India’s colorful history and vast geographical area have resulted in a multifaceted country with varying language, customs, and architecture. Knowing it’d be challenging to capture all of India’s glory in a couple of months’ time, I focused most of my energy exploring India’s northern hemisphere throughout my four-month stunt in Delhi. Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh became my only central/southbound trip.
As noted in numerous budget-traveling posts, I tend to convert my friends to Couchsurfing enthusiasts on a regular basis. This was the situation with Joyti, an Agra native who worked with me in Delhi.
Joyti was similar to me in age, height, education background, and love for food. Yet, she was completely different from me in her perception of life.
From a middle-class household, Joyti was incredibly hardworking and relatively sheltered. Her dedication to pursuing a career in journalism led her to the office where I interned-Women’s Feature Service, a news agency established by UNESCO in the late 1970s.
Despite her moving to Delhi and vast desire to explore the world, Joyti had never traveled outside the boundaries of her home. In fact, her perception of India is much more rigid than my naïve take on the country.
Hearing someone with similar ambitions, passion, and drive to that of mine, of course, I was keen on dragging her onto one of my typical, unplanned, stranger-travel experiences.
Located 300 kilometers away from Delhi in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior is home to a number of historical sites and monuments. While it is rich in art and literature, the city remains relatively hidden when compared to metropolitans like Bombay and Delhi.
One day after work, we decided that the trip was postponed for way too long. Instead of going home, we headed to the train station to embark on the adventure.
The Train Ride
Like most around the world, the train compartments in India are separated by class. Unlike most, the difference between each class can be extreme. Having traveled on a budget for some time, Sleeper Class or, Second Class and Unreserved Class became the go-to options.
We arrived in a deserted Gwalior after 6 hours. Aside from a few tuk-tuks attempting to lure in our business, the streets were pretty much empty from any activity. Since it was too late to call our host, we decided to spend a night at a hostel by the railway station.
The next morning, our host picked us up to explore what Gwalior had to offer.
Our first stop was the Sun Temple in Gwalior. With its magnificent red sandstone exterior and delicate carvings, the temple is dedicated to Surya, the Sun God. Inspired by the Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, this one was commissioned in 1988 by G.D. Birla. Sitting proudly mid a beautiful green space, the temple is more than just a replica. It was a peaceful setting. The garden was free of chatter, as devotees navigate their way up the white marble steps with their bare feet.
After half an hour or so waiting for prayer time, we reluctantly got up and headed towards the next sight.
Luckily, all attractions in Gwalior are just miles apart. After a 20 minute drive, we arrived at the Tomb of Mohammad Ghaus. Mohammad Ghaus was a 16-century Sufi master of Shattari order and the author of Jawahir-i Khams. The tomb itself was largely different from that of the other architectural designs in the area, which further indicates India’s steady embrace of multiculturalism and its colorful history.
Despite never having taken a seat of power, Ghaus Muhammed is widely respected by numerous Mughal rulers, who eradicated this towering tomb in memory of him.
As with the Sun Temple, the tomb was a peaceful place mid a large garden. Despite the car horns immediate to the gates, space within seems to have forgone the passing of time.
It was close to 2 pm when we left the tomb. Not having had the time to take lunch, our host recommended that we eat at the Gwalior Fort Gurdwara, where we are looking to stay two more nights.
Its hand-crafted designs were elaborate and rich in color. A detail signifying trade between China and India during the time of its construction, Chinese dragons were curved onto the pillars of the fort. After lunch, we headed over to the Gwalior Fort- Man Singh Palace. The Gwalior Fort was exceptionally beautiful. In fact, it was a photo of its picturesque walls that drew me to this relatively unknown city.
Just 5 minutes down the road, sits Sas-Bahu temple, two temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, respectively.
For myself, these two temples truly embodied the core of Indian religion. Sahastrabahu Temple was constructed in 1092 by King Mahipala for his wife, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. However, when his son’s wife, a devotee of Lord Chiva arrived, another temple was eradicated meters away. Together, these two temples were known as ‘Sas-Bahu temple’, or, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law’s temple.
We walked around the compound and discovered that aside from a group of children, we were the only people in sight. After seeing me, many ran towards us and began pulling out their phones to take selfies. While my Asian features are a common sight in Delhi, where many Northeastern Indians resides, they quickly gained #celebritystatus amongst the children in Gwalior.
My past couple of years of traveling has taught me that it isn’t too difficult to find cheap or free accommodation. But this Gurdwara remains one of my favorite living spaces.
Sikh Gurdwaras offers a place of worship, a langar hall, and rooms for temporary stays. In line with what Sikhs practice, food, and stay are free of charge with donations welcomed. Most importantly, Gurdwaras opens its doors to people of all faith and religion. Mr. Singh, pictured below, became our host during our stay at the gurdwara. He was such a generous man, showing us the temple space and the seamless preparation process for meals in the langar hall. When I caught a cold mid-Sunday, he came in with tea and biscuits wishing me well.
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The Sikh community is one of the most generous I've met. Gurdwaras not only provide free accommodation for the needy (aka me), but also food and drinks. Not to mention that Mr.Singh here brought medicine and biscuits to the room when I fell ill. Do stay at a Sikh temple, it's such an amazing experience 🙏🏼🙏🏼
There are too many places to visit near Gwalior. Madhya Pradesh. Due to our relatively tight schedule, we were unable to fit the rest of the city in a two day weekend. With some more time in hand, I would have loved to wander around Jai Vilas Palace Museum or Gujari Mahal Archaeological Museum. Nonetheless, Although there are gorgeous places in the north, I thought Gwalior one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited so far- more importantly, it added to my immense desire to take on a cultural escapade in South India.
Finally, Joyti loved the weekend away. As an avid solo traveler, nothing beats getting my friends to join me in these rather unconventional ventures and convincing them that all will be well.
At least for me, it has been.
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