In an attempt to hunt down a new weekend destination near the Capital, Bhopal came up as an interesting option if looking for a mix of history, heritage, wildlife, and of course some luxury. This city has the ability to thrill and pamper.
I had no expectations from Bhopal when we visited, it was meant to be a one night stop during our 2 weeks Madhya Pradesh road trip. However, once I spent some time here, I realised that this city has much more to offer then then just being the political hub of Madhya Pradesh.
While we could not stay longer than a night, I promised myself I would return soon to enjoy a little more of everything.
Originally named Bhojpal after its founder King Bhoj in the 11 Century, Bhopal bears traces of the ups and downs of each dynasty that ruled over it. For a taste of what the old city was once like, you can opt for a Bhopal Heritage walk. Start early and spend half your day through the narrow alleys and noisy bazaars, enjoy the spectacular mosques and palaces.
With Sanchi and Bhimbetka both towns about 40 km away from Bhopal (in opposite directions), this city is definitely a paradise for history seekers and enthusiasts.
Sanchi, a one hour drive from Bhopal, is a small town which rises from the plains of Bhopal with some of the oldest Buddhist structures in India. Stupa of Sanchi was commissioned by Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BCE in repentant of the horrors he had inflicted on Kalinga (present-day Odisha). The Stupa’s nucleus is a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of Buddha. The Buddhists monuments in Sanchi have been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Keep a good 6 to 7 hours including travel time to visit this site.
Bhimbetka is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. Recent discoveries here of over 600 rock shelters (the largest group in the world) have revealed paintings that go back to the early Stone Age. The best way to visit this site would be to stop-over either while driving to Satpura National Park or returning back to Bhopal from the Park.
Satpura National Park is located in the Hoshangabad district and is about a three hour drive from Bhopal. If you are planning to visit Satpura from Bhopal, then plan to spend at least one night here, if not two. During our Madhya Pradesh road trip we also visited two other Tiger Reserves – Bhandhavgarh and Kanha. I can say without hesitation that Satpura was my most favorite. The park has a charm of its own and unlike other parks I have visited, this one is not crowded, in fact many people have not even heard of the park being a Tiger Reserve.
Satpura is one of the only parks in India that allows guests to walk in the core area, take a night safari or allow canoeing in the forest river. There are many resorts and lodges to choose from but I would recommend Forsyth Lodge hands down. You have to stay here to really understand why this property costs approximately INR 18,000 per person, per night. If you are not interested in wildlife, this place will convert you.
Back in Bhopal, besides enjoying the palacial hotels and their luxurious spa options, you can also visit the Taj-ul-Massajid – know to be the largest mosque in India and built by the queen Shahjehan Begum. Interestingly, Bhopal also has the largest open air anthropological museum in India – the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manv Sangrahalaya is situated at Shamla Hills over looking the Upper Lake.
Where to stay in Bhopal
To experience some great hospitality, two hotels that promise luxury and elegance are Jehan Numa Palace Hotel and Noor-Us-Sabha Palace Hotel.
- Jehan Numa Palace Hotel is known to be the best Hotel in Bhopal. It was in 1890 during the rule of Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum that this Palace was built. In 1983, Nadir and Yawar Rashid, the grandsons of her second son – General Obaidullah Khan (Commander-in-Chief of the erstwhile Bhopal state Force) and the owners of the Palace, decided to share their legacy with the world by opening the doors to outsiders and converting this Palace in to a hotel.
- While we stayed at Jehan Numa Palace, Noor-Us-Sabah Palace Hotel comes with a reputation of being one of the finest residential Palaces of Bhopal. An ITC Welcome Heritage property, what works well for this Palace is that it is perched on a hill and offers a stunning view beautiful and expansive Bhopal Lake and the Vindhya Hills. The Palace was built in the 1920s’ by H.H. Hamid Ullah Khan, For his eldest daughter Abida Sultan.
How to get to Bhopal
The city is well connected by train and flight. Since we were on a road trip and took the Bhopal – Agra highway, I would NOT recommend that you drive.
- A comfortable way to get to Bhopal would be by train. The city is the main railway junction for the West Central Railways. It is also the terminus of the Shatabdi Express, with daily shuttles between Delhi and Bhopal.
- 1 hour 45 min from Delhi and 1 hour 15 min from Mumbai, one can easily reach Bhopal by air; and it has also has an international airport.
My recommendation would be 2 nights in Bhopal and if you can make a long weekend of it, then 2 nights additionally in Satpura National Park.
If you are planning a visit to Bhopal? Do share your experience with us.