Saturday, January 11, 2014

In and around Bhopal

When one googles "Bhopal, India" images of beautiful lakes and Indian landscapes do not flash across your screen. Although its nickname is the City of Lakes and is one of India's  greenest cities, the first page on Google alerts you to a much darker past. And it is true, Bhopal, located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, has a grim recent past. 

30 years ago, on December 2nd, 1984, gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant, now owned by Dow Chemical, and spread across the city of Bhopal causing close to 600,000 injuries to date. This disaster, which was caused by a lack of regulation and oversight, is considered one of the worst industrial disasters on record and sadly the city and the victims of the tragedy are still fighting for justice 30 years later.

Even though Bhopal has a dark past, it is a beautiful and charming city that can lure any person in for a couple of days. From boat rides to shoreline promenades to hotels where you can sip a chai and watch the sun move across the water, this city is dominated, and rightfully so, by its lakes. Bhopal is the calm and tranquil Indian child in comparison to its brothers Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi, and so it is a great place to come, eat and simply relax.

Besides lounging along the lakes, Bhopal has many interesting historical sites right outside of its city limits that make perfect day trips.  

Bhimbetka Caves:

Located 45 kilometers south of Bhopal, this UNESCO world heritage site is home to 15,000+ year old rock paintings. Discovered in 1957, these rock paintings show images of animals such as bison, tiger, rhinoceros, wild boar, elephants, as well as popular religious and ritual symbols. The rock shelters, which are nestled on a high rock outcropping are from various epochs of time, ranging from the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic Age to the protohistoric, early historic and medieval periods. The most ancient scenes here believed to be commonly belonging to the Mesolithic Age. 

Whether or not rock paintings are your cup of tea, the walk between the shelters and the views from the top of the outcropping make this a worthwhile destination. 


On a hill overlooking the countryside of Madhya Pradesh, about 40 km from Bhopal, is the site of another UNESCO world heritage site: the Buddish monuments of Sanchi. Dating back to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., Sanchi is the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and was a major Buddhist centre in India until the 12th century A.D. In order to fully take in and appreciate the various stupas and intricate carvings one needs at least a half day to wonder around this site. 

Please note that even though these sites are located close to Bhopal they both cannot be easily seen in one day.  Due to the chaos that is India's roads 45 kilometers (27 miles) can take close 2 hours.

Looking for a place to stay? Bhopal has plenty of great options. The Ivy Suits Guest House offers up amazing views, delicious food, and wonderful service. The owner Pramod gives up great advice on things to see and do and is incredibly accommodating. He is also well versed in conservation efforts around India and can give you great tips on spotting one of India's prized Bengal tigers. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Going on a [Tiger] Hunt...

It was 5:45am when I woke to a knock at my door. I groaned as I looked at the clock and saw the numbers flash across the screen. "5:45, really? It's so early. Come on tigers, can't you sleep in just a little." I crawled out of bed and opened the door of my immaculately decorated bungalow at Forsyth's Lodge. "Good morning, Miss. Your jeep will be leaving at 6:15", the young gentleman announced as he handed me my chai. 

The sky was barely stirring awake as I layered every piece of clothing I had on. You see I came to India thinking it was going to be hot. At least that is what I was told: "Prepare for the heat" all of my friends said as I packed for this trip. And now, on this early morning in December, I was freezing wishing I had brought my long underwear from Wisconsin.

At 6:25am the jeep arrived at the entrance of Satpura National Park located 210 kilometers away from Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh. As we pulled up my excitement and confidence in finding one of India's mystical tigers had grown. Dawn was now showing its face as the five of us clambered onto the boat that would take us across the river and into the tigers den. "So Rishi, what is the likelihood that we are actually going to see a tiger today? Be honest. 25%? 75%? 100%?" I asked our eager, handsome young guide. "Well you see tigers are shy. Some days we see them, some days we don't." That wasn't the answer I had wanted to hear but regardless I was determined to find one.

River crossing at Satpura National Park
As the camp song, "going on a lion (tiger) hunt" repeated in my head I looked, listened, and watched the jungle for tiger activity. Every monkey call, bird chirp or sambar howl could mean a tiger is lurking close by. I was on high alert but with every minute that passed my confidence in seeing a tiger waned. As the sun moved high into the sky and our jeep made its way back to the entrance I knew my luck had run out. "Well, I guess no tigers today" I sighed. "On our next drive we'll get one--right?"

Elephant Safari
Although I never did get my tiger, my time in Satpura National Park was worth the trip. From elephant rides, to canoeing, to climbing to ancient cave paintings, there are plenty of activities for people of all ages within the park. Satpura is also the only park in India that allows visitors to walk within the jungle. Even though the king of the forest is the Bengal tiger, the park is home to a plethora of other animals, such as sloth bears, sambar, and flying squirrels, and so it is a place that deserves a few days. 

Main lodge at Forsyth's

Needing a place to stay? Lodging is restricted to outside of the park and is limited. I spent the entirety of my stay at Forsyth's Lodge and was highly impressed with the service. The staff is informative and welcoming and goes above and beyond to care for their guests. Other options include Rani Pani and Sunshine Jungle Lodge.