Heartland of India – Madhya Pradesh

Temples of Madhya Pradesh
Temples of Madhya Pradesh

The central part of India, with its vast stretches of forests, holds significance, historically as well geographically. From the times of Mahabharatha, followed by the Maurya rule, followed by multiple small kingdoms ruling the region till the Mughals, the region has seen it all. Likewise, geographically diverse from multiple rivers flowing through it, to dense forests all through, the area is one of the oldest regions geographically.

Its neighbouring western state, the deserts of Rajasthan have managed to become the crowing jewel of India’s tourism. But MP, the state covering quite a huge land mass even after its split, with vast majority of the state still remains untapped to a great degree. Access is an issue, development is an issue. And yet the state has so much to offer, whether you are a nature buff or a history or culture buff or an architecture buff.

And for someone from south, this part has had a sort of special place in my childhood memories. We have all heard of Kajuraho, we pass Bhopal to get to Agra. I remember, when we were young and we used to take the 48 hour train journey from Chennai to Delhi, after the rather lack lustre journey through Andhra and briefly passing through Nagpur whose chief attraction were the oranges, it was really Itarsi station in MP we would look forward to for Poori and Aloo. Then the excitement of passing through the jungles and the tunnels would make the state seem so mysterious. And having learnt about so many things in history most of it to be found in MP, I always admired the state but it seemed so far away, so mysterious, so inaccessible. Like Madhya Pradesh was meant to be for books.

But for the last several years Madhya Pradesh tourism has been trying to promote the state as a great tourist location. And it quickly got on to my list of must do states in India. So this March we decided to spend a week there. It took me an hour one morning to realise one week in MP was hardly enough. The state has so much to offer and its so vast. It quickly became apparent that we had to choose and make multiple trips to the state if we wanted to see all that it offers.

So we decided to do the north part of Madhya Pradesh and stick to that rather than driving through the length and breadth of the state in a week.

Our Itinerary read like this

Morning Shatabdi from Delhi to Gwalior (no direct flights from Bangalore to Gwalior) – we stayed at the Taj Usha Kiran Palace for a night, visited the Gwalior fort. Everyone said ‘Gwalior, whats in Gwalior?’ But the fort is well worth a visit and I found it to be a good starting point from Delhi.

Gwalior City
View of the Gwalior City from the Fort
Taking in the moment @ Gwalior Fort

The next day we drove to Orcha from Gwalior. We were worried about the roads but for 90% of the time the roads were good. Its only about 2.5 hour drive and we reached Orcha just after mid day. We stayed in a lovely farm house called Faagun Haveli just outside the Orcha town. It was quite literally in the middle of nowhere of India! Orcha was my favorite of the trip.

Orcha Palace

The Orcha palace was absolutely beautiful and it can give any palace in Rajasthan a run for its money. Its not as ornate and heavy and the architecture is different but the effect of the palace, its setting and its grandeur one can easily imagine how fabulous it would have been at its height. Since we stayed the night there we also took in the sound and light show which was ok but gives you a good overall understanding of the very local history of the heart of India.

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We drove the following day to Kajuraho which is about a four hour drive. We took in the sound and light show the first evening and were mesmerised by the setting. We hadn’t seen the temples yet in day light at this point. The following morning we woke up and decided to catch the sunrise from the temples. I would highly recommend to do that irrespective of when you go for the weather is cooler, the temples look lovely with the rising rays of the sun and the crowds are less. After spending a few hours we got back. It was Holi, an important festival celebrated in North India, marking the arrival of spring. People were in high spirits throwing colours at each other.

A Scene from Kajuraho
A Scene from Kajuraho

The next morning we set out to Panna national park. Panna is only about 40 minutes drive at the max from Kajuraho. En route we stopped at Raneh waterfalls which lies just outside Panna. This place is actually not marketed well but is a pretty cool place. It is actually a canyon formed millions of years ago due to a volcanic eruption. The canyon is actually beautiful with 5 different kinds of rocks and their interplaying colors adding beauty to the entire area. The Ken river flows through it and during monsoon the canyon rocks are completely submerged in water, making waterfalls appear every where.

Ken River
Crocodiles taking in the Sun at Ken River
Raneh Canyon
Raneh Canyon

In Panna, we stayed at the beautiful Taj Safari property called Pashan Garh. Its luxury, but well worth it. We did a couple of drives, the first afternoon and the following early morning. We lucked out in the morning drive and were rewarded by a really close sighting of the majestic tiger that took a 200 metre stroll along the length of 20 vehicles, one of which was ours, eyeing us warily as it crossed the road behind us to the other side. We also spotted lots of sambhars, spotted deers, nilgais, a few jackals, langurs. The park is also a great place to spot lots of birds including the might vultures. We had a nice breakfast in the vulture gorge in the forest before bidding a good bye to the park.

We spent another evening/night in Panna is another beautiful resort called the Sarai at Toria. Its a beautiful eco friendly resort just on the banks of the Ken river opposite the Madla gate. We spent the evening spotting birds on our 2 hour long sun set river boating with a local villager who told us all about the birds who were busy with their evening activities. It was such a fantastic boat ride. The Ken river or Karnavati river is an extremely clean river with very little pollution at this stage. The air is pure and the night sky subsequently brighter and full of stars under which we had our organic dinner.

The next morning we did a long drive of 7 hours to Lucknow to get on to a direct flight to Bangalore.

The trip was a perfect blend of nature and culture and architecture. It was also very relaxed with some great food, especially in Panna. I would highly recommend this.

I would make one of the following 2 changes to our itineraries if I were to do it again –

Our Itinerary was Gwalior – Orcha – Kajuraho – Kajuraho – Panna – Panna

Instead I would either,

Add a stop at Chanderi from Gwalior before Orcha, if possible so the itinerary could look like Gwalior – Chanderi – Orcha – Kajuraho – Panna – Panna.

or I would stay an extra night in Panna instead of Kajuraho so our itinerary would look like Gwalior – Orcha – Kajuraho – Panna – Panna – Panna

Which means you could do one additional game drive if you wanted to. Or just relax in the beautiful jungle property at Pashan Garh or Sarai, and hope to also catch the leopard which we missed. But as they say we can’t have it all.

I, for one, can’t wait to go back to the beautiful heartland of India. There is so much more to explore. Ujjain, Omakareshwar, Maheshwar Ahilya fort. Mandu and the Satpura park to the south west or Nagpur region.

Until next time, MP

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