A languorous walk through Bhopal’s busy lanes, an evening stroll along its lakes, a gaze at its minarets and a peek at its structures reveal a lot about the city’s history and heritage. Stories of the city meander its way around kings, begums, dilapidated structures, Mughal rule and water bodies from the 11th century. Bhopal might at the first impression seem like any other bustling Indian city with chaos, traffic snarls and narrow lanes. However, the city slowly reveals its historical stories as you stroll around.
Located in central India, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, Bhopal is mostly seen as a place to stay for a day or two for tourists visiting Sanchi, Bhimbetka and Udayagiri Caves. Often referred as the 'City of Lakes', Bhopal is believed to have been founded by the king, Parmara Raja Bhoj in 11th century. It was taken over in the mid 16th century by the Mughals and was ruled by Gonds, the local chieftains. Later when the British spread their wings in the 19th century, Bhopal became a princely state and was ruled by four Begums, the Muslim rulers of Bhopal until mid 20th century. Bhopal cornered all world attention when in 1984 it faced one of the deadliest industrial disasters which led to the death of almost 4000 people.
Old Bhopal is known for its mosques, alleys, markets etc. which is located to the north upper lake, while new Bhopal with all its modernity is located to the south of the lake. Bhopal does not offer a lot to its visitors and most of its places of interest can be covered in a day.
Here are a few prominent places to visit in Bhopal if you have a day to spare.
Mughal and Persian influence is quite evident across the city which has numerous old structures with arches and domes. Built in 1860 CE by Sikander Jeahn Begum, one of the four Begums of Bhopal, Moti masjid which is also referred as Pearl masjid stands tall with its flight of steps and lovely arches. Though most of the structure and tall minarets are made of red bricks, the main structure and prayer hall are made of marble.
With a pink facade, Taj-ul-Masjid looks strikingly similar to the Jama masjid in New Delhi. Taj-ul-masjid, which translates to ‘The Crown of Mosques’ can accommodate up to 175,000 people making it the largest mosque in India and the second largest in Asia. The construction of the mosque was started by Shah Jehan Begum in 1877 CE. However, it was stalled due to lack of funds, but construction resumed in 1971. The mosque has three large domes in white marble and two tall minarets. The large entrance doors have arches and the flooring is made of marble. The main hallway is adorned with arches and pillars that have exquisite ornate designs and carvings. The premise also has a spacious courtyard.
Bhopal is often referred as the City of Lakes, and this is because of the numerous water bodies that are present across the city. The Upper lake is the most prominent one and the city revolves around it. Known as Bhoj Tal or Bada Talab, the lake is named after Parmara Raja Bhoj and is the largest manmade lake in India. Boating facilities, numerous cafes and sunset view makes the place an ideal one for an evening stroll. There is also a lower lake close to the upper lake which is separated by a bund and a bridge. Museum of Mankind is located near the upper lake and showcases the rich tribal culture and art of the country. Van Vihar national park which is an open zoological park is another attraction near the upper lake.
The city has a couple of very interesting old markets known for its alleyways and vibrancy. Sarafa market and Chowk bazaar remind you of the old souqs that prevailed in Persia. From fabrics to jewellery to biscuits, these markets sell myriad items. Zari work which is a type of embroidery work on sarees and purses is popular here. For those who would love to shop in Bhopal, these are the markets to head to. The markets also have nice restaurants that serve local cuisine.
Bhopal was once home to some magnificent structures and palaces which were mostly built during the 19th century by the British and the local rulers. Sadar Manzil, Gohar Mahal and Shaukat Mahal are some of those prominent structures. A couple of them like Sadar Manzil have been turned into government offices. Gohar mahal facing the upper lake has an interesting Hindu- Muslim architecture.
- Visit the mosques in the morning and head to upper lake in the evening. The evenings are pleasant around the lake.
- Museum of Mankind closes by 5 PM and remains shut on Mondays.
- The chowk and bazaars remain mostly shut on Sundays.
How to reach Bhopal:
Bhopal is well connected to other cities of India by flights, rail and roads. It is recommended to hire a taxi to cover places within the city.
Food and Accommodation:
Though the cusine is mostly Mughlai, Bhopal is well known for its jalebis and poha. Raja tea stall has excellent poha, which is a must try. Risalas, a chicken preparation by Bohra Muslims is a popular dish that one can explore in Bhopal. There are many eateries in the markets which serve the local delicacies.
Bhopal has numerous hotels catering a wide range of budgets. I stayed at Sonali Regency in Peer Gate area, and it is a good option.