Secret India – Burhanpur
Whenever I come to India to spend time in our Delhi office, I like to tag on a recce. Getting time these days to simply explore, be a traveller, is becoming harder than ever and I feel it’s important for our business, as well as my sanity, that I make the effort at least once a year to get out there and see India as I used to and find new routes which our clients can later enjoy.
So, after checking out two of our favourite hotels at Castle Bijaipur and Fort Ahilya – the latter being one of the most spectacular places you are ever likely to see, never mind stay – I headed on south to the town of Burhanpur.
Once considered the cultural capital of Moghul India, Burhanpur has a rich and vibrant history, but is largely ignored by the modern traveller. Spectacularly located on the banks of the Tapti River, it’s home to an estimated 124 monuments, 5 of which are unique to the town. It has a large 16th century mosque, with rare Sanskrit inscriptions, an important Shia Bohra shrine, an essential Sikh gurdwara and a number of interesting tombs. And for those interested in engineering it is also home to the extraordinary 17th century Kundi Bhanara capillary water system, where water is brought 3.9kms through a system of tunnels from 80ft below ground to the surface.
But probably Burhanpur’s biggest claim to fame is that it was here, in the town’s striking riverside palace, Emperor Shah Jahan’s adored wife, Mumtaz Mahal, breathed her last while giving birth to his 14th child. Paintings of the envisaged Taj Mahal that her death would inspire can still be seen in the palace hammam. The city walls are still partially intact, enclosing what is today India’s largest living fort, home to over 75,000 residents. We spend a whole afternoon and much of the following morning exploring the place.
With all this going for it you’d think the town would be busy with tourists, keen to learn more about this rich Moghul history, but you’d be wrong. Even though it is very conveniently located half way between Meheshwar, the location of Fort Ahilya, and Aurangabad, home to the extraordinary Ellora and Ajanta Caves, the place is almost entirely devoid of tourists.
And it is true there is not much in the way of tourist infrastructure; there are no local guides and the best hotel is a little rough around the edges. But this was more than made up for by our charming host, Mr Hoshang Havaldar, an extremely erudite Pasi gentleman who as a font off all regional knowledge, regaled us with stories, told us of local customs and with a close friend entertained us with a charming traditional music recital.
All in all this lively and quintessentially Indian town, offered a fascinating 24 hours, and in my opinion is well worth a visit if travelling from Rajasthan to Aurangabad.