After Rajasthan, M.P. has always allured me for the variety of heritage treasures it possesses. Oraccha & Khajuraho being on my radar for a long time, while planning and realising the proximity I decided to add Gwalior into my plan.
How to reach:
From Bangalore flying into Gwalior has to be meticulously planned, as there are no direct flights. If you find the right flights at the right time, you will be in Gwalior within half a day. Unfortunately only Air India operates to Gwalior from Delhi & Mumbai, which is always uncertain and prone to being cancelled anytime. My friends couldn’t make it due to last minute cancellation, and so I’m doing this city – solo.
Another alternative could be to fly to Delhi, and then take any superfast train to Gwalior (many options!)which is a mere 4-5 hour journey. Given the comfort and ease of booking trains in 2016, I would definitely go for this option. AC coaches have become really luxurious now..wow!
I however reached here by train from Nagpur, which is another headache. Its a good 12 hour journey, and all trains either required boarding or alighting in the middle of night. So I decided to board after midnight from my familiar station, rather reaching at odd hours in an unfamiliar city. To my horror the entire 2AC bogey was empty, I walked to adjoining bogies to find a seat near some people (which wasn’t more than 2-3). In general it was empty, and till the next day upto Gwalior it remained so. I kind of enjoyed the peace and quiet. The train staff whoever passed offered all the courtesy and help to make the single woman traveling feel comfortable. Thankfully.
Within India atleast, it is very true that you will find the best guides to a place at the railway station, NOT at the Airport or the Hotel. Coming out of the station, I got the first auto guy who asked for a reasonable price to drop at my hotel, and eventually on asking he was to be my chauffeur for rest of the day 😛 It cost me 500/- for a couple of hours.
Day 1:After checking into Neemrana’s Deo Bagh property in Gwalior, I asked the auto guy to pick me up for the city tour. I was really interested in staying at a heritage accommodation, even though it burnt a hole in my pockets, but its worth a shot once in life – afteral I work my ass off to earn that money. The place is rustic, quiet and serene, amidst vast expanse of ruins from 17th century.
I freshened up and left on my auto to explore the city. There are too many old ruins from centuries ago that are inhabited by people, mostly encroached upon and abused. Most of the times, you can spot the Gwalior fort while driving around the city.
My 1st stop was Jai Vilas Palace Museum– a privately maintained museum owned by the Scindia Family (of political fame). I was told the place has been recently renovated to match world standards. I was pleasantly amused at the standards, it was very close to what you will come across in museums in foreign countries. The Scindia style pagdi is something of uniqueness to their family, as shown in the picture. Apart from that they had various party and dining halls adorned with chandeliers and expensive decor.
Although personally I felt the stuff in the museum wasn’t that great if you start comparing Royal museums in rest of world, because most of it was foreign valuables owned by the Scindias over the last century, plus lot of traditional woodwork furniture. There is also a vehicle section, where you’d find a Reva size BMW along with other carriages.
I utilised rest of the evening checking out other tourist attractions, and sampling chats and savouries across town.
The Sun temple is clearly missable, it was built by the Birlas as a tribute of some form in 1980s. I was told several times while interacting with the people through my trip, according to local people, the Sun temple ever since built has not been a good omen for Gwalior’s economy.
Moti Mahal is sitting in ignorance, with filth and almost dying water body around this beautiful site. Govt. offices have rented most of the heritage buildings in this location for a mere fees of Rs.1/- per month, which were formerly resided by the Scindias. Govt. is definitely not doing much to maintain the heritage structures. You can see them in shambles. Scindias now officially reside in part of Jai Vilas Palace.
Teli ka Mandir is an old structure of historical significance but empty with no shrine inside.
Saas-Bahu temple, got its name from the fact that the Royal family mother-in-law & Daughter-in-law visited this temple respectively assigning themselves 1 of 2 temples constructed on the hill near by to the Fort. I think before this the temples were named Sahastrabuddha temple, not sure.
Daata Bandhi Chhod Gurudwara is an important pilgrimage spot for the Sikhs, as their Guru here has a significant contribution to the history of Gwalior, where the Royal Kings of this region were confined by the cruel Aurangzeb in the 17th Century.
You must try the traditional Poha and jalebi breakfast, I missed the jalebi as it is only available till 9 am, post that all stocks will get over all-over the town. Bahadura sweets motichoor laddoos were a hit, just melt in your mouth!.
My breakfast spread at Neemrana’s was definitely amazing, loved it.
Day 2: I started my morning with Gwalior Fort, as the previous day I was too late. It closes by 5:30 p.m. daily, and Light & Sound show happens around 6:30 p.m. or so. The Fort was built in 16-17th century by the King. It is built on Gopachal Parvat, which was surrounded by a river in previous centuries, now it is dead, and has concrete area built on it for people to sit out. The fort is a beauty and full of ancient wisdom showcased in the architecture and design of the structure. Outside has natural colours used which have survived till now, used with glass tiles and limestone. It is said the tombs were initially painted with real gold paint, which has wore down now. It has 7 floors in total, out of which you go up to -3 underground. The light and wind have been beautifully brought into all floors using intelligent techniques like mirrors and narrow cavities in the walls.
Do take a guide to take you around the fort, there is something about the narration that will make you understand the space better, other wise you might not even notice how architecture and design allowed the place to function so well.
As told, the King had 9 wives. The 9th wife however was a peasant’s daughter, unlike other ones who were of royal lineage. The King met his 9th wife, named ‘Mrignaini’ by him later, on one of his hunting trips to jungle where he found her fighting with a wild bull. Mesmerised by her beauty and courage, he decided to marry her. The Gujari Mahal was built specially for her, it sits at the foot of the hill, having a secret passage from the main fort through the hill to this palace (passage closed now).
The Gopachal parvat is home to a more ancient site, the Jain caves and larger than life carvings on the stones on the way to Gwalior Fort. They belong to the 600th Century. If you haven’t researched much, you probably may not even notice them, no guide really talks about it or draws attention to it. It is a pilgrimage location for Jainism. The 52 ft Bahubali statue will amaze you, and feel amused how you did not notice it without being pointed at.
Rest of the day I had hired a cab with help of INTACH Gwalior Chapter facilitator Mr.Vikas, a Professor practising in Gwalior. A historian accompanied me through the day. It was an expensive affair, but as I was visiting Gwalior alone, I wanted to make sure I visit all places with an informed person, instead of struggling alone and scraping for good guides (based on my last trip experiences). After Gwalior Fort, we headed to the outskirts to visit less-known locations in and around Morena.
It was a good decision to not venture alone, these places turned out to be completely deserted with no public transport really available to reach there.
We travelled about 40 kms from Gwalior to Morena, to visit temples of Mitawali, Padhawali & Bateshwara (sequence in image left to right). We briefly stopped at Shanidev Mandir, believed to be the only temple shrine dedicated to Shani Dev in whole of India – the original one.
Mitawali: famously known as the original inspiration for the design of Lutyen’s Parliament Building in New Delhi, only inverted. This place was a delight to be at, peaceful, thankfully no tourists, nice breeze blowing and practically endless walk around the circular shape among the columns. I walked around twice, and I just could not figure when I reached the only door in the circular campus, the circle was being itself – endless. There is a functioning Shiva temple at the centre, I offered some fruits and relaxed in the empty temple.
Padhawali: The collapsed main temple, still has its entrance building intact, which is so beautifully carved, it leaves you scraping your imagination how would the main building look like. Named after the village it falls in, the place was used as a mandappa for important events by the kings. The temple entrance has intricate carvings about Ram Sita swayamvar, and the 9 avatars of Vishnu. My guide believed the last Avatar ‘Kalki’ is yet to incarnate into this world, as we have not reached Kalyuga yet. According to him, Kalyuga would be when no one cares about no one, for now we still do care about each other. He said the location of birth of ‘Kalki’ has been defined to be in Delhi, which is a written prediction in the books. Amusing.
Standing at Padhawali, you can easily spot Mitawali on the next hill slightly in farsight. We next headed to Bateshwar, the place I was pining to be at ever since!
Bateshwara: This place has all its credits to the ASI, The Archeological Survey of India interestingly is responsible for revival of this beautiful location. As every Govt. body, every region has a independently functioning body, in M.P. it is attributed to the dedicated officials like Mr.Muhammed and his subordinates. Probably may not be true in other regions of India, the more ignorance you see, blame it on the careless officials that region has unfortunately. In Bateshwara however, even though the funding has been stopped since a year, the ASI workers continue to maintain the place out of sheer dedication on a bare minimum wage. I was told by the caretaker the Funding is on its way and work should resume post Diwali. The place was dug out from a mound of mud-hill, put together like pieces of puzzle since 2005. If you walk around, you will still see carved temple blocks stuck in the muddy hill around the complex.