In many ways, Madhya Pradesh is the perfect Indian holiday destination. It combines some of the country's best wildlife with unspoilt, romantic old towns, and feels like somewhere the bright lights and bustle of modern India haven’t yet reached. There’s also just a fraction of the visitor numbers seen in Rajasthan or Kerala. Find memorable tiger encounters deep in the jungle, stimulate your senses in vibrant markets, and relax in charming boutique hotels. The state capital of Bhopal is a pleasant surprise. Rich in French heritage this renowned ‘City of Lakes’ has, distinctively, been ruled by Muslim women for generations.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
There might be better-known places in India to go in the hope of a little tiger-spotting, but the national parks of MP are perhaps best placed to offer the complete big cat experience. Multiple protected areas, easily linked together, offer an unbeatable chance of encountering your first tiger. What do Panna Reserve, Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks all have in common? Safaris by jeep, in the chill of the early morning and the languid heat of the late afternoon, with sharp-eyed naturalists on hand, and cameras at the ready. The differences? A startling variety of landscapes, from open savannah to dense forest and dramatic rocky outcrops, the other diverse wildlife of each park, and your base in rustic cottages, eco-resorts or safari-style camps.
Indian cities throw up their fair share of contrasts, and Bhopal is no exception. Renowned for its historic old town, and referred to both as the ‘City of Lakes’ and the ‘City of Mosques’, Bhopal was once the site of one of the world’s worst industrial tragedies. The city’s diverse heritage is evident in the grand Gauhar Mahal palace, with its landscaped gardens and courtyards constructed for the first female ruler of Bhopal in 1821, and the exquisite mosques such as the Taj-ul-Masajid, ‘The Crown of Mosques’. The Museum of Man provides an interesting introduction to India’s varied traditions and cultures, while the modern suburbs to the south remind you that Bhopal also has an eye on the future.
A rich heritage of arts and crafts can be found on display throughout Madhya Pradesh. In Gwalior, the brightly coloured Batto Bai Dolls (named after the craftswoman who created them) are still sold in their traditional pairs by her descendents. In Indore, the small but incredibly lifelike animal sculptures, moulded and covered with leather, make ideal toys and souvenirs. Maheshwar has a long-standing tradition of hand weaving perfect sarees, whereas in Bhopal, stunning Zari work or Zardozi (meaning ‘embroidering with gold threads’) is an ancient and intricate artform used to decorate the most opulent of fabrics.
Take your best shot at spotting wildlife with an itinerary that includes not one but three different parks, all located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. This allows you to explore some surprisingly diverse scenery, see myriad bird and animal species, and hugely increase your chances of spotting one of these elusive big cats.