This out-of-the-way city hugging the Narmada River is steeped in myth and legend. For lovers of Indian mythology, this town is unbeatable, indelibly linked to the lineages and legends of the nation. From the Mahabharata and Ramayana to the families of Indore, Maheshwar is filled with Indian heritage.
Sometimes referred to as the Varanasi of Central India, must-sees in Maheshwar include the sleepy old city streets and its many mosques, temples, and markets. A craft prominent in the city since the 5th century, the colorful Maheshwari sarees are weaved with distinctive and intricate designs.
For the spiritual traveler there is Omkareshwar, meaning Lord of the Om Sound. One of twelve revered shrines of Shiva and visited every year by a large number of pilgrims, the Omkareshwar sits on an island shaped like the holy Hindu Om symbol in the middle of the Narmada river, approachable only by boat.
But the very best site to see is also the very best place to stay: Ahilya Fort.
Where to Stay
As well as the main tourist attraction in the area, a lucky few will find their beds inside one of the most important sites in Madhya Pradesh: Ahilya Fort. The 18th-century Ahilya, built by the famed queen Ahilyabai Holkar, sits on the banks of the Narmada. Today, the hotel only offers 13 exclusive rooms, including a Maharaja Tent overlooking Ahilyeshwar Temple and the river.
“Ahilya Fort has become a ‘not to be missed’ destination for the experienced traveler who is looking for something authentic and out of the popular tourist locations,” says Richard Holkar, who restored his 300-year-old home and turned it into the Ahilya it is today. “My intention of giving the guest an experience of living in my home and not in a hotel has been widely acclaimed and appreciated.”
“I lived in Manik bagh till the age of nine. I never felt that I was growing up in a piece of Indian history. Everything seemed so normal,” Holkar says. “This feeling is common among those who have only known a particular environment. They think the world outside is like that. Of course my thoughts changed when I went to the States for my schooling.”
Sample Itinerary: HIGHLIGHTS OF MADHYA PRADESH
Meaning “central region” in native Hindi, Madhya Pradesh is an insular seat of India’s rich religious, artistic, and even prehistoric past. Ancient temples – featuring some of the world’s most breathtaking stone carvings – stand alongside other major historical sites sure to pique the interest of history buffs, photo enthusiasts, and general sightseers alike. But while your visit to Madhya Pradesh is sure to be a richly stimulating experience for all the senses, you can count on a distinct lack of one thing: bustling tourist crowds. Your trip will include visits to temples and ruins, such as those of an ancient Rajuput royal kingdom, as well as guided tours of tucked-away metropolitan sites like the central market in Old Bhopal City – known as the “City of Lakes” and one of the greenest cities in India. Feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, and away from the road most traveled, on this 10-day trip from Delhi to Mumbai through the highlights of Madhya Pradesh.