With around 1.8 million inhabitants, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh’s capital, sprawls out from the eastern shores of a huge artificial lake, its packed old city surrounded by modern concrete suburbs and green hills. The nineteenth-century mosques emphasize its enduring Muslim legacy, while the hectic bazaars of the walled old city are worth a visit. Elsewhere, a couple of good archeological museums house hoards of ancient sculpture and the lakeside Bharat Bhavan ranks among India’s premier centres for performing and visual arts. The Museum of Man on the city’s outskirts is the country’s most comprehensive exhibition of adivasi houses, culture and technology. Despite all this, Bhopal will always be best known for the 1984 gas disaster, which continues to cast a long shadow over the city and its people.
Bhopal has two separate centres. Spread over the hills to the south of the lakes, the partially pedestrianized New Market area is a mix of shopping arcades, internet cafés, ice cream parlours, cinemas and office blocks. Once you’ve squeezed through the strip of land that divides the Upper and (smaller) Lower lakes, sweeping avenues, civic buildings and gardens give way to the more heavily congested old city. This area includes the Jama Masjid and the bazaar, centred on Chowk, a dense grid of streets between the Moti Masjid and Hamidia Road. The art galleries and museums are on side roads off New Market, or along the hilly southern edge of the Upper Lake.