While the north and east may steal the show in winter with their snow-based activities, there are several spots worth visiting in central India, thanks to the milder climate at this time of the year. We pick some offbeat places where you could experience a mix of culture, adventure and nature.
Bara Imambara: Culture capital Lucknow is home to an opulent monument not built for love, but necessity. The Bara Imambara literally means ‘big shrine’. Legend tells us that in 1784, the Nawab of Lucknow was distressed seeing his people suffer after the region was hit by a famine. So he asked for the structure to be built. And for 18 years, the poor could work at the monument site and earn their daily wages. Inside, you could test your navigation skills at the Bhul Bhulaiya. Ditch that guide, take your chance in this labyrinth of tunnels and stairways and hope that you can find your way back to the surface. Or go to the Shahi Bauli and learn how the rulers could judge the water levels of the river Gomti depending on the number of steps covered by water in the well there.
Dhuandhar falls: Close to Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, lies Bhedaghat, which is also home to the Narmada river and Dhuandhar Falls. Though just 10m high, the falls pack a mighty punch and can be heard from miles away. A little ahead also lie the world-famous Marble Rocks. Incidentally, the word Dhuandhar comes from two Hindi words, ‘dhuan’ meaning smoke and ‘dhar’ meaning to own. The fall gets its name from the smoky cascade seen around it.
Mandu: The ruined city of Mandu in Madhya Pradesh has a lot to offer to the average traveller. You can choose to visit Baz Bahadur’s palace, with its high terraces and encircled walls. Or head to Roopmati's pavilion from where the queen had an
unrestricted view of Baz Bahadur’s palace. There’s also Hoshang Shah’s tomb, which provided inspiration for the master builders of the Taj Mahal centuries later. And of course, Jahaze Mahal, a double-storied palace built between two lakes Munji Talao and Kanpur Talao that resembles a ship. Sultan Ghiyasuddin Khilji who reigned for 31 years from 1469 built this palace for his large harem of 15,000 women. Need more convincing?
Kanha and Bandhavgarh: One inspired Rudyard Kipling to write his famous Jungle Book and brought Mowgli and Sher Khan into our lives, the other is famed far and wide for its high tiger population and guaranteed big cat spotting. Though most people would tell you that winter isn’t the best time to visit a wildlife sanctuary in India, both these parks defy the norm. Though tiger spotting is always a matter of luck, the chances of seeing one here are much higher.
Khajuraho dance festival: Though the venue in itself would make it to our top 10 places that one has to visit in a lifetime in India, the dance festival that takes place there in February is a feast for the senses, literally. The fest celebrates the many dances of India and gives top pedestal to classical forms like Kathak, Bharathanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Kathakali. And staying with the times, it has also introduced modern forms to keep Gen Next interested. You can purchase single entry tickets or get a season pass. Definitely something to try, if you haven’t already.
Bhimbetka caves: These
lesser-known cousins of the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves lie 46 km south of Bhopal. Within over 600
rock shelters lie 500 caves, some of which are filled
with the most vivid paintings you can find, done mostly
in red though you can see a splash of green or a dash of yellow. These scenes depict day-to-day life scenes of cave dwellers from the Neolithic age. Also, it isn’t unusual to find animals like lions, tigers and bisons depicted in the paintings.
You could also visit
Orchha: Built in 1501 by Maharaja Rudra Pratap Singh, it lies on the bank of the Betwa River, 15 km from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. The highlight of the fort-palace is that it is home to several buildings belonging to different times. The standouts among these include Raja Mahal and Jahangir Mahal, the latter being a beautiful structure bearing the distinct marks of Mughal architecture.
Bhangarh: Who doesn’t love a spooky story? But even the bravest wouldn’t dare to venture inside this ghost city in Rajasthan after nightfall. Legend goes that a beautiful queen once lived in the palace here and a local tantrik fell in love with her. He tried to bewitch her, but she escaped and cast a spell on him in retaliation. To this day, locals believe the tantrik walks around after
nightfall, plotting his revenge. Even the ASI bars people from entering the area after sunset. Those who still venture can be prosecuted.
Kila Raipur: This small town in Punjab comes alive in the month of February with what is fondly called India’s ‘Rural Olympics’. One of the more popular rural sports festivals in the country, the three-day-long event sees a variety of activities like bullock cart races, camel races, tug-of-war and tractor races. This festival attracts more than 4,000 sportsmen and women.
It is reported that more than a million people witness it.