The ‘city of lakes’ is a myriad urban environment of people of various religions, architectural influences and topography.
Travel being an intrinsic part of my life, a rendezvous with numerous places is something that I eagerly look forward to. After the enchanting experiences from northern and southern India, it was now time to explore the land in between. The itinerary was pre-planned meticulously.
Words: Revati Rajwade
Photos : Sneha Chaddva
Much as I strove to acquire a flavour of Bhopal through maps, pictures and blogs, it was nothing compared to the live experience of being in the place. Every city has an aorta which transfuses positive energy into the heart of the city which is its people. As a tourist, it was rather difficult to decipher this feature of Bhopal during my short sojourn.
It is a myriad urban environment of people of various religions, architectural influences, topography, spaces etc. Being a group of architects, we had common ‘uncommon’ interests and were eager to explore the paths less travelled. We were eager to uncover the layers of grief and despair which has been the only identity of Bhopal after the gas tragedy which brought terrible devastation. The city has travelled a long way and combated the destruction.
Most of Bhopal is on a contoured land and this gives the built form a unique character. However, it is not the quaint little hill station with tiny cottages dotting the landscape – a picture largely associated with settlements on contoured lands. Bhopal is geographically divided by the massive Upper Lake which is undoubtedly the most pleasant sight the city has to offer and thus, it forms the central core.
In the evenings the sign ‘City of Lakes’ shines proudly from a strategic corner of the lake which is visible as one enters the city from the airport. Bhopal is famously known by that name owing to the presence of numerous lakes. There are various modes of recreation in this area and citizens can choose from a wide variety of amenities. The area is populated during the evenings since it proves to be a public place catering to all age groups.
When one delves into the history of the city, the importance of the statue of Raja Bhoj in the Upper Lake comes to light. The statue stands on a pedestal with the king guarding his city, long after his demise. Raja Bhoj ruled a vast kingdom in central India in the 11th century. It is said that he founded the city of Bhopal. His aura is such that the airport is named after him. Bhoj constructed several spectacular temples, one of the most dramatic of which is seen in the form of the great temple of Shiva termed Bhojeshvara at Bhojpur about 30 km from Bhopal. The construction methods used to build this temple from huge stones is marvelous.
This part of the city around the Upper Lake has clean wide roads and is a result of systematic urban planning. Creative street art in the form of murals and wall paintings have given the particular roads a character of their own. Apart from wall paintings, the profuse usage of various materials has created a vibrant atmosphere.
The space tends to become a public space for art and expression instead of being a mere utility. However, the contrast is stark when one travels away from this zone. The large clean roads give way to narrow overcrowded lanes, the glitzy malls are replaced by tiny shops crunching for space and the modern architecture is transformed into poorly maintained ones from the olden ages.
This part of Bhopal boasts of famous masjids. The Moti masjid no longer lives up to its name and stands partially ripped off its beauty amidst the chaotic and haphazard surroundings. The main grand entrance to the masjid is shut for general public and hence there is no appreciation of space for such a beautiful monument. However, there is a sense of serenity once a person enters the premises of the holy place.
The other masjid, which stands tall and can be viewed even from the other side of the lake is the Taj ul masjid. Its majestic proportions reduce a human to a quarter of his size. It has a large courtyard in front of it, allowing a person to patiently take in the magnitude.
Monuments such as the Sadar Manzil and Gohar Mahal lie in the heart of the city but are in shambles owing to being neglected for ages. Heritage conservation is an aspect which has come to the forefront recently in many Indian cities but unfortunately much has been lost till that time. A citizen who has spent many years of her life in Bhopal says: “This is a city which has been rejuvenated owing to the spirit of the people. Also, the facilities provided since the last decade makes the city more livable. There is a dedicated lane (BRTS) for buses. The traffic congestion is better managed than many other places.”
Apart from gauging the pulse of the city we visited a few of its jewels. One is the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalay, which spreads across several acres. The museum weaves the story of mankind, tracing it right from prehistoric times. It displays objects which played a pivotal role in man’s progress, his shelter and art forms.
On exhibit are rural houses from all parts of India, built to actual scale with traditional building materials. They sit on the undulating land imparting a wealth of knowledge about various tribes of India and their ways of living.
Along with the open air exhibits, panels and other exhibits are housed in an articulately designed built form. The structure derives light from its roof, thus reducing the need for artificial lighting. The museum is classified into various zones and the systematic internal planning with proper signage makes vehicular and pedestrian circulation effortless.
Another noteworthy destination is a Jain temple, Mahaveer Giri, locatede atop a hill that offers a panoramic view of the city. I always wonder what is it about a bird’s eye view that fills the heart with extraordinary elation. The expanse of the city beneath, slowly merging into the picturesque sky is a treat to the eye and mind. The cluster of buildings seem overbearing at the eye level but from the top, the same sight reminds you that it is housing thousands of people and you suddenly feel ecstatic about it.
The other notable place in Bhopal is Bharat Bhavan, the late architect Charles Correa’s gift to the city. It is an institute built to celebrate all forms of art and is thus a piece of art in itself. The intermingling of open and closed areas, the play of shadows and the serene courtyards holistically creates an atmosphere that reveres art. The play of levels takes the visitor to the depths of the structure and then gradually brings one to the ground level to spaces overlooking the Upper Lake.
Says a visitor: “The paintings and artwork display the enormous talent present in society. We also often attend programmes in the auditorium or the scenic amphitheatre at this place, where numerous artists and connoisseurs of art converge and share their ideas.”
An amalgamation of all these places and unique features of public spaces and city planning makes Bhopal one of the best cities for a tourist to explore and a citizen to live. A single visit is inadequate to fully understand the city and leaves one asking for more.
BEST DEALS THAT BHOPAL OFFERS
Boating in the Upper Lake gives a beautiful view of the city and being in the tranquil waters is an experience to cherish.
Bhopal is a gourmet’s haven with an extensive variety of street food as well as fine dining areas. A restaurant in a railway coach is one of its highlights.