Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh combines scenic beauty, historicity and modern urban planning. It is situated on the site of an 11th century city, Bhojapal, founded by Raja Bhoj. Bhopal today presents a multi-faceted profile; the old city with its teeming market places and fine old mosques and palaces still bear the aristocratic imprint of its former rulers; among them the succession of powerful Begums who ruled Bhopal from 1819 to 1926. Equally impressive is the new city with its verdant, exquisitely laid out parks and gardens, broad avenues and streamlined modern edifices.
The founder of the existing city was Afghan soldier Dost Mohammad (1708-1740). Fleeing from Delhi in the chaotic period that followed Aurangzeb’s death, Dost Mohammad met the Gond queen Kamlapati, who sought his aid after the murder of her consort. A charming legend relates how the queen would recline in a lotus barge that, on moonlit nights, would drift across the lake. The two lakes of Bhopal still dominate the city, and are indeed its nucleus. Bordered along their shores stand silent sentinels that testify to the growth of a city.
Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya
The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (National Museum of Mankind) is a unique Museum, spread over 200 acres of undulating land on the Shamla Hills on the Upper Lake front. It is situated in a prehistoric site and may be the only museum in the world strewn with numerous prehistoric painted rock shelters. It is a post-colonial museum of communities rather than objects, dedicated to in situ revitalisation of local knowledge systems and life enhancing traditions rather than ex situ display of objects. It is engaged in recollection rather than collection.
The museum display has been curated directly by the folk and tribal communities, camping at site, to create a miniature presentation of Indian folk ways through display of eco-specific habitations & subsistence practices in the tribal, coastal, desert, and Himalayan habitats. The library, audio-visual archive, computerised documentation and the collection of ethnographic specimens in the Museum, though modest in size are among the best in the world.
Chitrakoot, ‘the hill of many wonders’, nestles peacefully in the northern spurs of the Vindhyas, a place of tranquil forest glades and quiet rivers, and streams where calm and repose are all pervading. This loveliest of Nature’s gifts is also hallowed ground, blessed by the gods and sanctified by the faith of pilgrims. For Chitrakoot’s spiritual legacy stretches back to legendary ages: it was in these deep forests that Rama and Sita spent eleven of their fourteen years of exile; here that the great sage Atri and Sati Anusuya meditated; and here where the principal trinity of the Hindu pantheon, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, took their incarnations.
Sufferers and seekers, poets and visionaries, princes and noblemen have, through the ages, sought and found solace in Chitrakoot, drawn inspiration from its sublime natural beauty, gained spiritual strength from its serene temples and in turn, become part of the hallowed legend that is Chitrakoot.
The ghats that line the banks of the river Mandakini reveal a constantly moving and changing kaleidoscope of religious activity. Here, amidst the chanting of hymns and the sweet fragrance of incense, holy men in saffron robes sit, in silent meditation or offer the solace of their wisdom to the countless pilgrims who converge here. With the very first rays of dawn that gleam upon the river, Ramghat stirs into life as the devout of all ages take the ritual, purifying dip in the waters and invoke the blessings of the gods. The rippling blue green waters of the Mandakini can be traversed by boats, readily available for hire.
Kamadgiri, the original Chitrakoot, is a place of prime religious significance. A forested hill, it is skirted all along its base by a chain of temples and is venerated, today, as the holy embodiment of Rama. The Bharat Milap temple is located here, marking the spot where Bharat is said to have met Rama to persuade him to return to the throne of Ayodhya. Many are the faithful who perform the ritual circuit (Parikrama), of the sacred hill, to ask for a boon or a blessing.
Sati Anusuya is located further up-stream, set amidst thick forests that resound to the melody of birdsong all day. It was here that Atri Muni, his wife Anusuya and their three sons (who were the three incarnations of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh) are said to have meditated. The Mandakini is believed to have been created by Anusuya through her meditation. Sati Anusuya lies about 16 km from the town and can be reached by road – an undulating, curving drive through densely wooded areas.
A few kilometers beyond Janaki Kund is again a densely forested area on the banks of the Mandakini. One can climb up to the boulder which bears the impression of Rama’s footprint and where Sita was pecked at by Jayant in the form of a crow. There are large fish in the river here easily visible in the pellucid water, and a few temples.
Upstream from Ramghat is a serenely beautiful stretch of the Mandakini, a symphony of nature in tones of earth- brown and leaf-green, the intense blue of the river waters finding a paler echo in the canopy of the sky. There are two approaches to Janaki Kund, 2 km up from Ramghat by boat, or by road along a foliage-lined drive.
Located on a rock-face several hundred feet up a steep hillside is a spring, said to have been created by Rama to assuage Hanuman when the latter returned after setting Lanka afire. A couple of temples commemorate this spot which offers a panoramic view of Chitrakoot. There is an open, paved area here in the shade of a massive peepul tree, a lovely halting place after the long climb-up.