India - Getting to know Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh (M.P to those in the know) has a mix of atmospheric ancient temples, crumbling hill forts and outstanding tiger spotting opportunities. It's a perfect region for getting away from the hustle and noise, where you can experience a bygone pace of Indian life with just a fraction of the visitor numbers seen in Rajasthan or Kerala.
In many ways Madhya Pradesh is the perfect India holiday destination, combining some of the country's best wildlife with wonderfully unspoilt, romantic old towns. It feels like somewhere that the bright lights and bustle of modern India haven’t reached, and pacing yourself here is gratifyingly easy. Explore ancient forests to find temples dripping with decorative statues; enjoy memorable tiger encounters deep in the steaming jungle; stimulate your senses in vibrant markets; and relax in charming boutique hotels. The state capital of Bhopal is a pleasant surprise too. Rich in French heritage, this renowned ‘City of Lakes’ has, rather distinctively, been ruled by Muslim women for generations.
Understandably, you’ll want to dedicate plenty of time to seeing the more well-known states, particularly if it's your first visit to India, but Madhya Pradesh is a firm favourite of the Selective Asia team. We recommend taking time out from the traditional trail to explore its lesser-known wonders.
Cultural Madhya Pradesh
- Orchha: Orchha is truly off-the-beaten-track India, where faded regal grandeur mingles with the serenity of the natural landscape. Wrapped in legends of feudal chivalry and romance, its atmospheric temple ruins are cloaked in greenery, like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie! Wander through royal chambers and peaceful courtyards overflowing with ornate Mughal-influenced Rajput architecture, and spend the night like a Maharajah in Amar Mahal, a converted palace hotel.
- Khajuraho: The fact that no one knows quite why the Khajuraho palaces were built only adds to their fascination. Now a UNESCO site, these mystical Hindu temples, wreathed in timeless forest, are adorned with intricate and highly erotic statues and carvings (some more graphic than others!) With spellbinding effect, the stonework appears to change colour through the day, from warm pink at sunrise, to marble white at midday, to golden in the evening’s rays.
- Bhopal: The state capital is an attractive city that exudes culture, from its kaleidoscopic markets to its peaceful parks. Discover the city's unique French colonial architecture on a heritage walk, and tuck into top-notch street food including aromatic soups, spicy kebabs and sweet sticky pastries. Don’t leave without seeing the Museum of Mankind’s fascinating displays about India's indigenous minorities, many of whose traditional cultures are under threat.
- Maheshwar: Nestled on the banks of the Narmada River, Maheshwar’s blissful tranquility is perfect for a few days of complete relaxation. See the old sandstone palace and waterfront ghats, where pilgrims come to bathe in the holy river, and visit local weavers' workshops where the region’s unique saris are made. We recommend a restful night or two at the luxurious Ahilya Fort, which was once the private palace of the Holkar dynasty.
Madhya Pradesh's National Parks
- Kanha: The inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, Kanha is a wealth of meandering rivers and woodland rich in teak and bamboo. As well as Bengal Tigers, Kanha is home to a sizeable population of barasingha (swamp deer), which exist nowhere else in the world. Scorchingly hot April and May are particularly good months for spotting big game, when much of the leafy foliage and long grasses have died back. Like all M.P’s National Parks, Kanha is closed during monsoon season from June to mid-October.
- Bandhavgarh: Famous for its tiger-spotting opportunities - it has the highest concentration in India - Bandhavgarh is one of the country's most popular national parks. Now government owned, Bandhavgarh has been a protected tiger reserve since the early 1990's. The setting is spectacular, with a crumbling fort on top of a natural promontory right in the centre and ancient temples hidden in the forest. Alongside the park’s regal and mighty tigers, you may well see hyenas, foxes, sloth bears and even leopard.
- Pench: Pench is one of Madhya Pradesh’s lesser visited national parks. The scenery is a rolling landscape of ancient teak forest interspersed with lazy rivers which are great for rafting. There are Bengal Tigers here but you're less likely to see them than at Bandhavgarh. However, you won't be short on wildlife sightings. Pench is home to a huge concentration of deer and antelope along with jackals, wild dogs and sloth bears, a healthy population of leopards, and over 210 species of bird.
- Satpura: Whilst tigers do reside in Satpura National Park, you’ll be lucky to spot them! However, there are far fewer visitors here than in the more well-known national parks, and a plethora of birds and beasts to see including leopard, sloth bear and a unique giant squirrel. Where to stay? Sleep in a tented lodge overlooking a waterhole at Reni Pani Jungle Lodge. Watching the wildlife from your veranda in the first light of dawn is an unforgettable way to start the day.
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