Madhya Pradesh, in central India, draws visitors with well-preserved remnants of its compelling history. Its many abandoned cities provide an intriguing window to the past, so different from the congested India of today. In further contrast, the national parks of Madhya Pradesh offer some of India's best jungle lodges and wildlife spotting opportunities. Here are the top Madhya Pradesh tourist places.
The Khajuraho erotic temples are one of the top historical destinations in India. If you want proof that the Kama Sutra originated in India, Khajuraho is the place to visit. There are over 20 temples abounding in erotic sculptures. However, more than that, they show a celebration of love, life, and worship.
Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks are among the top national parks in India. Bandhavgarh, while being relatively difficult to reach and costly to visit, is the best place to see tigers in the wild in India. The park features dense green valleys and rocky hill terrain, with an ancient fort. In addition to tigers, the park has a large array of wildlife including sloth bears, deer, leopards, jackals, and birds.
Kanha National Park has the honor of providing the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel, The Jungle Book. It’s rich in lush saal and bamboo forests, lakes, streams, and open grasslands. As well as tigers, the park abounds with barasingha (swamp deer) and an extensive variety of other animals and birds. Rather than offering one particular kind of animal, it provides an all-round nature experience. The park is well regarded for its research and conservation programs, and many endangered species have been saved there.
The great thing about Gwalior is that it's so accessible -- only two hours drive from Agra and the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh. The main attraction the massive hilltop fort that towers over the city. Reputed to be one of the most invincible forts in India, its history stretches back over 1,000 years. Inside the fort walls are a number of palaces and temples, the highlight being the Man Mandir Palace. At the bottom of the fort is the Old Town of Gwalior, brimming with history and fine examples of Mughal architecture such as the Tomb of Tansen. The Tansen Music Festival is held at the tomb every December.
Orchha is located on the banks of the Betwa River, a comfortable hour and a half south of Gwalior. It's another relatively peaceful place, full of well-preserved palaces and temples, with a distinctly medieval charm. Three main palaces are enclosed in Orccha's fortified walls. The Jahangir Mahal is the largest and most impressive, and its upper levels offer some arresting panoramic views. A stay inside the Jahangir Mahal, at the Hotel Sheesh Mahal, completes the experience. Being a government-run hotel, it's not luxurious but it is full of character.
Madhya Pradesh's capital city, Bhopal, is perhaps best known for the tragic poisoning that occurred there in 1984 when a pesticide manufacturing plant leaked a mixture of deadly gases. The city has two main attractions -- mosques and museums. A particularly fascinating museum is the Tribal Museum, which showcases the tribes of the region and their lives. The Taj ul Masjid, Jama Masjid, and Moti Masjid are fine examples of the city's rich Islamic heritage. There are also two large lakes, the Upper Lake and Lower Lake, inside the city limits.
One of India's little-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Bhimbetka rock shelters, is situated about an hour from Bhopal inside Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary. There are more than ancient 700 rock shelters there, dating all the way back to the Paleolithic age. Many of them have paintings on the walls.
Sanchi Stupa, northeast of Bhopal, is one of India's oldest Buddhist monuments and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by Emperor Ashoka in 262 BC after he embraced Buddhism and nonviolence, following his particularly horrific invasion of Kalinga (present-day Odisha). The complex is made up of a number of other stupas, temples, monasteries, pillars and relics. There's also an archeological museum. Sanchi can be visited on a day trip from Bhopal, but it's worth staying in the area as it's a convenient base for numerous other side trips.
Malwa Region Golden Triangle: Mandu, Ujjain, Omkareshwar
The Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh is situated in the southwest portion of the state), with Indore as the point of entry. Ujjain, Mandu and Omkareshwar popularly make up its "Golden Triangle". Ujjain is one of Hinduism's seven sacred cities, and one of the four locations of the Kumbh Mela. Most importantly, it's home to the Mahakaleshwar Temple, which has one of India’s 12 sacred Jyotirlingams
The abandoned city of Mandu was once the lavish home of the Mughals, who indulged themselves by its many lakes and palaces. Mandu's crumbling buildings, encircled by a long 45 kilometer (28 miles) stretch of wall with 12 gateways, still hint of its grandiose past.
Omkareshwar, an island in the Narmada river, is said to appear like the symbol “Om” when viewed from above. It's another of the 12 Jyotirlingam sites, and this, added to the presence of the Holy Narmada, draws generations of devout pilgrims. It's popular with travelers too, as a place to chill out.
Maheshwar, the Varanasi of central India, is a small holy town dedicated to Lord Shiva. Set along the banks of the Narmada river, it's said that only Shiva is worshiped where the Narmada flows, as he's the only god with the inner peace to calm her.
Satpura National Park
You're unlikely to see a tiger at lesser-known Satpura National Park but it's an excellent place to spend time in nature without the crowds. Notably, Satpura is one of only a few protected forests in India that visitors are allowed to walk through. The Duchess Falls Trail is challenging but you'll be rewarded with a refreshing dip in the waterfall at the end. Other possible activities inside the park include cycling, jeep safaris, night safaris, and canoe safaris.