During my entire life, I was unaware of the beauty of Bhopal, a city right in the heart of India. It was only when I got posted to Raipur in November 2002, capital of Chhattisgarh and visited Bhopal for an official meeting, I explored this city for the first time and instantly fell in love on the very first visit.
Bhopal equidistant from both Delhi and Mumbai is popularly known for two UNESCO World Heritage sites in its vicinity namely Budhhist Sanchi Stupa ( 50 km form Bhopal ) at Vidisha and Bhimbetka caves in the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary ( 35 km from Bhopal ).
Bhopal is a rare combination of scenic beauty; blend of old history and modern planning. It has something to offer to a person of any age right from a child to an elderly person. Raja Bhoj founded this city in the 11th A.D.
How many of us know that Bhopal is the third greenest city of India. This is also city of lakes and hills . I was amazed by the uneven elevation due to presence of small hills that gives a feeling of a hill station. Two enormous lakes, the Upper Lake and the lower lake, lifeline of Bhopal, give an appearance of sea. The road on the boundary of the Upper lake resembles the famous Marine Drive at Mumbai….. Although Upper lake was constructed artificially about 900 years back but it has acquired a natural look and invites avian beauty during winters and people for adventure sports for rowing and other facilities .
This city came in prominence in December 1984 because of the wrong reasons. It may be recalled that many people lost their lives when deadly gas Methyl Isocyanate leaked from the industrial unit namely Union Carbide Limited, Bhopal in the early hours of 3rd December 1984. This was one of the worst industrial disasters in the history of the world.
The students of history would have also read that this was the only city in India, which was consecutively ruled by 4 Muslim women from the year 1819 to 1926. Incidentally my boss at Bhopal in 2002 was a lady officer and spent most of her tenure in the state of M. P.
Few must must visit places in and around Bhopal, that I would personally recommend are:
1)Bhimbetka caves: Located at 35 km from Bhopal, it is the largest treasure house of prehistoric art in the country. Bhimbetka are the oldest caves in India where out of 600 caves only 12 are open to public visitors. Some of the caves have paintings made by the tribal people who lived in them and believed to be more than 30,000 years old. It is believed that the paintings were made with natural dyes extracted from plants and have not faded till date .
2)Budhhist Stupa at Sanchi: the oldest of the man made structure in the country near Vidisha attracts Buddhists from all over the world.The stupa is located at about 46 km from Bhopal. It is surrounded by a railing with 4 gateways facing all the four directions containing depiction of incidents from the life of Buddha and his previous birth. Ashoka the Great ,the king known for spreading the message of peace after the famous war of Kalinga in 261 B.C, laid the foundation of Sanchi Stupa.
3)Bhojesvar temple at Bhojpur dedicated to Lord Shiva. The oldest and the biggest Shivlinga in the country ( height 18 feet and circumference 7.5 feet ), situated on the banks of river Betwa, is about 20 km from Bhopal. Built by Raja Bhoj, the entire temple was made from the pieces, cut from the rocks hardly 50 meters from the temple.
4)Udaygiri caves near Vidisha. This place is one of India’s most important archaeological sites of Gupta period and consists of breathtaking carvings.
5)Taj-ul – Masjid in Bhopal. This is the biggest mosque in Asia that can accommodate more than 1 lakh people in the premises at any given time. Its beauty can be well appreciated if you happen to see it from the flight. I got chance to see it from the aircraft before it lands at the Raja Bhoj Airport at Bhopal.
6)Van Vihar National Park is located besides the Upper lake. During winters, lot of migratory birds make it their transit home for a few months. These two lakes collectively constitute a wetland known as Bhoj Wetland. This wetland is one of the 26 Ramsar International Sites in India. I have witnessed a large number of coots, grey leg goose, Sarus cranes and many other birds there. I would advise to visit the Van Vihar National park in the morning, as birds are usually closer to the road that time.
7)Laxmi Narayan temple: This temple is situated on the Arera Hills and provides panoramic view of the Bhopal city.
8)Manibhan Tekri : A pilgrimage for Jain devotees, its known for it’s classic architecture . From the top one can enjoy a panoramic view of Bhopal city including the Upper lake.
9)Sair Sapata is a tourism and entertainment complex established on the banks of the Upper Lake in 2011. The same was developed by the Madhya Pradesh state tourism corporation. It is spread over an area of 24.56 acres and has attractions like musical fountain, two acres of children’s play area, toy train and a suspension bridge, among other things.
How to Reach:
This city is very well connected to many cities by rail and air. All the trains bound for Bengaluru, Chennai or Trivandrum pass through Bhopal.
Places to Stay:
Although there are large number of hotels but I would recommend the Jehan Numa Palace and the Welcome Heritage Noor–Us-Sabha Palace for the high-end travellers as they provide value for money on account of their location and the quality of comfort and food.