Thursday, October 16, 2014


(part of our Madhya Pradesh roadtrip)

Mandu is called India’s best preserved medieval city, and justifiably so. Built by the Malwa governor Dilawar Khan in 1400, Mandu had an interesting 300 years of existence before it ceased being a capital and then was abandoned due to plague. Mandu is very similar to Hampi in the sense that they are both medieval cities spread over a huge area, abandoned after a couple of centuries of prosperity. Hampi is set along the Tungabhadra river, while Mandu is set amidst beautiful lakes. The difference is that Hampi is set in a dry area of the Deccan region while Mandu is covered in greenery.

(Bhopal to Mandu is about 300 km, most of it on the NH3, which continues to be a charming road. From Mhow, we had to branch off on a small two lane road which heads towards Mandu. Here we had another Google Maps error – chose the wrong road – which wasn’t as bad as the Vidisha road, but was about 25 min of broken road. After we rejoined the correct road, the road started climbing onto the Malwa plateau and soon we arrived in Mandu)

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014


(part of our Madhya Pradesh roadtrip)

Sanchi needs no introduction - most of us remember it from our history books.
However, I dont think Indian education system does justice to all these magnificent monuments left behind by kings long gone by. For example, the Sanchi Stupa is the sole surviving stupa built by Emperor Ashoka - and the oldest surviving stone structure in India (thank you wikipedia). Legend goes that after Buddha was cremated, his ashes were divided into 10 parts and they formed the core of 10 main stupas built by Emperor Ashoka. The location of 8 of them are lost, only two are known - Sanchi and Sarnath. The one at Sarnath has been rebuilt around 500 AD (by Gupta rulers probably), with only the basement surviving from Emperor Ashoka's stupa.

Sanchi had a more lucky existence, where the original brick stupa has been retained and covered with stone by the later Sunga rulers (enlarging it in the process). They also added the ballustrade and the stone pathway around the stupa. The Satavahanas, who succeeded the Sungas, added the 4 elaborated carved toranas (gateways) which give Sanchi its identity.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Udaygiri Caves, Vidisha

(part of our Madhya Pradesh roadtrip)

Vidisha is an ancient, but little known town in Central India. In fact the Great Stupa at Sanchi owes it's existence to Vidisha - as Emperor Ashoka met and married his first wife Devi at Vidisha (she was a merchant's daughter). Sanchi was one the first stupas built by Ashoka and it's construction was apparently personally supervised by Devi herself. Vidisha is only 15 km from Sanchi, hence it was a sort of bonus to Sanchi. The target was the Udaygiri caves near Vidisha, one of the oldest cave temples in India, and probably the oldest Hindu cave temple in India. Built around 400 AD by Chandragupta II of Gupta dynasty, it is one of the few surviving examples of Gupta architecture.

However the road to Udayagiri was much more than we bargained for. Google Maps showed a road that skirted Vidisha city, and we were happy to get a chance to avoid the narrow roads of an old city. But that road soon vanished, leaving a dirt track through corn fields, which was fit only for tractors. We coaxed and cajoled our car through it for km after km, hoping that better roads were just a little way away. The car even touched one of the rocks on that road, but thankfully nothing broke. That 13 km took us a full hour to cover.

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Monday, October 13, 2014


(part of our Madhya Pradesh roadtrip)

If we go into India's recorded history, the earliest written records we have belong to the Maurya kings (4th century BC) - mostly edicts and inscriptions left behind by Emperor Ashoka - or accounts of foreigners like Megasthenes and Fahein. The Nanda dynasty, who preceded the Mauryas, are mentioned by Alexander's historians and made famous by the story of Chanakya, but they did not leave behind any physical evidence themselves.
The story goes that Alexander stopped his world domination march because his soldiers got frightened by stories of Nanda's huge army (including 3000 war elephants), and refused to march any further

The oldest standing manmade monuments in the subcontinent are undoubtedly the Indus Valley cities, which date back to more than 4000 BC (or about 6000 years old). Their pictographical script hasn't been decoded yet. But the expansive cities they built, with high amount of civic engineering and town planning, were unparalleled in the world at that time. The more famous cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro are unfortunately located in Pakistan, but the sites in India are equally wondorous, as we discovered in Dholavira

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Indore : Sarafa Bazaar

(part of our Madhya Pradesh roadtrip)

Indore is sometimes called the "Bombay" of Central India - on account of being the largest city in Madhya Pradesh and its commercial capital. We were using Indore just as a resting point on day 1, but after sampling the amazing food on offer, we think it should be known as the food capital of Central India as well.

Imagine a traditional market area in any Indian city. This one specializes in jewellery - hence the name Sarafa Bazaar. The lanes are narrow, and vehicular traffic isn't allowed inside. The shops themselves are small and aren't too fancy. But once the hustle bustle of the day dies down and the shops close up, a different kind of crowd starts trickling in. By 10 pm, food stalls pop up in front of the jewellery shops - serving different kinds of chats and sweets. And local residents turn out in droves to savour the famous Joshi dahi wada or have a glass of cold sweet thandai - or any of the other chats on display. And the stream of customers stretches upto 3 am in the morning ! (in Bombay everything in shut by 1, in comparison)

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Madhya Pradesh - Bhimbetka, Sanchi & Mandu

October was an exceptional month for travelers in India
There were three long weekends possible in a single month – a situation which was probably unprecedented in the past few years.
The 2nd Oct weekend was especially alluring because the following Monday, 6th, was also a holiday. So taking 3rd off would make it a 5 day weekend.

It was quickly decided that the long weekend would be perfect for a trip to the desert in Rajasthan. Jaisalmer and Jodhpur were quickly finalized and a rough itinerary formed. But at the start of Sept, we were already too late. All trains to Rajasthan were booked solid (triple digit waiting list). Flights were also expensive due to the additional demand. The 5 day trip was coming out to be quite expensive.

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