Overlooking the north bank of the mighty Narmada River, 91km southwest of Indore, MAHESHWAR was the site of King Kartvirajun’s ancient capital, Mahishmati, a city mentioned in both the Mahabharata and Ramayana. In the eighteenth century, Maharani Ahilya Bai built a palace and several temples here, giving the town a new lease of life. Today, it’s a prominent port of call on the Narmada Hindu pilgrimage circuit, but well off the tourist trail.

The waterfront ghats below an old sandstone palace make a quintessentially Indian spectacle. Parties of yatris take holy dips, while pujaris and groups of sadhus sit around murmuring prayers under raffia sunshades. For the best view of them, head for the overhanging balcony of the eighteenth-century Ahilya Bai Mandir, reached via steps under the facade of the palace behind.

The palace and fort complex itself, further up the steps, houses the workshops of the Rewa Society, established by the maharani 250 years ago to promote the local handloom industry. Maheshwari saris are famous for their distinctive patterns and high quality; you can visit the weavers’ workshops. Though descendants of the old ruling family still occupy parts of the building, a couple of rooms around the entrance courtyard have been given over to a small, eminently missable museum.

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