While places in Rajasthan, Himachal and Uttarakhand are seen as most viable for planning short excursions from Delhi, few realise that Madhya Pradesh too is just round-the-corner! One of the many options here is Gwalior — a mere 3.5 hrs from Delhi by the Bhopal Shatabdi. Here is an account of our day trip to Gwalior!
The train ride to Gwalior itself is a pleasure ..particularly for it cuts through the enchanting Chambal ravines. Formed due to erosion by rainfall and the fast flowing Chambal river, the sight of the rugged and barren hillocks stretching for miles is truly awesome! Moreover, its notoriety for sheltering inter-state dacoit gangs in the past, adds a huge sense of mystery to it..drawing images of dacoits running on horseback even in broad daylight! A sight i always forward to when travelling through this part of the country!
As the train pulled into Gwalior station well before 10 in the morning, we walked with hurried steps to make the most of the day we’d got to explore a new city.
Without doubt it had to begin with a visit to the much-acclaimed Gwalior Fort.
The scene of many a battles and conquests, the Fort was held to be the most impregnable fortress in all of north and central India.
A Hanna Motana pinup at the back of an auto caught my eye.
Driving up to the Urvahi Gate of the Fort. Presently the main entrance to the Fort by motorable road. For those who prefer trekking up, access is from the Hathi Gate.
While there are varying accounts of the construction of the Fort, it was under the Tomar dynasty, founded by Bir Singh Deo, that it was rebuilt to achieve its present scale and grandeur. The magnificent Man Singh Palace was built by Man Singh Tomar, the most celebrated scion of this dynasty.
Gigantic images of Jain tirthankaras flank the road leading up from the Urwahi Gate. These were sculpted in the 15th century during the reign of the Tomar kings who were great patrons of Jainism.
First glimpse of the Man Mandir Palace on entering the Fort complex.
Embellished with blue mosaic tiles, the Man Mandir Palace is the most identifiable image of the fortress.
Row of yellow ducks on the walls of Man Mandir Palace
The guide entertained us with colourful stories of the royal life its kings lived, which made the otherwise empty pavillions and corridors come alive. One particularly charming story was of how the dasis would wear ghungrus (anklets with bells) in the morning and lightly dance around the king’s chamber to politely indicate that it was time for him to wake up! Gosh, what pampering!
Goodearth guides on sale in the small cafe near the entrance to the Palace complex <glee!>
The built structures in the Fort stand far apart from each other, accessed by motorable roads. Thus having a car to yourself drastically reduces the walking required. Our next stop in the Fort was the Saas Bahu Mandir.
Literally meaning the temple of the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law, the pair of temples was built by king Mahipal around 1093, supposedly for his mother and wife. Built in nagara style, both the temples are richly decorated with carvings of deities, human and animal figures, and geometric patterns.
Saas Temple, with the Bahu Temple in the background. The larger of the two, the Saas Temple is dedicated to Vishnu, while the Bahu Temple is dedicated to Shiva.
Intricately carved panel above the sanctum doorway in the Saas Temple.
Peering in to see what the sanctum holds. Presently, nothing but bats!
Carvings on the ceiling
Base of the pillars. Most dieties, figurines carved in the temple stand defaced.
Fort walls enclosing the temple complex
Bahu Temple sitting pretty on a high platform.
Quiet musings sitting on the Fort walls
The fort complex also encloses the Data Bandi Chhod gurdwara, believed to have been built where Guru Hargobind Singh was imprisoned by Jahangir for over two years. The name ‘Bandi Chhod’ meaning ‘free the prisoners’ comes from the story of how with his own release, the Guru aided the release of his 52 royal companions as well.
Walking across the central courtyard in the gurdwara
Like most gurdwaras, Data Bandi Chhod is a modern marble white structure.
While our original plan included lunching in town after the Fort visit, the early morning start and the sun growing sharper made us stop for langar in the gurdwara, which, nevermind the soupy dal, was more than welcome.
Langar being prepared in the courtyard.
Teli ka Mandir, seen from across the sarovar in the gurdwara
Our last stop in the Fort, the Teli ka Mandir is the largest temple in the complex. A mix of north and south Indian temple architecture styles, its gopuram like shikhara is mounted on a nagara base.
Teli ka Mandir, seen through its arched entrance.
Striking a pose against the towering walls of the temple
We discovered rock art on its stone walls!
Peek-a-boo! Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhod seen from Teli ka Mandir
After good 2.5 hrs spent in the Fort, and the sun beginning to beat down, it was time for a refreshing lunch break in town. We headed straight to Usha Kiran Palace, a heritage hotel managed by Taj. The choice befitted our day’s iterinary of heritage visits.
Before lunch began, it was time to cut the cake!
Yes, part of the reason for the day out had been the birth-day!
Rejuvenated from good continental food, we head out for our post-lunch plan – of visiting Jai Vilas Palace, the opulent residence of the Scindias, the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior. In fact, it is part of the same complex as the heritage hotel, in Lashkar.
Jai Vilas Palace. Though it continues to serve as the Scindia residence, a part of it has been converted into the privately-owned Jiyaji Rao Scindia Museum.
Starting with a gallery displaying the Scindias family tree and old photographs, to their belongings (including Madho Rao Scindia’s royal golf set!), the museum has several of their rooms on display — the dining room, queen’s dressing, scent room (?) with vessels that carried fragrant oils and perfumes.. The locals seemed to take in every little detail with a lot of awe, reverence and delight.
Inside Scindia Palace
Of the many stories abounding its splendour, perhaps the most impressive is which recounts that two enormous Belgian chandeliers, weighing 3.5 tonnes each, had been bought to be hung in the Durbar Hall. And to make sure the ceiling could take the weight, ten elephants were made to parade on the roof of the Hall!
It is also in Gwalior that the legendary musician Mian Tansen rests, and thus the city plays host to the annual Tansen Music Festival. His grave rests in a small marble tomb in a gardened compound along with several others. The most striking here is the tomb of Mohammad Ghaus, a 16th century Sufi saint and Tansen’s spiritual Guru.
Mohammad Ghaus' tomb viewed from the side. The sandstone mausoleum is a specimen of delicate craftsmanship, with intricate stone screens on all sides.
Lounge and gossip
Stunning jaali screens around Mohammad Ghaus' tomb.
By this time we were sapped of energy, and after walking around, lounged on the lawns just like the umpteen locals there (it turned out to be a popular hangout place) ..and waited for it to be time to drive to the station to catch our train back to Delhi.
Arriving back around 11, we looked forward to our soft mattresses and deep sleep. Long day no doubt, but amazing that we managed to see a whole new city in just that long! Day well spent!
* For someone wanting to stay for longer in Gwalior, the city offers enough! Our Gwalior City Guide can help you plan your iterinary.*