Gwalior: Palaces, fort and a lot of history

IANS Travelogue
Friday, November 22, 2013

The Mughals, British, Rajputs, Marathas, Muslim rulers, Sikhs and some more may have played out their roles in India's rich history, but they all seem to have a unique common link to a city in central India - Gwalior.

Located about 330 km south of New Delhi, Gwalior not only rests on the legacy of its historical links like doyen of Hindustani music, Mian Tansen, who was one of the nine Navratnas of Mughal Emperor Akbar, but also on modern day events. It was here that on February 24, 2010, batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar became the first batsman in world cricket history to score a double century in a One-day International (ODI) match. The momentous occasion was witnessed by around 50,000 people in Gwalior's Roop Singh cricket stadium.

Gwalior's history can be traced back to the eighth century.

The erstwhile kingdom of Gwalior is best linked to the name of its rulers - the Scindia family. In modern times, former union minister Madhav Rao Scindia and now his son and union minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, have carried on the legacy of the royal family. The palaces, the Gwalior fort and several other monuments dot the city - giving a peek into its rich history.

The Jai Vilas Palace, a portion of which has been converted into the Jivaji Rao Scindia museum and where visitors can get a first-hand look at how the royalty lived in yesteryears, has a lot to offer. Only 40 rooms and halls of the 400-room palace have been converted into the museum. The Scindia royal family retains the rest of the palace and uses that portion.

"Some of the halls like the Durbar hall, where top dignitaries are hosted, and the dining hall are used by the royal family even now. A host of VVIPs, including presidents and prime ministers and even the Indian cricket team have been hosted here in recent years," Parul Kumar, a local tourist guide, told IANS.

In the Durbar hall, two chandeliers, each weighing a bulky seven tonnes (7,000 kg each), and said to be the biggest ones in the world, adorn the roof. In the dining hall, a toy train plies on a laid out track on the long dining table as it carries liqueurs and cigars for seated guests. The mechanical, silver train has been in operation since the early 20th century.

It was in Gwalior that Laxmibai, the famous Rani of Jhansi, who played a stellar role in the 1857 India's first War of Independence, was killed after information regarding her whereabouts was leaked to the British by the local rulers.

The majestic Gwalior fort rests on top of a hillock, overlooking the entire city. The colourful outer walls of the fort give it a distinct look. A light and sound show every evening - first in Hindi and then in English (duration 45 minutes) - is delivered in the mesmerizing voice of actor Amitabh Bachchan. The fort has palaces and temples inside, which attract a number of visitors.

On the same hill is the famous boarding school - Scindia School.

Gwalior also has its link to Sikh history. It was here that Mughal emperor Jahangir had imprisoned the sixth Sikh guru, Hargobind Singh, along with 52 princes for nearly two years.

Another palace, the Usha Kiran Palace, is now a 5-star property run by the Taj hotels and resorts group. It attracts a number of guests, both foreign and Indian, who visit Gwalior or are en route to Khajuraho (275 km).

Gwalior city today is a congested place with a lot of unruly traffic. Driving on city roads can be a nightmare for outsiders. One good option to faster movement is hiring auto-rickshaws (three-wheelers). It may have absolutely nothing to do with Tansen's musical expertise but the honking from vehicles is certainly not music to the ears.

Reaching there:

* Gwalior has an airport with flights from New Delhi (40 minutes). The Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi Express and several other trains conveniently link the city to the rest of the country.

* Taking the racy Noida-Agra Expressway to Agra (200 km from Noida) and then the national highway (Agra-Gwalior) is 120 km. You cross the ravines of the once notorious and dacoit-infested Chambal Valley en route.

Places to see:

* Jai Vilas Palace museum, Gwalior Fort, Saas-Bahu temple, Tansen Memorial, Bara market (for Chanderi silk dress material and saris)

Accommodation:

* Hotel rooms range from Rs 1,000 to Rs 45,000 per night.

Meal for two:

* From Rs 500 to 1,000. Popular street food can cost up to Rs 150. n me


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