Before coming to Bhopal I couldn’t think of a good reason for a tourist to put this destination on the list. It’s the city of lakes yes, but these two man-made ‘pools’ are hardly natural wonders to make a detour for. But after having spent two weeks there to cover the 30-year anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster, I find myself seriously considering going back in the near future. Just to be a tourist this time and not work.
For most people Bhopal will always be connected to the gas disaster of December 3th 1984. It’s true that the disaster has left deep marks on the city and continuously effects the people that live there. If you do decided to visit the city, I would say you owe it to the victims to show interest in this side of its history too.
Bhopal gas disaster museum.
Getting a look into what really happened that night and the many years that followed has become easier since a few days. The Bhopal Holocaust museum was opened on the 30th anniversary by one of the gas victims.
“This museum is a big challenge because it entails conservation without chemicals. No vinyl, no flax, no trace of chemical has been used in the entire set-up, making it the first of its kind in India”
Explained the well-known museum designer Vikram Seth in an interview with Times of India.
The museum is divided into five rooms; Health Room, Anderson Wall, Trauma Room, Compensation Room and the Movement Room. Especially gripping are the audio recordings of survivors and doctors on call that night. These recording lined up next to strong black and white photos really bring home the magnitude of the disaster.
If you want to take it a step further you can volunteer with the Sambhavna Trust Clinic. They welcome you if you come with a clear idea about what you can do for them. In the past people have helped with advertising, website building and medical skills.
Okay, so now on to some regular tourist stops. There is enough here to keep you entertained. Unfortunately I didn’t get to do all of it while I was there, but I have a review of the two must see sight for you.
The Tribal Museum.
I was very surprised about the quality of this exhibition. It was beyond expectations, though I had already heard good things about it. Normally I’m not a big fan of museums in India. They often seem dull to me and uninspired. The Tribal Museum however is one you cannot miss out on.
The museum really manages to draw you in to a topic that potentially could be very dry; the tribes of Madhaya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. (I learned during my visit that these states used to be one) Because you don’t just observe their way of life, you are made to feel a part of it. When you walk into the first hall you really step in to the tribal world of India. The tribal houses are re-built so you can walk through them. The detail to the decoration of these huts is amazing. Throughout the museum artwork and religious objects of the tribes are displayed in a non-convectional way. Urns used, to keep the dead, by one tribe are placed all over a wall for example. Making it an art piece in itself. And a bangle, which is given to brides, is re-created as a huge circle. This allows you to see the intricate details of the bangle up close.
The only problem that I see with this museum is that you wont be able to remember everything you read and saw about these tribes when you step out. It’s just so much. It would take you a day to read most of it. I would recommend going for the pieces and displays that really catch your eye and focus on these.
The museum has a lovely little shop that sells some of the artwork displayed in the exhibition. So you’re favourite work could get a place in your own house.
I was not going to leave Bhopal without visiting Bhimbetka. They have the oldest cave paintings of its kind in India, dating back to 30.000 BCE. The caves are part of the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary. I was sold.
Taking the bus from Bhopal’s Habibganj bus station is much cheaper than hiring a car for the day. But I had limited time and I also wanted to stop by the Bhuj Temple, which is on the way. So I decided to splurge.
When we arrived at the rock shelters I was relieved I chose to take a car. No rickshaw in sight!
At the start of the route they made some statues of early cave men, to give you an idea of how they lived. It’s less tacky than it sounds, but they wont really catch your eye. The rock structure it self totally takes your breath away.
The light comes so beautifully through the first rock shelters that you’re left wondering how awesome the rest must be. I liked the first part the best. But don’t worry you want to continue the route to see more. Take your time to do this – although do not take a guide, they don’t speak English and wont tell you more than the signs that are already there – because I found out later that I missed some of the drawings when I looked online.
I have to admit I walked faster through the second part of the route. It was a quiet afternoon, I was alone and when I read the sign that warned me for various types of dangerous snakes, wild boars and panthers I sped up. Every sound that the giant leaves falling from the trees made freaked me out. I think I also heard some kind of monkey scream; I didn’t stick around long enough to check what it was.
The scenery is amazing and if you’re less of a chicken as I am, you’ll enjoy the walk thoroughly.
Where to eat and where not to..
I had a terribly bad cold almost the whole two weeks I was there. So I can’t give a fair review of the taste of the food I had, because honestly I didn’t taste much of it. But I can tell you how I liked the experience of eating at the following places.
Manohar Dairy is one of those places that wouldn’t stand out much in a big city like Bombay. Here in Bhopal it does make it on the recommendation list. It’s good food, simple and clean. Especially for a budget traveller it’s a very convenient joint for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Service is quick and capable.
Go to Jehan Numa Palace for Under the Mango Tree if you want to get the fancy experience, but not break the bank. The restaurant has a lovely ambience. The food is okay – specializes in grilled meat, so order the meat platter – not more than that. The best thing is the price of the dishes. For 1000 rupees you have a meal and a few drinks. This place is good when you’re budget traveling, but want to pamper yourself for at least one evening. This is the best of the three restaurants in the hotel, I’ve been told.
Winds and Waves is all about the beautiful view of the lake. It’s a very basic restaurant, with simple food. The waiters here are typical Indian; many of them who do very little. But who need amazing service or fabulous food when all you are doing is staring out in to that beautiful sunset.
I know I denounced the great lakes to ‘pools’ a couple of paragraphs back. But to be honestly they give a nice vibe to the city. At places like Winds and Waves off Lake side road you get to enjoy it to the fullest.
I had a terrible experience at Filfora. The food wasn’t even that bad, but the horrible waiters made you forget about that. When I came in I greeted the waiter, got no reply. When the first waiter came to my table I greeted him, but again got no reply. They all just stared at me. Although you can see they’ve made an attempt to style the restaurant, there is absolutely no atmosphere. When I was there, there wasn’t music either. This meant I could follow every conversation around me in detail.
As a final thought, some other things to keep you busy in Bhopal.
Apart from the three must see sights , Bhimbetka and the Tribal Museum and the Bhopal disaster museum you have a lot of other options. In Bhopal for example you’ll find the second biggest mosque of India the Taj ul Masajid ( of course the locals will tell you it’s the biggest). And did you know the city was once consecutively ruled by five female rulers, called Begums? The first one Qudsia Begum was responsible for the construction of Gohar Mahal, a sight you can still visit today. It’s a good chance to learn more about this fierce ancient ruler, who was illiterate and refused to observe Purdah – meaning covering her face for men in public- Of course you can’t really leave the City of Lakes – like I did – without taking a boat ride on the Upper Lake.
I sincerely hope I gave you at least a couple of good reason to come to Bhopal. If you want more information or if you want to send me some photo’s of your trip to Bhopal, drop me and email or just leave a comment below.