bhopal and begums art piece by the lake

Bhopal and Begums

I was invited by Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart (MPTM) in India to attend a travel fair organised by Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board from 27-29 October 2017. It was the fourth time that MP Tourism Board organised MPTM, and the objective of the travel fair was to promote Madhya Pradesh as an all-year round destination for domestic and inbound tourists.

For the benefit of my non-Indian readers, Madhya Pradesh is a state in central India. Due to its geographical location, Madhya Pradesh is called “The Heart of India” and is the second largest state in the country. Madhya Pradesh is not often known overseas as a popular tourist destination, unlike Delhi, Taj Mahal or Rajasthan, but the state is rich in heritage, culture and wildlife. For those who like to explore tribal culture, hilltop forts, erotic sculptures in ancient temples and India’s best tiger reserves, Madhya Pradesh is the destination to go.

Despite having been to many places in India, I have not travelled to Madhya Pradesh until that October. Those who know me too well as the ‘Indophile’ from Malaysia, I’m always keen to see and experience more of India, therefore having the opportunity to attend MPTM as media and to be in Madhya Pradesh was something that I had looked forward to.

*Related Post: Guide to Delhi – Sightseeing, Shopping and Accommodation

Begum Rulers

Situated centrally in Madhya Pradesh is the capital city, Bhopal. Bhopal city was named after a 11th century ruler, Raja Bhoj who established the capital over two lakes that were formed as a result of a dam (or pal) built over the rivers that flowed through his kingdom. The capital was named Bhojapal or is presently known as Bhopal.

bhopal and begums raja bhoj statue upper lake
Raja Bhoj statue at Upper Lake

Although Bhopal was founded in the 11th century, it was later transformed as an important albeit small kingdom under the rule of Dost Mohammed Khan, an Afghan soldier and erstwhile general of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. When Aurangzeb died in 1707, the downfall of the Mughal Empire began with rebellions and wars which then led to the depletion of the imperial treasury and exhaustion of the army. In the midst of the chaos and violent feuds, the opportunistic Dost Mohammed Khan fled to Bhopal to establish his own kingdom there.

After surviving several wars, Khan and his descendants created a Muslim dynasty in Bhopal that emerged as one of central India’s leading royal families. Bhopal became a princely state in British India in 1818.

But what is most interesting about the royal families that ruled Bhopal especially in the 19th century was that it was dominated mainly by women rulers – Begums – which was unique in those days. For 157 years of Bhopal’s 240-year span, the city was ruled by its Begum queens, namely, Qudsia Begum, Sikander Begum, Shahjahan Begum and Sultan Jahan Begum.

The Begum queens disregarded the purdah, picked up shooting, horse-riding and military tactics, and defied many norms of Islamic governance in India, much to the chagrin of many men in order to fight and prevail over them to hold the throne. During their reign over Bhopal, the city went through a rapid pace of development whereby the Begum queens revamped Bhopal – they developed efficient public infrastructure and water supply, built roads, implemented administrative reforms, modernized the military, reduced state debts, established schools and colleges especially for girls, promoted the general well-being of its citizens and ensured that all diverse communities lived in peace and harmony.

Apart from public infrastructure works and systems, the Begums also built palaces and sandstone mosques, the former have become derelict unfortunately while the latter especially the Taj-ul-Masjid still dominates the cityscape of Bhopal. Much of the old heritage and architecture can be seen in the walled city of Old Bhopal of which I had the privilege to see and imagine the grandeur of Bhopal royal on a walking tour curated by India City Walks.

Here are some of the photos taken during the guided walking tour:

Iqbal Maidan: The maidan was named after the famous Urdu poet Allama Mohammed Iqbal who had visited Bhopal at least four times between 1934 to 1938.

bhopal and begums sunrise at iqbal maidan
Sunrise at Iqbal Maidan

Sadar Manzil: Built by Shahjahan Begum.

bhopal and begums sadar manzil
Reception Hall of Sadar Manzil

Shaukat Mahal: It is said that Qudsia Begum commissioned a French architect to work on the Shaukat Mahal project which was a blend of post-Renaissance and Gothic style architecture.

bhopal and begums shaukat mahal
Gateway of Shaukat Mahal

Taj-ul-Masjid: Taj-ul-Masjid means ‘Crown of Mosques’ was built by Shahjahan Begum who wanted a replica of Jama Masjid of Delhi in Bhopal. Taj-ul-Masjid is one of the largest mosques in India and Asia which can accommodate up to 10,000 people at a time.

bhopal and begums taj ul masjid

bhopal and begums taj ul masjid courtyard

bhopal and begums inside taj ul masjid

Taj Mahal: Not to be confused with Taj Mahal in Agra by Emperor Shah Jahan. This palace was originally called Raj Mahal but the British was so impressed by the architecture that they suggested to Shahjahan Begum to have the name of the palace changed to Taj Mahal. After all, the Begum’s namesake is Shah Jahan 🙂 Sadly, the palace suffered a lot of damage just after Partition in 1947 and by 2008, large parts of the palace complex have collapsed.

bhopal and begums taj mahal facade
Taj Mahal of Bhopal

bhopal and begums taj mahal inner courtyard

bhopal and begums taj mahal palace complex

Parts of the Taj Mahal palace complex

bhopal and begums view of taj ul mosque from taj mahal
View of Taj-ul-Masjid from Taj Mahal

Bhopal Today

Just like any other city in India, Bhopal has the old and new city. The old city still retains its majestic old mosques, the palaces – though neglected – still leaves traces of aristocracy of its former Begum rulers.

On the flip side, the new city of Bhopal impresses visitors with its picturesque lakes, broad avenues, parks and gardens, and…cleanliness. The first thing I noticed on my first day in Bhopal was how clean the streets are! With high sense of civic awareness and strict implementation of laws, Bhopal is one of the few greenest and cleanest cities in India. With this contrasting cityscapes, Bhopal is certainly an interesting destination enough to break your journey across The Heart of India.

*Related Post: Hidden Wonders of Orchha and Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

Upper Lake of Bhopal

bhopal and begums art piece by the lake

 *My stay in Bhopal was part of the invite to Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart (MPTM) 2017. Opinions expressed in this post are my own.


Are you planning a trip to Bhopal? If so, book your accommodation here:



bhopal and begums katpegimana

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*Linking with #Citytripping, #FarawayFiles. #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  1. Your blog is such a great resource for off the beaten track destinations. For me it’s always interesting to read about places that not many people write about and Madhya Pradesh is one of them. I’m sold on “the Heart of India” if I can see hilltop forts, erotic sculptures and ancient temples. Great information! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. I agree, not many foreign travellers write about the central part of India and that’s mainly the fault of their tourism boards which tend to focus more on Taj Mahal, Rajasthan and Kerala. So now Madhya Pradesh is changing their marketing and promotional tactics to encourage more foreign travellers to go to Madhya Pradesh, hence the travel fair.

  2. I have been to Delhi and Agra but I hadn’t heard of this area before. Your photos are beautiful and the buildings are impressive. It would be an interesting area to visit for sure. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Thanks Anisa. Bhopal exceeded my expectations – I didn’t expect the city to be unique and exceptionally clean 🙂 It’s definitely an interesting and different destination to visit in India, aside from Delhi and Agra.

  3. We have never been to India but it’s on our bucket list. I am just collecting some ideas what to visit there. So thank you so much for linking. Pinned for later #TheWeeklyPostcard

  4. Having never been to India I find these posts particularly intriguing. The more I read about it the more I’m thinking I’d like to get there someday. I imagine it will be a true adventure for westerners like us, who have never been, but I welcome that! The photos are just lovely! #farawayfiles

    1. Thanks Hilary, glad that you enjoyed the post. I can assure you 100% that you will LOVE India – though the country is not perfect – but you and your family will have fantastic memories!

  5. Love that there were female rulers for so long! I still have not been to India, but some day hope to make it, and with my kids – if they can survive the 24 hour flight! #farawayfiles

    1. Haha, I’m not sure if I can survive 24-hour flight to US either! Yeah, Bhopal is exceptionally different in this respect because of the long rule by female rulers – women should rule! 🙂

  6. The lake looks so beautiful, Kat. I loved India and would really love to revisit it with my kids one day. Thanks for sharing this on #FarawayFiles. Bhopal looks well worth a visit.

  7. Wonderful to hear more about this less well known area of India. Thanks for sharing Kat. It’s very refreshing to read that Muslim females were leading the way and making such a positive impact on this region too. Very inspiring. Thanks for linking #citytripping

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