It had to take the recent much-advertised total solar eclipse to get my family of 3 and 2 other friends to Bhopal last week. And, on seeing Bhopal, we all wondered how was it that a green place as that, and one that close to Delhi, had never appeared on our travels before!
After making this trip by Shatabdi that left the New Delhi Station at an unearthly hour of morning but got us to Bhopal around 2 pm the same day, I’ve concluded that to be the best way for Delhites to get there. Post-Agra, the train traverses some really green landscapes of the country
and Shatabdi’s nice, wide windows give a clear view of this greenery. The ride is interspersed with a flow of food and drinks, making the experience of looking out of the window akin to watching a pleasant movie in an audi with a constant refilling of the food tray in hand. Really, what more could one ask for from one’s mode of transport? Except, may be clean toilets for no matter what the level of our trains or the place of our journey, the cleaning of Indian train toilets always leaves much to be desired. However, the landscapes outside and the airconditioning inside made up for that irritant.
If one has a choice, the right way to experience Bhopal is by hopping into an auto from the station and heading straight to the Jehan Numa Place. We did just that, and the ride gave us a preview of this busy city with not just water-logged and broken roads, but also a lot of character in the form of its Upper Lake and Moti Masjid that showed up on the way. The hotel at the end of it all though gave a bigger visual relief. The Jehan Numa Palace hotel is not only famous for its food, it’s also located on a hill and possibly in the cleanest and greenest part of Bhopal. Its location is ideal also if one is out sightseeing as several important sites are in close vicinity. Be open to getting fleeced by the 2-3 autos parked outside its gate though!
This trip being short, we knew that we won’t be able to cover all the sites listed on the MP Tourism website but it helped to have the Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya close enough and accessible by an auto. This tribal museum kept us fascinated for 2 hours with its wealth of tribal tools, artefacts, vessels, paintings and craftware in its multiple galleries. On stepping outside after this careful scan, however, I was aghast to learn that there were at least 50 showcased dwellings strewn around a 200 acre hilly terrain and formed part of the museum. Sadly, we didn’t have time for those so we promised ourselves to revisit the place on our next travel. A few sobering words on the museum – it was clear that it could do with some sprucing up, plugging of several leaks in its roof, fixing of seepage on its ceiling and walls, and most certainly with a more sensible layout in grouping of various regions – it just didn’t make sense to have Tibetan tangkas, Nicobar installations and Maharashtra’s wedding mandap all together in a single hall — granted that it was all lovely to take in and offered a great experience.
Another high point of the visit was a drive to Sanchi – a world heritage site. The drive took about an hour in an SUV and was worth the effort and expense. The main stupa, its toranas and temple ruins around it were well connected through pathways and green expanse of manicured grass. The place had a serene feel with its clean grounds, monuments, painted metal benches, and it sure helped that the afternoon was breezy and cool for walking around. On the way back, our crew stopped to capture the Tropic of Cancer through its collection of 4 cameras. It was quite interesting to stumble upon such an important landmark of our globe without making a special visit to see it.
The prime event of our stay in Bhopal—the total eclipse—turned out quite different from our collective expectations…as the overcast skies prevented the sun or moon to show their anticipated magic. What was beautiful to witness from the rooftop of Jehan Numa though was the transition between light and dark and light again, the quiet of that moment and the delayed bird activity after the light resurfaced. It was also inspiring to meet Philip Ransley and Jeeta Dhillon on the hotel roof. They called themselves ‘the Eclipse Chasers’ and had made a special trip from London to witness this event. It was marvellous to learn that it was Philip’s 11th eclipse experience — going by that, most of us felt truly enthused about covering the next total eclipse expected on 11 July 2010, wherever that may take us!
No travel of ours is complete without figuring the food of the region. Our walks around the old Bhopal market, Chowk on the very first day introduced us to Bhopali chaat — which I found too sweet for my liking. In contrast, all the Indian dishes at Jehan Numa’s highly popular restaurant Under the Mango Tree were spicy and worth all the calories they amounted to. Jehan Numa’s buffet breakfast was also fantastic with its fresh dosas and an array of food options. We missed the kababs and biryanis from the Chowk, giving us yet another reason to plan our next visit to Bhopal at a slower pace.
Our exit out of Bhopal was expected to be smooth what with my organising skills, finding out about radio taxis well in advance and booking one to take us to the station. Except that the booked taxi never arrived, and our group of 5 loaded ourselves and our luggage in 2 autos at the tenth hour and chugged along to the station — when that unhurried drive through Bhopal’s roads wasn’t a luxury we could afford. We made it to the station and inside the departing Shatabdi just in the nick of time, making this trip memorable for more reasons than one :)