Bhopal, India: Mosques and Chaotic Chawk Market

Eleventh Century Bhopal was founded by Raja Bhog but the present city was established by an Afghan soldier, Dost Mohammed (1707-1740) and it is his descendants who built beautiful Bhopal. Modern Bhopal is spread across prime real estate area overlooking Upper Lake, where Jehan Numa Hotel is located. Because our train came in so late, Marine and I decided to skip many scheduled sights, one of which is considered to be the very interesting; Tribal Habitat Museum also called the Museum of Man with an excellent open air exhibition of contemporary, life-size, tribal dwellings from all over India and ancient rock shelters. We also told new guide Rekha to forget about Laxmi Temple, and a few other places.

We began sightseeing at Taj-ul-Masjid, the jewel of Bhopal’s Islamic cultural heritage. Originally begun by Sultan Jehan Begum, Bhopal’s third female ruler in 1877, it was left incomplete when funds ran out until 1971 when it was eventually finished with donations. This mosque is reputed to be one of the largest in India and has a striking facade, two towering white domed minarets, a madras (Islamic school) and a huge courtyard

 

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The Deluxe Jehan Numa Palace Hotel in Bhopal

The Deluxe Jehan Numa Palace Hotel, a “real” Nineteenth Century palace hotel, was one of our India highlights and, possibly, our favorite hotel. In Urdu, Jehan Numa means “View of the World” and the hotel is in a lovely upscale neighborhood set among five acres. The Palace was built during the rule of Sultan Jehan Begum by her second son and eventually converted into a World Class Hotel with 200 guest rooms and suites. All rooms are decorated in art deco and classical styles, with indigenous tribal artwork, traditional fabrics and furnishings. They also have: air conditioning, television, bottled water, free Wi-Fi, swimming pool, fitness center, and gracious service.

The Nineteenth Century Palace Hotel was built in a mixture of British Colonial, Renaissance and Classical Greek Architecture. There are four restaurants and two bars which provide authentic home cooked flavors, using only the freshest ingredients. We dined in three of the four: Under the Mango Tree serves barbecue (wonderful tandoori skewers);  La Kuchina Trattoria serves Italian (yum-o); Cafechina serves sandwiches, coffee, tea, etc. –  we ate a fast sandwich one late afternoon; and Shahnama serves breakfast and dinner buffets. We didn’t particularly care for the dinner selections but breakfast was fabulous.

 

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A Train Journey from Jhansi to Bhopal, India

After an early breakfast in Orchha, we drove the short distance to the old Jhansi Junction Railway Station where a “transfer guide” was waiting whose sole purpose was to get us on the train to Bhopal. Jhansi was once the capital of the princely state of Jhansi ruled by Maratha rajas from 1817-1854, and the original walled city grew up around its stone fort. Jhansi Junction is the nearest train station to Orchha in the North Central Railway zone of Indian Railways. It lies on the Delhi-Mumbai line and many trains come through. Built by the British in 1880, our train was supposed to leave at 10:55a, arrive in Bhopal at 14:05p but was running late. What else is new?

The Shatabdi Express Train (don’t get carried away by its name, more grandiose than the train itself) begins in Delhi at 6:00a, takes two hours  to Agra, then another 2-1/2 hours to Jhansi. We occupied ourselves watching porters carrying luggage on heads, local trains, and constructions workers digging under the platform.

 

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Orchha, India: Cenotaphs for 15 Maharajahs

You will come across many cenotaphs or chhatri in India, and it is important to know what one is. The dictionary defined a cenotaph as: an “empty tomb” or monument erected to honor a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. Orchha guide Helmand agreed with that statement but while doing a little research for this post, Madhya Pradesh Tourism says, “The sanctum holds the ashes of the cremated princes and princesses.” Whomever you choose to believe, there are 15 very grandiose cenotaphs to the Bundela kings located along the Betwa River on the South side of Orchha.

 

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Orchha, India: Magnificent Frescos in Lakshmi Temple

Vultures peer down from the temple tops and cenotaphs in Orchha. The last time I saw vultures was in Africa and at first thought these were sculptures as one stood motionless on the very top of a spire.

Guide Helmand kept referring to a fort and I was surprised to see that the “fort” was actually our last temple for today, Lakshmi Temple or Laxminarayan Temple resembles a fort. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth (way to go…), property, fortune, the embodiment of beauty and happens to be one of my favorite Hindu Goddesses.

 

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Orchha, India: Tour The Market, Rama & Vishnu Temples

A very small market in Orchha begins in front of the Ram Raja temple and heads to the temple compound. It is full of small shops selling souvenirs, handicrafts, beaded chains, gemstones, and other such items but I didn’t see one darn thing to buy. However, there were a few fake Sadhu standing around in full makeup and dress. The newest and best thing appears to be dress like a Sadhu and wait for tourists to pay for photographs of them alone, or with you. A real Sadhu is a religious ascetic or holy person who has left behind all material attachments and live in caves, forests and temples all over India and Nepal. Many are stark naked with ash-smeared bodies while others smear themselves with Vibhuti (a colorful sacred ash) on the face, throat and chest.

 

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Orchha, India: Tour the Magnificent Raj or Raja Mahal (Palace)

Orchha is located on a rocky island by the side of the beautiful Betwa River. Founded in 1531 as the capital of the Bundela Kings, Orchha was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms in Central India. Abandoned in 1738, the remaining palaces and temples are still magnificent.

The Jahangir(i) Palace is most impressive but the Raj Mahal filled with still colorful frescoes is incredible. Ceiling and other chambers were delicately painted; some with scenes from Ramayana, others showing daily life and court activities. Hindu and Islamic architecture was combined.

 

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Orchha, India: Tour the Magnificent Jahangiri Palace

New guide Hemand began the tour in the magnificent Jahangiri Mahal Palace, built by Jahangir, the eldest surviving son of Mughal Emperor Akbar and the fourth Moghul King in the Seventeenth Century. Although this palace took 22 years to build, Jahangir spent only one night in it – it is definitely good to be King or Emperor or Rich.

The square sandstone palace has an impressive entrance and is flanked by stone elephants which lead to the central courtyard. Jahangiri Palace is decorated with a few still remaining lapis lazuli tiles, graceful chhatri (elevated, dome-shaped pavilions) and ornate jaali screens (perforated stone or lattice screens).

 

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On the Road to Orchha, India: A Once Powerful Kingdom

Driving through India is never boring, always interesting and one of our favorite parts traveling through this country. Whether it is a line of women carrying milk to pour over Shiva’s lingam (penis) on the way to a local Shiva Temple, brilliantly yellow mustard fields in bloom, or more than 10+ persons packed into a jeep, you never know what’s around the bend.

We left the Khajuraho Eastern Jain Temples around 9:10a, and began driving towards Orchha, 185 kilometers/114 miles away. In Chicago, the drive would take two hours maximum. In India, the drive takes four hours and that’s on pretty decent roads. There was an interesting halfway stop “somewhere” at a hotel/restaurant/shop sponsored by the State of Madhya Pradesh for tourist groups and Steve and I had a good time picking out places we had visited in this state.

 

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Khajuraho: Eastern Group of Jain Temples

We began the day with an early morning tour of the Eastern Group of Jain temples. I really hate to say, “Been there and done it” all the time but after visiting the mother lode of all Jain temples, think 863 Jain Temples at beyond incredible Palitana, we have “been there and done it.”

The Eastern Group of Temples is approximately 10 minutes away from the Western Group and only two temples make it worth visiting: Parshvanatha Temple and Adinatha Temple, neither of which are active. Some other temples are active while still more are in deplorable shape.

 

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