Madhya Pradesh: Travel Secrets from the Heart of India
On buses to rickshaws and luxury trains, the travel around Madhya Pradesh, the largest state in the center of India, offers a new story in my exploration. Made famous by Kipling, the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India is unjustly unfrequented by travelers, while it can only surprise pleasantly.
Baptized Middle State given its central geographical location, Madhya Pradesh is both the largest province in India and one of the least known, despite its rich cultural history. It has yet another rare wealth. It has one of the highest concentrations of Bengal tigers, of which it is the last sanctuary. This is where Kipling places his Jungle Book. Here, man continues to live in harmony with nature.
Enclosed between Rajasthan and the valley of the Ganges, its charm acts from the inside, offering surprises and wonders to those who are ready to venture through its plains, valleys and jungles. The natural parks are one of its main assets and the chances are very good to observe in particular the tiger in its natural environment.
Day 1 - Gwalior
Today, we take the train to Gwalior. We go to the Agra Cantonment train station at 9am. In fact, we had all the time because the train is late and we will wait until 10:30. The train crosses the green countryside. We see cultivated fields, and women who shape dung cakes and put them to dry on the flat roofs of houses.
After a few stops in the open countryside, it arrived 2 hours late at 2:30 in Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. The accuracy of schedules given by the Lonely Planet cannot be praised enough. Here the public transport par excellence is the rickshaws. Everything is part of the trip and after overcoming these events and meeting the needs of sleep and hunger one looks back and enjoys remembering the people and the strange stories of the road.
We take a rickshaw to go to the hotel booked on the internet yesterday. It is not very bright and the area where it is located is very far from the station. The city of Gwalior is very extensive. The hotel faces a thundering street but is located near the western entrance to the fort. Our room, located on the top floor, has a hot shower and has a view of the fortress.
Despite the tiredness, we walk to the bottom of the fort. We see the large statues carved in the rock, along the way to the fort. After visiting the Gwalior fort we started to walk through the streets near the fort. I enjoy watching the little shops, dodging motorcycles and rickshaws.
For dinner, we go in the evening to the restaurant near the train station.
Day 2 - Gwalior
We leave early in the morning, from our hotel, to the west gate of the Gwalior fort. After arriving at the start of the path that goes up, a Sikh invites us to climb in his big car and takes us gently to the Gwalior Gurudwara Data Bandi Chorh Sahib which was built on the plateau in honor of a guru jailed by Jahangir in the fort.
An old Sikh gentleman greets us and shows us around the kitchens, telling us that we can come for free lunch in the temple, as is done in all the Sikh temples (we had already experienced this in Amritsar). As it is not time for lunch, he offers us tea. He tells us that there is also the possibility of sleeping there, in rooms for free.
For now, we will visit the Man Mandir Palace, the main palace built by Raja Man Singh in the 15th century. Its facades, adorned with faience enamel blue and gold, representing animals (especially ducks) are remarkable. Inside, there is a few rooms and underground galleries.We also visit the Sas Bahu and Teli-ka-Mandir temples.
Near the palace is an interesting museum. We then return to the Sikh temple to lunch with pilgrims and then we walk to the other monuments of the site. We go out by the west gate, as this morning. Along the way back, we still have the pleasure to admire the beautiful and majestic rock-cut statues of Jain tirthankaras.
We had planned to leave the fort by the east gate to visit the old town but we are too tired and we take the west road to go directly to the hotel for some rest. We did not find any reason to stay longer in Gwalior. We took the opportunity to approach the bus station where one can buy train tickets and bought the ticket to Orchha, second class without air conditioning as the journey will last around 3 hours.
The normal thing is to stop at Jhansi (about 15 kilometers from Orchha), but this train stopped at the Orchha station, and we got off here (not all trains stop).
We take a rickshaw that takes us to the Gwalior train station for 100 rupees. At the Gwalior station, we take the train to Orchha which leaves at 1:55 pm. The train makes a lot of stops that never end. At 5:30, we finally arrive at our destination. The station is quite far from the village. The lodge that we called yesterday to book a room sent us a auto rickshaw driver to greet us at the station.
Orchha is a quiet little town where there is no hectic traffic. Orchha is a pretty quiet town with a landscape dotted with palaces. If you walk a little you can see many temples, which are many in ruins and are used by local people to live or to keep their livestock.
At this late hour, it is rather cold and the journey in this small vehicle make us feel colder. We reach the guesthouse soon. This guesthouse located in a quiet area of the town is barely 4 months old. It was very good and very clean. They left us for a good room for 400 rupees.
Day 3 - Orchha
We wake up early. This morning, it's raining and it's very cool. From the terrace of our hotel where we take an excellent and hearty breakfast in the sun of paratha and aloo tikki, we have a great view of the Laksmi Narayan Temple. It stands proudly on the hill behind the village, like a fortress and looks more like a palace than a temple by the many frescoes and ornaments it contains.
We walk along the river Betwa where stands a number of mausoleums, the Royal Chhatri. The palaces and forts here open at 8:00 hours, and for a long time, we were alone. It may be interesting to have a guide to tell you all the history of this place.
But what is really nice is to lose yourself in the corridors of the buildings, up the narrow stairs and look through their numerous balconies in silence, heading to where you want without having to stand at each corner and pay attention to an explanation.
This place invites you to imagine the life that was here a few centuries ago, a life of luxury, art, perhaps extravagances. Most of the groups that come to Orchha only see the Raj Mahal Palace, Jahangir Mahal, the Chaturbhuj temple and perhaps the Lakshmi Narayan temple.
But it is worth spending a few days here and walking around to make an idea of grandeur in this old capital of the Bundela clan and visit the many buildings that are still standing and the temples that are far from the center that few people explore.
The center of this small town has a lot of colors. We stop in front of a young guy who prepares samosas in a small dark room. Near the main bazaar we enter a crowded artery leading to Ram Raja Temple. Here locals make long queues to leave offerings and recite their prayers. The temple is dedicated to Rama and is the only temple in the country where Rama is worshiped as if he were a king.
We take off our shoes as is customary. A guard at the entrance reminds me of the ban on taking pictures inside the temple. We enter and sit in a corner of the temple courtyard. Thousands of devotees line up to pray in front of the idols of Raja Ram, Sita, Laxman, Sugreev and Narsingh Bhagwan. In itself, I do not give much importance to devotion, but such collective fervor gives off extraordinary energy.
On the square in front of the temple and in the surrounding streets, there are many celebrations as it is the time of weddings at the moment. We climb at the top of the ramparts, from where the view dominates the whole site! Then, it is a question of finding the passages, rather abrupt and dark, to go down again!
A few hundred meters from the Ram Raja Temple, Chaturbhuj Mandir is another temple with a different atmosphere. What strikes me from entering the Chaturbhuj Temple is the space and the light that penetrates through the windows. We do not resist the pleasure of climbing, again to the roof terrace of the majestic Chaturbhuj Temple.
Through a dark and steep staircase, we reach the roof where the umbrella turrets are. The roofs of Orchha are open to us. We can see everything that happens on the square and from where we have a superb view of the palace. On my right, I see that a roof serves as a kitchen for a restaurant. In front of me stands the Jahangir Mahal Palace.
It is 1:00 pm. The light is horrible at this time of the day but I perceive its grandiloquence. On the other side, we have a beautiful view of the Ram Raja Temple. After having lunch at the restaurant of a hotel, we go to the Jahangir Mahal palace. Along the way, we meet a sadhu sitting cross-legged on a sidewalk. He willingly accepts to take his photo for a small donation. For a long time, I refused to pay for a photo. My position has changed. I go case by case now.
We cross the Betwa river, pay the entry fee and enter the building built in the 17th century by the ruler Vir Singh Deo for the visit of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. With its 136 pieces, its square courtyard and its corner turrets, Jahangir Mahal impose by its dimensions and the quality of its classic Mughal architecture.
We walk slowly in courtyards, rooms and gardens of the palace. Langur monkeys and wild peacocks are found on one of the walls of the palace. We leave the palace to reach the banks of the Betwa river to watch the sunset over the chatris.
The buildings seemed abandoned, and because they had not received any kind of restoration they enjoyed a special charm. We went up its stairs to the highest floors. We thought it was incredible the architectural wealth that this town has. We enjoyed the beauty of these buildings with the beautiful light that the sunset offered us.
We go to the Laksmi Narayan Temple. There is hardly anyone in the temple and we have all the time to admire it in all serenity. Then we continue the road along the rapeseed fields, and some farms. A young boy takes us to see a tiny temple under a big tree. It was a nice walk but we will not manage to find the Chardhwari Water Tank.
We visit the Phool Bagh, which is very close to the bazaar. It consists of old gardens surrounded by buildings that we assume would be old houses. In the center of the gardens, there is a small sanctuary. The place supposes a small haven of peace in this small town, that although small it is inevitable to hear continuous beeps of the vehicles that pass through it.
Tonight, in front of Ram Rajah Temple, a religious ceremony is being held with the arrival of a guru. On a platform, the priests recite prayers in front of the crowd sitting on the ground. All around the temple square, there are stalls of baubles, and souvenirs.Back at the hotel, we admire the gardens. Around the hotel vegetables are grown. There are orange trees, gooseberry trees, mango trees, papayas and there are real flowerbeds. We meet hotel employees who explain everything to us. In the evening we go outside in a restaurant, which our driver has selected.
Day 4 - Chanderi
Yesterday, in Orchha, we had phoned the only hotel in the center of Chanderi. The manager replied that there is not a single room free and he advises us to phone the resort in Pranpur. It is strange because it is not not a tourist place! We are reluctant to go there, but as we were told so much of this small town, we still decide to try and go. As we are still very tired, we decide to go there by taxi.
It takes 2.5 hours to reach Chanderi through a landscape of arid and dry hills alternating with woodlands, villages and green fields. When we arrive at the resort, the owner gives us the explanation of the mystery. All hotels in the area are booked by a Bollywood team for two months.
We arrive at the edge of the city but once past the beautiful Delhi gate, we enter the alleys of the bazaar. Along the streets, we admire several monuments worthy of interest like the tombs of the Nizamudin family. We also visit the Jama Masjid where there is no one except a very friendly caretaker.
We go on the opposite side, by a path lined with small fields and carefully cultivated vegetable gardens, to the Lakshman Mandir. Everyone is intrigued to see us, as there are not often tourists here! The Lakshman Mandir is a white temple that stands on the edge of a beautiful and large basin. It is a beautiful place that is very quiet and it feels good!
We continue the walk and pass in front of stone blocks on which are carved, in bas-relief, two beautiful horses, planted right in front of a garden. A little further away, stands the Bundela Maharaja Bharat Shah Chhatri. And we arrive at a large Hauj-E-Khas pool of the 15th century which served as a pool where kings practiced water sports, as explained by the panel planted in front. Next door is a large field where young people play cricket.
Back in town, we enter the Raja Rani Mahal where we were told that there were looms installed in the floors but impossible to find. Everything seems abandoned and we do not see or hear any loom in activity.
After having bananas and biscuits, sitting on a wall, in a street, we stroll along the streets in search of an old Musa Bawdi well. Then we take the direction of the south of the city. A path takes us, through the sun-drenched countryside, to a large jain group where stands a 15m high statue of a Tirthankara at Khandargiri Temple. The rocky steps near the large statue lead to other Jain sculptures enclosed behind railings.
Back at the hotel, we see the arriving guests for the wedding ceremony to be held tomorrow. There are several big buses and tons of luggage and the noise level in the hotel increases significantly. One of the guides even talked about a monsoon wedding that is currently taking place.
Outside in the garden, I watch a young couple strolling around the pool first and then sitting down on a garden bench with due distance. My suspicion is later confirmed by a waiter. It is the bride and groom. As I sip my tea at the restaurant, I hang on to my thoughts. If, as in most cases, it is an arranged wedding, it is the first time they have the opportunity to see each other and talk to each other. There the bride sits opposite a stranger and one day later she is married and will spend her whole life with him.
Tomorrow, we will leave Chanderi where we do not regret to have come but what we regret, it is not being able to lodge on the spot to take the time to impregnate it. I am convinced that there is still a lot to discover. Needless to say, we did not cross any tourist here.
Day 5 - Khajuraho
We stay in the waiting room of the bus station until 8:30 am when we took the bus to Khajuraho. I fell asleep and woke up when the bus was parked in some small village nearby. No other passengers could be seen and the bus drivers were sitting in front of a small chai shop. They just forgot me, even though I was the only one on the bus. In any case, the drivers were amazed when I left the bus drowsily.
I reach Khajuraho in the early afternoon. In Khajuraho, the bus station is next to the town and so I walk to the hotel. I stayed at the guesthouse, very close to the temple complex, for 400 rupees.
We leave the backpacks and go to see the temples although the best time to visit them is usually at dawn because there are good light and fewer people. We rented some bikes and we went to see the East and southern temples.
We thought that those temples were scattered and the bicycle would be useful to move from one to another, but the truth is that it is a compact set that is seen right away. So you can walk, or better in a rickshaw for the same price as renting the bike. It is a set of few Jain temples, but not as interesting or as well preserved as those of the West group.
Next door is the old town of Khajuraho, with its mud houses painted white and turquoise blue. We got lost with the bike through the narrow streets of the picturesque town. In one of the houses, we stopped because we heard music and they invited us to enter. It was a group of women of all ages singing and celebrating the birth of a baby in the family. They told us that the party usually lasts about 5 or 6 days.
They invited us to tea. We thought about going around with the bicycle around but it started to rain. So we returned the bikes and ended the visit to the temples of Khajuraho. Every evening, at the Matangeshwar Temple, dedicated to Shiva, some faithful gather for pooja around the huge lingam. They wave cymbals, tambourines, bells and other instruments with force to make as much noise as possible. Then they chant mantras at the top of their lungs and there is a beautiful atmosphere!
Later, we went to dinner at the restaurant, with a terrace in front of the temples and the prices are normal. In the morning we booked a table with good views because while we dine we can see the light and sound show that there is every day at 6:30 pm. We take a lassi.
Day 6 - Khajuraho
We get up to see the sunrise over the temples. Although it starts to rain slightly, we decide to visit the temples. In the morning we visited the temples of the West group which are the most impressive of the whole complex. Khajuraho acquired its greatest splendor between 950 and 1050 when these great temples were built by the Chandela dynasty. With the foreign invasions, the chandeliers left the temples and the jungle took over them.
In 1838 they were discovered by a British officer. They are a magnificent example of Indo-Aryan architecture. The erotic sculptures have given it worldwide fame, giving special importance to women and sex. Stone figures of apsaras or surasundari (celestial nymphs) appear in different poses, and also carvings of women and men representing different positions of the Kamasutra.
The precincts of the most important Khajuraho temples are quite small. The truth is that the whole is seen right away. There are beautiful, elaborate temples, with good sculptures carved in the stone, with famous sculptures in sexual postures and with tall buildings emulating Mount Kailash, the abode of the gods.
But in our opinion, there are many temples similar to these in India. We do not understand how they have given this fame so much because it seems that if you come to India you have to see them. Well, no, we believe that these temples can be dispensable, and only if you get lost is worth a visit. Could it be that we have already seen many temples?
We are totally impressed by the perfection of these temples as we approach. The details are present in the thousands, and we hardly know where to start watching. The statues all look different. This site is a real architectural and sculptural feat (if this word exists). It is a wonder to walk at the foot of these majestic temples.
In particular, the Kandariya Mahadev temple, which is 30 meters long and counts 872 statues has the largest number of erotic statues.
After some research on the surroundings, we decided to go to see the Raneh falls 18km from Khajuraho. The rickshaw ride from Khajuraho is already well worth the detour. We cross the countryside on dirt roads through herds of cows. We see monkeys looking for fleas on the side of the road, and groups of women transport the water on their head.
Here it is a different India that we discover. I try somehow to take pictures aboard the rickshaw but it's mission impossible. The waterfalls are located in Panna Tiger Reserve and Panna National Park, where one can see tigers and crocodiles.
We begin the exploration of waterfalls and canyon with the guide. I liked when the guide showed us some leaves of a shrub and when we crush the leaves in our hands, it becomes a red paste. It is this plant that they use in India to make the bindi, the red dot on the forehead.
We go near the foot of the waterfalls and explore some hidden corners before coming back to the town. Our next destination will be the Bandhavgarh National Park. It is best to go by train as the buses are slow. So we asked in several travel agencies about train tickets. All the agencies told us that in the only train that had seats was the train at 3:30 pm. They told us prices from 190 rupees to 350 rupees per person, and also had to pay a commission of 75 rupees per person.
It seemed strange to us that there was no availability. The journey is around 8 hours. So we did not mind going in the lowest category, and if there were no seats left, we would go by bus. In India, with patience, you can get anywhere. As we knew there were trains every hour we decided to go to the train station and take the ticket there directly. We take the train at night to go to the Bandhavgarh National Park.
Day 7 - Bandhavgarh National Park
As night ends, the train arrives. We take an autorickshaw that takes us to the Bandhavgarh National Park and our hotel on the edge of the National Park. At dawn it is very cold. Our tour guide, admonishes us not to leave the houses at dawn. We rest a few hours before catching at 11:00 am the bus to Tala, which is the access to the National Park.
In the hotel, we paid for the safari to the park to have more possibilities to see tigers, including the entry to the park, the guide, and the jeep. The jeep can be shared to make it cheaper, but we did not find anyone and we were alone. It is the park with the highest density of tigers in India and where the chances of seeing them are greater (even so it is quite difficult to see them).
We drive about a quarter of an hour to the entrance office of the national park. Here the jeeps gather. Now it is time to wait for a driver to return with the entry permit. We were lucky because we saw a lot of animals like the Barasingha deer, wild boars, peacocks, langur monkeys, and jackals.
A kingfisher is posing, almost as ordered, on a branch. The sun slowly shining through the clouds lit its plumage. Later we see on a river a smaller kingfisher, which according to our guide is anything but ordinary. To see it is more of a matter of luck. Termite heaps stand around everywhere. Unfortunately, we do not see a tiger, but we see its traces in the sand along the wayside. It had probably passed here in the morning.
Then our guide learns from another driver that a sloth bear has been seen nearby. Quickly we go to see the bear.
After about 10 minutes drive, we actually see some dark brown bear walking through the forest at some distance. Unfortunately, it is always covered by trees and bushes, and if not, we usually only see a brown spot in the distance. Our guide tells us that it is very rare to see a sloth bear here.
At lunchtime it starts to rain, as a thunderstorm passes by and we consider whether it makes sense to go on safari under these circumstances. At 2 o'clock it is really dark and it is impossible to take pictures. I talk to the guide. There is a hood for the jeep, so at least we stay dry. But we can see practically nothing under the hood.
In the late afternoon we ventured on another safari. The rain also has something good, as there is no more dust covering everything and everyone with a red layer. We watch a short-toed eagle still holding its prey in its claws, a pit viper whose head he has bitten. The vultures and owls sit on the trees, usually too far away to take useful photos, but with the binoculars we can look at everything perfectly.
Our driver stops. He saw tiger marks in the sand. We continue slowly. Again we stop. Our guide tells us he heard an alarm call. This is what the Hanuman langurs expel when they notice a predator in their vicinity. Then we see a big line of jeeps standing. At a distance, maybe 30 m, a tigress sneaks through the forest. After a few minutes, she disappears from our field of vision. We later learn that she is a mother of four children.
We could not believe it, the first time we entered and see a tigress with four cubs. We saw them thanks to the alarm call by deer and monkeys when there is a tiger nearby. Despite being about 20m away and between the trees, we were astonished seeing them. We met people who had entered 3 or 4 times and had not seen any, so we felt lucky.
It was quite cold on the jeep, when the hood was removed. The safari ends with a sunset before we have to drive out. At nightfall, we are back at the hotel. We sit on our terrace in the evening. I feel cold. The hotel does not even have a heater. Before dinner, we talked to an elderly couple. They visit several national parks each year where they might see tigers.
But they really saw a tiger for the first time today. Slowly we realize that we had unlucky luck when we saw the Tiger in Ranthambhore. Before dinner, we can still see a BBC movie in the in-house cinema. A photographer spent 15 years filming tigers, but until last year he was unable to film a tiger on the run for its prey and we almost had it in front of the lens. I have the dinner and go to bed early. Despite winter clothes and a blanket, I still freeze.
Day 8 - Kanha National Park
Getting up at 5 o'clock for a morning safari is hard for me. Early in the morning, so to speak, in the middle of the night, at 5:00 am, we set off for the morning safari. It is cold, at most 5 degrees and still dark. Even though I put on all winter clothes, I'm freezing on the jeep. Just in time for the sunrise, the gates of the national park open. There are already some jeeps at the entrance.
The guidebook even states that you can only buy tickets on the Internet and only pay with an Indian credit card. But in reality there are tickets at a counter at the entrance. In any case, the access is strictly regulated. Again, the trees are relatively green. There are many big bamboo trees. Our driver turns out to be an excellent wildlife connoisseur in the park.
In the beginning hardly a bigger animal wants to show itself. We did not see as many animals as the day before and neither did tigers. As it was very early, we had to warm up because it was quite cold. At a hut we stop and get off for breakfast break. Meanwhile, the sun is shining so much that it is pleasantly warm.
We went to the top of a hill where the statue of Vishnu lies at the foot of a small pond, where they say that in summer the tigers drink water and bathe. Only when the sun is higher do deer, Hanuman langurs, pheasants and wild chickens come to the fore. Hanuman langurs sit on the roadside or on the trees and watch us. Unlike the omnivorous macaques they feed exclusively on the leaves of the trees.
On the way we meet Gaur oxen, a small heron, hornbills, many deer and a Indian Roller shows us her beautiful plumage. At the end of the safari two more jackals run on our track.
In the distance we see somebody floating through the grass. A little later we see that the Lord is sitting on an elephant. Then two elephants come around the corner in front of us. They are rangers used against poachers. The track we drive goes steeply uphill, through bamboo forests where colossal Gaur bull eat bamboo through river beds, where some more water lures birds. Here, too, most of the trees are sal trees, with blooming ghost trees and sometimes flowering bamboo that dies after flowering.
Half an hour later there is an alarm call. We hold again. This time we are all alone. A few minutes later we hear a tiger roaring from the forest. He comes to the road and crosses the road in front of our eyes and then disappears again in the woods. This time it was a male tiger.
Only afterwards do we realize what luck we had. When leaving the park we see a poster in which it says: Maybe you have not seen me, but do not be disappointed because I have seen you. Other people say that they did not see a tiger after several safaris. As we drive through the open grasslands, suddenly a jungle cat runs in front of us on the road.
We drive back to the hotel. My next choice fell on the Kanha National Park. So no problem I thought. But where and when do buses go to Khatiya Gate, the entrance to the park. It took time to get some information. Since they have built a new huge oversized bus station far outside the city no one knows or uses this.
The buses leave from there almost empty to then drive to the old bus stand across the city to pick up the passengers. I sit in a rickety bus in the direction of the National Park and a bumpy dusty ordeal begins. But this ride is something special again. I have not eaten so much dust for a long time.
At some point I had to completely muzzle with towels to survive the ride. Everything in the bus was covered by a centimeter thick layer of dust at the end. It was funny at least at the end, when all suddenly had gray hair. I also had to change the bus after half of the journey. Unfortunately, the streets were not changed.
After a four hour drive to the Kanha National Park we reach our hotel. I settle down in a resort in the small village in front of the park. It is decorated in African safari style with wooden furniture. Right next door is a dried out river bed with nice stones. I got a good and cheap room near the park entrance and the owner booked the safari tickets for me. A shower was after arrival the best thing that could happen.
I started walking in the area. In addition to the restaurant we discover a large spider, which consumes its catch and a wasp on a marigold flower. For lunch I finally get spicy dishes.
We take a walk through the riverbed with the local biologist in search of birds. Right at the beginning he explains to us that tigers, leopards and all other animals from the jungle often occur here.
If a tiger came, which is currently very unlikely, we should behave quietly, stop and definitely not run away. The small village in the central Indian highlands alone is worth the trip. It is dry and dusty but not as hot as other places around this time. The park is much bigger than Bandhavgarh National Park. It is the home of the famous jungle book by Rudyard Kipling.
The village borders directly on the park and is surrounded by beautiful forests and a few fields. The beautiful blue and white painted mud huts of the locals fit perfectly into the landscape. The variety of animals surprised me already in the vicinity of the park. In the woods I see the first deer, monkeys and peacocks. The large ancient trees donate the necessary shade during the day and many species of birds frolic here.
I take a seat in a jeep packed with tourists and a ranger with us. We did not join the other jeeps on the hunt for tigers but left us time for all the beautiful motives. So we had a large area within the park for us. We had a fantastic ranger who has a very good sense of wildlife. We were attracted by the warning calls from other animals and immediately discovered a fresh tiger track. It was on a small hill overlooking grasslands and a wooded area.
Since there were a few beautiful deer to watch in the meadow in front of us, we stayed a moment here. And behold, a tiger is sneaking out of the forest. In the tall grass it tries to stalk the deer. These feel the danger but do not seem to be disturbed at first. They seem to know exactly when to flee. Yes, unfortunately we will not witness the hunting success, as the deer flee in time. But our luck is still on.
The tiger sneaks through the grassland for a long time and then moves directly in our direction. We can hardly believe that, as our ranger explains later, it is a female that is only two meters from our jeep crossing the road. It does not seem to bother us at all. After a while, she disappears in the thicket of the forest, calmly, with smooth, elegant movements.
We could admire the female tiger for almost 20 minutes. We can hardly believe our luck. It continues like this. We drive only a few miles and a lip bear crosses our path. These are not so often seen. In the course of the tour many animals should come across our way. In the late afternoon we are again lucky with a tiger sighting. This time we share the tiger with five other jeeps.
At the end of the afternoon after sunset we leave the forest for our resort. After an hour we come back a bit sweaty, and drink a beer first. As we sit there, a heron actually lands at the top of that bamboo and it does not even bend. In the evening a campfire burns in front of the restaurant. There is a cozy atmosphere for the meal. We have rice a nice wild roost curry. Fortunately there is a heater in the room, and a hot water bottle in the bed. I am glad when I am in bed.
Day 9 - Jabalpur
In the morning it is quite cool. We were almost freezing on the open jeeps until the sun was high, but we could see much more of the park. The tours in the morning go longer and we get deeper into the park. In addition, the chance to sift as many animals probably higher in the morning. At least that's how it was.
I then meet two young photographers. This was a lucky stroke, as I was traveling with people who wanted to see some of the park and its diverse wildlife. Before that, my jeep just raced wildly through the park to present the tiger to the visitors.
That worked and I could see a tiger in the dense grassland for a few moments on my tour. But all other interesting animals were ignored to watch a tiger creep through the grass for a few seconds. I wanted to enjoy the park as a whole and that should be perfect with the photographers. Just a few meters from the entrance we see the first grazing deer, monkeys crossing our path and peacocks sitting on the edge of the slope.
Slowly the sun rises and the park shines in a charming light. The landscape is characterized by hills, valleys and high plateaus. Large sal and deciduous forests and extensive grasslands alternate. The beautiful forests, meadows and water holes are full of wildlife. Actually, it is dry and dusty. I am more surprised at how the trees are green at the park. We get a bit of jungle feeling and somehow it is like in the jungle book.
During the tour I marvel at many other animals up close. Deer, antelope, bison, monkey, jackal, wild boar, dancing peacocks and many other birds. The Kanha National Park has far exceeded my expectations. I have seen many over the years but no one has impressed me so much.
After a day in a nice village on the edge of the national park my journey continues. At 11:00 we took the bus to Jabalpur. Jabalpur is a city little traveled by tourists and the options of restaurants and accommodation are very local. We reach in the early afternoon and reach the hotel, where we have our lunch.
We take advantage of what we have left of the day to hire an autorickshaw and go to the area of the Marble Rocks that are 22 km from the city. We go first to the Dhuandhar Waterfalls that pleasantly surprise us because they are impressive. The river carries a lot of water and is so clear that people go there to bathe and even drink it. A few meters away is the circular temple Chausath Yogini, with 64 statues of Yoginis (helpers of the goddess Kali).
We continue to the Marble Rocks in Bheda Ghat where in a shared rowboat we crossed the 2km countercurrent within the gorges of the Narmada River. It is wonderfully quiet. The water is crystal clear but only a few fish are visible. For the white marble rocks shine beautifully in the sun.
The walls of the gorge are limestone cliffs that resemble marble in white, brown and pink tones. Finally, we stopped at Balancing Rock on our way back to Jabalpur. In the surroundings of the city, the houses stand out from the dirt and the hustle and bustle of the streets due to the blue tone they are painted with.
It happened that on the same day there was a wedding ceremony at the hotel. In fact, they asked us if we wanted to join them, but we were so tired that we had to refuse their invitation. Afterward, we broke down because they made so much noise all night, that we could not sleep. It would have been better to be messing around all night.
Day 10 - Bhopal
The train from Jabalpur to Bhopal leaves at 8:00 am. Thanks to a guy from the lodge, we managed to get our train ticket. By internet, it was impossible while we had no problem for other train bookings. We move to the train station around 7 am for our next journey to Bhopal. Although we have noticed a sharp decline in delays since our previous trip, the arrivals or departures of the train stations are truly bad.
In this train, we are served lunch for free, thankfully, because we arrive in Bhopal at 4 pm. It seemed that the city has come a long way since the 1984 Bhopal Gas tragedy, and it is not surprising because it is something to forget. A tuk-tuk takes us to the beginning of the street where our hotel is located. It can not continue further in the street as there are many people. And yes, this hotel is located in the heart of the bazaar and it's a real mess!
At first glance, the hotel seems all bad. We have to go through some sort of garage and take an old elevator up to the rather shabby reception but when the guy shows us the room, we are surprised! Following the alleys of the bazaar to Jama Masjid, we arrive in front of Upper Lake.
There, we take a tuk-tuk to go to Lake View road, where is the nautical center and where there are many walkers who stroll or ride in boat on the lake. We take a tuk-tuk to return to the end of the lake and visit the Gohar Mahal. It is a very quiet place, and we are the only visitors. The caretaker, for a few rupees shows us all the rooms, courtyards, galleries and terraced garden planted with fruit trees.
Against the palate of the begum, we discover a nice tea room outdoor. Not far from there, stands the Moti Masjid, a pretty mosque combining red sandstone with white marble. On the side of its monumental staircase, extends a sports field where children play cricket. We take the lanes of the chowk to Jama Masjid around which is the district of the jewelers.
We have dinner on the terrace of a small restaurant facing the center that was simple but good and really cheap. Now it was time to go back and sleep.
Day 11 - Sanchi Stupa
The main reason to come to Bhopal is to see the Sanchi Stupa. We are a little lazy at the moment and, instead of taking the bus to go, we take a taxi for the day. Leaving Bhopal, we walk along the wall of what was the Union Carbide factory where the industrial disaster of 1984 took place.
We arrive in Sanchi at 11:15. The site is beautiful. The Buddhist monuments are very old. They were rediscovered by the English in 1818. The splendid stupas are perfectly preserved. The torans or entrance porticoes impress us with their size and the beautiful sculptures.
After spending three hours in the site among many tourists and schoolchildren, we have lunch near the entrance, at the cafeteria. It is not so expensive and we sit in the room overlooking a garden. The taxi then takes us to Vidisha where are the Udaygiri caves. Rock piles and carved caves make up the site.
We climb up the rocky hills where we have a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside. It is a very quiet place. In the rock of the mountain, these hollows are excavated in a cubic form where statues and figures of the gods are found. They are like little temples. In one of them is the phallic symbol of Shiva and the image of Parvati.
In the late afternoon, we return to Bhopal in the rush hour traffic jams. We walk to the Taj-Ul Masjid, the third largest mosque in the world and the largest in India. To get there, we take Hamidia road. We pass under a beautiful door, and then we arrive in view of the great Taj-Ul Masjid which stands at the edge of a small lake.
A monumental staircase of 51 steps leads to the east gate. Inside the mosque, the finely carved columns punctuate the space. It also acts as madrasa where groups of students study the Koran under the eye of their master. We continue to the beautiful Tribal Museum, that has creative installations and handicrafts inspired by tribal myths. We have dinner in a restaurant facing the mosque and then we take a tuk-tuk to go to the hotel.
In the end, we enjoyed Bhopal. There is a lot to discover as well as in its surroundings and we have not exhausted all its possibilities. There would still be something to see.
We then head to the bus station in the evening and sit in the waiting room until 8 pm. Our bus arrived punctually. At late night we reach the holy city of Ujjain. We took a cheap hotel without windows. At first, it is not important but when the night comes and we cannot sleep because of the noise of the intense traffic and loud horns of trucks and buses. We realize the mistake made.
Day 12 - Ujjain
In the morning what we see in this city are temples and the devotion of the people. Ujjain, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, is part of one of the 7 holy cities of India. There is a very important celebration every 12 years called Kumbh Mela, where millions of people come to bathe in the sacred river Shipra. The temple of Mahakaleshwar is dedicated to Shiva.
The temple consists of an artificial cave in which one feels like an amusement park. In this cave, there are figures of meditating gurus, cows, monkeys. Then we pass to another U-shaped inner cave, in which the gods are exhibited in showcases.
Another temple is the one of Harsiddhi, in which two greasy towers stand out in front of the temple. In these towers, people scale and place oils or grease. Others throw flowers against the towers and the grease gets stuck down slowly. Then pick them up again and store them. Apparently, these towers are illuminated at certain times of the year with candles that people place on each tower's outgoing support. Of course, it was not this time either.
The temple has an image of the goddess Annapurna, and others of Ganesh completely painted with red lands. Apart from temples, in Ujjain, there is one of the important astronomical observatories in India. With rudimentary devices and strange constructions mediate the situation of the planets and other data. Ujjain is also located in a key place for this type of measurements since the Tropic of Cancer line passes almost above the city.
We approach the Ram Ghat where people gather at sunset to do their rituals. Many simply bathe and soak themselves well. Others, with the body in the water and the palms of the hands facing the face, recite their prayers. We saw an interesting act, that we could not know why, but it had to be some kind of initiation or step to another stage.
A boy with a shaved head except for a ponytail in the neck was sitting on the floor while two people passed incense in front of him reciting verses, throwing flowers and repeating the same thing over and over again.
Day 13 - Indore
We start for Indore by local bus. The bus to Mandu was to leave at 5:30 PM. So we spent the whole day in a modern shopping center that we found in Indore. Indore is a city with a lot of traffic, a lot of noise, a lot of heat. This shopping center was for us an oasis where we entered with a smile as big as a child's when they enter an amusement park.
It also had a cinema where they broadcast films in 3 dimensions. So we were encouraged to watch a movie. We were as hypnotized as it had been a while since we went to a movie theater. In the Indian cinemas, an intermission is there. People pass by offering us a menu so that we can consume something. So we ordered some macaroni thinking that this is something unimaginable in other parts of the world.
Soon we thought that this new cinema, recently opened, with clean chairs and a reclining system that worked perfectly, would lose all this splendor due to tomato or ice cream stains. They may soon forbid eating these types of meals inside the cinema. A few years ago we were surprised to be able to smoke inside the train or the bus, and now smoking is prohibited in any station or public place. Things are changing, although slowly.
The bus to Dhar depart from the Gangwa bus station. So we take a tuk-tuk at 4.30 pm. After some good puffs of exhaust fumes in monster traffic jams where we are stuck for quite some time, we arrive just in time to catch the bus leaving at 5 pm. In Dhar, all we have to do is take the little green and rattling bus that takes us very slowly to Mandu where we arrive at 7.30 pm.
It feels good to get there. Mandu is a very quiet village with only one main street but still several restaurants and hotels. It must be said that there is something to see in the village and its surroundings, because it was an important fortified city formerly, and it abounds with monuments of Mughal style.
Mandu is a good place to visit its forts, mosques and enjoy its tranquility. Between 1401 and 1561 Mandu was the capital of the Mughal empire of northern India. Then the capital was abandoned and now there is hardly a small town where you can visit numerous ruins in an area of more than 10 kilometers long and 15 kilometers wide considered World Heritage.
At the time we arrived at Mandu it was very hot. In this town, there is not much to choose from in the theme of accommodation. There is a resort about two kilometers from the town. It must be said that it is nice with its large balcony overlooking the countryside and the roofs of the palaces, where we sit and watch the setting sun with confidence.
Around the courtyard is a temple dedicated to Shiva. In the evening local people come to this temple to make their offerings. They do it in a very cheerful way. We ate something and took a walk around this small town that does not have much. We locate a place to rent bikes the next day. We take advantage of the day visiting the monuments that are located near the bus stop.
It is the central group with the Ashrafi Mahal or the Madrasa, the Jama Masjid, and the mausoleum or tomb of Hoshang Shah with its huge dome. Supposedly the architect of Shah Jahan came to Mandu to study the architecture of this tomb to create the Taj Mahal.
Day 14 - Mandu
We wake up a little early because the heat immediately gets stronger. We have breakfast in the morning with poha, a kind of flattened rice and yellow dal steamed with vegetables. It is served sprinkled with crisp little vermicelli and spicy namkeens. The poha is very good and nourishing and the lassi with cardamom is to die for!
Large flocks of sheep cross Mandu this morning. It's a countryside dotted with architectural treasures. At seven in the morning, we hired the bikes and drive to the group of monuments of the Royal Enclave, about 2 kilometers from the town. There are a very large ensemble of palaces, mosque, wells, stairs, ponds like the Hindola Mahal Palace, Jahaz Mahal, Dilawar Khan Mosque, Turkish baths, and Champa baodi.
We were advised to arrive early to enjoy the beautiful morning light. It was true that it was a very pleasant time. We were alone and we liked this place very much. The majesty of the buildings and the numerous ponds (now many without water) offer us an idea of the incredible place that it should have been in its best times.
We were able to see locals who came here to take drinking water from wells, in addition to using a nice pond to bathe. What a luxury to be able to bathe in a pond where formerly only the kings bathed. Outside the entrance to this area, there are several restaurants.
We had several refreshments because when we left, around 10 in the morning, it was already quite hot. At the back of the Royal Enclave along the road, rise the house of Gada Shah with several levels where one can go up by stone stairs. Following the road, we arrive at the beautiful Delhi gate, the double arch lined with a stone lace. A pretty village girl who passed by offers us a handful of branches whose seeds are edible.
When you continue the road that passes in front of the Delhi Gate to the right, we take a dirt road lined with rubber trees. We arrive at Chishti Khan's Palace, another building worthy of interest that give a superb view of the ravine.
Then we went to the group of Rewa Kund monuments, about 6 kilometers from the village. The best thing about this place is that from here there are good views of an immense plain full of crops. We rest and picnic quietly, in the company of small squirrels attracted by our cookies.
The Rupmati Pavilion, perched at the top of a cliff, was built, according to legend, by Baz Bahadur for his beloved Rupmati, a beautiful singer. From an architectural point of view it's not the most interesting building. At the bottom of the hill where the pavilion is built, are the remains of Baz Bahadur's palace.
The few buildings that look are not bad, but after seeing the Royal Enclave it barely impresses us. So if we have to choose between one group or another the first would be the Royal Enclave and then the central group. One of Mandu's oddities is that there are baobabs! How did this African tree get there?
An explanation would be that the sultans of the time when Mandu was a flourishing city would have offered talking parrots to Egyptian rulers and that they would have offered baobab seeds in exchange! In the neighborhoods of the village, there are many and the fruits of these trees are on the stalls of the village. They resemble large pods that contain seeds surrounded by white flesh.
Between the village and the Rewa Kund group, we stopped at several monuments within what is called the Sagar Talao group, as it is close to Lake Sagar Talao, such as the Hathi Mahal or the tomb of Darya Khan, among others. The road meanders through the countryside along the wheat fields and small hamlets built of mud houses and cow dung. We pass near a large lake at a very low level. Not far from there, a sign says echo point.
We discover two groups of beautiful buildings with Dai Ka Mahal, a palace turned into a mausoleum, Dai Ki Chhoti Bahan Ka Mahal, the mausoleum of a lady of the court. Above all, there is the beautiful Malik Mughit mosque and the remains of a large caravanserai and other buildings in more or less good condition.
We really enjoyed the bike ride as we were able to appreciate how the local people live. We stopped around some mud huts where we listened to disco music at the top. There we found many children dancing to the rhythm of the music and enjoyed the show with an old lady who did not stop laughing. We did not dare to dance with the children.
In the afternoon, we go for a long walk to the Sunset Point along the ravine. Below the Sunset point, there are sacred caves with massive and carved pillars, the Lohani Caves. A small spring feeds a pond where people come to make ablutions and offerings of flowers and pray in the garden. Soon, we arrive at the door of the Songarh fort in ruins and we only have to turn back to return to Mandu.
We arrive on the market square where we have a good thali in the oldest restaurant in Mandu. Our next destination is Maheshwar and there are usually buses there every hour but tomorrow is a holiday.
Day 15 - Maheshwar
We leave Mandu with regrets, as we liked this place so much. Today the festival of Holi is celebrated, so there is only one bus that departs at 6 in the morning. So we get up early. We took a bus that was supposed to leave from Mandu at 6 o'clock in the morning but left half an hour later.
We go down to the edge of the road in Lunhera where, after 20 minutes of waiting, we climb another bus that takes us to Dhamnod where we take a third. The driver stopped continuously for no apparent reason other than having a tea or chewing tobacco.
It was fun, I guess because we were not in a hurry. We were very struck by the fact that in this area buses stop a lot in sacred places, like small temples on the edge of the road, and leave offerings like flowers or incense. When we passed a bridge that crossed the sacred river Narmada the bus stopped and threw flowers into the water along with a small prayer.
Maheshwar was the capital of the Malwa for a period of time, after which the capital was moved to Indore. The word Maheshwar in Hindi means Great God, an epithet of Shiva, and the locality appears in the accounts of the Mahabharata.
The bus stopped us on the main road of Maheshwar around 10:35. So we had to walk about 5 minutes to get to the area of the fort where most of the accommodations are located. To stay, we chose the rest house for 500 rupees in one of the rooms at the top. After breakfast we visited the fort and the ghats, but before we met some westerners who were having a pipe with the theme of Holi.
They carried water pistols and filled their faces and colored clothes. This was only the beginning. Locals finished the job and we got wet and colored more. It was all fun. Many greeted with the intention of putting some color on our hands or face. The Holi is one of the most important celebrations in India and is done to welcome spring.
Traditionally it is said that spring can cause cold and fever in the population. So throwing colored powder has a medicinal meaning since traditionally those powders were made with flowers and medicinal herbs prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors.
Nowadays the colored powders that are bought on the street are artificial dyes and have nothing to do with those that were used in the past. It is easy to see groups of men sharing a bottle with the drink called Thandai, which contains marijuana. Due to this festivity, most of the shops and restaurants are closed.
We noticed that we asked in a hotel for a room. They showed us one. We liked it and we were going to keep it, but the man tells us that it would be from the next day since that day was Holi and the hotel closes. When we crossed the walls of the fort and arrived at the ghats, we liked what we saw.
It is a large area where people enjoy bathing in the Narmada River, which carried much more water than there was in the area of Omkareshwar. The buildings and small temples that can be seen here are very well preserved, as well as the stone carvings and the numerous steps that are around.
We also visited the palace, although it is not very spectacular, probably because the queen who lived there was quite austere and did not need grandiose buildings to do her job well. Part of the palace has become a chic luxury hotel but the main courtyard has remained public as well as the carved galleries that surround it and overlook the river and the ghats.
In the courtyard of the fort stands the Chhatri of Vithoji Rao. At the foot of the fort, along the river, the ghats are punctuated by numerous sanctuaries,small statues of nandi in adoration before the lingam, pilgrims, sadhus, and yogis. On an island, stands the Baneshwar temple that can be seen in the middle of the river.
We will leave Maheshwar tomorrow to go to Omkareshwar. We inquire at the place where the bus had left us on our arrival. There is no bus station here and it is a little complicated to have information on bus schedules. After questioning several shopkeepers in the area, we end up learning that there is a direct bus leaving at 9am and that we must wait for it at the edge of the street, in front of the mosque.
Once back in our room to rest while waiting to go to dinner, we are intrigued by noises around. When I look out the balcony, I see that some guys are in the yard at the foot of the hotel peeling onions and cooking rice on a stove! We ask the manager and he explains that there is a group of schoolchildren who are traveling here today and they will stay in the hotel next door. It is their dinner that is being prepared in the yard!
Once it was completely dark, we wanted to eat something. However, this proved to be a challenge as there was not a single restaurant along the approximately one-kilometer main street, just lots of sweet shops. We bought barfi, gulab jamun and laddu in a shop. But everything was too sweet. Only at the bus station we finally found a small snack store. I still have not understood why Maheshwar has almost no restaurants.
Day 16 - Omkareshwar
We take an autorickshaw to the bus station. When the bus arrives after 30 minutes late, it is full of passengers. At first, we stand but soon, people come down and we get to sit. The journey is very long. It takes 2:30 hours to reach 60kms! We arrived at Omkareshwar around 12 in the afternoon.
We stayed at the hostel for 350 rupees. Everyone told us the nearby guesthouse had very cheap rooms, from 100 rupees, but they were too basic. Although we used the guesthouse restaurant since the town did not offer many more options. We choose a room that overlooks the balcony.
We follow the main street, Mamaleshwar road, lined with shops, and here we are on the market place, Getti Chowk. This is where the restaurants are and the old bridge begins that leads to the Om shaped island where the main shrine of Shri Omkar Mandhata is located.
We are on a weekend and there are many who have come here to visit the temples and enjoy a refreshing swim in the sacred Narmada river. Omkareshwar is a quite religious place where Shiva has special relevance. In front of the town, there is an island where there are several temples, as well as a quite pleasant path that practically surrounds the whole island.
You can cross the river using the many boats that are next to the ghats, or you can use some of two nearby high bridges. The truth is that we do not understand how there are so many boats since the bridges are really close. Although the bridges have probably been made recently and the boats are reluctant to disappear.
From the bridges, we can already see the impressive dam that has been built near Omkareshwar. It is the second largest dam in the world, after a Chinese dam. With the dam, hydropower is generated, but during our stay in the town, the power cuts were continuous. This town is quite intersting but we hardly see tourists.
We cross the river by one of the high bridges. We reach the wide island and going up the 287 steps, we visit the 10th-century temple known as Gauri Somnath Temple. We saw a few sadhus by the temple, and most of the men have painted on their foreheads the three white stripes that symbolize respect for Shiva.
Nearby is the huge statue of this God of 30 meters high in whose temple we found a few children who were sitting on the floor studying. But when they saw us they started to make nonsense and found a good excuse to leave the books. Following the path, we pass the Sanyas Ashram and then we arrive at the temple with statues of elephants at its base known as Siddhanath Temple.
From here we see the enormous amplitude of the dam. After passing by some species of caves where we find some sadhus dozing, we reach the other bridge. From here we go to the white temple called Shri Omkar Mandhata, which must be a very venerated temple because we find many pilgrims leaving offerings and performing their songs.
They continually offer excursions on the river with the boats. We were not very clear about the route they took but we decided to try it. For 100 rupees they gave us a ride that did not last 15 minutes, of which 5 were used to fill the fuel tank, and did not even go near the dam area. In other words, it's not worth it at all.
We met a Canadian girl who had been living in this town for 6 years. She wore black robes and told us that she lived in one of the ashrams on the island. But we were surprised that we saw her dining in the guesthouse restaurant and we saw her again in the same guesthouse having breakfast in the next morning.
Our stay in Omkareshwar ends. Tomorrow we leave for Jalgaon and it does not seem to be obvious. We go to the bus station to inquire about the buses and there we are told that we have to take a bus to Khandwa but after there is no bus to Jalagaon. Everyone tells us take the train from Khandwa or Indore!
After questioning various people who all told us the same thing, the guy from our hotel ends up inquiring and tell us that after Khandwa, we can take a bus to Bhuranpur and we will then have a bus to Jalgaon.