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BHOPAL HISTORY & TRAVEL INFORMATION
Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh, the state with the largest area in India. The region around this city has been inhabited since the late Stone Age. About 24 miles south of Bhopal are the famous Stone Age cave paintings of Bhimbetaka that are believed to be at least 10’000 years old. Present day Bhopal was originally established in the eleventh century by the Parmar Dynasty Raja Bhoj and named after him Bhojpal. Raja Bhoj had built a series of Pal or dams to create the vast lakes in the region. Bhopal is situated on the bank of one of the two lakes in the region. This lake is about seven square miles in area. The city and the region came under Mughal rule very early and remained a Mughal territory until the death of the sixth Emperor Aurangzeb.
Sardar Dost Muhammad Khan, an Afghan soldier rose in ranks of Mughal army. Emperor Aurangzeb appointed him as Governor of the small territory of Bhairsa. In 1723 he declared himself independent. The princely state was bordered with territory of the Nizam of Hyderabad in the south and the Marathas were powerful in the west. This situation often led to bloody confrontations. The rule of so-called Begums of Bhopal started in 1819 when the eighteen-year old Qudsia Begum, who is also known as Gohar Begum, had to take over the duties of the monarch of Bhopal after the sudden assassination of her husband. She was the first female ruler of Bhopal and only the second after Razia Sultana (thirteenth century) in the entire Islamic world. She did not have any formal education and was consequently illiterate. This did not discourage her from breaking the Purdah or the tradition among Islamic ladies to cover their faces with a veil. She was respected not only in the royal family but also by the general public of her provincial kingdom. When her daughter was only two years old, she declared that she would follow her on the throne of Bhopal and no one dared to object to her decision. She led a relatively simple and pious life. Before she died in 1837, the Jama Masjid of Bhopal and the Gohar Mahal Palace were completed and she had prepared her daughter very adequately for the duties of the ruler of Bhopal State. In 1844 her daughter, Nawab Sikander Begum ascended the throne formally. She had been trained in the martial arts and the warfare education of the contemporary period. She followed the example of her mother by not observing the Purdah (Veil). Like many other princely states of India, she sided with the army of British East India Company in the so-called Sepoy Mutiny that is referred in Indian history as the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. She also patronized many construction projects like the main roads, renovation of the Fort, Moti Masjid and the Moti Mahal Palace. Her daughter, Shah Jahan Begum, followed her on the Bhopal throne. She had a small section in the city constructed and named Shahjahanabad after her own name. She also had a palace called the Taj Mahal constructed. Among her other building projects were the Ali Manzil, Amir Ganj, Barah Mahal, Benazir Complex, Khawasoura, Mughalpura, Nematpura and the Nawab Manzil. Only a few ruins of the Taj Mahal as well as the Barah Mahal and the Nawab Manzil are still there to be seen in Bhopal. Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan Begum, her daughter followed her in 1901. She worked for the emancipation of women that must have been quite radical in her times. She also established a modern municipal system. She had her palace, the Sardar Manzil, constructed. This building now houses the Bhopal Municipal Corporation. She liked to live in a quiet and serene environment. This led her to build a small walled city on the outskirts of Bhopal of her time that was named Ahmedabad after her late husband. Her palace was called Qaser-e-Sultani. It now houses the Saifia College. The area of her small township has now become a very posh and elite area of the city. Her 70-room palace that was originally called Nur-us-Sabah is now converted into a luxury heritage hotel managed by the ITC Welcome Group of Hotels. She was the first president of the All India Conference of Education and also the first Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh. Her son, Nawab Hamidullah Khan, followed her on the Bhopal throne in 1926. He was the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes. His eldest daughter, who would have followed him as the head of former royal family, decided to move to Pakistan after the partition of the country in 1950. She served in the Pakistan Foreign Service. The second eldest daughter, Nawab Sajida Begum, was the head of the royal family after Nawab Hamidullah Khan passed away in 1960. She married the Nawab of Pataudi, a family renowned for its love of the game of Cricket. Bhopal during the rule of Begums acquired a unique culture where Urdu literature and poetry flourished.
In 1984 Bhopal drew the attention of the world when the terrible tragedy of cyanide gas leakage from the chemical factory of the US owned Union Carbide near the railway station, killed hundreds of people. Thousands of others suffered from various ailments including blindness caused by the poisonous gas.
Most of the architectural monuments of Bhopal belong to the reign of Begums. In 1837 Kudsia Begum had a beautiful mosque constructed that has minarets crowned with golden spikes. It served as the main Jama Masjid of the city. Sikander Jahan, her daughter had the Moti Masjid constructed in 1860 that is modeled on Jama Masjid of Delhi built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Nawab Shah Jahan Begum had Taj-ul-Masajid, one of largest mosques in Asia constructed in the last years of nineteenth century. The Masajid (plural of Masjid) in its name signifies that it was the crown of all mosques. It has a very impressive western wall inside with eleven recessed arches. The pulpit of Imam in the mosque is made out of black basalt stone. The minarets of the mosque are octagonal and eighteen stories high. They are topped with onion shaped domes. The main palaces of the Nawab Era in Bhopal are the Gohar Mahal and Shaukat Mahal. Both are in the old part of the city in the Chowk area. Gohar Mahal on the banks of the upper lake of Bhopal was constructed in a blend of Hindu and Mughal architectural styles in 1890 under the patronage of Qudsia Begum. The Shaukat Mahal is right at the entrance to the Chowk area, the heart of Bhopal city. It was designed by a Frenchman in the service of Bhopal Nawabs who was believed to be a descendent of Bourbon monarchs of France. He designed it in a charming fusion of Post-Renaissance and Gothic styles. Its architecture makes it a very conspicuous historical building that is in stark contrast to the predominantly Islamic architecture of all other nearby buildings.
Bharat Bhawan is the one of the most important national cultural institutions in India. The building was designed by the famous architect, Charles Correa. The center has a museum of arts, an art gallery, a workshop of visual fine arts, a theatre for performing arts with a separate rehearsal room and a library of Indian poetry as well as classical and folk music. The center is open from 2 to 8 PM every day except Mondays. The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (National Museum of Mankind) is a unique museum, spread over 200 acres of undulating land on the Shamla Hills on the Upper Lake front. It is situated on a prehistoric site and may be the only museum in the world strewn with numerous prehistoric painted rock shelters. It is a post colonial museum of communities rather than objects. The museum display has been curated directly by the folk and tribal communities, camping at site, to create a miniature presentation of Indian folk lifestyle through display of eco-specific habitations & subsistence practices in the tribal, coastal, desert, and Himalayan habitats. The library, audio-visual archive, computerized documentation and the collection of ethnographic specimens in the museum, though modest in size are among the best in the world. Government Archaeological Museum has an impressive collection of sculptures from various parts of Madhya Pradesh. Some of the important artifacts in the collection are paintings of various schools, copies of paintings from the Bagh caves near Mandu and the statues of Alakshmi and the Buddha. The museum is closed on Mondays. Laxmi Narayan Temple and Museum is a unique place of Hindu worship that also has a museum attached to it. It is located in Arera Hills area and has a collection of sculptures from Raisen, Sehore, Mandsaur and Shahdol districts of Madhya Pradesh. It is open from 9am to 5pm everyday except Mondays.
Another palace of the Nawab era is also a luxury five-star heritage hotel called the Jehan Numa Palace. General Obaidullah Khan, the second eldest son of Nawab Sultan Jahan, who was the commander-in-chief of the army of the Nawab of Bhopal had this palace constructed in 1890. Its architecture is a medley of British colonial, Italian renaissance and the Classical Greek Styles. The sixty-room palace is nestled on the slopes of Shamla Hills surrounded by five acres of lush green grass, exotic and local trees and plants with conspicuous splashes of colorful bougainvillea.
Jehan Numa Palace – 98 rooms
Noor US Sabah Palace – 39 rooms
Residency Hotel - 47
Lake View Hotel – 41 rooms
Hotel Nisarga – 41 rooms
Ranjit’s Lake View Hotel – 20 rooms
Distance from Bhopal in Kilometers and Miles:
Airport: 15 Kilometers or 9 Miles
Udaigiri Caves: 13 Kilometers or 8 Miles
Bhimbetka: 40 Kilometers or 25 Miles
Sanchi: 46 Kilometers or 29 Miles
Maheshwar (Ahilya Bai Fort): 327 Kilometers or 203 Miles
Indore: 186 Kilometers or 116 Miles
Ujjain: 186 Kilometers or 116 Miles
Pachmadhri: 197 Kilometers or 122 Miles
Jabalpur: 308 Kilometers or 191 Miles
Jhansi: 381 Kilometers or 237 Miles
Jalgaon: 423 Kilometers or 263 Miles