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Overview of the Malwa Region
It would take up to a fortnight to visit all the sites worth seeing in Madhya Pradesh, and even then one would spend only a night or two at each place. We only had a long weekend at our disposal, so we decided to concentrate on the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh (which is the south-west portion of the state) -- primarily focusing on the golden triangle of Ujjain, Mandu and Omkareshwar, with Indore as the point of entry. The trip was intended to be a temple tour, with historical Mandu thrown in for variety.
Malwa was an important junction on the historical north-western and north-eastern routes along which lay such famous towns as Harappa and Pataliputra respectively. It was also accessible from the Arabian Sea Coast. Perhaps the happy juxtaposition of all these factors caused the region to develop significantly and become an important area of contention between rival rulers. All of this is evident in the remnant architecture of the region and the prevailing cultures.
Ujjain is the modern name for Ujjayini, a name bestowed on the city that was called Avantipura, after the resident king’s victory over an evil demon-ruler (Ujjayini means “one who conquers with pride”). Ujjain stands on the banks of the river Shipra, and both the city and the river have been considered sacred for centuries. The city also has the reputation of being the Prime Meridian for Hindu geographers, or India’s Greenwich. One of India’s 12 sacred Jyotirlingam sites is located in Ujjain’s Mahakaleshwar Temple.
Mandu, or Mandavgarh, is one of the top tourist destinations in Madhya Pradesh. It's a ruined fortress city which is celebrated for its fine architecture and scenic location. It is an ode to the marriage of cultures and architectural styles as its wall encloses large number of palaces built in Rajput and Afghan styles, mosques, Jain temples and other buildings.
Omkareshwar is an island in the River Narmada, said to appear like the symbol “Om” when viewed from above. This is another of the 12 Jyotirlingam sites, and this, added to the presence of the Holy Narmada, draws generations of devout pilgrims.Continue to 2 of 4 below.
02 of 04
Weather in Madhya Pradesh
In general, the weather in Madhya Pradesh is hot and dry, with scorching summers and a great dependency on the monsoons. The worst months are April to June, when the heat becomes almost unbearable on the plains. Winters become extremely pleasant, however, and the best time to visit is November through early February.
Weather in Madhya Pradesh in February
We traveled in mid-February, expecting the weather to be mild and pleasant. Imagine our surprise on landing in Indore to find people in sweaters and woolly caps. And this at 10.30 a.m.! We had not carried any warm clothes, and there was a slight nip in the air that made us feel that we had probably made a mistake.
However, within an hour the temperatures soared and it became impossibly hot. The afternoon heat was acute and draining. However, in the evenings, the temperature dropped sharply again, leading to biting cold nights and mornings. This extreme temperature, for those who are not used to it, can be difficult to handle and cause people to fall sick. Its important to be equipped to handle both the cold and the heat, so travel with jackets, sweaters, hats, scarves -– and also plan to keep your body cool by drinking lots of liquids.Continue to 3 of 4 below.
03 of 04
Getting Around the Malwa Region
Indore is the nearest airport for the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. It's situated at a distance of 55 kilometers from Ujjain, 77 kilometers from Omkareshwar and 98 kilometers from Mandu. Ujjain is well connected by train as well.
A Three Day Itinerary
Indore was our port of entry and exit. The itinerary was as below:
- Day 1 -- Arrive Indore, drive to Mandu; Lunch, sight-seeing at Mandu; Drive to Ujjain and check into the hotel.
- Day 2 -- Darshan at Mahakaleshwar temple early in the morning; Sightseeing around Ujjain. Read more about the experience of visiting Mahakaleshwar temple.
- Day 3 -- Checkout early in the morning and drive to Omkareshwar. Darshan at Omkareshwar temple and lunch. Drive back to Indore airport and flight out.
Renting Cars in the Malwa Region
Contrary to its prosperous past, Ujjain in the present is almost entirely dependent on tourism and devotee donations to survive. Thus, most travel agencies, hotels, rental car companies are out to fleece the unsuspecting traveler for as much as they can get. It is advisable therefore, to book a taxi in advance and negotiate the price. In order to do the latter, you need to know the distances between the towns, and ask for the taxi company to charge you by kilometer.
Roads in the Malwa Region
The roads between Indore, Mandu and Ujjain are narrow two-lane roads, and at the time of our visit, were in disrepair. This added about an hour both ways to our journey, and also made the entire drive very tiring. The last stretch of road leading to Mandu, however, was better -- as it meandered down into the valley where Mandu is situated. The road between Ujjain, Omkareshwar and Indore is remarkably good, compared to the drive on the previous day. We started early, and made good time.Continue to 4 of 4 below.
04 of 04
Staying in the Malwa Region
Most locals seem to dislike the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Corporation hotels and restaurants, but these hotels are the safest bet in terms of hygiene, quality and service. All hotels were renovated in 2005-06 and now some provide well located, excellent value options.
Our driver discouraged us from halting at these hotels for lunch, and the tendency was to take us to the small roadside dhabas, though dhaba is perhaps too respectable a name to give them. These are extremely dirty and darkened with soot, the washrooms are unusable and the food seems unhygienic enough to be unappetizing. Unfortunately, we were unable to stay in the MP Tourism resort at Ujjain because all hotels were booked due to the marriage season. We stayed in Hotel Vikramaditya, instead. it is possibly the worst hotel that I’ve ever stayed in. Not recommended at all.
Most hotels serve vegetarian food only, and its better to stick to simple Indian fare than to experiment.
In Mandu, the MP Tourism hotel where we stopped for lunch is strategically situated and while service was slow, the quality of the food was good. The portions are small, so if you’re a big eater, order two of everything.
In Omkareshwar, the MP Tourism hotel (Narmada Resort) is a little out of the way, but picturesque. It is situated on top of a small hillock, which overlooks both the Omkareshwar temple and the Narmada. The servings here were quite large and we could barely finish everything we’d ordered.
In Ujjain, Hotel Vikramaditya serves non-vegetarian food, but this is spicy and rich. We had lunch one afternoon at Hotel Shanti Sagar, which is adjacent to Hotel Vikramaditya -- the food here was slightly better.