I felt nippy air when I opened the window of my room. In the wee hours of the morning, I hurriedly readied myself to go to the railway station to catch the train that would take me to Gwalior. I was visiting my brother who was studying in the royal city of Gwalior. Early in the morning, with a backpack, I entered the Hazrat Nizamuddin Station in New Delhi with enthusiasm of a wide-eyed tourist. I was eager to pack as many sights in a single day.
The moment Taj Express chugged into the boundaries of Madhya Pradesh, passing through places of tourist interest like Mathura Junction and Agra Cantt, I fished out the guidebook and got ready to hit a major tourist trail.
Upon descending from the train, I visited the Indian Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), where my brother was studying hotel management. Lush green lawns of the sprawling campus of the institute greeted me. I was delighted to see students looking dapper in white and black uniforms. After exchanging pleasantries with my brother’s friends, I opted out and decided to see the city. Along with my brother, I did a whirlwind tour of all the hot-spots he recommended as I just had only a day in hand. As we stepped out of the IHM campus, I watched a group of foreigners who were engaged in bargaining with an auto-rickshaw driver. Inspired by the ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ advertisement that I had watched recently on television, we rushed to the group and sorted out the confusion over fare. In turn, the foreigners offered if we would like to see the city together as a group. Both of us were thrilled to witness such humility from people from a different land. We agreed to see the city and my brother took us on a guided tour. At every step, we breezed through the sights and followed a leisurely pace. It was my chance to imbibe the city’s unique essence, which makes it what it is today.
Located 490 km north east of Indore, Gwalior is the shy cousin of the financial capital of Madhya Pradesh, but in no way less accomplished. Gwalior is home to great historical monuments, professional institutes. Despite the halo of education buzz, Gwalior continues to be known as the ‘tourist capital of Madhya Pradesh’.
While walking in the city, we watched traces of history. At almost every curve and bend, the charm of the bygone era gripped our attention. We started our solitary sojourn with the epitome of the regal past of the city – the majestic Gwalior Fort. The magnificent fort is based on a sandstone hills, and the building’s exterior is a classic example of the medieval architecture.
Being largest one of its kind, the fort carries mystical legends. One of the folklore states that Suraj Sen, prince of the Kachhwaha clan of the 8th century built the fort on advice of sage Gwalipa. Today, the fort bestows panoramic view of the valley at the footsteps of the grand building. The grand monument has been a bystander of the layers of history over several hundred years of different dynasties.
Some great martyrs of the country like Tantia Tope and Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi have made this fort their battlefield. There is something with history, once you observe historical facts, monuments or artifacts you are transported to a different era. I was in a different era all together when I watched awe-inspiring image of Garuda and the crisscross pathway that are boarded by statue of Jain Theerthankaras carved into rock faces.
The foreigner gang was now busy clicking pictures, taking information from the elusive guides. Jai Vilas Palace was next on our agenda. For the uninformed, Jai Vilas Palace is a perfect example of a European styled palace, now converted in to a museum. The pristine white façade of the building exudes the charm of Italian, Tusan and Corinthian architecture. Constructed by Maharaja Jiyaji Rao Scindia, Jai Vilas Palace is adorned with furniture from European districts of Versailles, Italy and France. There are about 35 rooms in the palace, which have been converted into a museum – Scindia Museum.
The palace turns into a spectacle for travellers and wayfarers with the gripping architecture, lush sprawling laws and exquisite interiors. Home to a great collection of antiques from the Scindias’ time in power, the palace displays attractive Belgian chandeliers, swords that were once worn by Mughal rulers Aurangzeb and Shah Jehan, silver dinnerware, and a glass cradle from Italy. The palace looks ethereal with heavy draperies, tapestries, fine Persian carpets and European furniture.
After having a doze of history, my brother and I excused ourselves from the group.Famished, we approached a roadside dhaba to enjoy the local treats. In Gwalior, people swear by the oily kachories, mouth-watering samosas served with mint and tamarind chutney and spicy potato curry. After eating to our heart’s content, my brother urged me to buy sweet delights from the region – gajak from Morena. I was informed by the shopkeeper that Gwalior is a cradle of great dynasties and still intrigues travellers with its fascinating history. The city embraces beautiful structures like a sandstone mosque, rock temples and marvelous statues. Apart from heritage properties and museums, Gwalior is also remembered as the birthplace of Tansen, the great musician of all times. The sprawling city of Gwalior is a place where tradition is entwined with modernity and which emanates historical appeal to the tourists. I witnessed the same at the Tomb of Ghaus Mohammed, a mausoleum of the 16th century Afghan prince who adopted Sufism.
We paid obeisance at the mausoleum and moved towards the last destination for the day – the Man Mandir Palace. Constructed during the 16th century, Man Mandir Palace dwells in a momentous place in the country’s history. Though the palace complex has not survived the beatings of time, it still holds its elegance intact and gives a chance to the visitor to go back to the medieval period. Elegantly designed tiles, nicely carved stonewalls, vast chambers adorn the palace. My date with history and this beautiful city came to end with the visit to Man Mandir Palace. Chomping delicious gajak, we made our way back to the IHM campus, where I was served a nice dinner by the students.