Madhya Pradesh (the 'Central Provinces') and Chhattisgarh ("36 forts") are at the heart of India. Between them, they border on to seven states, have one-third of India's forest cover, and are home to 40 per cent of the country's tribal population. Madhya Pradesh is crossed by the Vindhya and the Satpura mountains, and its main river is the Narmada. In the state's rugged north are the famous Khajuraho temples, while eastern Madhya Pradesh has two of India's finest game sanctuaries, Bandhavgarh and Kanha. The scenic Malwa Plateau in the southwest has the great Buddhist stupa of Sanchi and the romantic 15th-16th century citadel of Mandu. In November 2000, the thickly forested and remote southeast, with its predominantly tribal population, became the new state of Chhattisgarh.
The places of interest in the state are:
Surrounded by attractive open plateau country immediately to the north of the Vindhyas, Gwalior is set in one of the state's driest regions. Apart from Gwalior Fort, the main attraction for visitors is the opulent, Italianate Jai Vilas Palace, south of the fort, built for the maharaja of Gwalior by his architect, Colonel Sir Michael Filose, in the late 19th century. The town has other interesting monuments like the 16th century Tomb of Mohammed Ghaus and the Tomb of Tansen, the famous singer who was one of the "nine jewels" of Mughal emperor Akbar's courts.
The medieval town of Chanderi is dominated by the Kirtidurga Fort, perched 200 m (656 ft) above the Betwa River, and overlooking an artificial lake, Kritisagar. Other notable buildings in Chanderi are Koshak Mahal, Jami Masjid and the Badal Mahal.
Founded in 1531, Orchha is dramatically positioned on a rocky island, enclosed by a loop of the Betwa River. It was the capital of the Bundela kings until 1738, when it was abandoned in favour of Tikamgarh. Crumbling palaces, pavilions, hamams, walls and gates, connected to the town with an impressive 14-arched causeway, are all that remain today. The three main palaces are massed symmetrically together. These are the Raj Mahal (1560), Jahangir Mahal (1626), and Rai Praveen Mahal (mid-1670s). Also, the old is dominated by three beautiful temples â€“ the Ram Raja, the Lakshmi Narayan and the Chaturbhuj.
Khajuraho, home to what are now perhaps the most famous of India's temples on account of their remarkable erotic sculptures, lies in a rich, well watered plain. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent group of temples at Khajuraho was built between the 9th and 10th centuries by the Chandela dynasty which dominated Central India at that time. The most impressive of the temples is the Kandariya Mahadev, which represents the pinnacle of North Indian temple art and architecture. It is remarkable for its grand dimensions, its complex yet perfectly harmonious composition, and its exquisite sculptural embellishment. Other important temples are Lakshman and the Vishwanath Temples. The city also has an Archaeological Museum.
5. Bandhavgarh National Park
One of India's most important Tiger Reserves, the Bandhavgarh National Park sprawls across an area of 625 sq km (241 sq miles). Apart from some 50 tigers, the park's wildlife includes 250 species of birds, leopards, deer, jungle cats and packs of dhole (Indian wild dog). Great rocky hills, lush deciduous forests, marshes and meadows make Bandhavgarh one of India's most scenic areas. A picturesque hilltop fort with fine sculptures is part of the park's attractions.
Founded in 11th century by Raja Bhoj of the Paramara dynasty, Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh. The city, ringed by hills, stretches along the shores of two artificial lakes, the Upper and Lower Lakes. Bhopal is a good base for visiting some of the state's fascinating sites. Some of these sites are Taj-ul-Masjid, The chowk, Moti Masjid, Shaukat Mahal, Bharat Bhawan, State Museum, Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (Museum of Man), Birla Museum and the Van Vihar National Park.
Home of one of India's best preserved and most extensive Buddhist sites, Sanchi from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century AD was a thriving Buddhist establishment of stupas and monasteries. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1989. Most of Sanchi's buildings are within an enclosure at the top of the 91-m (299-ft) hill, dominated by the Great Stupa and in four superb gateways. Nearby, to its north, is the smaller Stupa 3 (built 2nd century BC), with its single gateway, which contained the relics of two of the Buddha's closet disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalayana. Also worth visiting are the Monastery 51, Temple 17 and the Stupa 2.
A princely state ruled by the Maratha Holkar dynasty until 1947, Indore is now the bustling commercial centre of Madhya Pradesh. Places worth a visit in the city are Rajwada Palace, Kanch Mandir ("Glass Temple"), and a museum called the Nehru Temple.
One of the India's seven sacred cities and also one of the four cities of Khumb Mela, Ujjain is situated on the banks of the Shipra River. The focal point of the town is the Mahakaleshwar Temple with its much venerated Shivalinga. Other important places are Gopal Temple, Ram Ghat, Chintaman Ganesha Temple, Vedh Shala Observatory and the nearby Kaliadeh Palace.
One of India's most romantic and picturesque sites, the deserted citadel of Mandu, is perched on a crest of the Vindhya Mountains. Enclosed within its winding parapet walls, and surrounded by steep, wooden ravines, are palaces, mosques, lakes and pleasure pavilions, built between 1401 and 1529, by the sultans of Malwa who referred to it as Shadiabad, the "City of Joy". Mandu has a lot to offer, the chief among them are Delhi Gate, Hindola Mahal, Champa Baoli, Gada Shah's House, Jahaz Mahal, Hoshang Shah's Tomb, Ashrafi Mahal, Jami Masjid, Malik Mugith's Mosque, Dai ka Mahal, Baz Bahadur's Palace, Rupmati's Pavilion and Neelkanth Mahal.
11. Kanha National Park
A model for wildlife conservation, an important Project Tiger Reserve and often described as India's finest game sanctuary, Kanha's magnificent landscapes combines grassy meadows and flat topped hills with meandering streams and lush deciduous forests. This is the country about which Rudyard Kipling wrote so vividly in his famous The Jungle Book. The rich variety of wildlife found within this 1,954 sq km (754-sq mile) park, once the exclusive hunting ground of the British viceroys, includes deer, leopard, hyena, sloth bear, pythons and nearly 300 species of birds.
An important Hindu Pilgrimage centre, Maheshwar is picturesquely sited on the banks of the Narmada. Maheshwar's beautiful temples and ghats were erected by Queen Ahilyabai of the Holkar dynasty, in the mid-18th century. Places of interest in Maheshwar are the Maheshwar Fort and the Ahilyeshwar Temple.
One of India's most enchanting pilgrimage towns, the island of Omkareshwar is at the confluence of the Narmada and Kaveri rivers. The interesting part of this place is that when seen from the above, it is shaped like the sacred Om symbol. The island is dominated by the towering white shikhara of the Sri Omkar Mandhata ('Bestower of Desires") Temple, and also at the eastern end of the island is the 10th century Siddhnath Temple which has beautiful sculptures of apsaras.lusive hunting ground of the British viceroys, includes deer, leopard, hyena, sloth bear, pythons and nearly 300 species of birds.
Lying in the verdant hills of the Satpura Range, the delightful hill station of Panchmarhi stands at an altitude of 1067 m (3,501 ft). Its attractions include waterfalls and pools, and caves with prehistoric art. The town still retains a genteel, Raj-era ambience and the main places to visit here are Christ Church, Army Music School, Pandava Caves, Apsara Vihar ("Fairy Pool"), Rajat Pratap Waterfalls, Mahadeo Cave, Jatashankar Cave Temple and the Harper's Cave.