A former princely state, Bhopal strikes a neat balance between bustling metro and a sleepy small town. Thanks to its 14 lakes, and the addition of two man made ones – Upper and Lower Lake, Bhopal is also known as the City of Lakes. What draws travellers though is its proximity to wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.
Need to Know
Summers are scorching in Bhopal, so plan your travel to avoid visiting March through May.
There’s a well-connected, efficient bus network. Radio cabs are easily available, as are car rentals.
With its rich and varied history, Bhopal’s kitchens have influences from both Muslim and Hindu culinary styles. Kebabs and curries are a lunch and dinner favourite; poha and jalebis (!) are breakfast staples.
Did You Know?
Thanks to a treaty of alliance with the British Governor General, under the rule of Nawab Nazar Mohammad Khan, Bhopal was accorded the status of princely state in 1818. When the king was killed Begum Qudsia ascended the throne as Head of State, ensuring that her daughter’s kingdom would remain hers. Kept illiterate and in purdah until then, the Begum emerged without a veil and trained in the art of war and horseback riding to prove she was a capable ruler. From then on, four successive women, referred to as Nawab Begum, ruled Bhopal, making it the bastion of Begums.
Things to do
For Nature Lovers
Bhopal abounds in natural beauty. Van Vihar National Park is home to sloth bears, hyenas, alligators and a host of birds and local fauna. More reserve than a zoological park, all the animals – except the big cats – roam free.
Kerwa Dam, 15 km outside Bhopal, an eco-tourist site doubles as a great sunset point. The area is surrounded by a trail where bird-lovers can spot flycatchers, woodpeckers, owls, nightjars, and plenty more.
In the midst of teak forests in the Vindhyachal mountains are Bhimbetka Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These clusters of rock shelters have paintings that date back to the Mesolithic Period. There’s also a ruined citadel, mini stupas, and more Buddhist history nearby.
There are also various other inscriptions, which are said to date back to the Sunga, Kushan, and Gupta periods as well as the undeciphered Shankha (shell) script inscriptions, making Bhimbetka a veritable chronicle of the history of man.
For Culture Vultures
Gohar Mahal is a beautiful palace built in 1820 by Begum Qudsia. The architecture borrows from both the Hindu and Mughal styles, and though it has fallen into disrepair, it still stands resplendent.
Bharat Bhavan (Tel: 0755 266 0239) is Bhopal’s cultural hub that houses an art gallery, an archive of Indian poetry and classical and folk music, a centre for Classical cinema, and an amphitheatre that hosts several events year round.
Islamnagar, once the fortified capital of princely Bhopal, now houses two villages and three palaces within its walls. Built in the 18th century, Dost Mohammed Khan is also credited with establishing the state of Bhopal.
The Museum of Man (Tel: 0755 266 1319), aims to “present an integrated story of the evolution of man and culture with special reference to India”. The display of life-size dwellings from across India, specimens of art and local culture give visitors an insight into the culture and diversity that is India.
What to Eat & Where
Bhopal breakfast favourites – poha and jalebi are best at Kalyan Singh’s Swad Bhandar (Tel: 0755 273 1495), off Itwara Road.
Old Bhopal is a haven for non-vegetarians. Head to the tiny Jhili Miyaan in Ibrahimpura for your fix of bade ke kebab and paaya soup. Hotel Jameel (Tel: 097136 73628) serves melt-in-your-mouth kebabs and fried chicken.
Suleimani chai, a special variety, with hints of sugar and salt, is served with a generous dollop of cream. Find it at Jamal Bhai Tea Shop in Itawar Chowk.
For a sweet treat, dig in to shahi tukda at Filfora (Tel: 0755 425 6926). Fried bread dunked in sugar syrup is topped with custard and nuts. This decadent dessert hits the spot after a fiery Nawabi meal.
If you’re craving chaat, Manohar Dairy and Restaurant (Tel: 0755 404 0407) is where it’s at. Plus, their chole bhature is finger-licking good!
What to Buy
In the midst of old havelis and mosques, Chowk Bazaar is a buzzing market spread across narrow lanes. Buy fabric at wholesale rates, silver jewellery, beadwork and embroidered velvet purses.
Madhya Pradesh is famous for its Tussar silks, Chanderi and Maheshwari saris, and the finest is available at Mrignayani, Madhya Pradesh State Emporium (Tel: 0755 422 6900). Also look out for zari-work juttis, handmade by local artisans.