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Traversing the Silk route through Bhopal's Lakes

It is 8'oclock in the morning. And adventure is the mood. I'm at Kerwa Dam, 14 km from Bhopal, the Lake city.

travel Updated: Oct 15, 2011 14:42 IST

It is 8'oclock in the morning. And adventure is the mood. I'm at Kerwa Dam, 14 km from Bhopal, the Lake city. A spray of different shades of greenery covers the hills surrounding the Kerwa dam. Nature always bears a different hue in the morning. You can feel the quiet surrounding and pristine nature. I see a lot of youngsters making an attempt at rock climbing. I join them. 

Halfway through the climb, I turn my head right to soak in the view of the dam from a higher altitude. The water flows, twinkling under the morning sun rays. I resume my climb upwards, watching the instructor give urgent pointers to a bunch of enthusiastic amateur climbers.

All around the arena, people sit with their legs dangling off the high road, watching the rock climbers. From a distance, it's a pretty sight. Once I reach the top, the Kerwa dam and a part of the city of Bhopal is visible. It unfurls dramatically because, till you reach the top, you don't know what you are going to see from that vantage position. I get the feeling as if I am a star performer, perched atop a high altitude stage with an entire city, quite literally, at my feet.

The rugged scenery, with its rocky and uneven surface should appear unbecoming but it is not. Infact, the entire visage is one of virginal beauty - unspoilt and humble. What stands out is the abundance of greenery on the hills and the reservoir. The temptation is to just feel like camping there. But my 'To Do List' for the day stops me. Next on the agenda is shopping at New Market and a sumptuous lunch served in true Nawabi style.

"Noor-Us-Sabah" which means "The Light Of Dawn" is a palace hotel. Originally built in the 1920's by H.H.Hamid Ullah Khan, for his eldest daughter Begum Abida Sultan, is perched on a hilltop with two sides overlooking the lake. The coffee shop which is in the open has a particularly beautiful view of the placid waters and different birds depending on the time of day and month.

The palace as it stands today is a pristine white palatial building, considered to be one of the best residential palaces in the erstwhile Bhopal Estate. Everybody is ever so welcoming as we enter the palace lobby. In the elegantly plush restaurant, there is a combination of modern and traditional interiors. We decide to go for a buffet lunch. We start with soup, crackers, bite-size portions of chicken and paneer tikka, tandoori chicken and green salads.For the main course, I settle for chicken biryani, mutton korma and wish it was combined with a chilled glass of beer. For dessert, a spoon of moong dal halwa is most appropriate to create a lingering effect, post a sumptuous meal. Though we relished the food, we could not but think that there was nothing 'Bhopal" about it and that it was just some good 'Indian food'.

We head back towards the hotel. My room is on the second floor with a balcony which gives an expansive view of the Upper lake. We settle down with our cup of tea making plans for the next day. In the distance, I see sailing boats on the lake.

Next day
After the complimentary breakfast at the hotel, a 5 minutes drive brings us to the Upper Lake which dates back to 11th century. Raja Bhoj was the 'creater' of this water body. He built an earthen dam over the river Kolans. Legend has it that king Bhoj was once afflicted with a mysterious skin disease. None of the doctors could cure him. Then one day a saint told the king to combine water from 365 tributaries and build a dam, claiming that having bath in this tank would cure him. He did that and presto! He was fit as a fiddle. The city of Bhopal gets its name from this king. The Upper lake is a major tourist attraction. It is separated from the Lower lake by an over bridge. Both are spread over an area of 6 sq. km of land. The Madhya Pradesh Tourism's Yacht Club has arrangements for several water sports facilities like sailing, paddling and speed boat rides and these are quite popular with the locals as also tourists and adventure enthusiasts who come down specially to participate in local competitions and events.

We choose the speed boat ride. Our ride starts with our boat ripping the water apart as it makes way for itself, heading for the middle of the lake. We all shout 'whoaa' as the boat catches speed. Then circumventing the lake, we land precisely at the spot where we started in exact 20 minutes. The adrenaline rush keeps us heady, till we reach Bhojpur, our next destination.

Bhojpur is 28 kilomenters from Bhopal. A drive through city traffic, then the paddy fields and the hills takes us to this destination know for the remains of its magnificent Shiva temple. Founded by the legendary Parmar King of Dhar, Raja Bhoj (1010-1053), and named after him, Bhojpur, the temple has earned the nomenclature of Somnath of the east, and is called Bhojeshwar Temple. The Shiv lingam is set upon a massive platform 21.5 feet square. The lingam in the sanctum rises to an awe-inspiring height of 7.5 feet with a circumference of 17.8 feet. Strangely, the temple construction never did get completed though the earthen ramp used to raise it to a dome-level, still stands. Even then it remains one of the best examples of temple architecture of the 11th - 13th centuries. The shops selling miniature version of Shiv lingam outside the temple are good as souvenirs. We buy two and head for the airport. I have to catch the evening flight. The trip to Bhopal, the city of lakes, nestling in the middle of the hills, has had a strangely calming effect on me. I resolve to come back for longer.

Travel Tips

Best time to visit Bhopal is during the winter months of November to March The nearest airport is Raja Bhoj Airport, 15 km from the heart of the city. Bhopal railway station is connected to all major cities in India. Also bus linkages are plentiful While street food is available in plenty, savour the experience of being served some royal delicacies in one of the heritage palace hotels Other must see places include the Taj-ul-Masjid which means "crown of mosques". This 19th century building stands tall with a pink façade and is one of India's largest mosques Seven kilometers from Bhopal is the Manua bhan ki tekri, a Jain temple. An important place of pilgrimage for devotees, the Tekri enshrines an idol of Shri Man Bhadarji. An old manuscript carved in stone, situated at the Simha Gate of the temple is another point of interest. The language of the carvings is yet to be deciphered For shopping, the New Market has much to offer from fine raw and tussar silk and chanderi cottons. Handicraft items like finely embroidered zari bags and other knick knacks can be bought from the MP State Emporium.
Lipi lives in Delhi and when not mulling over life and day dreaming of becoming a global nomad, handles projects on higher learning for the International Institute for Learning in Management-Business School

First Published: Oct 15, 2011 14:42 IST