Wednesday, January 18, 2017

MP Diaries - Burhanpur, Origin of Taj Mahal

After a long travel of 1255 km, on the evening of 27th December at 8:50 pm we entered Madhya Pradesh, crossing the border check post at Ichhapur. We were about 200 km away from Indore, our first destination  as per plan and were way behind schedule, thanks to the very bad roads across the state of Maharashtra. It  had been a long and tedious drive of about 400 km from Latur to MP border via Lonar crater lake (one among the very few places we have visited twice in the same year). It was late in the evening, we were extremely hungry and so we decided to halt at the next town for the night. Burhanpur was the next big town and luckily we managed to find an accommodation  that night. River Tapti welcomed us to the town of Burhanpur.
Garden Maintained By ASI
Diwan-e-Khas
 Burhanpur is the south eastern gateway to Madhya Pradesh and the first place we visited in MP. None of the books we carried had any information about this place and only on googling did we realize the rich historical past of Burhanpur. We decided explore Burhanpur the next morning and hence shortlisted Shahi Qila among the many places which were worth a visit. We woke up to a foggy morning and waited for it to clear. As the fog cleared, we were greeted with the sight of two pairs of Indian grey horn bill. Sadly, the camera was in the car and we decided to keep an eye on the tree where the birds were foraging. By the time we reached the car, they had moved on. We checked about the timing of Shahi Qila from the hotel staff and the ignorant owner informed us that the gates open only after 9 am. After we reached Shahi Qila, we realized the gates were open much before 9 am  and that all the ASI monuments remain open from sunrise to sunset.
Shahi Qila, Burhanpur
Shahi Qila 
  The history of Burhanpur dates back to the Rashtrakuta period but none of the structures built during that era survive any longer. The excavations around this place have revealed about its association with the Rashtrakutas. The credit of founding the town of Burhanpur goes to the Faruqi King Nasir Khan during 1400 AD and remained in the clutches of Mughals till the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 AD. Later the Marathas, under Peshwa Bajirao conquered this town and brought it under their rule. The British then took control of this place from the weakening Maratha empire. About 3 km from Burhanpur is the village of Lodhi which houses the Dargah-e-Hakim which is considered to be a holy place for Muslims belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra sect.
Raj Ghat
Mosque
 'Shahi Qila' or the 'Royal Palace' was built during the period of Faruqi King Adil Khan II. The palace, originally being a seven storeyed structure is situated on the right bank of river Tapti, with much of it now in ruins. It is believed that Shah Jahan spent a considerable time in this town during his regime as a Mughal emperor and contributed by adding  buildings to the Shahi Qila, like the Diwan-e-aam (hall for public audience) and Diwan-e-khas (hall for private audience). The 'Hammam' or the 'Royal Bath' was specially built for his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal where she enjoyed a luxurious bath in scented water. The Hammam houses a bath place in the middle and carries beautiful frescoes on its honey-combed ceiling, a few of which have managed to survive.The paintings in Hammam are exquisite work of art. It is believed that the design of  the Taj Mahal was inspired by one of the painting depicting a monument on the ceiling of Hammam. The Hammam exhibits a perfect blend of Persian and Mughal architecture. Shah Jahan also originally planned to build the Taj Mahal on the banks of river Tapti but due to non availability of white marble, he later shifted the site to Agra. Mumtaz Mahal died in Burhanpur while giving birth to her fourteenth child and was buried here for several months till the construction of Taj Mahal and her mortal remains were then transferred to Agra.
Hammam or Royal Bath
Paintings on the ceiling of Hammam
Other places to visit around - Kali Masjid, Bibi Ki Masjid, Jama Masjid, Kundi Bhandara (medieval age water lift management), boat ride in River Tapti.
Distance from nearby major town - 175 km from Indore.
Accommodation - We stayed at Hotel Panchavati, a budget hotel which was good for over night stay. The hotel serves only vegetarian food. Only e-wallets are accepted here. Another option for lodging would be Hotel Tapti Retreat maintained by MPSTDC.
Where to eat - Many road side eateries offer Poha, Jalebi, Samosa and other snacks. Our breakfast of Poha and Sev along with bread and omelette at Tapti Retreat costed us Rs.250/-. Cards are accepted here.
References -
1. RBS Visitors Guide India - ''Madhya Pradesh"
2. Wikipedia 
3. Beyond Lust

Monday, January 16, 2017

MP Diaries - Prologue

 "MP Diaries" is a chronicle of our recent road trip to the magnificent state of Madhya Pradesh. Our journey in and across MP felt like home. We owe our sincere thanks to the  people of Madhya Pradesh. Until the evening of 23rd  December 2016, the plan was uncertain. Almost every day in December, we planned/ unplanned for this trip due to various reasons. Looking back, we know we made the right decision. As we had lost our camera along with all its accessories during our Chikmagalur trip long back, we went ahead to buy another DSLR on 24th of December for our upcoming MP trip. This apart, the car was not even serviced owing to the dilemma of our trip, although the much needed engine oil change and coolant top up was done on the morning of 25th December just before we hit the highway.
Our Best Friend in MP
During our return journey to Bangalore, our vehicle (Xylo) which had behaved well through out the trip developed fuel leakage about 150 km away from home. We realised about the leakage only after the smell of the fuel intensified.  Being a Sunday noon, the chances of finding of a service center were meager. My wife kept an eye for any operational garage as we drove and we found one in Devanahalli. Thanks to the heroics of this mechanic, the leakage which was manageable priorly, only increased as we drove although he had convinced us that we could drive till home safely.  At about 12 km  to home, we observed fumes coming out of our vehicle's engine, which rang an alarm bell to stop immediately. We had to park our vehicle and book a cab to reach home, thus ending our wonderful journey.
Madhya Pradesh Route Map (click here)
Two other important aspects for planning our trip were our 20 month old kid and demonetisation. Though our little one enjoys traveling, the next fifteen days would be a testing time for him as well as us with regards to food, drinking water and sleep. We three, together, managed it quite well.  Though he caught cold due to the extreme cold in Gwalior, the hotel staff were cooperative in setting up a heater at the middle of night, without which the situation would have only worsened. Thanks again to the staff at hotel Ambassador, Gwalior who were helpful and responsive with the heater, it was a savior!. This apart, he enjoyed well through out our journey. Demonetisation made most of us go cashless, hence we had to be prepared for overcoming this. As we decided late about our journey, we had little time to go the bank and draw money. We had to be dependent on undependable ATM's for the rest of our journey in addition to not being sure  about how far plastic currency/wallet would be accepted. Most of the fuel stations accepted cards/e-wallets, except for one in Andhra state. Almost all toll booths accepted cards/ e-wallets payments. Most of the budget hotels we stayed in were quite hesitant to accept any form of digital pay mode and preferred cash invariably. Many ATM's across the states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were operational and issued money, Maharashtra being an exception where long queues in front of banks were a common sight. On the whole, the effect of demonetisation on our journey was nil.
 Madhya Pradesh like all other states in India is blessed with rich natural, cultural and historical heritage. Driving across Madhya Pradesh was a pleasant experience as described in our previous post. While researching on  places to visit in MP, we realised that finalizing our itinerary was a tough job. Since it was a road trip, we had the freedom to go around as we wished (which we always enjoy) and explore the lesser known places. We made a list of places we  wanted to visit. We also made sure to be prepared for the harsh winters of North India during December. A major disadvantage to us while traveling during winter was that the days are shorter and we had to manage our timings accordingly. Gwalior in the Northern part was the coldest place during this trip and we had to use a heater, both in our room as well as our vehicle during travel (rarity for us). Driving from Orchha to Khajuraho was a challenge in itself owing to the zero visibility due to smog. To add to our misery, my wife realised at the right time (being quite sarcastic!) that I  hadn't collected my ID from the hotel we checked out last. Thinking wise, we drove back to get the ID rather than getting it couriered to our residential address. We will surely remember this drive for long and will always cherish it. 
List of the Places we planned to visit 
1) Pilgrimage - Omkareshwar and Ujjain
2) Architectural, Hindu - Maheshwar, Khajuraho, Shivpuri, Orchha, Gwalior, Indore, Udaipur, Gyaraspur, Padavali, Bhojpur, Bateshwar
3) Architectural, Buddhism/Jainism - Sanchi, Udayagiri, Badoh Pathari, Budi Chanderi 
4) Architectural, Islamic - Mandu, Asirgarh, Dhar, Burhanpur, Chanderi  
5) Prehistoric - Bhimbetka 
6) Natural Wonders - Marble Rocks and Dhuandhar Falls
7) Wildlife - Bandhavgarh, Panna and Chambal 
Unfortunately, Bandhavgarh and Panna didn't happen since the online safari booking was full. We thought it wasn't feasible to travel to Bandhavgarh/ Panna and try on the spot safari  booking. Also, the prices of guaranteed safari via resorts was way too high. We didn't make it also to Ujjain due to paucity of time.
Places to visit in Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh - The Heart of Incredible India (Click on the image for Enlarged View) 
Our companions of the trip
1) Information partner - “Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent " by Takeo Kamiya, India - Eyewitness Travel of DK, books we bought locally during our journeys across MP and a  few details collected from various websites/ blogs
2) Clicking partners – Nikon D3300, Lenovo K5 Note
3) GPS partner - Eicher Road Atlas (wonderful road atlas) and Google Maps
4) Music partner -  iPad Mini with 16GB songs
5) Telecom partners - Airtel and Idea - Connectivity was very good which ensured we kept in touch with all our loved ones
6) A travel diary for writing down details of places visited, etc., including expenditure (unfortunately we didn’t use it as usual!).
Our Travel Oath
1) Not to exceed a speed limit of 100 kmph (Result: Roads were too good to keep a tab on speed limit)
2) No night driving beyond 10 pm. (Result: Had to break this oath on two nights only to keep pace with time)
3) Calling home every day (Result: Did not dare to break this one, if not this, the reverse surely happened!)
Total Cost: Under Rs.65,000/- per couple +child. Fuel expense (Rs.24 K) and Accommodation (Rs.17 K) being the major contributors, toll fee too significantly contributed to the expense
Road Conditions:  Do we need to speak about this again? Although most of the roads were good to  drive, there were many stretches of NH which were under repair or in a bad shape. Sadly, the caution/diversion boards too were not clearly visible. Two such stretches were from Mandu to Indore via Dhar (we hated this stretch!) and Shivpuri to Gwalior
Total km: 5243
Number of Days: 14,  (25 December 2016, 9:15 am to 08 January 2017 6:30 pm)
Total No. of photos taken: 10162 clicks 
Team G Cube in MP 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Madhya Pradesh, The heart of Incredible India

             "God Made Madhya Pradesh Beautiful. 
     We made it comfortable" 
   - Madhya Pradesh Tourism 

Madhya Pradesh (MP), often referred to as the 'heart of Incredible India' owing to its location in the centre of India is the second largest state of India in terms of area and the fifth largest, in terms of population. As a state, MP  boasts of being a mixed bag of well known destinations  and certainly has a lot to offer to an avid traveler. It has without doubt left a great lasting impression on us. Catch a glimpse of this wonderful state through our lens. Summarized below are ten of the most notable facts and the best ones we experienced during our journey.

1. Roads - The state of MP probably has the best of roads in India and surprisingly is one of the few states wherein the state highways, major district roads and village roads are far better than the National highways. Two of our most favorite stretches were the four laned 140 km stretch of state highway connecting Dewas to Bhopal and the two laned 105 km stretch of major district road connecting Saleha to Tigawa.  Driving across MP was thoroughly enjoyable primarily due to its good roads.
Mandu
Village Road
2. Food - POHA (flattened rice) and Jalebi (saffron colored sweet coil) branded as the national food (intentionally called so)  of Madhya Pradesh as they have it on all occasions of break fast, lunch, snack and dinner . Invariably, all road side eateries serve only Poha, Jalebi along with its savory and snack counterparts of Samosa/ Kachori and Sev, at all times.
Poha
Break Time Poha
3. History - The history of MP dates back to the Mesolithic period (as per artifacts found in Bhimbetka), early Buddhist era (Stupas of Sanchi), early Hindu temple architecture (Tigawa, Nachne, Ashapuri), Medieval temple architecture (Bateshwara, Gwalior, Khajuraho), Jain architecture (Gwalior, Pathari, Khajuraho), Islamic architecture (Mandu, Chanderi), British architecture (Asirgarh, Raisen), Cenotaphs (Orchha, Gwalior, Shivpuri) and freedom struggle for Indian independence. As per legend,  Lord Rama and Sita  spent most of theirs years of exile in their 14 year exile period in Chitrakoot (now in state of Madhya Pradesh). In most of the places we traveled, we always found and explored other lesser known places that played a significant role during the reign of various kings and dynasties.
Badal Mahal, Chanderi
Badal Mahal, Chanderi 
4. Wildlife/ Nature - Undoubtedly MP is a state blessed with natural wealth and wildlife, and popular   among the tourist population for wildlife sighting, especially the Royal Bengal Tiger. A wide variety of wildlife can be sighted in the national parks of Bandhavgarh, Panna, Pench, and Kanha and in the sanctuaries of Satpura and Chambal apart from other smaller reserves. Sighting wildlife came easy to us as we spotted a fox, jackal and  wolves on different nights during our  travel  across this state (national parks or sanctuaries  not being a part of the roads we traveled). Our sighting of Vultures  at Orchha, Indian Skimmers at Chambal and the lovely Peacocks with their families at  Bateshwar will always remain close to our hearts.
Indian Skimmers
Indian Skimmers at Chambal
5. Rivers - Many rivers flow across the state, with Narmada following the longest path, Chambal being the cleanest and Shipra being the holiest. All rivers were flowing with glory and pomp owing to the good monsoons of last year. Being one of the water rich states of India, MP enjoys vast stretches of fertile land.
Sunset at the Lake of Pathari 
6. Agriculture - The vast stretches of agricultural lands that MP encompasses were dedicated to rabi crops owing to the current season, mostly Wheat, Mustard, Bengal gram (Channa) and Tur. The state's predominant  dependence on agrarian economy was clearly evident even on the out skirts of major towns like Bhopal and Indore, where the agricultural lands were filled with standing crops. Thanks to them because of which we were always surrounded by greenery.
Mustard Fields 
 7. Tourist Infrastructure - True to their tag line "God Made Madhya Pradesh Beautiful. We made it comfortable", the tourism department of Madhya Pradesh has done a very credible and appreciable job in providing the best infrastructure possible and surely deserve all the applause for their commendable work. From accommodation to providing tourist information along with all other necessary facilities for tourists across all locations were perfectly managed by the tourism department. This is definitely something that every other state in India can learn to follow. On the flip-side, most the information boards with regards to directions and distance were seen in the language of Hindi, which would hinder or rather make it more difficult for foreign tourists and travelers from the southern most region of India to navigate around.
Midway Treat, Bhimbetka 
8. Diesel Pricing - Strangely, the only hurdle during our road trip was the high priced diesel in MP. They were presumably the highest compared to the other states we have traveled across. Apart from their high prices, its variation was drastic across the state. While diesel at Indore was priced at  Rs 62/- per liter, the same was Rs.67/- at Nowgaon, Chattarpur. This difference is quite high when compared to all the other states we've traveled, where the maximum difference was less than a rupee.
9. Bus Rapid Transit - Indore and Bhopal are two cities in MP where the BRT system has been successfully implemented. Very few Indian cities have this system of separate lanes for buses. It was good to witness that this system was being followed very strictly, not interfering with other travelers on road.
10. People - The locals were very kind and helpful in many ways. To quote an instance, while we decided  to stop by at a particular place for breakfast in Chanderi, we had to reverse our vehicle and while doing so, a biker collided at the rear end of our vehicle. Though it was not a serious collision, the biker tried to exaggerate the entire incident, seeing which the locals gathered in order to help us as they were aware that the fault was not ours. They assessed the situation and convinced the biker to just move on as nothing serious had occurred and  politely told us to carry on. We were thankful to them and just wondered how people elsewhere would have behaved in the same situation. That apart, in most of the places we observed that people minded their own business and seemed least interested in others. Also, there was selfie madness everywhere with people being engrossed admiring their beauty.
Photo on Demand 

This blog post will be followed by a series of posts under 'MP Diaries'.

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