City tour buses by the state tourism departments have always been my favorite way to explore any city and hey it’s cheap as well! It takes you all around the city, shows you all the interesting places on the go and of course you can come back and separately visit these places later sometime where you feel you would have liked to spend more time! And that’s exactly what we did in Bhopal!
We sat in a MP tourism bus (shaped like a mini train!) starting from Hotel Palash residency. This bus was slower than the slowest of the buses and hence perfect to observe this bustling weekday morning of Bhopal.
Our first destination for the day was Birla temple- This temple just like most Birla temples in the country is sitting in a nice landscaped area. Temple being at a height, one can see a distant view of city’s lakes and the buildings around- more prominently spotted are spires of the temples and minarets of the mosques- both in abundance in Bhopal!
Moving ahead, we passed a few important government buildings including the new secretariat building of the state designed by renowned Architect Charles Correa.
Next we were taken to Gandhi Bhawan, housing a small museum on the life of Gandhi which has a collection of photographs, letters related to the leader. More than the museum what grabbed my attention more was the massive 25ish feet tall cactus growing just outside the bhawan!
Further ahead, driving along the lakes, we came to the old city of Bhopal home to two of Bhopal’s most famous mosques- Moti Masjid and Taj ul Masjid. Since the bus was just going to take us around without having a halt here, we decided to come back here later to visit the mosque separately.
Now passing through the very beautiful VIP road, with beautiful wall murals on one side and the vast lake on the other, we were headed to the ‘Boat Club’ at the Upper Lake. On the road we also crossed the large statue of Bhopal’s founder standing in the lake- as if very protectively guarding his city- statue of the great Raja Bhoj.
As soon as we reached Boat Club, we knew we were gonna come back here again next day! This place was totally my type- speed boat, mini cruise, music and lots of food! We had a quick speed boating session and grabbed a few momos within the time allocated to this place by the guide and moved to our next stop- Indira Gandhi Manav Sangrahalaya a.k.a. Museum of Man.
The entire complex of the museum is sooo hugee that one needs to have atleast a bike to see the entire museum complex properly. Took us more than 10 minutes by bus from the main entrance till the exhibition gallery. Along the road, life size models of huts and houses of various communities of India are erected in the natural environment- right from a Himalayan house, huts of the Nagas to the scene of the chariot pulled by the tribals in famous Bastar Dusshera festival in Chhattisgarh.
First section in the museum is dedicated to the prehistoric man and his various inventions. Moving further inside is the gallery for various Tribal communities and Nomadic groups of India. Each section consists of statues of the tribals in traditional attires and scaled models of their dwellings along with the brief information on each. Next is the section for wall art of various communities- from the Madhubani of Bihar to the wall art in Gompas of the Tibetan Buddhists in ladakh. Then is gallery of masks, toys, metal crafts, jewellery and on and on..! Whoa what a museum it is- truly of international standard! This one totally changes one’s common perception that museums are boring and can be skipped! NO Don’t skip this one at any cost!
Our next destination was another museum- Rashtriya janjatiya Sangrahalaya i.e. Tribal museum. We reluctantly entered this museum thinking we have seen the best a museum can be just now at Museum of man and nothing can even come close to it. I have to admit, the first look of this museum and we were shocked. Larger than life exhibits welcomed us in the main lobby. The way this museum is designed very informally is what appeals more about this particular museum. It lets you experience the exhibits, walk in the middle of it, explore it, feel it, sometimes lets you touch it unlike how museum normally are which have a clear divide between the exhibits and the viewers- the main reason why people hate going to museums. From large exhibits to terracotta toys, from life sized tribal hut models to mandap of a tribal marriage, this indoor museum has EVERYTHING! A massive and intricate model of kangan (bangle) gifted by in-laws to their daughter in law in central Indian tribal communities; is especially eye catching. Although the museum covers various tribal communities throughout India, it concentrates more on the tribal communities of Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh- for reasons obvious.
Just next to the tribal museum is the state museum of Madhya Pradesh. Third museum in a row and we were still not complaining! A quick tour through various galleries of this massive museum, and we came back to our bus. The guide of the tour announced that our half day city tour is now over and the bus would drop the passengers at Boat club if interested or take us straight to where we started- Hotel Palash residency, We decided to get off and walk to- Bharat Bhavan.
Bharat Bhavan is a large centre for arts on the banks of upper lake- again designed by the Indian legendary architect- Charles Correa. Especially the space around the open amphitheater facing Upper Lake feels so amazing, one can only imagine the feeling the audience would get to watch a live performance there on a starry night!
From Bharat Bhavan we walked along the upper lake to reach VanVihar National Park. Although we can take our vehicle inside or hire an auto to take us around in the national park, we instead chose to hire cycles from the ticket counter. Though the cycles here are ancient and more like the ones used by milkmen to deliver milk, that’s still the best way to roam around the national park. A road goes all along the national park with animal enclosures on one side and the upper lake on the other side. A total of 7km cycle ride one way till the other end of the national park takes one along the enclosures of various animals such as tigers, bears, deers, turtles, snake park and finally the birds’ area.
Coming back, we exited from the park, it was already 6:30 in the evening. We decided to have some drinks at Winds and Waves- a famous drinking place at the lake view road opposite the boat club.
Few drinks down we went to the place I had high on my wish list on my visit to Bhopal- the Bhopal express- the moving train coach restaurant. Earlier called ‘Shaan-E-Bhopal’, this restaurant is set up within a train coach which is parked in Hotel Lake View Ashok’s compound. A mock platform is also created outside the coach that serves as the outdoor Non-AC seating of the restaurant. The experience of dining here was pretty amazing. The seating arrangement, the background music of a moving train, the LCD panels fixed in place of windows (which have outside scenery running as if you are sitting in a moving train) give a near authentic and enjoyable feeling of dining in train. What adds to the experience is that the coach often moves and gives slight jerks- ofcourse while standing in one place.
Having had such amazing dinner, we walked it down to the lake. It was pitch dark except for a few streetlights here and there. The entire city was about to sleep. Our day was eventful & busy, though extremely enjoyable, it was a bit tiring.
Though we were fatigued, we still willingly walked along the lake, to the hotel wanting to absorb as much as we could of this awesome awesome city!