The capital city and administrative center of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal is known as the “City of Lakes” for its various natural and artificial lakes. It is also one of the greenest cities in the country. The city is divided into two parts by the two major lakes called the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake. Rumored to have been founded in the 11th century, not much was documented about the early settlement, until the early 18th century when it was known as a small village in the Gond Kingdom. In present day, Bhopal has a mix of old city reminiscent of the Mughal influence as well as modern city with decent public transportation and urban sprawl.
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Located approximately one hour outside of the city, Sanchi is a small village famous for its primitive Buddhist art and architecture, with pieces ranging from the third century BC to twelfth century AD. Most notable is the UNESCO-designated Sanchi Stupa, a well preserved dome containing a central chamber where relics of the Buddha was placed. Other popular sites include the Great Bowl, the Eastern Gateway, and the Ashoka Pillar.
The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, an hour from Bhopal, are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its paintings dating from the Mesolithic Period to the historical period. The cave paintings show themes such as animals, dance, and hunting. Significantly, the pictorials bear resemblance to the cultural traditions of the nearby villages, thus providing a rare glimpse into human settlement and cultural evolution from lifestyle to spirituality.
Bhopal is rich in heritage and history and this is witnessed within the Muslim-dominated Old City area, visibly distinct from the modern areas, where stunning old mosques in Mughal architecture, narrow labyrinthian lanes, and vibrant markets remain.
Just a few minutes drive from Sanchi are the Udayagiri Caves, twenty caves carved into a sandstone hill. The caves were created in the 5th century CE and contain some of the oldest surviving Hindu temples. Importantly, it houses iconography of Hindu gods Vishnu, Durga and Matrikas, and Shiva. In addition, there are a series of petroglyphs, ruined buildings, inscriptions that are still being studied by archaeologists.
Situated on the Betwa river, just 17 miles from Bhopal, Bhojpur is a small town with many significant historical and religious sites, the most famous of which is Bhojeshwar Temple dedicated to Shiva. Crafted out of a single rock, the incomplete temple houses one of the largest lingas in India, standing at 18 feet tall. Opposite of the temple is a cave filled with a number of religious sculptures and architectural fragments. There is also an unfinished Jain temple, established in year 1100 AD.
This somber museum exhibits pictures, possessions, audio clips of the survivors of the tragedy that struck the city in 1984 when highly toxic gas was accidentally leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant. Those interested in this tragic event in Bhopal can take a private tour to the abandoned factory site.
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October to March in Madhya Pradesh is an ideal place to couple the history of humanity with the endless diversity of life on the subcontinent.
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