Burhanpur – I only knew that Mumtaz Mahal of Taj Mahal fame died in this city while giving birth to her 14th child. Beyond this, I had no idea what this city was. So, when on the MP Queens Trail I visited the place – everything was a discovery, which is always a joy. As we entered the city and drove along an old fort wall, I knew the city will surprise me for the next two days.
Allow me to take you on a virtual tour of Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh.
Driving from the Indore side, even before we entered the town, we stopped at Asirgarh Fort – about 25 km before Burhanpur. Perched high on top of a hill, the formidable fort makes its presence felt from a distance. Thankfully, the car goes right up to the entrance of the fort on the steep hill, although you do have the option to hike the hill.
Asirgarh fort is an ancient fort with references from the Indian Epics. At a small Shiva temple inside the fort, it is believed that Ashwathama – the eternal wanderer, still visits and offers a flower to the Shivalinga every day. The temple is small with a tank that is also named after Ashwatthama. Apparently, there was a secret tunnel with one end at this temple.
In known history, Asa Aheer, a local chief of the Yadava clan built the fort in 14th CE. In fact, Asirgarh gets its name from his name. He and his family were killed by deceit by Faruqi Nasir Khan around 1400 CE. Asirgarh is known as the ‘Door to the Deccan’.
Asirgarh is surrounded by lush green Satpura ranges. The tabletop hills rising out of the valley make a panoramic sight from almost anywhere. The interesting aspect of Asirgarh fort like Mandu is ample water bodies on the hill to sustain life comfortably. I loved the names of various tanks – Badam Kund that apparently had the fragrance of almonds, Rani ka Talab which is supposed to have mythical Parasmani, Mama & Bhanja Talabs that I assume would belong to an uncle and nephew pair, Ganga and Jamuna Talab.
What you see now is mostly ruins – a mosque on one corner, a church in another, a Phansi Khana where prisoners were hanged, some palace ruins scattered around, and some abandoned water bodies.
Brief History of Burhanpur
In the Indian scriptures, Burhanpur is mentioned as Bhrignapur, taking its name from Bhrigu Rishi who not just did his Tapa here but also wrote Bhrigu Samhita here on the banks of the Tapti River. I found the name Brahmapuri written in many places but I could not place a temple dedicated to Brahma here or any reference to him.
I did see some ancient Devi temples in and around the town.
The modern history of this place is linked to Faruqis and Mughals. It was Shahjahan and Aurangzeb who came here and spent some time here.
Places to Visit in Burhanpur
If you have time to see one thing in Burhanpur – go to Kundi Bhandara. This is a unique water management system, that makes natural water travel underground to the desired locations. The system taps the fresh spring water running from the Satpura Hills to the Tapti River. A series of wells at regular intervals capture the water and supply it to the city. As you approach the Kundi no 1 – the first of a series of 100+ wells, you drive along with the brightly painted series of wells. Some of them are fenced now to avoid abuse.
At Kundi Bhandara, you can see a small electric lift. This can take you 25 meters down to the small walkway where you can see the water collection mechanism. Unfortunately, when I visited the lift was not functioning. Looks like it may not work anytime soon. A lost opportunity for MP Tourism as well as visitors. From the images that I saw it looks like a stone tunnel with water flowing at the base. As a visitor, you can walk through this water.
Come to think of it, the man behind these brilliant waterworks here is none other than Abdul Rahim Khanekhana or the poet Rahim we know for his Dohas.
A part of the old town continues to live in the Shahi Qila or the Royal Fort of Burhanpur making it a living fort. We entered the area through a red-colored multi-story gate called Shaniwara. Through the narrow lanes with old houses and shops all around, we reached the main gate of the fort.
Other Living Forts of India:
Hamman of Mumtaz Mahal
The most interesting part of this fort is its Hammam or the Royal Bath which was used by none other than Mumtaz Mahal. Apart from the systems that make it a perfect Spa, what is worth noticing is its blue and green-hued painted ceiling. Our guide pointed out the image of the Taj Mahal and said this was the inspiration for the white marble mausoleum in Agra. Other panels have images of the headgear of Mumtaz and Shahjahan. The paintings desperately need conservation or they would be lost in some more time.
The second interesting part of this fort is its ramparts from where you can see the ghats of the Tapti River and Jainabad across the river. It is when you look down, you realize you are standing on the 4th floor of the fort and not the ground floor. You are not allowed to visit the lower floors but you can see them clearly standing next to the river.
Tapti Ghat, Burhanpur
Tapti is supposed to be one of the oldest rivers in India, even older than the Ganga. She is called Suryaputri or the daughter of Sun. It is believed that when Ganga was asked to come on earth, she was scared of the immense respect that Tapti commanded. She requested it to be reduced before she descended on earth and she was obliged. No wonder we no longer hear of Tapti or Tapi in the same breath as Ganga anymore.
There are many small & colorful Shiva temples on the ghats of Tapti here. They are located at different levels and in a way act as a natural measure of water levels of Tapti. For example, if the water level here reached the temple in bright red, floods are expected in Surat the next day which is a good 300 km away. How incredible and commonsensical was our ancient system! When and where did we lose them in favor of machines and jargon?
Read More – Maheshwar on the Banks of Narmada
A unique must-see thing at Tapti in the town is the giant elephant in stone that stands in the middle of the river. I am told it is accompanied by a baby elephant that is visible only when the water level is low. When I visited I could just see a bit of its back. I could not gather who built these elephants and when. I could not even think of any other sculpture that stands bang in the middle of a flowing river.
Read More – Ganga Arti at Varanasi
Tapti Arti is performed every evening at the Raj Ghat. This is the simplest river Arti I have seen ever.
Gurudwara Bari Sangat at Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh
The town has a very important part of Sikh history. Gurudwara Bari Sangat here has a copy of Guru Granth Sahib that has been signed in gold by Guru Gobind Singh himself. You can see it in a video film that is always playing on a screen. The original copy is brought out once a year only.
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It is a large Gurudwara in pristine white. There is a large langar house that gives you an idea of how many devotees it attracts.
The Dargah-e-Hakimi is the most well-preserved of places to see in the town. The tombs in pristine white with silver carved doors are not just beautiful with manicured lawns all around but so impeccably maintained that one can easily recommend a cleanliness award for them.
It is a tradition to come to the Dargah on a horse-drawn Tonga. So, you can see a lot of colorful Tongas parked in the market outside this dargah.
A fairly large mosque with two tall minarets in black stone is situated in the busy marketplace. What you must see besides the stone-carved niches is the inscription in Sanskrit and a long wooden rosary with more than 1000 large-sized beads. You will have to request the priest to show it to you.
Ahukhana at Jainabad
Jainabad is a twin city located on the other bank of the Tapti River. You can reach it via a bridge or on ferry boats that run regularly.
Ahukhana used to be the hunting lodge on the other side of the Tapti River, which can be seen from the ramparts of Shahi Qila. It was primarily used by Mughal royal women for hunting. Ahu is Persian meaning deer and apparently lots of dear were left in an enclosed area for the women to have the pleasure of hunting. This fairly large pavilion has a char-bagh-style garden surrounding it.
Now Ahukhana’s claim to fame is that the body of Mumtaz Mahal was buried here for 6 months before it was moved to Agra.
You have to drive through the kuccha roads to reach this place, so if it is raining – avoid it.
Black Taj Mahal at Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh
We drove through the filthiest streets to reach Nawab Khan’s tomb which is more popularly known as the Black Taj Mahal. It is similar to but much smaller than the Taj Mahal but made of local black stone. The paintings inside the tomb are also done in black color which is something I have not seen elsewhere.
You do see glimpses of the Taj Mahal in various places here.
Raja Jai Singh Chhatri
A little away from the city, near the confluence of Mohana River and Tapi River, stands a sole structure in all its loneliness. This is the Chhatri or memorial of Raja Jai Singh. It is a free-standing pavilion with 32 pillars and five domes.
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Renuka Devi Mandir
Around the town, there are three Devi temples forming a triangle – Asha Devi Temple near Aseergarh, Ichhapuri Devi, and Renuka Devi Temple.
Renuka Devi temple is closest to the town and this is the only one I could visit. It is a small temple in saffron, with a relatively large Deepstambha.
Read More – 50 Cities in India named after Devi
For a long time, the town has been a cotton cloth-producing market. The cotton mills still operate and are a major source of the city’s economy. If you look around, you would see people moving around with piles of cotton fabric on cycles, rickshaws, autos, and mini vehicles.
Of the waste that is generated by cotton mills, ropes are made. Rope making is a thriving subsidiary industry in the town. In many areas, you see the rope-making industry on the roadside. They use mechanical machines to twist and turn the cotton threads in a way that becomes a strong rope.
Another popular industry in the town is Paper Mills.
Must eat Mawa Jalebi
No old city tour is complete without tasting its food. Here, I discovered the Mawa Jalebi that can be seen everywhere in the old city. Thick big Jalebi is part of the staple breakfast here. Filled with Mawa or solidified milk, it is damn heavy and of course, soaked in sugar syrup.
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The town is also famous for its Rumali Roti which you can see being made on reversed Tava on top of tandoors.
Overall, I did not expect the place to engage me for two days. Less written about places have a charm and a rawness that is lost in the more popular destination. Not to forget the stories that are still waiting to be told.
It is a great getaway from Indore.