Steeped in rich history and an intriguing past, Bhopal, the capital city of Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, is a true paradise for historians, archaeologists, art & architecture patrons and off-course, curious travellers. Dotted with ancient monuments, historical palaces, religious shrines and numerous museums that speak out the tales of bygone times, the place tops the list of tourism destinations in Central India. While needless to say, the city is a treasure trove of historical and archaeological sites, there are many recreational activities and things to do for even casual holiday seekers. Read on for our exclusive travel guide to Bhopal, listing down its 16 top tourist attractions and things to see & visit.
Also known as ‘Bhojtal’, the ‘Upper Lake’ is one of the top places to visit in Bhopal and definitely a great site to enjoy a wonderful picnic with your friends and family. According to local legends, the history of the lake dates back to the times of the great king of Malwa, Parmara Raja Bhoj who is also known to have established this royal city between 1005 and 1055 AD. It is known that Raja Bhoj once suffered from a severe skin disease and even after lots of medications, he could not be cured. It is then when a saint asked him to build a tank combining the waters of 365 tributaries and take a bath in it to cure his ailment. That is how the ‘Upper Lake’ came into existence. Originally called as ‘Bada Talaab’, it was renamed to ‘Bhojtal’ in 2011 to honour this great king. The lake also holds the status of being the oldest man-made lake in India.
Nearby the ‘Upper Lake’ is the ‘Chhota Talaab’ or the ‘Lower Lake’ and both, the upper and lower lakes constitute the ‘Bhoj Wetlands’. Besides being a popular tourist attraction, these lakes also have great religious, social and cultural sentiments of the locals attached to them; the lakes are an important source of water, catering to the daily needs of almost 40% of the residents of the city. On various festivals, the local people gather on the shores of these lakes to pray and worship.
Flanked with picturesque beauty of majestic hills and lush forests, one can enjoy a relaxing time here indulging in various recreational activities such as boating, canoeing and kayaking. The beautiful ‘Kamla Park’ adjoining the lakes is a favourite haunt for locals to spend lovely evenings, soaking themselves in the tranquil settings of the place. When you are in Bhopal, do spend some time here, take in the stunning beauty of the place and feel yourselves greatly rejuvenated and invigorated.
Van Vihar National Park
Spread over an area of approximately 445 hectares, the ‘Van Vihar National Park’ is one of the most popular national parks in Central India, established in the year 1979. Considered as one of the best places to visit in Bhopal, the park is located just adjacent to the ‘Upper Lake’ and attracts loads of nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts and nature photographers throughout the year. Though the park is actually a national park, on visiting it, you will get more of a zoological feel to it, rather it would be more appropriate to call it as a unique mix of a zoo and a wildlife sanctuary; on one side, you would spot the carnivores such as tigers, leopards, panthers, lions, bears and gharials enclosed in their natural habitats, bounded by trenches and walls, on the other end, this park would give you a completely different experience of spotting the herbivores like chital, blackbucks and sambars roaming about freely in their natural environs. Operating under the guidelines of the Central Zoo Authority the best part of this park is that unlike other zoos, animals here are not brought in forcefully from forest areas, rather the animals which are left orphaned in other zoos of the country are given shelter here and are properly taken care of for their daily food and medical requirements.
Besides spotting animals, the ‘Van Vihar National Park’ also provides you with ample opportunities to see and admire the stunning birdlife of the park. The presence of adjoining ‘Upper Lake’ wetlands in the park helps draw numerous colourful birds including but, not limited to pied kingfishers, spoonbills, pintails, spot bills, herons and teals. In winters, many beautiful feathered creatures also migrate here from Siberia, Japan and parts of Europe to enjoy the warmer weather of India. If you are a birder or a professional ornithologist, do visit this park during your trip to Bhopal and I am sure, you will leave with countless memories of a wonderful bird watching experience here.
Yet another of the most popular places to see and visit during your holidays in Bhopal is the ancient ‘Bhojpur Temple’, also known as ‘Bhojeshwar Temple’ built in 11th century AD during the reign of Raja Bhoj. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple is located in the heart of the archaeologically important site of Bhojpur, just 28 km. from the city of Bhopal. The religious significance of this ancient temple is such high that it is often referred to as ‘Somnath of the East’ and pilgrims from different corners of the country travel here in huge numbers to pay their homage to the god. The Shivlinga at this temple is the largest stone structure in the world and is carved from a single rock, measuring 7.5 ft. in height and 18 ft. in circumference. Standing on a 21 ft. tall platform, devotees are only able to access the Shivlinga by climbing an iron staircase. Talking about the architecture of this exquisite temple, it was built in accordance with the principles of Vastu Shastra and is decorated with an intricately carved arch at the entrance. The design is in a square shape, complete with four pillars and a huge stone dome supported on them. The walls, façade and dome, all adorn several beautifully carved stone sculptures of various Hindu deities and pantheons. A full architectural plan of the temple, complete with architectural drawings can still be seen engraved on few of the rocks surrounding the shrine. These drawings have been studied in detail by expert scholars revealing the fact that some parts of the temple have been left incomplete, and the reason for the same still remains a mystery. If completed, the temple would have really been a masterpiece of its kind, with no comparison to any similar structures in the world.
Not only considered as an important religious site in Bhopal, the temple also makes as a vital heritage tourist attraction in the city luring all those having even the smallest of inclination towards history and archaeology.
National Museum of Mankind
Also famous as the ‘Tribal Habitat Museum’, the ‘National Museum of Mankind’ was established in 1977. In 1993, this museum was renamed as Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, at the instance of the Ex- Prime Minister, Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Spread over an area of 200 acres of land, close to the ‘Upper Lake’ amidst Shamla Hills in Bhopal, the museum is the only one of its kind in India and is world-famous to house an excellent collection of pre-historic rock shelters dating back to the early stone-age era that prevailed on the Indian sub-continent in bygone times. Elaborately detailed dioramas here, provide you with a deep insight into human evolution from pre-historic times until today’s modern age. Another interesting highlight of this beautiful museum is its open-air exhibit of life-size dwellings of various ethnic tribes of India, complete with their signature styled interiors, building materials and other related objects; most note-worthy and admirable of all the dioramas exhibited at the open-air section is the representation of an Indian coastal village with its typical traditional wooden cottage and famous snake-boat. A display of a classic Rajasthani desert village and a Himalayan village also captures the attention of many. Yet another eye-opening attraction of the tribal museum is its ‘Mythological Trail’ section where one can see an exquisite collection of traditional crafts and paintings related to myths and religious beliefs of different Indian tribes; and each tribe exhibits its own speciality in terms of artistry and craftsmanship.
Many tourists would tend to skip this unique museum thinking it to be a typical and boring kind, but, I must tell you, that’s definitely not the case. Interesting, fascinating, intriguing and educative – words fall short for this distinctive institution, which is needless to say, a perfect site for all age groups. And if you are a history and culture aficionado, you are surely going to fall in love with this place that takes one of the highest positions on the list of top tourist attractions in Bhopal.
State Archaeological Museum