Bhopal: A neglected treasure

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India is known to be a potpourri of cultures. It thus boasts some magnificent cultural and historical landmarks that make it a desirable tourist destination. A few of these Landmarks include the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Ganga river In Varanasi, the Lal Qilla in New Delhi, and the golden temple in Amritsar, amongst several others. However, one city/area is often ignored when discussing places with rich cultural and historical roots and locations: Bhopal. Bhopal boasts its fair share of impressive sites such as the Bhimbetka, the Sanchi stupa, and the Taj ul- masajid, making it sort of a hidden gem in the vast tourism landscape. Each of these sites exhibit fascinating details from different eras of the Bhopal area, showcasing the diversity in its bountiful history.

The Bhim Betka rock shelters are located around 42 kilometres southeast of the city of Bhopal and are identified as a series of 5 natural rock clusters. The caves get their name from the myth of the legendary hero Bhima resting in them during his travels. Bhima was one of the 5 protagonists of the Ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata” and can be called the Indian counterpart of Hercules/Heracles as both of them exhibit inhuman feats of strength. In the myths, Bhima is said to have the power of about 10,000 elephants. However, to grasp how off the wall that truly is, a single elephant can carry up to about 9000 kg. The folk tales about the ludicrous strength feats of this hero add some mysticism to the rock shelters making it highly intriguing. However, most tourists are not drawn to these caves due to the legend of Bhima, as their true claim to fame is that they host some of the oldest cave paintings found in the world, let alone India. The ancient illustrations are dated to be from somewhere between the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods and are evidence of some of the earliest sapiens presence in India. Due to the importance of these paintings, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization( UNESCO) has branded it a World heritage site (An honour only bestowed upon 1100 sites worldwide).
So whether it be to gaze upon the traces of the first human existence in India or just experience the atmosphere of the presence of a legendary hero, Bhimbetka is a must-visit.

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Like Bhimbetka, the Sanchi Stupa is another World Heritage site, and as such, is a historical and cultural marvel. The monument was built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE and is considered by many to be the most detailed and intricate Buddhist monument in the world. The stupa oozes symbolism in its design. When people first gaze upon the monument, they are greeted by a gigantic dome-like construct. This central dome structure of the stupa represents a cosmic mountain. It is topped by a fence-like enclosure on top with three rings in the middle (known as a "harmika" ), each representing one of the three main aspects of Buddhism: the Dharma( cosmic principle), the Buddha, and the Sangha (community). As visitors around the stupa, they come upon the artistic marvel that is the eastern gate. This gate of the stupa is inscribed with thousands of detailed illustrations and inscriptions that detail the journey of the great Buddha. They portray his life as Prince Siddhartha and his gradual deviation from a life of materialism and his pursuit of enlightenment that eventually transforms him into the enlightened Gautum Buddha. The architecture of the great stupa and other structures around it is also unique as it showcases a subtle but very noticeable greek influence: a culture that Ashoka's empire had substantial interaction with.

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No traveling experience in Bhopal is truly complete without a visit to the Taj-ul-Masajid. The Taj-ul-Masajid or "The Crown of mosques'' happens to be the largest mosque in India and one of the largest in all of Asia. The construction of the grand mosque was started by Sultan Shah Jahan Begum (The Baroness of Bhopal) around 1870. Still, the mosque wouldn't be wholly finished until 1971, around 100 years after construction started. The mosque looks like an amalgamation of the Lal Quilla and Jama masjid, two very prominent monuments in Delhi: sharing its reddish-brown hue with the Lal Quilla and has a very similar architectural shape and design to the Jama masjid. The Taj ul Masajid is grand, not only in its name. Boasting over 430,000 square feet, allowing it to host more than 175,000 people. The main entrance showcases intricate details and motifs that are sure to mesmerize any tourist with the elite level of craftsmanship. The marble flooring inside the mosque also adds to its regal vibe and atmosphere, making its grand courtyard seem even more impressive. The architectural inspiration of its design seems to be from ancient Persian architecture, adding even more to the rich cultural history of Bhopal.

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If you ever plan to go on a cultural adventure in India, these three sites will add an extra layer of depth and perspective to your tourism experience. These three sites each represent a different period and represent various unique cultural backgrounds but are geographically close to each other, showcasing the actual depth and diversity present in the history of the often ignored city of Bhopal.

-Written by Ruhayl Shapoo

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