On the banks of the Betwa River is this understated town that is world-renowned for its beautiful Mughal period architecture. Although not as famous as neighbouring Khajuraho, Orchha itself has a relaxing laid-back air to it. The town is famous for its Ram Raja Temple, the only temple in which Ram is worshipped; the 17th-century Jehangir Mahal; and its chattris. Also worth checking out are the numerous temples and palaces sprinkled around the town, and if you’re interested in art, a visit to the Saket Museum will introduce you to some beautiful folk painting from around the country. (www.madhyapradeshtourism.com)
ADVENTURE: Tiger Balloon Safaris, Pench National Park
The next time you’re at Pench National Park and you’re looking for something a bit more exciting than a night safari, try a Tiger Balloon Safari. The experience is offered by three resorts—Jungle Home Pench (www.penchresorts.co.in), Pench Jungle Camp (www.wildlife-camp-india.com) and Kiplings Court. Limited only to tethered rides until a permit for free rides is acquired, it gives you great aerial views of the park and if you have good eyesight (or a pair of binoculars) you can spot the elusive creatures you’ve been trying to catch sight of without them ever finding out you’re snooping on them. (Rs 2,200 per person; 4–6pm daily)
WILDLIFE: Wildlife Photo Tour, Satpura National Park
Pugdundee safaris offers an interesting wildlife photography workshop-cum-tour in the Satpura National Park. The company’s property in the park, Denwa Backwater Escape, plays host to participants for the four-day tour. On arriving at the resort on the first day, they are introduced to veteran wildlife photographer Sudhir Shivaram, who takes them through the basics of wildlife photography. On the second day, participants can enjoy a walking safari in the morning, followed by a boat ride on the waters of the Denwa River, which flows past the resort. The third day includes a jeep safari in the park, followed by photography around the camp, and on the fourth day, participants go on an early morning Bird Photography session before heading back home. (Rs 26,500 per person; www.pugdundeesafaris.com)
SPECIAL EXPERIENCE: Shopping in the Old Bazaars of Jabalpur
Once a major trade hub, Jabalpur continues to charm visitors and locals alike with its bazaars. The city’s old bazaars feature traditional handicrafts that include toys, terracotta pieces, jute crafts and brass- and silver-ware. Visit City Kotwali Bazaar—the oldest market in the city—and Ganjipura for garments with stunning zardosi work on them and the beautiful Chanderi and Maheshwari saris for which Jabalpur is famous. Kamania Gate is best-known for its exquisite jewellery, Sadar Bazaar for branded goods and food joints, and Adhartal for delicate crockery. You can also visit Mrignayani, a government-run emporium that is well-known for its hand-crafted jute items.
FOOD: Street Food in Indore
Indore’s street food scene comes to life in the early evenings. The areas to visit are Sarafa, Chappan Dukaan (literally, 56 shops), MG Road, Chhawni Chowk and Jail Road. Must-tries include the shikanji (made with sweetened milk, dry fruits, buttermilk) at Madhuram Sweets, poha and jalebi at Young Tarang, egg banjo at Johnny Hot Dog, coconut patties at Vijay Chaat, heeramani at Aggarwal Sweets, chola burger at Mathurawala, and condensed milk at Laxminarayan Doodhwala. And if you’ve got a sweet tooth, do not miss the double storied ice-cream parlour, Monica Galaxy, which serves over 100 sundaes and some delish kulfi falooda.
WHERE TO STAY: Palaces and Tree Houses
Over the years, several boutique, heritage and luxury properties have sprung up in Madhya Pradesh. Of these, our favourites include the Jehan Numa Retreat (from Rs 12,000 for double occupancy cottages; www.jehannuma.com), a getaway on the periphery of the Van Vihar National Park with accommodation in village-style cottages; the Noor-Us-Sabah Palace (from Rs 7,000; www.noorussabahpalace.com) housed in the Palase on the banks of the Upper Lake in Bhopal; the Tree House Hideaway (from Rs 30,000; www.treehousehideaway.com) that offers rooms in tree houses on the fringes of the Bandhavgarh National Park; and the Taj Usha Kiran Palace (from Rs 6,000 incl. breakfast; www.tajhotels.com) housed in a 12-year-old palace in Gwalior.
CULTURE: Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal
Set up in the early ‘80s, this cultural centre has a plethora of sights and sounds to keep you occupied for hours on end—there’s a museum of fine arts; a centre of Indian poetry; a library of classical and folk music; a centre of classical cinema; a repertory; a gallery of Indian painting and sculpture; a centre for creative writing; and live performances of the arts on most evenings. Overlooking Upper Lake, the structure itself is a work of art; designed by Charles Correa, it is a series of terraced gardens cascading down to the lake. And its meandering pathways and ebbs and flows can lead to many hours of contemplation, making it an environment where art is not only performed and displayed, but also created. (www.bharatbhawan.org)
CITY BREAKS: A Weekend in Bhopal
Divided by two lakes, Bhopal is an interesting juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern. To the north of the lakes is the old town with numerous mosques and crowded bazaars selling everything from glass bangles and embellished brooches to ittar and printed saris and dhupattas. To the south is modern Bhopal with large shopping complexes and museums. Worth a visit are the Remember Bhopal Museum near the ruins of the Union Carbide factory site, which showcases memorabilia of the gas tragedy victims; the Tribal Museum dedicated to the seven tribes and subtribes of Madhya Pradesh; and the Taj-ul-Masjid in the old town. For a taste of the city’s street food, a visit to Chatori Gali is a must. (www.madhyapradeshtourism.com)