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Madhya Pradesh: the heart of India

Explore ancient temples and abundant tiger reserves in the historic central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh

At the heart of India lies the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is a microcosm of all that India has to offer: from ancient forests teeming with wildlife, to imposing forts, palaces, temples and stupas, Madhya Pradesh is full of history, heritage, religion and natural beauty. 

Madhya Pradesh’s biggest attraction is its wildlife. Its forests cover about 25 per cent of the land mass here and are home to 25 sanctuaries and nine national parks covering an area of 10,000 sq km. The vast tracts of forested land are home to more than 20 per cent of India’s tiger population with six popular tiger reserves (Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna, Satpura, Pench and Sanjay Dubri National Parks). These woodlands also provide a refuge for barking deer, leopards, chital, wild boars, blackbucks, nilgais and crocodiles. Barasingha (literally translated to ’one with 12 horns’) is a swamp deer, the state animal of Madhya Pradesh. The Kanha tiger reserve is the only place in the world where the species exists.

The Pench Tiger Reserve and its neighbourhood provided inspiration for the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s novel, The Jungle Book. The character of Mowgli was inspired by Sir William Henry Sleeman’s pamphlet An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens, a true story about a wolf-boy captured in a village called Seoni. Many of The Jungle Book’s locations can still be found in the vicinity. 

The state boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Khajuraho temples – a display of scintillating architectural skill and exquisite sculptural art. The fine sculptures date back 1,000 years and depict meditation, spiritual teachings, kinship, royalty and most significantly, erotic art.

Some of India’s oldest Buddhist relics can be found at Sanchi, northeast of the capital city, Bhopal. Most notable is the Great Stupa, built by Emperor Ashoka in 262 BC after he embraced Buddhism. There are a number of other stupas, temples and monasteries here, along with an archaeological museum. Bhimbetka, meanwhile, is known for its caves and rock shelters which are believed to have been home to one of the earliest human settlements dating back to the Paleolithic Age. 

Madhya Pradesh has something to offer every traveller. Gwalior will be of interest to music buffs (it also boasts a magnificent fort); Orchha and Mandu are a must-visit for those interested in exploring the palaces of ancient India. Places of natural scenic beauty (Bhedaghat, Tawa) abound, as do sites of religious interest (Ujjain, Amarkantak).

Finally, special mention needs to be given to the state’s varied culinary delights, which range from Mughal-inspired meat dishes to local street food (bhutte ka kees) and desserts such as malpua and jalebis. 

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