Route & Distances: Indore—75 km/2 hrs – Dhar—87 km/2 hrs—Bagh—123 km/2 hrs 45 min—Mandu—39 km/1 hr 15 min—via Dhamnod to Maheshwar—149 km/3 hrs 30 min—Asirgarh—22 km/45 min—Burhanpur—120 km/2 hrs 45 min—Omkareshwar—78 km/2 hrs—Indore.
Day 1 INDORE
The old capital of the Holkars, Indore has a legendary street food scene and enough sites to keep you busy the whole day. Start off with a typical poha-jalebi breakfast at Chhappan Dukan before heading to the city’s iconic seven-storeyed Rajwada. On the first floor of the palace is a small museum on the Holkar royal family. Their erstwhile residence Lalbaag Palace, set in a large garden, also houses an excellent museum. Also worth a visit are the Khajrana Ganesh Temple that enjoyed Holkar patronage, the Jain Kanch Mandir with vibrant mirror-work interiors, and Indore Museum (there’s a zoo nearby, if you have kids). Round it off with a street food feast at Sarafa Bazaar. Overnight in Indore; it has a choice of hotels like Sayaji, Country Inn, Lemon Tree, and Radisson Blu, or homestays like Gokul.
Day 2 DHAR
Drive to Dhar and take the rock-paved winding road up to lofty Dhar Fort. Kharbooja Mahal, a 16th-century Mughal palace named after its melon-shaped domes, presents a fantastic panorama of the citadel’s ramparts and the cityscape below. The old prison inside the fort now houses a museum with statues and antiquities (under renovation). In Dhar town, visit the royal cenotaphs (chhatris), the beautiful Lat Masjid and the contested 11th century site of the Bhojshala, adjacent to the dargah of Chishti saint Kamal Maula. Overnight at the luxe Jhira Bagh Palace, built by the Puar royal family as an English guesthouse, now a boutique heritage hotel.
Day 3 BAGH/MANDU
Leave early for Bagh, on the banks of the Baghini River. This area is hilly with thick forest cover and a sizeable tribal population of Bhils and Bhilalas. The little town is famous for the 5-7th century Bagh Caves with Buddhist paintings, and a block printing tradition using natural dyes and processes, known as Bagh prints.
Drive to Mandu, the medieval capital of Malwa, via Dhar. Overnight at Malwa Retreat or Malwa Resort. Tour the Mosque of Malik Mugith, the Caravanserai and Dai ka Mahal, where guides demonstrate acoustics at Echo Point, and test the old method of transmitting signals.
Day 4 MANDU/MAHESHWAR
Start from the furthest point of Baz Bahadur’s Palace, Roopmati Pavilion, and Rewa Kund in the south, before heading to Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Mahal, the hammam and other structures in the vast royal complex. In the main square, cover Ashrafi Mahal, Jama Masjid and India’s first marble mausoleum Hoshang Shah’s tomb. Grab a thali of the local staple dal-paniya at Hotel Gurukripa for lunch. On your way out of Mandu, stop at Nilkanth Mahadev, a Shiva temple in a hunting lodge (shikargah), built by Akbar, and set against the dramatic backdrop of a waterfall. It’s a short drive to Maheshwar, capital of Malwa during Ahilyabai Holkar’s reign, until Malhar Rao Holkar III shifted his capital to Indore in 1818. Visit the famous queen’s royal seat (gaddi) at Ahilya Fort, where visitors pay respects at her statue. Walk down the steps of Ahilyeshwar Temple to the Narmada Ghat and its temple clusters all along the riverbank—Til Bhandeshwar, Kashi Vishwanath, Narmada Mata, and the chhatri (samadhi) of Ahilyabai. If time permits, take a boat ride to Baneshwar Temple mid-river to enjoy the sunset, before wrapping up the day with a Narmada arti. Depending on your wallet, stay overnight at Labboo’z, the lodge in the guardhouse, or in the cushy royal retreat, Ahilya Fort.
Day 5 ASIRGARH
As you drive towards Burhanpur, the unmistakable fortress of Asirgarh beckons you from afar. Drive up the unmetalled road to the top, where steep steps lead to a vast plateau. Inside, you’ll discover British relics, a Shiva temple, and a Jama Masjid with a rare inscription in Sanskrit and Arabic. It’s a replica of the one in Burhanpur, 22 km away. Stay at Hotel Ambar in Burhanpur, where the friendly owner Hoshang Havaldar can set up the perfect tour for you. The historic city served as the capital of Khandesh under the Farooqis and was the cultural centre of the Mughals. Of its 35 notable monuments, five are extraordinary: the “roofless mosque” Jama Masjid; Mumtaz Mahal’s hammam in the Shahi Palace; the holy Shia shrine of Dargah-e-Hakimi; one of the ten holiest gurudwaras Badi Sangat Padshahi Dus; and the water channelling system of Kundi Bhandara built by Abdul Rahim Khan-i-khana, governor of Burhanpur for 37 years. Finally, don’t miss the tomb of his warrior son Shah Nawaz Khan called Black Taj Mahal for its uncanny resemblance to the Taj, but of black stone.
Day 6 BURHANPUR
Among Burhanpur’s other treasures are Begum Shah Shuja’s Maqbara with exquisite murals, the mausoleum of the silent saint Chup Shah, beside Bibi ki Masjid, the oldest mosque in town. Give the Akbari Sarai a miss, but peek into the fascinating underground hammam behind Zakvi Haveli.
In the narrow streets of this historic city you’ll find rare shrines: Balaji Maharaj ka mandir with a throne donated by Shah Jahan, the first ever Swaminarayan temple in India, and the Nathdwara-inspired Bahuji Maharaj ka Mandir. The latter’s two-inch golden idol of Lord Krishna is so small, devotees can see it only through a telescope. Try local Burhanpur favourites, jalebis, chiwda, lasaniya sev, maand (roomali roti), Mughlai cuisine, and the signature daraba (semolina, sugar and ghee whisked to a fluffy dessert). Leave post-lunch or early evening for Omkareshwar, site of one of the 12 jyotirlingas in India. Overnight at MPSTDC’s Narmada Resort, overlooking the river and just a short walk from the main temple.
Day 7 OMKARESHWAR
Visit the temples of Omkareshwar and Mamleshwar, accessible by bridges or boat. Do the panch-kosi parikrama (6 km/2.5-3 hrs), taking the walking path around Mandhata Island to shrines like Rin Mukteshwar, Lete hue Hanumanji, Siddhnath Mahadev and Triveni Sangam (confluence of Kaveri with Narmada). Alternatively, do the half-parikrama and cover just the Gauri Somnath Temple. Drive to Indore and visit the Bijasen Mata temple, a Shakti peetha near the airport.
WHERE TO STAY
Address: Scheme 78, Slice 6, Sector-B
Plot 60, Vijay Nagar, Indore.
Tel: +91 98931 13762, 94247 74982
Tariff: Double room ₹1,800 (₹1,300 for the smaller room), breakfast included.
Jhira Bagh Palace
Address: Mandu Road, Dhar.
Madhya Pradesh 454001
Address: Main Road, Mandav.
Tariff: Double room with AC ₹4,290; AC tent ₹2,990; non-AC room ₹1,590; plus taxes; includes buffet breakfast.
Address: Roopmati Road, Near Lake
Tariff: Double room with AC ₹3,590-2,590; plus taxes
Website for both: www.mpstdc.com
Address: Ahilya Wada
Tariff: Double room ₹26,000 per night upwards; min stay 2 nights
Labboo’z Café & Lodge
Address: The Gatehouse, Outside Ahilya Fort, Maheshwar.
Tel: +91 77710 04818, 77710 04811
Tariff: Double room ₹1,900
Café hours: 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Hotel Ambar & Holiday Resort
Address: NH27, Rastipura Colony, Opp. Bus Stand, Burhanpur.
Tel: 07325-251197, 94240 24949
Tariff: Double room ₹2,100.
Address: Mortakka Omkareshwar Road, Khandwa Dist. Omkareshwar.
Tel: +91 72802 71455
Tariff: Double room ₹3,528 (AC)
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