It was a bitterly cold morning. I accompanied by my friend, Anindita, reached the New Delhi railway station fifteen minutes prior to departure. Our train Bhopal Shatabdi was on time. We waited for the rush to slow down. And in another ten minutes we settled ourselves comfortably on our reserved seats and set out for the journey to Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh.
I suddenly woke up to the shouts of the vendors selling breakfast meals. I ordered a vegetarian breakfast that comprised of freshly buttered two slices of bread, a vegetable cutlet, and a cup of tea. By the time I finished eating, we reached Gwalior, the erstwhile capital of the Scindias, famous for its magnificent palaces, old temples and the impressive fort.
We were booked at Neemrana Hotel, Deobagh, a 17th century heritage hotel. It was a twenty minutes auto journey from the station to the hotel. Stepping out of the auto, the old-world charm welcomed us with its own sense of tranquility. With plentiful flora around us, the colourful and exotic flowers were a real treat to the eyes. The property is also a home to two 17th-18th century Maratha temples, two splendid cenotaphs and one pavilion with 36 arched doors, within the compound, which is rarely seen in any other heritage hotel. Our room- Aruna Villa was large enough for two people. It had gold upholstery, three beautiful glass lamps, a divan, and a beautiful four poster bed. We had a verandah overlooking a beautiful garden chequered into nine parts.
For sightseeing, we booked the same auto that dropped us to the hotel. The first sightseeing started with Jai Villas Palace, a European style palace constructed by the Maharaja Jiyaji Rao Scindia, with a mix of Italian, Tuscan and Corinthian which is now a museum. We were amazed to see the exhibits of furniture from Versailles, Italy and France, and a collection of antiques belonging to the Scindia reign. It took us more than an hour to see this majestic beauty.
Our next stop was Man Mandir Palace, built in the 16th century. A heartrending ambiance of heroism of those days still loiters in the silent chambers of this royal mansion. The nicely carved stonewalls of the vast chambers, and the Jauhar Pond, where the Rajput ladies committed sati, gave us a look back to the medieval period.
It was already 2.30 pm and we were extremely hungry. We asked the autowalla to take us to a non-veg restaurant. If you are a non-vegetarian, you might be disappointed as the city hardly has any good restaurant that offers non-veg food. The autowalla took us to a small roadside dhaba. We had heard of the dal tadka that is very popular not just in Gwalior but in whole of Madhya Pradesh. So, we ordered one dal tadka, a chicken item, and rotis. The dal tadka was indeed delicious. The chicken gravy, compared to our bland Assamese diet was quite spicy.
After the hearty lunch, we went to Tansen Memorial, the place where lied the small white, austere tomb of Tansen, a famed musician, and one of the nine gems of Akbar’s court.
Having spent an hour in the peaceful environment, we made our way to the most important destination for which Gwalior is known- The Gwalior Fort. The grand monument was the nucleus of administration of the Tomars and holds the history of several hundred years of different dynasties. The other places located near the fort were the Saas Bahu temples, Gujari Mahal, and Surya Mahal.
The sightseeing ended well, and we returned to the hotel. I took a hot shower and then went out for a walk in the garden. The garden was perfumed with subtly intoxicating aroma of wild flowers. The waiter invited us for the special dinner buffet by head chef Gulab Chand. Oh! What a spread it was! From starters to main-course to desserts, each and every item was tempting. We stuffed ourselves with variety of salads; lemon flavoured soups; steamed rice; baked spinach (a very popular dish in the city); again the dal tadka; laal mans (spicy mutton curry); soft phulkas (Indian breads); pasta (an alternate choice for the foreigners); fried mixed vegetables; and malai kofta. For dessert, we hadmorena gajak, made of jaggery and sesame; apple flavoured cake stuffed with fruits, and a glass of orange juice. The food was an absolute delight, and the warm hospitality and friendly service made it all better.
I would love to visit Gwalior once again with my family, not just because of my love for architectures but for the amazing hospitality and lip smacking food the city has to offer.
Being a gastronomy writer, I couldn’t help but share a recipe by Chef Gulab Chand Samariya of Neemrana Hotel, Deobagh. Do try this out and let me know your feedback. I absolutely loved it!
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 kg chopped spinach
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp pepper
2 tbs butter
5 tbs shredded cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt to taste
Step 1: In a large skillet, sauté onion in butter until onion is tender
Step 2: Add garlic; cook one minute longer. Stir in the spinach, cream and milk
Step 3: Remove from the heat; stir in 4 tablespoons cheese, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper
Step 4: Spoon into a greased 1-qt. baking dish
Step 5: Sprinkle with remaining cheese
Step 6: Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned
Travel itinerary: Delhi to Gwalior
Distance: 321 km
Time taken by bus: 4 hours
Time taken by train: 2 hours 35 minutes
Time taken by air: 25 minutes
Best season to travel: October to March
Famous for: Heritage
Budget for two: Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000
Not to miss: Street food and local desserts
Note: The travelogue won the ‘Best Travelogue Award’ by Indian Backpacker