<Trip Report> Bhopal is not a place to Like! (also Sanchi, Bhimbetka, Bhojpur)

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#1 Nov 26th, 2013, 22:12
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#1
Post 1 - Rainy Days

In 2010, I had planned a trip to Bhopal, mainly to visit the attractions outside of Bhopal such as Vidisha, Sanchi and Bhimbetka. It seemed like an easy enough place to get to – overnight from Delhi on the Bhopal express or the Rajdhani. It didn’t seem to be a known tourist destination. That sounded great to me. So, I booked the tickets and just two days before the departure, had to cancel them due to work.

The following year, I attempted to combine Bhopal with the Chhattisgarh trip and cancelled it in favor of Odisha.

The year following that, I tried to include Bhopal in the drive from Jaipur to Ajanta Ellora and cancelled it as the road from Biaora (a town on the state border of Rajasthan with MP) to Bhopal is in pits. Large ones.

“That’s three times” I blurted out to my colleague who’s from Bhopal; and she said, “Well, Bhopal is not a place to like”

Six months of no vacation was making me feel miserable and I thought of Bhopal again. This time, I’d go ex-Jaipur due to work commitments.
However, reports of rain from MP were pouring in (pun unintended) via e-papers that I could access as well as relatives who live in Indore.

So, it was with apprehension that I boarded the Jaipur- Bhopal express on the evening of 3rd of July. The eighteen hour journey on a train in side lower berth in AC two tier wasn’t too bad thanks to a long overdue re-read of the chapter ‘This day of ruin and riot’ in William Dalrymple’s ‘The Last Mughal’.

Late next morning, as the sun shone a bit I saw how spectacularly green was the countryside - this was somewhere between Ujjain and Bhopal.



Arriving at the Bhopal junction, I got out from the platform number 4 side as it was closer to the hotel I had spoken to – Hotel Ranjeet. However, he didn’t pick up my call when I reached and hence I decided to try my second, ultra cheap option of the Youth hostel located in New Market area.

The autowallahs surrounded their quarry quickly that slinked past much to their dismay to a pre-paid booth. Their hopes of extorting 150/- rupees to new market were dashed when a receipt of Rs 61/- was waved and Wasim, the soorma of Bhopal (see the iconic Indian film: Sholay for reference) whisked me away.

Wasim turned out to be an awfully nice chap and couldn’t stop either talking or smiling for a single minute. His photo (taken next evening) is below.



Youth hostel turned out to be appropriately priced at 200/- a night – the plaster was peeling from the damp walls. The man at the reception was helpful enough to point me to several other hotels in the area. I settled for Kalindi Palace for Rs 1235/- per night. The new market area and further up on Shamla hills and down towards arera colony, is refreshingly green and correspondingly the air is much better than in the old city area or even towards the industrial ‘burb of Obaidullagunj. At that time, it seemed a bit expensive.



After a quick shower, I grabbed my umbrella (it was drizzling) and walked around the corner from the hotel to that most delightful of institutions – The Indian Coffee House. A place that has not changed since the 1930s and nor had the waiter's uniforms. It was a different world – mohammad rafi wafted in the background and I could see in monochrome.



White liveried waiters went about hurriedly plunking down plates of paper thin dosas, watery sambar and dried coconut chutneys to a decidedly mixed crowd. To my right were a group of medical representatives discussing sales strategies with their boss over lunch and in front were old timers who were in no hurry to go anywhere at all. Posters with advertisement reminiscent of a bygone era touted the virtues of drinking coffee, Indian coffee.



I ate my favorite south Indian dishes – Idlis and Wadas and washed them down with moderately strong filter kaapi and burped with satisfaction at the sight of a very reasonable bill.

Things were decidedly looking up!
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Jun 12th, 2014 at 14:35..
#2 Nov 26th, 2013, 23:01
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#2
Quote:
However, reports of rain from MP were pouring in (pun unintended)
Enjoyed your Bhopal trip report and the rain pun
#3 Nov 26th, 2013, 23:03
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#3
I am all ears for reading your trip reports feels like listening to a storyteller who is good enough to make a living out of that.
#4 Nov 27th, 2013, 14:11
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#4
So you did it

Now it's our part ..... to read you aka listen your story telling (ditto, Biman)
aamar payer tolai sorshe...(I have wheels under my feet)
#5 Nov 27th, 2013, 14:18
A story teller...for info...search IM
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Nice start craving for more
If a problem can be solved there is no use worrying about it. If it cant be solved, worrying will do no good ~ H.H
#6 Nov 27th, 2013, 18:24
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#6

Nawabs and Begums - A walk in old Bhopal

Continued from this post.

Minutes after getting out of ICH and going round the bend, another autowallah, Jawed drove me to the old city from there for Rs 50/- and also helped out with tips for a walking tour of the old city and dropped me off at Taj-ul-masajid. This mosque is the third largest in the world and supposedly the largest in India.

I was somewhat apprehensive of breaking any taboos and being shooed away by one of the rather orthodox looking people reading Islamic literature and talking amongst themselves. There’s also a clear sign at the entrance prohibiting photographing people inside the mosque. Contrary to information available on various websites, the mosque is not off limits to non-muslims for the entire day on Friday but only from 12 noon to 3 pm (I had planned my visit for a Thursday to be on the safe side)

I asked a senior figure in the mosque administration who was sitting by the main gate as to why the spelling ‘masajid’ is used and he explained that when conceptualized, Shahjahan Begum, the ruler of Bhopal wanted this to be the largest mosque in the world and the crown of all mosques – hence the title ‘taj’ (crown) – ul (of) – masajid (many mosques). It is a peaceful place to visit and the structure is simply grand. Two minarets, each a staggering eighteen story high, topped by a marble dome enclose the structure from either side which comprises three bulbous domes, also of marble. If one looks closely, the minarets are the newest addition to the lot (construction of the mosque finished in 1985) while the main structure is significantly older – it was started in the 1870s but the construction activity fell into abeyance owing to a lack of funds and was resumed only in 1971!



I stepped inside the mosque and it felt like a step back in time. Massive symmetrical pillars carved with Islamic designs of creepers supported arches that in turn supported the stone roof. There are a total of 27 ceilings in the mosque and in the center hangs an ornate chandelier.





The faithful are reminded of the time of the namaaz by a stationary clock that has six faces – each face indicates the time of the day when a particular namaaz will be read.



I came out and while loitering about in the vast courtyard, came close to the fountains that serve as source of water for the faithful to wash their hands and feet – caught a reflection of the Taj there.



I turned around to see a friendly smile of a young man who was standing near the living quarters that line the outer periphery of the complex. These quarters house students of the darul-ulema under whose management the mosque functions. I thought I’d get a better view if I could go on top of these quarters (they were a single story tall) and asked him thus –

“What is the way to go up?”
“Well, there’s only one – you have to take the stairs”
We both started laughing.
“But it is closed as of now and I don’t have a key”
I wished him the best for the remaining day and walked to the exit.

From here, a short walk led me inside the compound of hamidia hospital to the polar opposite of a mosque as large as the Taj. The ‘dhai seedhi ki masjid’ or the mosque of two and a half steps was built. This mosque was built by the first ruler of modern Bhopal - Dost Mohammad to provide a place of worship to the soldiers who guarded his fort and city.



A little further lies the tomb of Dost Mohammad, the afghan ruler who established modern Bhopal in the year 1740. This very modest tomb has two graves – one of the pathan and the other of the missus. The later nawabs and begums were anything but modest as I was to learn shortly.



I continued walking the sprawling, green premises watching conservative burqa clad women and men in kurtas and skull caps go around and turned right, and a left and another right to face a building done in brilliant red color. It was the Hamidia Hospital. The hospital was built by Sultan Jahan Begum but renamed after the last nawab of Bhopal –Hamidullah. Surprisingly, I was stopped by the security guards from photographing the structure.

So, I walked a few steps back and noticed a building to the right of the hospital that appeared to be an older office complex. I found the staircase and started climbing only to barge into a wooden doorway that came only till my thighs. It turned out that this older building had been converted into living quarters at some point of time – the nawabs were known to be a benevolent lot. From the roof of these quarters, I could get a great view of the clock tower of the Hospital.



Downstairs, I heard a whistle from afar that was faint in the beginning and then grew louder. It was the guard – I scooted.
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Dec 1st, 2013 at 13:19..
#7 Nov 27th, 2013, 18:35
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#7
Nice start indeed. Surely waiting for more and more story and crispy snaps.

p.s. The very first snap of the First post really awesome Sir.
#8 Nov 27th, 2013, 18:43
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dcyouth View Post p.s. The very first snap of the First post really awesome Sir.
Was that an attempt at HDR Vaibhav?
#9 Nov 27th, 2013, 18:53
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oh, wow. i thought only bangalore and kolkata had india coffee houses. Bhopal has one too, cool.
#10 Nov 27th, 2013, 19:16
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Originally Posted by adam00121 View Post oh, wow. i thought only bangalore and kolkata had india coffee houses. Bhopal has one too, cool.
Indian Coffee House seems to be popular in India with outlets at many Indian cities.
#11 Nov 27th, 2013, 19:35
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#11
Great writing and pictures as usual, Vaibhav!

Especially like the treatment you've given the photos when you felt like you stepped back in time.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” - Mark Twain
#12 Nov 27th, 2013, 19:49
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Great going ......
#13 Nov 27th, 2013, 19:53
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dcyouth View Post
p.s. The very first snap of the First post really awesome Sir.
Quote:
Originally Posted by aarosh View Post Was that an attempt at HDR Vaibhav?
Thanks. No, it's just picasa post processing
#14 Nov 28th, 2013, 10:43
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A fine read ...
#15 Nov 28th, 2013, 12:28
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Begums and Nawabs - the walk continued

Continued from this post.

Moving on, I got out of the main gate of the hospital and walked towards the area known as ‘palace square’. To my left was a shop with two identical and curios signs ‘Tea shall not be served on the other side of the road. This sign placed by order of the police’.



This highly popular place turned out to be ‘Raju Tea stall’. The owner, a certain Mr Fareed, offers a limited menu but his tea is so popular that it was the cause of frequent traffic jams when delivered to motorists who would stop by for a quick tea on the opposite side of the road. This eventually resulted in a ‘no parking’ sign on the other side of the road complete with a threat of dire consequences if the warning was unheeded. The tea was good; and not cheap – it’s 8 rupees for a cut (half) chai and Rs 10/- for a single piece of Jalebi.

Before the palace gate to the left (walking towards moti masjid) lies Sadar Manzil (built by Nawab shahjehan begum, the third female ruler of Bhopal and the only surviving child of Sikander begum), now the headquarters of the Bhopal municipal corporation. Gold inlays line the ceilings of the domes while officious minders go about busily doing whatever it is that officious minders do.



Photography is strictly prohibited without prior permission (from whom. I wasn’t told by the security in charge). Hence the photos below were taken from behind a pillar sans flash. I could suddenly see Meena Kumari dancing to ‘Inhi Logon ne’



The memory of a dour faced Meena Kumari proved overwhelming and just as I was about to break into song, a chowkidaar peeped his ugly head from behind one of the pillars and I had to blind him with my dazzling smile. I then walked out before I was forced to blind any more people.

As I walked out on the road and turned to my left to go under the palace arch gate, the drizzle turned into a steady downpour. Luckily, there was another gate to my left – a white one that I walked inside. It led to a size-able courtyard full of open top jeeps and an Enfield motorcycle or three.



On all sides were living quarters of two stories or more. I sensed I was being stared at and turned around to notice a face draped in a yellow dupatta but wearing gym togs underneath. Ms A.M. told me that I was inside Shaukat Mahal – the one that Sikander Begum (the second female ruler of Bhopal) built. A. was happy to let me snoop around and take photos from the roof as well as inside her living quarters.



I wanted to ask her about the connection with the begums but she had to leave for the gym – her elderly grandfather would stay back. Conversation with the grandfather seemed difficult so after some photographs, glasses of water and polite declines to the cup of tea offered, I walked out towards the upper lake via the palace square.


I turned around to take a good look at Shaukat Mahal again. It is said to be built by a descendant of the bourbon dynasty of France, a certain Sebastian of Bourbon- Mehrban Masih (1830-1878) who was the prime minister in the reign of Qudisia Begum (in 1857). Plentiful details about the curios translocation of a descendant of the French royal family to the heart of Incredible India may be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourbons_of_India . Today the palace is just faded glory, but well worth a look for the façade alone.



The way to the Pari Ghat (the ghat of fairies) lining the upper lake is via the Bab-e-Sikanderi Darwaza or the Gate of Sikander (named after Sikander begum). This imposing, 4 meter wide dual gate has an upper story where some of the begums (the said fairies) who were not out for a bath in the ghat of the upper lake would sit or change while the rest dipped in the Bada Talaab (upper lake). Before the construction of the VIP road, the steps from the Darwaza extended to the lake by the side of Gohar Mahal and Parighat wali masjid.



I went back to the palace square and across the road to check another landmark built by Sikander Begum. The aptly named Moti Masjid (pearl mosque). I came out on the side of the main entrance of the masjid (it was locked) via the arch on the left side and went down the stairs into the lawn and turned around to take a good look. It struck me immediately as very similar to the Jama Masjid of Delhi.



I went back in through one of the arches on the right side of the locked main entrance. The rain ensured a freshly washed look and the golden spires on the domes gleamed beautifully when a bit of sunlight came down on them.



I walked back out to the palace square and took a left to reach Gohar Mahal, possibly the most important of all Bhopal palaces. This one was built by the first female ruler of Bhopal, Qudisa begum whose first name was Gohar. Begum was the granddaughter of Dost Mohammed khan, the founder of Bhopal dynasty. After the death of her husband the ambitious begum decided to retain the throne with herself. She called herself Nawab Gohar Begum Qudsia, thus enjoying the titles of both Nawab (male ruler) and Begum (female ruler) simultaneously. The successive begums of Bhopal (four more generations) all enjoyed the same title. This is something I have never heard of before or since.



Gohar mahal is a protected monument and is devoid of any habitation except for a small part occupied by the state government emporia Mrignayanee (MP state) and Tribes of India (a Delhi based concern). It was almost sunset and the watchman, though a bit reserved, let me in to check out the building in peace. The exterior can be readily recognized by fans of Indian cinema – the Prakash Jha directed ‘Rajneeti’ was shot here. Maybe Katrina kaif came down those stairs in the scene below?



I did step into the MP state government handloom showroom at Gauhar mahal to check if they had any Bagh print Salwar suits. I intended to buy one for my mother as a gift. They had a few but the pieces appeared heavily starched and the cloth thinner than what I would have liked. It was the same matter for the bed sheets.

It was dark and drizzling by now and I was quite tired but I pushed myself to go back into the old city and attempt to find a lane called ‘Chatori Galli’ (the street of the foodies). After a half hour’s search of alternately asking for ‘Bagh print suits’ and diretions to the street, I found Chatori Galli but to my utter dismay there’s only non-vegetarian food available there.

Ibrahimpura (another neighborhood, not far from there) had some spectacular bakery shops and I bought a fluffy sheermal that was actually a lovely bread (and not the regular sheer-maal that one gets at Matia Mahal – behind Jama Masjid in delhi which is more of a naan like preparation smeared in syrup). It cost only Rs 20/-. Two competing shops called Nanhe Bhai biscuit wale stand opposite each other on the crossroads and sell this great sweet-sour bread.



Ambling back to the main road near Moti Masjid, I saw a saree shop and on a lark, went in looking for bagh prints. He had none but he did have some Chanderi sarees – both pure chanderi as well as chanderi mix (with cotton). I found an excellent mix saree in pale yellow with mango inspired design done in hand block print and promptly lapped it up as a gift.

I ended the day at the Indian Coffee house, walking distance from my hotel; slowly savoring a masala dosa. My feet hurt but I felt so glad I came to this city.

I wasn’t sure any longer I was not going to like Bhopal.

Continued here.
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Dec 1st, 2013 at 13:20..
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