolithic pillar here. The craftsmen used were from the ancient university of Taxila and the carving and polishing has a distinct Persian influence. Amongst the craftsmen were also Greeks resulting in the amalgation of Persian-Greek-Buddhist architecture. The architecture of Sanchi shows the evolution of Buddhism. From one of the structures of Sanchi is dervived the "National Emblem of India".  

The monument of Sanchi was built over a period of 100 years and the donors included the wealthy merchants of the area. By its quietude and seclusion ensuring a proper atmosphere for meditation, combined with its proximity to the rich and populous city of Vidisa, Sanchi fulfilled all the conditions required for an ideal Buddhist monastic life. The dedicatory inscriptions at Sanchi unmistakably show that the prosperity of the Buddhist establishment here was, to a great extent, due to the piety of the rich mercantile community of Vidisa. The nearness of the city, the strategic situation of which - at the confluence of two rivers, the Betwa and the Bes, as well as on two important trade routes resulted in a great overflow of wealth, was in no small measure responsible for the flourishing condition of Sanchi even when the empire of the Mauryas was a thing of the past.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Bhimbetka, a group of caves gives us a rare glimpse of the stone age. Bhimbetka is unique in the sense that the caves are more like rock shelters instead of the conventional close cover caves. Our visualisation of man 100,000 years ago is that of a savage, uncivilised and uncultured creature—more beast than human. All it takes to purge that opinion from our minds is a visit to Bhimbetka. The paintings on the caves reflect the activities and mindset of humans during the Paleolithic times.

Bhimbetka is home to a set of unusually shaped rock formations that gave man a magnificent canvas to express his creativity on. Viewed from a distance, these rock formations resemble a small fortress, rising nearly 100 metres above the surrounding area on the hill upon which they stand. They are the result of intense chemical and physical weathering by natural elements over centuries which has resulted in giving the rocks the strangest shapes imaginable. While the caves and potholes within the rocks became a place for Man to shelter within, the flat surfaces of these rock formations became the easel for his creative inclinations.

Using natural mineral colours mixed with water, animal fat or even glue, the stone age man created paintings with lines drawn in various shades of red, white, yellow and green. Sometimes outlines were made with the help of thin brushes made up of twigs. The blank spaces inside the outlines were either filled with colours or with geometric patterns like triangles, squares or even wavy lines. While several paintings are on large flat surfaces, some are found in corners while others appear at a considerable height, making it apparent that the artists either used some form of scaffolding or were standing on a high rock that has since disappeared.

The one feature which makes Bhimbetka a most unusual archaeological site is that the paintings here constitute a repository of knowledge of how Man lived in a truly ancient era. And the repository has been a dynamic one since the paintings here are not from one period in history but were done over a period of thousands of years, capturing the changing environment Man discovered and created for himself. In these paintings, what is beautifully demonstrated is the day to day activity during the Stone Age including hunting, riding and community dances. 

The timeline for the Bhimbetka paintings, as determined on the basis of the tools found in the potholes of rocks, begins with the Lower Paleolithic age (C. 100,000 to 40,000) and ranges through the Middle Paleolithic (C. 40,000-20,000), Upper Paleolithic (C. 20,000 – 10,000) to the Mesolithic (C. 10,000-2,500) and beyond into the period of documented history. As Man transformed over time from a hunter-gatherer to an agriculturist to living as part of an administered state, so did the paintings on the caves.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Khajuraho is a small village with a few thousand residents surrounded by forest. Yet it is on the world map and every year tourists from different parts of the world visit Khajuraho. Khajuraho is famous for its group of temples comprising of  sculptures, depicting the passion, music, dance and other creative arts. Most of the temples have been constructed between 9th century to 12th century during the era of Chandela dynasty and depict the rich quality of architecture which was prevalent in that period.

Initially 85 such temples were constructed, strictly adhering to the North Indian ‘Nagara’ style of architecture. However over a period of time, due to rough weather conditions, only 20 of these temples have survived. . The temples are divided into two distinct groups, the Western and the Eastern group of temples.Historically too, these temples are relevant and are several legends associated with their creation. According to one legend, the builders of Khajuraho were the descendants of moon. The origin of the Chandela dynasty is also fascinating and this tale is unfolded through the various Sculptures of the temples.

The theme of these temples revolves around woman and depicts her different moods and facets. Khajuraho has emerged as one of the major historical sites in India apart from being one of the major tourist destinations in Madhya Pradesh. The temples are generally built of sandstone and belong to the Vaishnava, the Shiva or the Jaina sects.

The Chandelas, the builders of Khajuraho, came from the warrior class and dominated the region and built forts in Mahoba, Kalinjar and Ajaygargh.

Khajuraho is a symbol of India's glorious past, heritage and culture and the exotic temples here symbolise the immortal tale of Hindu art and culture. The temples of Khajuraho are world famous. These are praised for the magnificent art form of early medieval period. The sculpture and carvings and work on the walls of the temples are so intricately and wonderfully done that they fascinate the people of every age. The carvings and sculptures on the walls of the temple are regarded as revelation of human love and  emotions. Here the art forms raise to a much higher level, showing sensuality as an integral part of human relationship not as a degraded relationship. The temples of Khajuraho represent the expression of a highly cultured civilization.

Orchha is a city frozen in time. It was founded in the 16th century by the Bundela chieftain, Rudra Pratap Singh, who built this new capital on a large wooded island on the River Betwa. Today, remains of the fort and palaces speak eloquently of Orchha's time of glory, of its splendid legacy of art and culture. Stepping back in time, into Orchha's fortress and palaces is an enjoyable experience. Orchha is a small village, set in a beautiful landscape, and with several temples scattered around it. The Ram Raja Temple stands at the end of the small bazaar, in a marble-tiled courtyard. Complementing the noble proportions of their exteriors are interiors which represent the finest flowering of the Bundela school of painting. In the Laxminarayan Temple and Raj Mahal, vibrant murals encompassing a variety of religious and secular themes, bring the walls and ceilings to rich life.

Orchha, meaning a "hidden place", certainly lives up to its name. Orchha's most illustrious ruler was Raja Bir Singh Deo. During his 22-year rule, Bir Singh Deo erected a total of 52 forts and palaces across the region. The Jehangir Mahal, Orchha's single most admired palace, was built by Bir Singh Deo as a monumental welcome present for the Mughal emperor Jehangir when he paid a state visit in the 17th century. Opulent royal quarters, raised balconies and interlocking walkways rise in symmetrical tiers on all four sides, crowned by domed pavilions and turrets. One can find the fragments of mirror-inlay and vibrant painting plastered over their walls and ceilings. The friezes are still in remarkable condition. Blood, war and sacrifice are the keywords to describe the Rajput Bundela dynasty that ruled over Orchha for over two centuries beginning from 1531 A.D. The town of Orchha was fought against the vagaries of time.

Orchha's splendor has been captured in stone, frozen in time, a rich inheritance to the ages. In this medieval city, the hand of time has rested unconscientiously and the palaces and temples built by its Bundela rulers in the 16th and 17th centuries retain much of their pristine perfection.

The historical city of Mandu has exchanged hands many a time between the Parmar Dynasty and the Ghori and Khilji clans of Afghanistan and the Mughal dynasty. The story of Mandu is of rivalry, deciet, treachery, fued and war. It is also a story of the use of "poisining" as a means to have access to the throne. It is believed that the earliest foundation of the city were laid in the tenth century by Hindu king Bhuj (1010-1042) who founded Mandu as a retreat. In the 11th century Parmar Kings established Malwa as a separate kingdom making Mandu as its capital. Then it was known as Mandabgarh. 

The history of Mandu took a twist when the Mahummad of Ghor, an Afghan invader established the Ghori Dynasty in India. By the time Mughals conquered Delhi in 1401, the Governor of Malwa, Afghan hero Dilwar Khan Ghori declared Mandu as a separate state. Mahmud Shah Khilji, captured Mandu in 1436. During his long rule of 31 years, Mahmud remained occupied in recurrent crisis, but he was a great admirer of art & culture. During his rule, Hindu, Jain & Muslim cultures gained impetus.

In 1526, Bahadur Shah of Gujarat captured Mandu defeating Mahmud taking advantage of internal conflicts in Mandu. In 1534 Mughal emperor Humayun snatched Mandu from the clutches of Bahadur Shah, but one of the generals of Shah retained the power. In 1554, Malik Bayajid, a notable musician, became the king of Mandu and named himself as Baj Bahadur. He was more interested in music than administration.

Akbar conquered Mandu in 1561 and Baj Bahadur left Mandu to avoid confrontation with Mughals. Mandu was shattered by Mughal attack. Much later, Jahangir remade Mandu as a token of his admiration of its natural beauty. Mandu also has unique Caravan houses indicating that the city had links and trade route with the Middle East. Known as Caravanserais, these structures were used to sheltering caravans. 

The ruined palaces and forts still tell the story of the various dynasties that ruled over Mandu. It is a heritage city in the true sense.

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