Date: 30 December 2016 to 1 January 2017
We had started the year 2016 with a trip to the hills – Kasauli. It took us barely 6 hours to reach Kasauli and this was a dream start. We have blogged extensively about this trip on our website and elsewhere. Therefore instead of going to a crazy New Year party in Delhi we embarked on another road trip – from Delhi to Gwalior.
Like most Delhiites we have covered Rajasthan and popular hill stations of Himachal and Uttarakhand like Mussorie, Lansdowne, Dharamshala, Nainital & Kausani, Dalhousie & Khajjiar and some offbeat travel destinations like Shoghi and Neemrana. Hence we wanted to travel to another state. Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh is proximous to Delhi – Just a 6 hours drive. However given the severe heat, summer is not a suitable time for travel. November to February is the best time to visit Madhya Pradesh. Gwalior is about 330 km from Delhi NCR and we expected to cover this distance in about 6 hours. This seemed reasonable driving time and we zeroed in on Gwalior as a start to exploring MP.
Delhi to Gwalior
It was Friday 30th December, the last workday of the year. We had taken the day off and included this in our weekend. Fortunately it was a clear morning and we had a head start at 7.30 am. After driving for an hour, we hit the Yamuna Expressway. There was hardly any traffic on that route and we covered a distance of 175 km in an impressive 2 hours. This also included a few stops for breakfast and stretching. We left the Expressway from Exit 591 towards Agra. Thereafter it was Google maps all the way. We drove past Taj Mahal, Agra fort, Dayal Bagh and resisted the temptation to stop. We entered Madhya Pradesh a little before Dholpur. It was exciting to cross the Chambal River notwithstanding that it was almost dry. Google maps went a little awry at this stretch and we followed our intuition. MP has broad and well maintained highways. Consequently we reached Gwalior at an impressive 2 pm.
Once we reached
Our accommodation was booked at Hotel Surya at Indranagar. It is a decent place in what seemed like a motor parts/electrical goods market. Good that it was the New Year weekend and the traffic was light. Check in – initial round of tea – and we were good to go again.
Things to do in Gwalior
Jai Vilas Palace - Scindia Museum
Jai Vilas Palace and H H Maharaja Jivaji Rao Scindia Museum: The Scindia Museum was very close to our hotel, a mere 7 minutes walk. We started our sightseeing from this place. Housed in the opulent Jai Vilas Palace, the Scindia Museum is a private collection of the various Scindia rulers. Bizarre items such as stuffed animals, ornamental bath tubs and commodes and eight feet high incense burner fill the rooms.
The lavish dining area displayed a silver train that would carry alcohol and cigars around the dining table. We hired a guide and he took us through the various galleries such as royal drawing room, dining rooms, living chambers, ladies swimming pool, artillery, private items used by the later popular members of the household like Madhav Rao Scindia and Vijay Raje Scindia. The museum reminded us of the City Palace in Jaipur that also houses private items of the royal family. The guided tour was about two hours. We were surprised to note that the ticket to this museum were a steep Rs. 100 (Rs 250 for foreigners), perhaps because it is a private collection. Additionally we paid Rs 100 for photography.
Gwalior Fort: Saturday, 31st December was the only full day that we had on hand. Given that there was a lot to cover, we started early. 15 minutes drive took us to the Gwalior Fort. Perched on a hill top this was clearly the most popular tourist destination in Gwalior. Gwalior has been home to various dynasties and the magnificent fort was a beautiful fusion of diverse influences. In contrast to forts in Rajasthan, Gwalior fort was built as the living chamber for the king and his family. The turquoise and sulphur colored tiles in ornamental patterns bore testimony to the fact that aesthetics was on high priority. We would have been lost without a guide and the contact numbers of the authorised guides were mentioned on a board close to the ticket counter.
We contacted one of them and he guided us for the next 4 hours or so. The good part is their charges are mentioned on the board and we paid him a very reasonable Rs. 500. The palace covers the works – royal courts, summer/winter bedrooms, music rooms, baths for the queens and dungeons. We had goose bumps when the guide took us to the room where Aurangzeb had in later years hung his brother Murad. The sandstone detailing, the animal motif brackets, the lattice work displaying Garba dancers are details that are treat to the eyes. We could not have enough of clicking at this palace but had to move on to the next site in this area due to time constraints. We came in the evening though for the light and sound show at Gwalior Fort. It is a 45 minutes odd narration mostly by Amitabh Bachhan and various parts of the fort facade was illuminated during the commentary. The show was not very impressive though and could have been much better.
The Sahastrabahu temple: This is a combination of two temples perhaps in the Hoysala style. Built approximately about 11th century AD, the larger temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu while the smaller shrine is for Lord Shiva. These temples are popular as “Saas Bahu ka Mandir”.
The shrines are empty and statues here were defaced in Aurangzeb’s times. Nonetheless the beautiful carvings seemed to have brought the sandstones to life. Set against the clear blue sky, the temples were a visual delight.
Teli temple: Teli ka Mandir (Oilmen’s temple) is another famous temple adjacent to the Gwalior fort. Legend has it that the temple was built on donations by oil merchants, hence the name. The temple is also known as Telangana Temple because of the predominately Dravidian style of architecture. This 9th century edifice is probably the only temple in the region built in the South Indian Gopuram style. As with other temples here, this temple had to face the brunt of Mughal invasion and the statues on the walls are badly defaced. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple is the tallest in height among all other temples here. A part of the temple was under restoration when we went.
Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been entrusted with the upkeep of all the temples here. Although much of the carvings have not stood the test of time, it is because of ASI, the structures of these ancient magnificent monuments have been kept intact.
Rock Cut Jain Colossi
Rock Cut Jain Colossi: We were aware of the forts and palaces in Gwalior. The Jain sculptures were a total surprise. On the way up from the plain to the fort hillock there are these rocks on both sides embellished with magnificent statues of Jain prophets and other iconography. When we saw these we were absolutely bowled over and our jaws dropped with awe.
These Digamabar Jain statues established that there was a thriving Jain religious order in this state. The walls also had few small carvings depicting Hindu deities. This place looked like a highly well made set from an Indiana Jones movie.
Tombs of Tansen and Mohammad Ghaus
Tombs of Tansen and Mohammad Ghaus: The tombs of Tansen and his guru Mohammad Ghaus are located in a very busy market area. When we were directed to this narrow lane we thought people did not understand us. Mohammad Ghaus tomb is a magnificent marble structure that is covered with intricate lattice work. It’s a neat place and a Moulavi was present inside to help devotees.
His most celebrated pupils Tansen’s tomb was comparatively unassuming-an open structure erected on pillars. The beautiful lawns outside seemed like a popular hangout in the neighborhood. However this site didn’t seem to be very popular with tourists.
Mitawali – We had kept the last day of our Gwalior trip for the return journey and the shrine Ekattarso Mahadev temple. We had read that the Indian Parliament House has been designed in line with this temple. It therefore seemed worth the effort to make a detour of about 40-50 km for visiting this place. Google maps took us through typical villages as well as industrial zones and just when we were starting to doubt the directions, we saw this crown like structure atop a hill. It took us about an hour from Gwalior to reach this place. Notwithstanding we were coming from a city of mausoleums it seemed as if we have been transported to another world.
This temple deserves a little description. It is a circular structure with embellishments on the outer wall. Inside the temple there were chambers on the wall as well as a sanctum sanctorum at the center. This is typical of a Yogini Temple and there are only a few of these temples around the world. The temple reminded us of the Colosseum in Rome. We could clearly see the resemblance of the Indian Parliament House with this temple.
Unfortunately this seems to be one of the sites that are neglected by the authorities. Consequently the place was swarming with New Year revelers caring two hoots about the sanctity of this place of history. It appeared that ASI has done its bit to maintain the structure. They have also placed cylindrical stones inside the shrines that people worshipped as Shiva Linga. If these stone menhirs are placed elsewhere maybe the temple would be maintained as an archeological site.
THINGS TO EAT IN GWALIOR
Food in Gwalior is quite like what we find in Delhi NCR. This place is high on street fare and almost every nook and corner was dotted with food carts. Mostly of the desi variety. We tried a few options:
S. Kachoriwala: Located at a busy intersection, this shop was selling kachori, bedai (known as bedmi poori in Delhi, Rajasthan), samosa, pakodi, jalebi etc. We tried the kachori and bedai which were served in leaf cones. The watery aloo sabzi was pored over the kachoris and topped with sweet and green chutney.
The soggy kachoris have to be had with hands. There is no sitting arrangement and we found lines of people standing outside patiently awaiting their serving. And we found them licking their fingers later. Every item was Rs 10 per piece. Our whole breakfast was done in neat Rs. 90/-
India Coffee House
One of the 400 outlets of the legendary Indian Coffee house is located in Gwalior. This was our last day in Gwalior and we decided to have breakfast at Indian Coffee House. Luckily this was en-route to our next destination in Gwalior – Tansen Tomb. Indian Coffee house here is adjacent to the Railway station and the parking is on the other side of the road. This Gwalior outlet has retained that typical character of any Indian Coffee House. Smell of South Indian food, snooty waiters dressed in white with noticeable white turbans and the usual crowd and noise of diners.
South Indian food is the safest bet while eating at Indian Coffee House. So we ordered filter coffee and masala dosa. Both were good with their simple and basic taste. We also ordered a plate of egg sandwiches that we loved the most here. Since we decided not to have lunch, we thought of having a heavy breakfast than usual. We ordered chicken sandwiches after this and this mistake costed us a good 45 minutes. The waiter didn’t tell us that this is going to take that long and we kept waiting for our order. When chicken sandwiches arrived the chicken was uncooked and the sandwiches were no good. This somewhat spoiled our experience of eating at the Indian Coffee House. We bought packets of their filter coffee on our way out.
Aggarwal Poha Bhandar
Aggarwal Poha Bhandar: Just like Mount Abu, poha – the humble Gujarati flat rice dish is a popular breakfast item in Gwalior. There are many APB in Gwalior and we didn’t know which one to try. We just trusted our gut feeling and tried poha at one of the shops.
The poha was freshly made, subtle in taste, slightly sweet and topped with peanuts, coriander leaves and a lemon wedge. We just loved it. We also tried their dhokla which was slightly different in taste than dhokla in Delhi and we liked it as much as poha.
Chaupati: We were surprised to hear about Chaupati in Gwalior. Somehow we always relate this name with Mumbai. Our guide at Gwalior Fort mentioned that Chaupati would be a nice place to hang out on 31st night. We took his word and visited this place late evening. Chaupati here is an open area with food carts selling street food like gol gappe (the long oval variety), karela, tikki choley, dahi bhalla etc. Karela (the chaat variety not to be mistaken with the vegetable) used to be a regular item in Delhi years back and now have disappeared totally from Delhi food scene.
This fried, white flour based dish is in shape of a karela. They break it inside a paper bowl (dona) and serve it with chutneys and spices. The taste was average but we liked it for the sake of nostalgia. Some permanent shops here serve Chinese food and the regular Delhi variety fast food like noodles, egg rolls, burgers etc. The atmosphere at Chaupati was very casual and gang of bikers and families were having good time gorging on pocket friendly street food. Parking is in an open field and free of charge.
Muraina (Morena) ki gajak: What panchi petha is to Agra, Muraina gajak is to Gwalior. Be it Naya Bazar or Dal Bazar, one can see lines of shops selling Morena ki Gajak. Muraina is a small town near Gwalior and Gajak from this place is famous all over India. We saw some shops near Railway Station opposite Indian Coffee House and bought boxes of several varieties of Gajak for friends and family.
The quality was much better than what we get in Delhi and we are happy that we shopped for Morena ki Gajak from here.
SHOPPING IN GWALIOR
Mriganayani: On the topic of shopping, given the long history of royal patronage from various dynasties, Madhya Pradesh is extremely rich in crafts, particularly hand loom as well as block printed fabrics. Mriganayani, the Madhya Pradesh Government crafts store in Gwalior was a treasure trove of fantastic weaves such as Chanderis, Maheshwaris and Bagh printed saris, dress materials, scarves etc. They also carried a host of wood craft, beautiful stone carving and durries at the craft section on the first floor. Surprisingly the handloom section accepted debit / card but the craft section insisted on cash notwithstanding the recent demonetization drive. That was the only dampener in our experience. The Mriganayani here is much better stocked than the one at Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhawan.
We bought Bagh print tussar sarees, Chanderi suit material, Maheshwari scarves, block printed cotton fabrics as well abstract stone busts and wood accessories as gifts and souvenirs.