The geographical centre of Colonial India (the Zero Mile stone from where distances to major cities were measured is still here), Nagpur is still one of the most prominent cities of Central India. Also known as Orange City, it has approximately 2.5 million residents and is the second capital of Maharashtra. Politically significant throughout the freedom struggle, Nagpur still enjoys a lot of national influence, since it is the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Having been known for its oranges and its surrounding cotton growing region, Nagpur has, in recent years, emerged as a gateway to Central India’s rich forests.

Nagpur is well connected by air, rail and road. All major trains pass through Nagpur Railway Station, about 2 km from the Zero Mile. Most domestic airlines link the city to others across the country. Ambedkar International Airport is 7 km from the Zero Mile.

Autorickshaws and buses ply across the city, but it’s best to avoid the latter. Private cabs are easily available and can be hired for sightseeing. The roads here are mostly broad and well-laid out but certain areas are always congested and traffic can be chaotic.

Reeti Paandharipande
The Zero Mile Pillar, erected by the British
The Zero Mile Pillar, erected by the British

Things to See & Do

Boasting of places of interest that range from the scenic to the spiritual and the ancient to the exciting, Nagpur and its surroundings have something for almost every kind of traveller.

Deekshabhoomi

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism here along with thousands of his followers in 1956. Located on East High Court Road, this huge stupa is to Nagpur what CST is to Mumbai – an instantly recognizable visual representation of the city. The massive dome comprises a large two storied hemispherical building along with gates resembling the Sanchi gate. In fact, the design of the stupa is based on the architecture of the world famous stupa of Sanchi. The ground floor of the stupa has an image of Lord Buddha. A library here and photographs depicting Dr Ambedkar are also well worth browsing. Each year, on Vijayadashmi (Dussehra) day, the site attracts hundreds of thousands of followers from India and surrounding nations to commemorate Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism.

Telangkhedi Lake

Built by the erstwhile ruler of Nagpur, Raghuji Bhonsle II, Telangkhedi Lake is one of the oldest in the city. It is bordered by a stone embankment and ramparts on one side. The Bhonsles also had a garden laid out along the shores of the lake. The garden was revamped and renamed Satpuda Botanical Garden in the early 2000s. It is home to a huge variety of flora. Today the lake serves as a hangout for youngsters and families. It has a pleasant promenade and several eateries. A Hanuman temple nearby, also built in the Bhonsle era, attracts a stream of devotees. The equally historic but lesser known Kalyaneshwar temple, featuring stone idols and intricate carvings, is located nearby.

Shri Swaminarayan temple, a city landmark
Shri Swaminarayan temple, a city landmark

Shri Swaminarayan Temple

Spread across an area of 21 acres, the Swaminarayan temple is the newest religious landmark of the city, having been inaugurated in October 2013. It is the 750th of its kind in India and one of the largest among the over 1,000 temples that have been set up by Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, often refered to as BAPS, a religious body within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism.

Designed on the style of Sompuri architecture, the temple has over 200 intricately carved pillars depicting close to 3,000 idols of various Hindu deities. The life-like idols inside the sanctum, spread over two levels, are exquisitely crafted and the temple has a beautiful, sprawling premises.

Walking tour of Old Nagpur

The congested alleys of Old Nagpur, which is also known as Mahal, hold several buildings of architectural interest such as temples and wadas (old bungalows with a characteristic central courtyard). Mahal also has palaces of the Bhonsle family who once ruled Nagpur.

Saint Francis De Sales Cathedral

Designed in the gothic style, Saint Francis De Sales Cathedral was conceived and built to cater to the sizeable British and European population in Nagpur and nearby Cantonment in Kamptee in the late 1880s. The highlight of the cathedral is a bronze statue of Jesus Christ outside the main entrance, two church bells weighing 320 kg and 160 kg and a few stained-glass paintings.

Rajesh Joshi
All Saints Cathedral
All Saints Cathedral

All Saints Cathedral

This magnificent late-19th century gothic-style cathedral is also one of the architectural landmarks of the city. Originally a small station church, it was built in 1861. It is a remarkable example of Colonial architecture and also features glass panels, arching windows and a striking altar.

Shrine of Baba Tajuddin

Sufi Saint Baba Tajuddin used to stay in a bungalow, built by Raghuji Bhonsle IV, in the Sakkardara area of the city. After Baba Tajuddin died on 17 August, 1925, Raghuji, one of his followers, wished to bury him within the bungalow’s premises itself. But due to opposition from some quarters, Tajuddin was buried in a nearby area, Bidipeth. A memorial was also constructed on this site which today attracts thousands of followers from various faiths. It is known as Bada Tajbagh. An urs (procession) complete with white horses, camels and blaring music occurs for 28 days following Moharram every year. The bungalow with a few personal effects of Baba Tajuddin has come to be known as Chhotu Tajbagh.

Tekdi Ganesh Temple

A fixture for lakhs of devotees each year and even visiting celebrities, Tekdi Ganesh temple is supposed to be a jagrit (awakened) mandir. It is said that the Bhonsle kings would pay a visit to the main idol, which was not surrounded by the temple at that time. Overtime the idol was neglected and got buried under heaps of soil. In 1867, when the railways came to Nagpur, civil work began for the construction of a road to the station. It was during this excavation that the idol was rediscovered and installed again on the slope of the Sitabuldi Fort.

Sitabuldi Fort, built by Mudhoji Bhonsle II in 1817, is now an army base and is out of bounds for the public except on 26 January, 1 May and 15 August.

Zero Mile

Reeti Paandharipande
Shrine of Baba Tajuddin
Shrine of Baba Tajuddin

It is widely believed that the Zero Mile stone at Nagpur denotes the centrepoint of India as Nagpur was considered to be undivided India’s centre. Some historians believe that a French firm contracted by the British to build highways connecting major Indian cities sent about 150 horsemen in all directions from this point in Nagpur for calculating distances between the cities. The Zero Mile stone, built in the early 20th century, has in its inscriptions distances to various cities.

Where to Stay

The Legend Inn (Tel: 0712-6658666; Tariff: 3,970–4,510) offers A/C rooms with attached baths and a multicuisine restaurant. Hotel Centre Point (Tel: 6699000; Tariff:  6,000– 15,000) is one of the oldest luxury hotels in Nagpur. Radisson Blu (Tel: 6665888, 2815888; Tariff:  9,000– 20,000) is another good option. Tuli Imperial (Tel: 6653666; Tariff:  7,000–30,000) is Nagpur’s first boutique hotel.

Seven Suites Service Apartments (Tel: 2226777; Tariff:  2,800) offers suites with fully equipped kitchens and Wi-Fi connections.

The pick of the mid-range options include Hotel Orient Grand (Tel: 2707200/ 300; Tariff:  2,400–4,000) with a restaurant, Internet and airport transfers; Hotel Skylark (Tel: 6653999; Tariff:  1,150–2,500); Peanut Hotel (Tel: 3250320; Tariff:  3,325–4,025); and Darshan Towers (Tel: 6616845- 47, 2726845-47; Tariff:  2,195–3,695). Among the economy options are Hotel Blue Diamond (Cell: 09823014360; Tariff:  900–1,800) and India Sun (Tel: 2768641-44; Tariff:  1,200–2,700).

 Where to Eat

The Breakfast Story is kitschy, cool and atmospheric. The changing specials menu from Maharashtrian delicacies such as thalipeeth and sabudana khichadi to pastas and enchiladas, keeps things fresh. Nanking has been the go-to place for the city’s most authentic Chinese food for decades. With tasteful interiors and multiple cuisines, Zuree Urban Kitchen has quickly emerged as a fine-dining destination. The menu features dishes such as paella and chocolate fondue. The in-house bakery is also good. Probably Nagpur’s first proper fine-dining restaurant, Ashoka has managed to remain relevant even as new challengers have come up. Its sizzlers are popular. Arguably the biggest name that has put Nagpur on the global food map, Haldiram’s restaurants offer a variety of dishes such as chaat and the ever-popular chole bhature besides fixed thali meals. Reddy’s Gokul Brindavan is a south- Indian restaurant serving staples such as idli, vada, dosa and uttapam.

Façade of the Radisson Blu
Façade of the Radisson Blu

Around Nagpur

Koradi Temple (15 km)

Mahalaxmi Jagdamba Mata Mandir, also known as Koradi temple, is located on the banks of Koradi lake. Built by the Bhonsles, this historical temple gets very crowded during the nine-day Navratri festival.

During these nine days, the temple premises is lit with 50,000 diyas (earthen lamps) at night.

Dragon Palace (17 km)

Located in Kamptee, this is among the newer attractions near Nagpur. The monument holds a monolithic sandalwood idol of Lord Buddha (2.4 m). The ground floor has an auditorium, library and museum.

Ramtek Gadh Mandir (40 km)

For history and mythology buffs, Ramtek holds many delights. Lying to the northeast of Nagpur, it is believed Lord Rama spent some time here along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana while they were in exile. Poet Kalidasa is believed to have composed his most famous work Meghaduta here. The ruins of Nagardhan Fort, built by the Gond kings, are nearby and so is an archaeological excavation site. While visiting the Nagardhan Fort and the Mansar archaeological sites, it will be worth your while to be accompanied by someone knowledgeable due to the lack of guides and literature on-site. Ramtek’s biggest draw is the Gadh Mandir (hill temple), with Lord Rama as the presiding deity. A Bhonsle-era monument, the temple can be accessed by a winding road but the truly devout – and fit – prefer to climb the roughly 700 steps. The Kalidas memorial is worth a quick stop. The tranquil Ambala tank at the base of the hill also holds a cluster of smaller temples. Adrenaline junkies can take part in a host of watersports and adventure activities at the nearby Khindsi Lake.

Brightly lit interiors of Hotel Centre Point
Brightly lit interiors of Hotel Centre Point

Where to Stay & Eat

Raj Kamal Resort (Tel: 0712-202761, Cell: 09763913670; Tariff:  1,300– 2,000) near Garhmandir is a good option here. Or stay at the Olive Nature Park Resort (Cell: 08888882265/ 67; Tariff:  2,200–3,000) at Mansar. The resort offers cottages, tents, machans and three restaurants. At Khindsey Lake is MTDC’s Meghdoot Resort (Tel: 697199, Cell: 09422460148; Tariff:  999–2,150). It has a restaurant. Also at Khindsey Lake is Olive Aqua Resort (Cell: 08888882265/ 67; Tariff:  2000– 2,500) with cottages and a lakeview restaurant.

Adasa Temple (43 km)

Considered to be among the eight ashtavinayak temples of Vidarbha, Adasa is located on Saoner Road. The main temple houses a 12-foot-high monolithic stone idol of Lord Ganesh. The main temple has interesting architecture and an excellent 360- degree view, thanks to its elevated location. A few smaller temples nearby are also worth a visit.

Sevagram (80 km)

Virtually the epicentre of India’s independence movement from 1936, when Mahatma Gandhi settled down here, until 1946, Sevagram is located in Wardha District. Originally called Segaon, the village was renamed as Sevagram (village of service) in 1940. Today, the ashram, or retreat, has cottages in which Gandhi and his wife Kasturba stayed, a prayer ground, a photo exhibition and visitor lodgings. The cottages also have many of Gandhi and Kasturba’s personal effects, including a spinning wheel and a pair of glasses, two quintessentially Gandhian accessories. Residents of the peaceful ashram diligently follow the austere lifestyle and service-intensive routine as prescribed by Gandhi, maintaining the premises, farming, undertaking community cotton yarn spinning and praying. A multi-million rupee government project is underway to give the ashram a facelift.

Where to Stay and Eat

Sevagram Ashram Yatri Niwas (Cell: 09822797527; Tariff:  200–900) is a very basic option. It has plain rooms and simple meals. The MTDC Holiday Resort (Cell: 09823348180; Tariff:  1,000–2,000, dorm  2,200) is at Bhor Dam, 22 km from Sevagram.

Paunar (86 km)

This village, located a mere 3 km from Sevagram on the banks of the River Dham, was the capital of the Vakataka Dynasty during the reign of King Pravarsena. Relics found here date back to 250 CE to 1200 CE. However, Paunar is better known for Brahmavidya Mandir Ashram, that was founded by Gandhi disciple and nationalist leader Vinoba Bhave in 1959 for the betterment of women.

Chikaldhara (230 km)

Courtesy MTDC
Cluster of shrines situated on the banks of Ambala tank
Cluster of shrines situated on the banks of Ambala tank

The pleasant little hill station of Chikaldhara lies atop Vairat (1,178 m), the highest point in the region.

Bhim Kund, which is a 5-km long drive from Chikaldhara, offers a great view of a rain-fed waterfall, which is visible during the monsoon. It is believed that Bhima killed Kichaka here and threw his body into the valley known as Kichakdara. It is also said that Bhima bathed in the lake nearby which is how it came to be called Bhim Kund. About 5 km from the centre of Chikaldhara towards Semadoh is the Panchbol Point, from where you can see a valley formed by five mountains. Here visitors’ shouts are rewarded by several echoes.

Chikaldhara can also be accessed from Melghat Tiger Reserve, which lies about an hour away by road.

TIP Take your own vehicle to get here

Where to Stay and Eat

Accommodation options at this hill station include the MTDC Cottages (Tel: 07220-230234, 230263; Tariff:  2,960–3,200) that are located near the town centre. There is also Utkarsha Resort (Tel: 230554; Tariff:  850–1,500), again located in the town centre. Or you can try Hotel Harshawardhan (Cell: 09405978170; Tariff:  1,600–3,500, dorm  5,000, for five people).

Cenin Tours and Travels (Tel: 0712-6604602) specialise in custom packages to Vidarbha. They can also arrange for SUV hire, guides, tiger safaris, etc.

Location East of Melghat Tiger Reserve, close to the state border with Madhya Pradesh Air Nagpur Rail Badnera

Saoji Cuisine

The advent of powerlooms in the 1970s robbed the weavers in the cotton belt around Nagpur of their livelihoods. With their means of survival under threat, members of the Halba Koshti community started dishing out meals, which used to be cooked in their own kitchens, in small utilitarian eateries. The hands that once worked the handlooms now ground up spices and cooked up fiery curries, creating the Saoji cuisine, which has acquired something of a cult following in and around Nagpur.

To legions of foodies, the oily, rustic and unapologetically pungent fare is a source of not only gastronomical satiation but also endless debate about which eatery is the best and most authentic. The origin of the word saoji is quite interesting as well. The men of the tribe, most of them fond of liquor, would get their womenfolk to cook mutton dishes, such as trotters, known as khur, and sundari (stomach). They would also invite guests over. Once the food was prepared everyone would be called to eat with the phrase “Saoji jimle awa re.” (The guests have come to eat), with the word saoji roughly translating to guest.

An authentic Saoji thali
An authentic Saoji thali

A typical Saoji bhojanalay’s menu will comprise no more than six or seven main dishes: kheema kaleji (mince and liver), khur (trotters), mutton, chicken, egg curry, patodi (spiced gram flour cubes in gravy) and a vegetarian dish of the day, all served with fulkas or chapattis. A handful of eateries serve sundari (stomach). The really obscure ones offer rakti (blood pudding). Some new Saoji joints offer paneer versions, leaving the purists shaking their heads in disapproval. Vegetarian options are limited, but old timers say tur beans, khus khus (poppy seeds), popat dana (flat beans), daal kanda (lentils with onions) and gawar beans are some dishes cooked in homes.

The popularity of the cuisine can be gauged from the fact that even fine-dining restaurants have Saoji dishes on their menu. However, most people agree that these places cannot replicate the taste offered at the authentic Saoji bhojanalay. That is because, while fiery, an authentic Saoji curry is composed of close to two dozen individual spices and has a unique flavour profile. Among the spices used are different varieties of pepper, dry coriander, bay leaves, grey cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Recipes are a closely guarded secret, but the secretive chefs will tell you this: the spices have to be ground fresh and the food cooked in small batches.

Authentic Saoji food is something you have to go the extra mile for. Hardcore Saoji buffs from Nagpur travel 50 km to go all the way to Umrer, a mining town generally acknowledged to have the most authentic Saoji restaurants. The foremost among them is owned by Ramesh Saharkar. He cooks only chicken (curry and dry) and only on pre-order; walk-ins are not entertained.

Fast Facts

When to go November to February

Tourist Office

MTDC
West High Court Road
Civil Lines, Nagpur
Tel: 0712-2533325
maharashtratourism.gov.in

STD code 0712

Region Vidarbha

Location In the Vidarbha region; considered India’s geographical centre

Distance 481 km NE of Aurangabad

Route from Aurangabad Take NH753A to Mehkar bypass; Nagpur-Aurangabad-Mumbai Highway to Nagpur

 

Getting There

Air Nearest airport: Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport, Nagpur, is connected to destinations like Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi, Bengaluru, and many more by airlines such as India, Go Air, Indigo and Jet Airways and to Dubai by Air India and Jet Airways flights. A prepaid taxi charges about  300 up to the city centre

Rail Nearest railhead: Nagpur Junction is connected to most cities within the country through Shatabadis, Express trains and daily passenger trains

Road Nagpur has a good network of highways connecting it to the rest of the country. NH7 (Kanyakumari-Varanasi) and NH6 (Hajira-Kolkata) pass through the city. NH69 connects Nagpur to Obaidullaganj near Bhopal. AH43 and AH46 also pass through the city.

Bus Plenty of bus services, state as well as private, connect Nagpur to places within the state and the neighbouring states