Explore the legacy of the Begums of Bhopal
Women rulers left behind mosques, monuments and markets in Indian lake city
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Most of the old fortress has been replaced by a modern hospital but the mosque remains as a symbol of Islam’s entry to the region.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
Take a cruise on Bhopal’s lake and admire the views of the city’s architecture.