City Guide: The Cultural Galore of Old Bhopal

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Bhopal is a city that deserves to be known more than its ‘Gas Tragedy’. The stark memories of the Union Carbide disaster might have shook the city in the past, but not forever. Bhopal’s cultural affluence and diversity will amaze any first timer in the city. Here’s a city guide on what you thought and what the city has got otherwise, to share with you.  


The ancient city of Bhopal was a small village under the Gond Kingdom, until it gained its true identity as a city in the early 18th Century.

When I use the term, Old Bhopal, I am not drawn by prejudice. Bhopal over time has been virtually bifurcated as the Old Bhopal and New Bhopal, based on the ways the urban developments evolved here.

The Old Bhopal essentially retains the historic and political buildings, museums, parks, and religious buildings that together form the North Western part of the city. The New Bhopal region on the other hand, is where the modern developments have taken place.

In other words, most of the sight seeing places of the city are concentrated around the Upper Lake Area of the city.

Bhopal: The City of Lakes

Old Bhopal
A Morning at the Bhojtal Lake; Pic Credits: Abhishek Mishra @Via Wikimedia

One thing that’s characteristic about the city is its lakes. Central India by geography is located close to the Tropics and mostly have inland drainage rivers which often dry up during the peak summers.

However, Old Bhopal is an exception to it. The city has its own artificial lake – Bhojtal Lake, also called the Upper Lake, surrounded by hordes of religious buildings, parks, educational and research institutions.

The lake waters were no exception to the impact of the dreadful gas leak incident at the Union Carbide Factory in 1984, which claimed more than 4000 lives. It continues to be one of the most visited places both among travelers and the locals alike.

The Van Vihar Park, built on the backdrop of the Upper Lake is where you can connect with the animal kingdom. Spread over an opulent 4.5 square km, the city tries to preserve the tigers, crocodiles, panthers, deer and snakes.


Taj Ul Masjid – The Second Largest Mosque in India

Old Bhopal
Pic Credits: Nagarjun Kandukuru @Via Flickr

Moving through Old Bhopal is like a time warped journey. The congested lanes, traditional shops, the cycle rickshaws and houses with the erstwhile Islamic architecture.

Speaking of the Islamic architecture, one of the places that will intrigue you is the Taj-Ul-Masjid; among the largest mosques in India, covering an area of approximately half an acre.

Probably also the largest structure in the city, the Taj-Ul-Masjid resembles the Jama Masjid in New Delhi and is distinctively visible from the terrace of the houses. Taj-Ul-Masjid literally translates into the ‘Crown among all Mosques’.

Every year, the mosque organizes the annual congregation or the Ijtema that pours in followers from all over the country.


The ‘Artistic’ Inclinations

Old Bhopal
Entrance to the National Museum of Mankind – Pic Credits: K Sheshadri @Via Wikimedia

Bhopal as a city has unique artistic and scholarly inclinations. It is the only city with the largest number of research and educational institutions – Indian Institute of Science, BHEL, School of Planning and Architecture, AIIMS, Institute of Information Technology to name a few.

I have seen the anthropological museum in my own city, but I was yet to learn anthropology in a different way altogether at The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya or the National Museum of Mankind. The museum, spread over 40 acres, is a virtual walk through of ethnicity, cultures, and traditions of various Indian states.

The Tribal Habitat Museum, showcases the habitats and living styles of various ethnic tribes in India. Catch a glimpse of the tribal ornaments, utensils, musical instruments, weapons, household items, agricultural tools and other tribal items of everyday use.


Nearby Bhopal

  1. Bhojeshwar Temple, Bhojpur:-
    Old Bhopal
    The Bhojeshwar Temple: Pic Credits – Bernard Gagnon @VIa Wikimedia 

    The 11th Century Bhojeshwar temple is a partially constructed Shiva Temple. It is located in Bhojpur(the erstwhile Bhopal town), about 30 km from Bhopal Rly Station. The temple has a 7 feet Shivalingam at the sanctum and the reasons why it was left incomplete remain a mystery even today.

  2. Sanchi Stupa:-
    Old Bhopal
    Sanchi Stupa from Eastern gate, Madhya Pradesh – Pic Credits – @Via Flickr 

    The glory of the 3rd Century BC, the Sanchi Stupa, is known to one and all. Well, that’s not very far from your reach if you are exploring Bhopal. The oldest rock monument in India, Sanchi Stupa is just 50 km North East of Bhopal City. Apart from the famous Stupa, it also has nearby the Archaeological Museum constructed in the early 20th Century. The museum has artifacts recovered from Sanchi, Vidisha, Murelkhurd, and Gyaraspur.

  3. Udaigiri Caves, Vidisha
    Old Bhopal
    Udayagiri Caves, Vidisha – Pic Credits – Asitjain @Via Wikimedia

    Further North of the Sanchi Stupa is the epitome of artistry of the Gupta Period – the Udaigiri Caves. Built near the end of the 3rd Century, the Udaigiri caves are among the oldest stone caves in India.

    The caves display the fine-chiseled stone artifacts of Lord Vishnu in his Varaha Avatar, Lord Ganesha, reclining Vishnu on the serpent, the idols of Shiva and Shakti and several other ancient sculptures. One of the 20 caves also reflect references of Jainism.


Planning a Trip to Bhopal

The best time to visit Central India in general is winters – between October to March; however, one can always plan a trip near the closing months of rainfall too. After the scorching summer heat, the rainfalls in Central India come with a breath of fresh air, filling up the lakes, and filling up the region with a refreshing greenery. So, you’ll never regret it.

There are direct flights to Bhopal from New Delhi and Mumbai. The hop flights from Bengaluru,Hyderabad and Kolkata with usually long layovers.


Places to Stay

The Old Bhopal maintains a distinct signature of the traditional Mughal era, and the hotels here reflect the image of the erstwhile history.

For instance, the Noor-Us-Sabah Palace, stands in the picturesque backdrop of the Upper Lake. Built in the early 1920’s, the name literally translates into the ‘Light of the Dawn’. The traditional palace, now converted into a hotel, retains the earlier charm while transcended into a stay with modern amenities.

Not very far from Noor-Us-Sabah is the Jehan Numa Palace Hotels, that comes with bespoke luxury experiences. Nestled in the picturesque natural beauty, one an quickly connect with the unseen treasures of nature for a memorable encounter.


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Places to SeeDistance (km)
 Upper Lake11.80
 MP Tribal Museum 8.00
 Taj-Ul-Masjid 4.30
 The Museum of Mankind 6.60
 Bhojeshwar Temple 29.50
 Sanchi Stupa 49.80
Udaigiri Caves 60.10

*All Distances from Bhopal Rly Station


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Old Bhopal