The state of Madhya Pradesh in India is a marvel when it comes to temples, forts, palaces, and heritage tourism in general. This month, I visited Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, and had a most enjoyable visit to the city.
How to get there (from Delhi)
The easiest, most economical and most comfortable way to get there is by train. There are two reliable and fast train services from Delhi to Gwalior and back- The Shatabdi, and the Gatimaan.
The Bhopal Shatabdi leaves from New Delhi Railway Station at 6:00am and arrives in Gwalior at 9:28am.
The Gatimaan Express leaves from Hazrat Nizam Ud Din Station in Delhi at 08:10am and arrives in Gwalior at 11:16am.
Both trains ply to Gwalior via Agra, and are popular with tourists making a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Thus it is advisable to book well in advance.
Where to stay:
There are many hotels available in Gwalior in different price bands. However, we opted to stay at the Taj Usha Kiran Palace as they had an attractive monsoon package. For more details, please refer to the Taj hotels website. The property is well maintained and has efficient, thoughtful, warm and welcoming staff. The "Tohfa" store located on the premises of the Taj has a sophisticated and elegant range of silk and cotton Chanderi and Maheshwari saris, suit materials, dupattas, stoles, etc.
How to get around
Within the city, the best option would be to down load the Ola app, and hire the car for around 2 hours. For excursions to areas outside the city, it would be best to go with a responsible driver, so either a hotel cab, or a taxi from a good taxi stand.
What to see
There are many interesting sights to see in Gwalior and within a comfortable day trip from Gwalior.
1) Gwalior Fort (Also known as the Gibraltar of India)
The For spreads out over 3 sq km and it traces to the 8th Century CE where it is believed to have been built by Maharaja Suraj Sen Pal. After this, it is next known to have been with Raja Man Singh Tomar in the 15th century, following which it was passed to the Mughals, the Marathas, the British, and finally the Scindhias.
The fort itself is roughly over a thousand years old, and houses three temples, six palaces, and a number of water tanks. This includes:-
1) The Sahastra Bahu Temple (also known as the ‘Saas Bahu temple”).
Built in 1092 by King Mahipala of the Kachchhapaghata dynasty, this temple is 32 meters long, and 22 meters in breadth. Sahastra Bahu, or the man with a thousand hands is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
There are actually two temples at this site. The older of the two is the one dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The other- which isn't younger by much, is dedicated to Shiv Ji.
And this is also where there temples get their other name- the "Saas Bahu Temple". The story goes that King Mahipala's wife was a devotee of Lord Vishnu whereas his daughter in law was a devotee of Lord Shiva. Hence the second temple was built next to the first so that his daughter in law would be able to pray.
2) The Teli Ka Mandir
Also dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple is slightly different in that it is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the form of ‘Garuda’, and the carved image of the mount is the main attraction here. At a 100ft tall, this temple is the tallest and oldest surviving structure within the fort. There are a number of theories to the name of the temple.
One theory is that the temple gets it’s name from the Telang Brahmins who handled the services at the temple around the year 794.
Another states that it was the oil merchants, or ‘Telis’ who took the initiative of having the temple constructed.
The third theory attests to the link to Telangana region, which would explain the commonalities seen here between the Dravidian and Nagara or North Indian styles of temples.
3) Gurudwara Daata Bandi Chorh Sahib
Situated within the fort, this gurudwara is linked to the imprisonment of the Guru Har Gobind Sahib at Gwalior Fort, and his release in which he also managed to have released 52 Rajas who has also suffered imprisonment in the fort.
4) Jain Carvings
On the walls of the fort, i.e on the way up and on the way down, you will notice many larger than life size carvings of Jain figurines which have been carved right in to the rock. These 'sculptures' were carved between the 7th and the mid 15th century, right into the cliff face.
These were defaced by Babur’s army in 1527 but have been most recently repaired
5) The Jauhar Kund
A some what grisly place, the Johar Kund is still in tact and remains a somber, poignant and symbolic spot.
6) The fort museum
The Fort Museum is a must see for the ancient carvings of various Gods and Goddesses on display. No photography is allowed inside, but the entry fees for Indian nationals is very affordable. It is located towards the beginning of the Fort, and is a must see.
7) Gurjari Mahal
Located not exactly inside the fort, but at the base of it, The Gurjari Mahal was built by the King Man Singh Tomar in the 15th century for his favorite queen, Mrignayni. The Queen Mrignayni was very beautiful, and also very brave. When the King proposed marriage to her, she laid down three conditions for the King.
First, that she would not be in Purdah
Second that she would always accompany the King in battle
Third, that the King build a separate palace for her with a constant water supply.
8) Other structures within the Fort include:
The Man Mandir Palace (built between 1486 and 1517 AD), Hathi Pol, Karn Mahal, Vikram Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, Shah Jahan Mahal, Chhatri of Bhim Singh Rana, and The Scindhia School (among the most prestigious residential boarding school for boys in India)
Other places of interest outside the fort (but within Gwalior)
2) Tan Sen’s Tomb
Tan Sen is considered one of the greatest composers of Hindustani Classical music. He was an extremely gifted musician, vocalist, and composer, and was considered by Akbar as a Navratna in his court.
3) Tomb of Muhammad Ghaus
Muhammad Ghaus, was a 16th century Sufi Saint as well as a teacher to Humayun, the Mughal emperor and to Tan Sen. The tomb was built in the second half of the 16th Century during Akbar’s rule. He is believed to have assisted Babur when he conquered the Gwalior fort in 1526.
4) Rani Jhansi’s Memorial
Every child in every school in India knows the story of Rani Laxmi Bai, the queen of Jhansi. At the age of 23, she died on the battle field fighting the British in what is known as the first Indian freedom struggle. The memorial to the Jhansi ki Rani is a somber, simple place with a spot that marks where she was cremated, a statue of the queen on her horse charging and a flame, which is symbolic of the eternal flame that burns for warriors.
Excursions outside Gwalior
While we weren't able to go to the sites outside Gwalior, if you are keen on Indian history and architecture, I would recommend a trip to the Mitawali, Padawali and Bateshwar sites. Avoid during the monsoons though.
1) Mitawali/ Chausath Yogini Temple
Mitawali is a historical site housing many temple structures within one large, circular structure. The temple was built in 1323 CE (Vikram Samvat 1383) by the Kachchhapaghata King Devapala. It is believed that the temple was where education in astrology and mathematics were taught based on the position or transit of the sun.
Mitawali has been built on top of a hill that is a 100ft high. The top of this hill itself is flat, and there is an additional small temple in a corner, and a circular shaped temple on the edge of the hill.
What is interesting about Mitawali is that there are 64 mini temples within the compound that each house a Shivling. Some say that this structure was the inspiration for the Indian Parliment House.
The central courtyard of Mitawali is also circular, and it houses the main shrine- also a Shivling, but much larger.
Another name for this temple is Chausath Yogini Temple. This is because recent findings say that where the Shivlings are, there used to be images of a Yogini.
This temple is roughly 25Km away from Gwalior (North), towards Morena.
2) Padawali (Garhi Padawali)
Located some 35 Km from Gwalior (in the same direction as Mitawali), Padawali is a fortress that has some magnificent temples depicting scenes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puraranas. They also depict Brahma, Vishnu and Shivji during their childhood, youth and older days. Still more carvings depict the Krishna Leela, Samudra Manthan, the wedding of Ganesh, Shivji dancing in pret form, the various incarnations of Lord Vishnu, and The entrance to the fort is guarded by a Lion and a Lioness. The Padawali fortress was built in the 18th century by the Jat Ranas rulers of Dhaulpur.
The Bateshwar sites are a relatively recent discovery of a cluster of some 200 temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The site is spread over 25 acres, built across the hills located near Padavali. Restoration work is on at the site, and about 100 temples have been restored so far. The temples were built in the 8th and 10th century AD, quite possibly by the Pratihar dynasty who ruled between the 6th and 11th Century AD, that is 300 years before the Khajuraho temples were built.
Thus, to conclude, Gwalior, and the region around it is a special treat for any one who is interested in Indian art, history and culture. The city itself is a comfortable day trip from New Delhi, but keep time for the sites, specially if you choose to go Mitawali, Padawali and Bateshwar. Beware of touts and "guides" at the Gwarlior fort. They are quite persistent. Take one if you must, but it is always better to take an official guide. It is well worth a visit, and you will leave with memories for a life time.