Being a holiday, i am writing this on the Dipavali afternoon. The kids in the neighbourhood are creating ruckus outside and noise of the crackers even in the afternoon is considerable. I am writing about a quiet afternoon we spent a year back on the banks of Narmada in Maheshwar in Central India in October last year.
Maheshwar was part of our "Great Central India Road trip" itinerary covering many places in Central and Eastern India. There were three reasons to include Maheshwar in the itinerary. One, Narmada the river which is the life line of Central India. Second, the Narmada ghat, fort and temple complex in Maheshwar. The third being the famed "Maheshwari sarees" - the handwoven delicate sarees from Maheshwar.
It was afternoon when we reached Maheswar. Though October, the sun was strong. We were also bit tired after exploring Mandu in the morning. This is a small town on the banks of Narmada. Like any other old north indian town with history, the roads are narrow. The road leading to the ghats and forts wind through narrow streets and i am scared of driving through these narrow streets. Being afternoon on a week day, there wasn't much traffic and we reached the parking place near the fort quickly.
Maheshwar is said to have been built on the site of the ancient city of Mahishmati in the fifth century. Akbar built a fort here in the 16th century which was taken over by Malha Rao Holkar in the 18th century. When Ahilya Bai Holkar came to power in 1760, she shifted the capital of the territory from Indore to Maheshwar. Contemporary Maheshwar, the fort with its lovely ramparts, the striking Shiva temples, ghats along the river, all carry Ahilya Bai’s stamp—a purposeful elegance of style.
|First Glimpse of the river and the temple complex|
The sprawling fort complex has the palace of Holkars - now converted into a lovely heritage hotel - a temple and ghats or the bathing area for Pilgrims. Going down the stairs to ghat, we stop at REHWA Society show room. Brinda is all excited to see the sarees. This is one place where we wanted to buy the Maheshwari sarees. The society, an NGO started by erstwhile royal family of Indore is doing a pioneering work in ensuring that the sarees are woven in the traditional way. A small show room with authentic hand woven sarees and other fabric welcome us. As we peep in we could see many hands moving deftly over the looms to create magic in cotton. Brinda feasted on the sarees, stoles and our wallet had definitely become light when we left the shop. The manager was kind enough to take us around the unit explaining the process involved in making a saree.
|Maheshwari sarees - Fine tradition of India|
|Cotton yarn dyed and left for drying|
|Hand looms on which deft fingers create these sarees|
We climb down to the ghat . The temple complex was bereft of any devotees and our first aim is to see the river. Narmada in Maheswar is very wide and after copious rains in the monsoon months, the river was flowing full.
|Narmada glitters in afternoon sun!|
The Narmada ghat in Maheswar is one of most picturesque in the country. We could realise that when we hopped into a shikara kind of boat for a boat ride on the river. We were only two and our boatman was full of stories about the place. As we moved away from the banks, we could make out why Maheswar ghat is the called most picturesque in the country. The fort complex with cupolas of the temple and palace, nicely carved arches and all make it an enchanting backdrop to the river increasing its beauty.
|Beautiful backdrop of Temple and Fort at Narmada ghat. The white building on the left is the temple|
|The extended portion of the fort housing the palace which the white building on the left corner|
|Baneswar temple in the middle of the river|
|Small shrines along the river|
|Shikara style boats on the river. Notice the place - white building - inside the fort. |
Abdul, our boatman take us to Sahasradhara or thousand streams, a kind of light rapids when Narmada flows over rocks. Sunset or sunrise must be the right time to enjoy the calm and tranquil surroundings. Not at 3 PM in the afternoon. Nevertheless, it was a lovely boat ride.
Getting out of the boat, we go around the temple complex. The most interesting part of the complex are the lovely sculptures on the entrance arch to the ghat and on the walls of the small temples. The temple of Maheshwar is small and there was no one inside the temple and it was a tete - a - tete between lord and us.
|Lovely sculptures on the entrance arch to the ghats|
|Decorative wall of the temple...|
|The freezes on the walls......|
The sun was getting stronger and now we have climb the steps. It is tiring and we stopover for a cup of chai in the restaurant in the fort complex.
Our next stop was the museum in the palace. We could not get into the palace as it is now converted into a hotel. The museum is run down and the place is dire need of better management.
We collect the sarees and other stuff from the society and get into the car and switch on the Air Conditioner to a big relief. We are now on our way to Indore and to savour the mouthwatering delicacies on the food streets of Sarafa Bazar.
Looking back now after having visited crowded temples of Shiva in Ujjain, Varanasi and many other places, Maheshwar must be a the quiet abode of Shiva. I did not see many Pilgrims on the day we were there. Those who were there were more interested to enjoy the boat ride or take a dip in the river.
Don't miss this gem on Narmada when you are around Indore next time.
By Road - Maheshwar is connected to all major tons of Madhya Pradesh by bus operated by State owned transport company. The roads to the town is very good condition if you are driving or hiring a cab
By Train - The nearest Railway station is Barawha which is at a distance of 39 KMs. However, it would be good to make Indore as base - which is well connected to all places in India - to explore Maheshwar
By Air - The nearest airport is at Indore which is well connected.
Charming heritage hotel "Ahilya Fort" is the best bet. Go for the river facing room. You may enjoy sunsets from the room itself.
The Madhya Pradesh tourism's "Narmada resort" is also a good option.
a) Make Indore or Dhar as the base for exploring Maheshwar. Alternately one can stay in Maheshwar to explore the Malwa region. Staying in Indore may be helpful as it will give opportunity to visit Ujjain as well.
b) Maheshwar and Omkareswar can be easily clubbed together for a nice day trip from Indore.
c) Try and be there during in the evening for sunset cruise. It will be a lovely experience. If you are staying in Maheshwar, get up early for a sunrise cruise.
d) Avoid festivals like Maha Shivratri, Makara Sankranti etc when the crowds will be large unless you want to experience the festive spirit.
e) The boat ride on Narmada is not expensive. Enjoy it. If you are staying in Ahilya Fort or MP Tourism resort, you have an option to take their boat to Shasradhara, spend time swimming in Narmada and get back. I am not sure same can be done with private boat operators.
f) If you are staying in Maheshwar, walk down the narrow streets of the town to savour the sights and smells of small town. Maheshwar is one of the cleanest towns i have come across in North India. If you are foodie, then don't forget to savour crispy Samosas and Jalebis in the town.
g) Don't forget to pick up the handwoven textiles from REHWA society.
h) If you are religious minded you can visit numerous temples situated on the ghat as well us inside the town.
Samosa - A stuffed and fried indian patty
Dipavali or Diwali - Festival of Lights
Holkar Dynasty - A 17th century dynasty which ruled parts of central India
Saree - Sari or Saree is a strip of unstiched cloth worn by females in India, ranging from 4 to 9 yards in length that is draped over the body in various styles.
Shikara - A type of wooden boat
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