October of 2014 was an exceptional month for travelers in India

There were three long weekends possible in a single month – a situation which was probably unprecedented in the past few years.
The 2nd Oct weekend was especially alluring because the following Monday, 6th, was also a holiday. So taking 3rd off would make it a 5 day weekend.

It was quickly decided that the long weekend would be perfect for a trip to the desert in Rajasthan. Jaisalmer and Jodhpur were quickly finalized and a rough itinerary formed. But at the start of Sept, we were already too late. All trains to Rajasthan were booked solid (triple digit waiting list). Flights were also expensive due to the additional demand. The 5 day trip was coming out to be quite expensive.

Assuming that most public transport options to any touristy place would be similarly overbooked, we thought of doing a roadtrip instead. Goa was the first option. But it was probably going to be choc-a-bloc with revelers with similar ideas. We had done Kutch just last year and interior Maharashtra doesn’t have enough to offer for 5 days. Madhya Pradesh had a lot of interesting options, but was it doable by road ? Some quick googling suggested that if we were ready to do 500-600 km driving on the first and last day, Madhya Pradesh offered some very interesting itineraries.

We were two couples, with one driver each – 300km per day was easily doable. The destinations we chose were on the western part of the state, so as to minimize driving inside Madhya Pradesh – our last experience had not been very encouraging.

These we going to be our destinations

  • Bhimbetka : One of the only 2 paleolithic (stone age) cave painting sites in India, dating back 100,000 years (a UNESCO World Heritage site)
  • Sanchi : The oldest surviving (and most famous) buddhist stupa in India, built by Emperor Ashok in 3rd century BC (also a UNESCO World Heritage site)
  • Vidisha : Udaygiri caves at Vidisha (near Sanchi) are built by the Gupta dynasty, and are probably the oldest hindu cave temples in India
  • Mandu : Said to be the best preserved medieval city in India

Just when the plans for Madhya Pradesh were finalized, unfortunately the other couple had to drop out because of some work deadline. Determined to not lose this long weekend, we checked if it was still doable by a single driver. Travel forums indicated that the longest stretch of the road – Mumbai to Indore – was in very good condition. This was the long drive on the first and last day – 600 km. We decided to go for it.
And we are SO glad we did it

The Trip

Day 1 – Mumbai to Indore (600 km). Sarafa Bazaar in Indore. Stay at Indore
Day 2 – Indore to Bhopal (185 km). Bhimbetka (45-45 km). Stay at Bhopal
Day 3 – Vidisha (60 km). Sanchi (10 km). Back to Bhopal (51 km)
Day 4 – Bhopal to Mandu (285 km). Stay at Mandu
Day 5 – Mandu to Mumbai (527 km)

Return Home

The last day was reserved for the return trip to Mumbai. From the beautiful greenery of Mandu, the dry and dusty Maharashtra was a depressing sight. We do not remember where we exactly we stopped for lunch, but it wasn’t anything special. Since we knew where the bad stretches of the road was, we drove at a much better pace, and in 8.5 hours, we covered the 530 km from Mandu to Mumbai

Recommendations and tips

  • Stick to the bigger roads in Madhya Pradesh. The alternate shorter routes tend to be disasters
  • Madhya Pradesh has a lot more hidden historical gems, on which there isn’t much more information. For example, the Bhojeswar temple at Bhojpur near Bhopal. It is an unfinished temple with the world’s largest shivling (18 ft) high
  • Food in Madhya Pradesh is usually quite spicy. Make sure you mention that you don’t want teekha everytime you order. (Also, definitely visit Sarafa Bazaar if you haven’t)
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