Though Maheshwar is a small town, it is known as a spiritual hotspot and commonly referred to as “Varanasi of Central India.” The quaint town lies on the north bank of the peaceful Narmada River where more than 100 temples spread along its bank. It draws both pilgrims and Hindu holy men to its ancient temples and ghats. Life here revolves around the ghat and fort, with local activity at sunrise and sunset lending a charm to the quiet setting.
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Located in the center of town, Ahilya Fort is impossible to miss. Ahilya is an 18th-century fort built by the famed queen Ahilya Bai. It sits right on the banks of the Narmada, its ramparts reaching the water. In 1971, the restoration work began and in 2000, was opened as a hotel with four rooms. Now it offers 13 rooms, including a Maharaja Tent overlooking Ahilyeshwar Temple and the river.
Maheshwar is known mainly for its Holkar queen Ahilya Bai, the most popular rule of the Malwa dynasty, and its woven sarees. A tour through the sleepy old city reveals its many mosques and temples, locals relaxing and doing housework by the river, trading goods at the markets, and centers where handloom weaving still takes place. A craft prominent in the city since the 5th century, the colorful Maheshwari sarees are weaved with distinctive and intricate designs involving stripes checks, and floral borders. Around sunset, kids can be seen swimming in the river while adults gather to wash, pray, chant, sing, and socialize.
Omkareshwar, meaning Lord of the Om Sound, is one of twelve revered shrines of Shiva and is visited every year by a large number of pilgrims. It sits on an island shaped like the holy Hindu Om symbol in the middle of the Narmada river and is approachable only by boat.
An off the beaten path treasure trove of ruins, Mandu is an abandoned city from the Mughal-era spread over a 2,000 feet high hilltop and surrounded by a stretch of wall. It is known for its Afghan architectural heritage as well as impressive baobab trees, originally from Africa. Once the home of the Parmar rulers of Malwa, it was subsequently occupied by a succession of Mughal rules, until the capital of Malwa was moved to Dhar and the city’s vitality declined. The once powerful Mandu is now a collection of grand and beautiful architecture in a relaxed rural setting.
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