Ex­plore the legacy of the Begums of Bhopal

Women rulers left be­hind mosques, mon­u­ments and mar­kets in In­dian lake city

Today - - TRAVEL - Sandip Hor features@me­di­a­corp.com.sg

BHOPAL (In­dIA) — The guide points to a tiny domed struc­ture with arched lat­ticed win­dows perched on top of a ru­ined stone tur­ret in the dis­tance. It is, the guide says, “the world’s small­est mosque”.

Bhopal, in cen­tral In­dia, is the cap­i­tal of Mad­hya Pradesh state and boasts nu­mer­ous mosques, in­clud­ing the na­tion’s largest.

In the early 18th cen­tury, the city was cap­tured by a pow­er­ful Mus­lim dy­nasty steered by an Afghan gen­eral, Dost Mo­hammed Khan.

He built the city’s first for­ti­fi­ca­tions along with the lit­tle mosque, which was meant for the sol­diers to pray dur­ing duty hours.

Most of the old fortress has been re­placed by a mod­ern hos­pi­tal but the mosque re­mains as a sym­bol of Is­lam’s en­try to the re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to my guide Ali, dur­ing their 200-year-rule, the Khan dy­nasty turned Bhopal into one of the most beau­ti­ful cities in In­dia, mak­ing the Mughal em­per­ors in neigh­bour­ing Delhi en­vi­ous. The women rulers — who were known as the Begums of Bhopal dur­ing their reign from 1817 to 1926 — not only cre­ated a land­scape with palaces, noble houses, mosques, mar­ket places and eye-catch­ing mon­u­ments but also gave the city its wa­ter­works, rail­ways, postal sys­tem and a mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

Their lega­cies in­spire a tourism cliche for Bhopal, which can be as al­lur­ing as some other well-known his­toric des­ti­na­tions in In­dia like Jaipur or Luc­know.

Trav­ellers from other parts of In­dia and over­seas come here for a taste of the by­gone re­gal her­itage and to see the ar­chi­tec­tural mar­vels the begums cre­ated.

The streets and al­ley­ways around the city are filled with peo­ple. The old quar­ter ex­udes a medieval Is­lamic char­ac­ter with an­cient tur­rets and build­ings set against an en­sem­ble of ru­ined mon­u­ments.

The bustling enig­matic am­biance takes me to an­other era. For a moment I for­get the scoot­ers, push­carts and three-wheel­ers sur­round­ing me, and ig­nore calls of touts and the loud chat­ter of peo­ple on their lat­est mo­bile phones.

I sit on a di­lap­i­dated bench and while star­ing at the tur­rets and bal­conies of the noble quar­ters, I imag­ine my­self in the crowd wav­ing and cheer­ing at an or­na­mented horse­drawn car­riage emerg­ing from a

PHoto: Sandip Hor

Take a cruise on Bhopal’s lake and ad­mire the views of the city’s ar­chi­tec­ture.

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