Rising from the plains, 46km northeast of Bhopal, is a rounded hill topped with some of India’s oldest Buddhist structures. In 262 BC, repentant of the horrors he had inflicted on Kalinga, in present-day Odisha, the Mauryan emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism. As a penance he built the Great Stupa at Sanchi, near the birthplace of his wife.
Secreted in a forest of teak and sal in craggy cliffs 46km south of Bhopal are more than 700 rock shelters. Around 500 of them contain some of the world’s oldest prehistoric paintings. Thanks to their natural red and white pigments, the colours are remarkably well preserved and, in certain caves, paintings of different eras adorn the same rock surface.
This now-ruined fortified city 11km north of Bhopal was the first capital of Bhopal state, founded as Jagdishpur by the Rajputs before Dost Mohammed Khan occupied and renamed it in the early 18th century. The still-standing walls enclose two villages as well as the remains of two palaces: Chaman Mahal and Rani Mahal.