Right in the heart of India is Madhya Pradesh, literally ‘middle state’ , and this along with the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh make up Central India. Not only does the region boast of a rich heritage and culture, as well as spiritual and religious centres, it is a nature lover’s delight – covered with dense forests, woods and wildlife reserves. Central India is still largely undiscovered by the foreign tourist.
Most of Madhya Pradesh has a deep green cover – forests which are home to the largest population of the Royal Bengal Tiger, besides the Indian bison, various and rare types of deer and antelopes and other wild animals. The Bandhavgarh National Park is Kipling country and you are right in the centre of the real Jungle Book. Besides the Tiger, the grasslands also harbor the hyena, the sloth bear and many varieties of birds. Kanha National Park is twice as large as Bandhavgarh and is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Wildlife safaris are conducted in a leisurely manner on Elephants or by jeep, as you prefer.
Travelers look forward to the famous temples and sculptures of Khajuraho, erotic, yes, but even more beautiful in the intricacy of their carvings and design. The 11th century city of Bhopal and the Scindia stronghold of Gwalior hark back to a different world and times, as do Indore, Mandu, and Orchha. Forts, temples and old havelis abound here and Gwalior is also famous as the home of a legendary style of classic Indian music. Sanchi is an important stop on the Buddhist trail, as is Ujjain on the Hindu temple trail.
These trails continue in the state of Bihar, where the famous Buddhist centres of BodhGaya, Rajgir and Nalanda are part of an important pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world. Nalanda was one of the oldest and venerated universities of ancient times. Despite its wealthy history of religion, education and culture, Bihar today is one of India’s poorest and most backward states with a high rate of crime. It doesn’t seem to deter Buddhist visitors though, who are the main foreign visitors to the state. Some come to Patna, the capital, as well, a city with relics from 600 BC and home to the successful Maurya and Gupta empires.
Jharkhand is a new state, created to pacify the tribes of southern Bihar and is still to be developed as a viable tourism destination. Yet there is a wealth of wonders to be discovered here, in its intrinsic natural beauty and the mineral wealth of the state. India’s coal and steel cities are to be found here.
Chattisgarh, another new state, earlier a part of Madhya Pradesh, was also created for the indigenous people who have a different culture which they are proud of. Chattisgarh has a rich natural landscape, many holy places, and its capital Raipur is fast developing into an important commercial centre.
The best time to visit Central India is between November and February. This is when the weather is pleasant and comfortable. In Madhya Pradesh most of the National Parks remain closed in the wet monsoon season from July to October.