Travelogue: Gwalior

Gwalior is an erstwhile princely state in Madhya Pradesh. Known for its forts, palaces and temples, it’s a jewel in the crown of India’s heartland. It’s situated about 122 kilometres south of Agra. Legend has it that the city was named after an 8th century sage named Gwalipa because he successfully cured Crown Prince Suraj Sen of leprosy.

There are a number of places worth seeing in Gwalior with the first and foremost being the Gwalior Fort. It’s a majestic Fort that stands on a steep sandstone rock overlooking the town. Blue and green mosaic tiles twinkle from the elegantly sculptured designs. The architecture of the Fort is striking and majestic in appearance. Its high walls enclose many beautiful structures such as the Man Mandir Palace, Teli ka Mandir (or the oil presser’s temple) and Gujari Mahal (built by Raja Mansingh for his wife Princess Mrignayni). In the evening a light and sound show is organized at the fort that narrates the history of the city. If you stay late enough, you can catch a panoramic view of the city lit up like a queen.

Experience the royal atmosphere with a trip to the Sarod Ghar or Museum of Music. The building that houses Sarod Ghar is the old ancestral home of the legendary Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan. Its extensive collection of ancient musical instruments, photos and documents definitely make it worth a go-see.

A trip to Gwalior is not complete without a visit to the Jai Vilas Palace and the Sun Temple. As the two are in proximity to each other, it’s easy to accomplish both visits in one go. The Jai Vilas Palace today is divided into three sections; one has been converted into a museum and is open for public viewing, the second has been converted into a luxury hotel and the third is still the home of the Royal family, the scion of whom is Jyotiraditya Scindia.

The moment you step into the Jai Vilas Palace museum it’s as if you have been picked up from the real world and dumped into a right royal lifestyle. The piece de resistance of the Durbar are two of the world’s largest chandeliers, each weighing more than 3 tonnes. The rooms are decorated in Baroque style with gold-leaf ceilings, antique mahogany furniture, intricately carved cabinets and jade clocks, luxurious carpets and exquisite wallpaper. The masterpieces include a solid silver train with cut-glass wagons used to serve dishes at dinner, old carriages in the royal style, glass fountains and a large stockade of ancient weaponry.

After finishing the tour, check out the Sun Temple. It is built in the same style as the Sun Temple of Konark though it is newly constructed. The sculptures of Gods, Goddesses and myths are fascinating. The temple is usually crowded and its gardens are a popular picnic spot. Other places of interest include the tomb of Rani Lakshmibai in the Phoolbag and Tansen’s tomb. One can also take a detour out of the city to the Shivpuri National Park, which is a four hour drive from Gwalior. The scenic beauty of the Shivpuri Lake and the opportunity of sighting wild animals make a visit to this former summer capital of the Scindias a memorable experience.

The cuisine in the city is primarily vegetarian with a bit of non-veg thrown in for good measure. The small restaurants in the city are clean and make good, hearty food with natural ingredients. The Indian Coffee House on Station Road is known for good coffee and snacks. In terms of infrastructure, Gwalior like most Indian cities is well-planned in some areas and chaotic in others. It has a distinctly regal past that reflects in its culture today. Many educational and community institutions are named after the royal family and are patronized by them. The royal family continues to command the respect of the local people.

The best time to visit Gwalior is during the winter months of November to January. It is easily accessible by air, rail and road. It has its own airport about 8 kms from the city and is connected by rail to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Agra and all the en-route stations. Well linked to all the major towns in Madhya Pradesh and surrounding areas, many government and private buses travel to and from Gwalior.

Akanksha Triguna Sharma

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