India’s second largest state is packed with everything a traveller could ask for, from rich forests and natural reserves to ancient caves and rock paintings to art, architecture and some amazing Food to top it off. When we started planning our MP journey, the list of places to visit, for a variety of reasons, just kept growing. It seemed that this state required a lot more time than others we had already done and 6 weeks ago we set off with a plan that was sure to be revised multiple times over. And true to form it has been. So while we still have the western part of the state to cover, the famed Malwa region, MP had already won us over.
Marketed as the heart of Incredible India, MP truly is an amalgamation of history, cultures, art, tastes and empires. Here, in the Deccan plateau, empires have waged war and fierce battles to expand their reach either further north or south. It is from here that the Mauryan Empire expanded their control over half the sub continent, the Gupta Empire flourished leaving a lasting legacy of beautiful art, the Marathas fought the Mughals, the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang visited, Ibn Batuta is said to have passed through and the Chandellas gave the world Khajuraho. It is deep in these jungles and forest that the Gond Tribes, said to be one of the earliest of all tribes in the country, lived, giving us the distinctive Gond art and influencing the culture and food of most of southern and eastern MP. Home to Tansen and Kalidas, MP is also rich in several forms of artwork, from the unique Chanderi saris that still use the warp and weft method, to the carved metal work that adorns homes and temples across the country. And right in the centre of the state is Bhopal, ruled for centuries by the Nawabs including four Begums, where the food is rich and meaty, but distinct, not to be confused with the better known foodie cities of Lucknow and Hyderabad.
Northern MP, from the Bundelkhand region to Baghelkhand, is dotted with ruins of palaces, tombs, forts and stupas, each more intricate and detailed that the other. A drive in any direction reveals centuries old palaces, a temple group that was rescued from the clutches of bandits and painstakingly restored by the ASI, a fort that is slowly being reclaimed by nature and much more. At every turn there are interesting legends to be uncovered which we were only happy to explore, as always aided by friendly village folk, inquisitive children, the corner pan-wala who knows everything and the so called ‘guides’ at all ticketed sites. Adventures we will share in the upcoming articles.
Madhya Pradesh is most famous for its many Tiger sanctuaries, and with the high concentration of tigers across the parks, sightings are fairly common. But the state, with over 12 national parks, is also home to a number of interesting animals including the large and furry Sloth Bear, the stealthy Leopard, smaller cats, wild dogs, a variety of deer, crocodiles, lizards, butterflies, snakes and of course hundreds of birds. Many of the parks are havens for avian enthusiasts and welcome a number of migratory birds as well, including the indomitable Bar-Headed Goose, the highest flying migratory bird that comes from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Satpura National Park, one of the many across the state, offers walking safaris, allowing you to experience the jungle in all its glory and learn about all the little things that make up the fascinating eco system of a jungle. One of the cool things we learnt was how to roughly estimate the height of an elephant by measuring the foot print of the fore leg.
Our time in MP has been interesting to say the least and we look forward to telling you its many stories and secrets, as well continue to travel the state. At the heart of India, it has benefitted from history and the confluence of changing times, which you can see in the distinctive architecture, the art and most importantly the food. Here in MP, breakfast is poha, Maharashtrian style, with jalebis, a favourite of the north. Dal-Batti, commonly eaten in Rajasthan is a winter meal here, eaten with boiled potatoes, similar in taste and texture to the potatoes and mustard oil dish in Orissa and West Bengal. The Nawabi Biryani in Bhopal looks familiar but surprises you with its distinctive taste, lighter and more subtle than the biryani available in other cities. Bhopali food hasn’t travelled much, and it is said that the Begums who ruled the city held on to the secrets of their kitchens closely, while ruling their kingdom. On the contrary it has absorbed the secrets of conquerors and others, creating a novel and special Bhopali cuisine. We were foolishly on a diet when we started exploring the state, which we quickly abandoned. There is so much more to what is known as ‘Indian food’ which we are discovering as we travel.
History in the region dates back over 35,000 years, as seen through the famed rock paintings in Bhimbetka, though tools and other implements in the State Museum in Bhopal reveal the presence of life even before. From the stone age till the present day, this region, now marked on a map as Madhya Pradesh, has played host to time. Still relatively unknown, beyond the obvious UNESCO sites and other tourist places of Gwalior and Bhopal, MP is fascinating and has been quite the adventure. The last stage, the Malwa region, is home to several invaders and dynasties, including the Afghans, Rajputs, Mughals, Marathas, British and proposes to be an interesting mix of architecture and ruins. Stay tuned for stories and experiences from MP, the heart of India.