MP is set to host IIFA 2020, Indulge discovers why Bhopal is the ideal destination for both Bollywood stars and travellers
There's something magnificent about Bhopal. Just the drive from the Raja Bhoj Airport to the hotel gives a grand impression of the city. Driving on the wide roads, passing by vast green landscapes, the Upper Lake, the Taj-Ul-Masjid and the Minto Hall, we got a sense that the capital of Madhya Pradesh comes with a rich heritage that has been preserved till date.
Perhaps this grandeur of Bhopal is one of the reasons why the city has been chosen to host the muchawaited 21st edition of IIFA Weekend and Awards. But before the threeday festivities kick-off on March 27, we were in the City of Lakes to explore it.
We landed on a wintry evening and checked into Courtyard by Marriott, Bhopal. The seven-year old hotel is half-an-hour away from the heart of the city.
After a quick shower, we stepped out for a city tour. The sun had set and most of the historical sites were closed, however, this didn’t deter us from visiting the Taj-Ul-Masjid. The sheer size of the domes and the minarets had fascinated us while we were driving to the hotel. So we headed to the mosque that’s located in the Koh-E-Fiza area. Although the entry to the main patio is restricted for tourists after sunset, we took a walk around the campus. Lush green lawns sur round the opulent structure. Every minaret, dome, and door of the mosque is a subject worth capturing.
Our next stop was the Noor-UsSabah Palace, a heritage hotel that’s enveloped by the Vindhya Hills. The hotel overlooks the Upper Lake and offers stunning views of the city. The gleaming lights around the lake appeared like a diamond necklace akin to the famous Queen’s Necklace (Marine Drive) in Mumbai. Although the hotel has quite a few dining options, we headed to the old city to try the local food.
On the way there, we were distracted by some ghazal music streaming from Gauhar Mahal. This intrigued us and we stopped by for a quick look. One of the prominent heritage sites, the Mahal doubles up as a venue for cultural evenings. The premises also houses the India Tea House that seemed like a popular hangout for young Bhopalis.
The walk around Gauhar Mahal made us crave tea and a kulhad of ginger chai was all that we needed. Dinner was at Zam Zam, a popular local eatery that’s known for its Mughlai dishes. We opted to try the Mutton Roghan Josh E Akbari with naan. We highly recommend this flavourful combination.
Day two in Bhopal was an eventful one, considering our packed itinerary included the IIFA press conference. However, before we met the Chief Minister Kamal Nath, superstar Salman Khan and actress Jacqueline Fernandes, we stepped out to discover more landmarks of the city.
The first stop was Van Vihar National Park. The 4.48 square kilometre wild space is located right in the middle of Bhopal. We opted for the open jeep safari to explore the park. The safari was memorable considering we spotted quite a few herbivorous animals such as the nilgai, sambar and cheetal that roam around freely, unlike the Bengal Tiger and the Asiatic Lion that were kept in enclosures.
Outdoor sightseeing was followed by a visit to the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum that showcases the culture of indigenous tribes of the state through aesthetically designed exhibits. The Gond, Bhil, Korku, Baiga, Kol, Bharia and Sharia tribals have built the life-size exhibits. Walking into a granary and a tribal temple was quite an immersive experience. Lunch was at the famous Boat Club that’s a popular spot for film shoots. Breathtaking views of the Upper Lake and the city held our attention, more than the food that was served.
A soiree with Salman
The IIFA press conference was the highlight of our trip. The venue, the palatial Minto Hall, was built by the last begum of Bhopal, Nawab Shah Jahan Begum, to felicitate Lord Minto, the then Viceroy of India. However, later on the building served as an assembly hall for the MP government for many years, and is now a popular venue for state events.
Crowds thronged Minto Hall for a glimpse of Salman Khan and Jacqueline Fernandes, even before the conference began. An hour later, the CM, along with the stars, sponsors and the team from Wizcraft International officially announced Madhya Pradesh as the host destination for the IIFA Awards. Reminiscing about his childhood days in Bhopal, Salman shared many anecdotes through the evening. He recollected how he would wait to spend summer vacations with his brothers at his paternal grandmother’s house.
With this conference, our two-day whirlwind tour came to an end. What we gathered is that the historical significance, verdurous landscapes, rich tribal diversity, heritage monuments and warm hospitality of the people make Bhopal a great holiday destination.
The writer was in Bhopal on invitation to cover the IIFA 2020 Press Conference