Known as the “Heart of India”, the wide-open state of Madhya Pradesh rests in stately beauty amongst its vast plains and sweeping vistas. Given that its name aptly translates to “central province”, it has always played a central role in India’s history, both modern and ancient. Home to a multitude of epic sites and monuments in such cities as Orchha, Shivpuri, Indore, Gwalior and Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh is much quieter than its more boisterous neighbors but offers equally as much majestic history as them all. The jewel of Madhya Pradesh is Khajuraho, site of 25 grand temples built over 1000 years ago and adorned with thousands of intricate carvings. Also known for their erotic content, these carvings on the temples are treasured as one of the Seven Wonders of India. With its subtropical climate and its assortment of dry, moist and mixed forests, Madhya Pradesh is home to many of the greatest tiger and wildlife reserves in all of India. It boasts nine national parks including Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Sanjay, Satpura, Panna, Pench, Madhav, Van Vihar and Mandla plus 18 natural preserves and 17 biosphere reserves. The state also boasts a significant tribal population, which offers a broad range of ethnic groups and castes to enrich your traveling experience. For the traveler seeking to intertwine the regal heritage of India’s past with amazing natural treasures, Madhya Pradesh is a prime place to explore.
Gwalior has served as the center of several of historic northern Indian kingdoms and is considered to be the tourism capital of Madhya Pradesh. The city owes its name to an ancient sage by the name of Gwalipa who not only came to the aid of but also cured the leprosy of a prince of the Kachhwaha clan in the eighth century. Out of gratefulness, the prince built a wall on the hill in order to protect the other sages from wild animals. Visitors will enjoy exploring the forts, palacesand monuments of this capital city in the heart of India’s treasured past.
Gwalior Fort: Located high atop the city on an isolated bluff of solid rock, this impressive structure was believed to be one of the most invincible forts in all of India. Called the “Gibraltar of India”, the surrounding walls of the hill were steepened to make them virtually unscalable. Like all forts in India, this example conceals a myriad of subterranean tunnels and chambers for the ardent explorer to discover.
Tirthankar sculptures: An impressive array of over 100 sculpted figures carved within the cliff faces during the 15thcentury, these imposing figures depict the revered tirthankars, the 24 great Jain teachers of India’s past. Visitors may roam the open grounds amid the figures, some of which tower 17 meters overhead.
Jai Vilas Palace: This spacious palace houses a marvelous 35-room palace museum, built in 1874, offering a glimpse into the life of the royal family. The palace displays one of the largest hand-made carpets in all of Asia; one that took twelve years to create. The palace also houses what are considered to be the two largest chandeliers in the world, each over 12 metershigh and weighing in at over 3175 kg.
Man Singh Palace: Built in the late 15thand early 16thcenturies, this regal palace is uniquely decorated with a menagerie of animal forms gracing the walls in mosaic tiles and friezes. This fanciful decorating style has earned the palace the alternate name of Chit Mandir, or the “Painted Palace”.
Tansen’s Tomb: Paying tribute to the beloved musician much admired by Akbar, this simple stone mausoleum lies within the same grounds of the neighboring tomb of Mohammed Gaus. These spectacular structures are encircled with massive panels of intricately carved marble screen that admit inspiring shafts of mottled light at dawn and dusk.
Established in 1501 as the seat of a former princely state, Ochha lies on the boulder-filled and often lazy flowing Betwa River. A reasonably sleepy village in comparison to most, the bulk of the notable sights in Orchha are located on the far side of an impressive granite bridge, which itself provides unique photo opportunities.
Jahangir Mahal: On a seasonal island beyond the Betwa River stands a huge palace and fort complex that is surrounded by an immense battlement wall. Guests are welcome to wander the palace and enjoy the strings of small balconies that jut from the inner wall and overlook the central courtyard. Located in the same complex is the Ram Raja Temple, a pink and gold structure with graceful domes and delicately carved windows.
Cenotaphs: Also known as chhatris, these “empty tombs” lay tribute to Orchha’s past rulers whose remains lay in other locations. Found in the vicinity of the fort and on the banks of the Betwa River, these enormous open-air buildings are quite serene places to wander and meditate, especially at dawn or dusk when the light penetrates their massive archways and scores of birds flutter about.
Chaturbhuj Temple: Overlooking the Ram Raja Temple are the immense towers of this rust colored temple. Each tower contains a darkened stairway to the top but the view is worth the effort, provided you have your flashlight handy.
Laxshmi Temple: Located on a hill overlooking the region, this often overlooked temple is one the highlights of Orchha. This temple contains a vast array of ceiling murals and frescoes that depict everything from daily life to the fabled legends of India. Though their condition can vary from pristine to barely visible, the murals in this temple are worth the trip to the outskirts of town.