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Shivpuri A Back to Nature Serenade

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The Mughal gardens in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh, are studded with the chhatris of the Scindia maharajas of Gwalior. Of these two – the chhatris of Madho Rao Scindia I and his dowager queen Maharani Sakhya Raje Scindia – stand out from the rest. The architectural style of these memorials is a seamless blend of Hindu and Islamic influences with shikhara-type spires and Rajput and Mughal pavilions

The marble tribute to Madho Rao Scindia is particularly impressive as it was inlaid with semi-precious gems and embroidered with delicate screens that were reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. In fact, it is believed to be the last example of pietra dura inlay work executed on such a grand scale. Solid silver doors lead visitors into an ornate hall where the seams of the roof and pillars were filigreed with pure gold.

Tucked away in one section of the gardens is a smaller memorial done in the same pietra dura inlay style. This one is dedicated to the Madhav Rao Scindia II who died recently in an air crash. As dusk settles over the gardens the evening hush is fractured by the soft strains of music as artistes of the Gwalior gharana rendered classical ragas in front of the monuments.

The mood is dramatically different at the Madhav National Park which was once the happy hunting ground of the Mughal Emperors and later the Scindias. Shy deer, nilgai, and sambar that lurked in the thickets looked up from their grazing as safari vehicles cruise by.

Deeper into the forest is a very British like castle which was built by Maharaja Jiyaji Rao Scindia for King George V who had expressed a keen desire to go tiger hunting during his visit to India. En route to the royal abode, however, the British monarch shot 11 tigers and since he was quite bored with the sport after that, he decided to skip Shivpuri and the deserted George Castle, as it came to be known, was relegated to becoming a hunting lodge. Today it is stripped bare of its furniture and regal trimmings and stands as a silent testimony to the whims of kings who changed their travel plans at will.

As a result of the no-show of the royal guest the tigers of Shivpuri were spared what would have been an orgy of killing. But the reprieve was brief and today all the tigers have been shifted to other wildlife parks to protect them from a mysterious virus that felled them faster than the guns of hunters and poachers.

Even without tigers, the Madhav National Park is a wildlife enthusiast’s delight as it provides shelter to a verity of mammals, including the slot bear and leopard (15 at last count) and brilliantly plumed birds.

Round of the Shivpuri adventure with a visit to the Madhav Vilas Palace, the rose-pink summer palace of the Scindias, and a peek at the ruins of Surawaya, 21 km away on the road to Orchha, where the Archaeological Survey of India is prodding the ancient sun-baked land to reveal its secrets. To date it has unearthed the remains of three Hindu temples, a monastery and a step well. As one gazes at the restored monuments put together like a life-size jigsaw puzzle, one realized that the land around Shivpuri has soul and if you listen carefully, it will yield its rich cache of treasures – a carved frieze here, a broken pillar there, a magnificent doorway, an entire temple…

Fact File
The nearest airport to Shivpuri is Gwalior and the nearest railheads are at Jhansi and Gwalior. Shivpuri is part of MP’s golden triangle that includes Gwalior and Orchha, an enchanted settlement studded with ancient monuments. Jhansi, Datia and the Jain temples of Sonagiri fall within the circuit.

M.P. Tourism’s Tourist Village, located about 4 km outside the main town, has a row of cottages overlooking Chandpata lake.

In addition to a token entry fee, one must also pay a nominal fee for the vehicle, the forest guide and camera to enter the Madhav National Park. A small entry and camera fee is also charged at the chhatris or cenotaphs of the Scindias.