Vidharba

Maharashtra's winter capital, Nagpur, is the capital of Maharashtrian district Vidharba, a large political and industrial city. Sevagram, Gandhi's 'village of service' from 1933 to 1942, is now a shrine to the man's principles. The nearby hill station of Chikhaldara, peopled by tribals, marks the southern limits of the Hindi tongue.

Nagpur

Nagpur, the former capital of the Central Provinces, is one of the older towns of Central India. Today, although an important commercial centre attracting new businesses and multinationals, most of the industrial units are thankfully located on the outskirts so Nagpur retains a pleasant relaxed feel with friendly inhabitants and signs of fast growing affluence. Sometimes known as the winter capital of Maharashtra, the area is famous for its oranges, giving it the nickname 'The Orange City'. More recently strawberry farms have grown in importance while the surrounding countryside is a major cotton producing area.

The city stands on the Nag River and is centred on the
Sitabuldi Fort
 which is surrounded by cliffs and a moat. At the highest point there is a memorial to those who fell in the Battle of Sitabuldi between the Marathas and the British. Today the fort is headquarters of the Territorial Army. Among the British buildings scattered around the western half of the city are the red brick Council Hall (1912-1913); the Anglican Cathedral of All Saints (1851), and the High Court (1937-1942), suggestive of Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

On the other high hill in the town is the
Raj Bhavan
(Government House). The
Bhonsla Chhattris
are in the Sukrawari area south of the old city. Around town there are also a number of 'tanks' (lakes) and parks;
Maharaj Bagh
, west of the flyover is an attractive park/zoo.

Ramtek

About 40 km northeast of Nagpur, Ramtek has a
fort
with several Hindu
temples
at its western end, some dating back to the fifth century AD. The fort walls on the well-wooded 'Hill of Rama' were built in 1740 by Raghoji I, the first Bhonsla of Nagpur. The citadel is older and the principal temples are those to Rama and Sita. The fort is approached by a flight of steps from the village of Ambala. The poet Kalidasa wrote his epic
Meghdoot
here. Nearby is
Khindsey Lake
, 8 km, a popular picnic spot with boating facilities. Ramsagar is another lake closer to town. The 15-day
Ramnavami
fair is held in November.

Wardha and around

After vowing not to return to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad until India gained its independence, Mahatma Gandhi established his
Sevagram Ashram
(Gandhian Village of Service) in 1933. Jamnalal Bajaj, a dedicated follower of Gandhi, provided the land, 8 km outside of Wardha, and the resources to set up the ashram in which Gandhi remained until 1942 and visited regularly until his death in 1948. It is now a national institution where you can visit the residences
Nivases
and
Kutirs
, watch hand-spinning (
khadi
cloth is sold through shops) and attend prayers at the open-air multi-faith Prayer Ground (0430 and 1800). Mahatma Gandhi Research Institute of Medical Sciences and Kasturba Hospital with 325 beds to provide affordable health care for local villagers, is on the bus route. A path from here leads to the Ashram.

The
Magan Sanghralaya
(Centre of Science for Villages) is an alternative technology museum, on the Nagpur Road at
Duttapur
. Visitors are welcome to see papermaking, pottery, latrine making and other crafts. The
Chetna Organic Farm
, nearby, develops sustainable farming techniques. The
Laxmi Narayan Temple
claims to have been the first in India to have allowed Harijans to enter in 1928. The
Viswa Shanti Stupa
(1993), for 'World Peace', with four golden statues of Buddha, is a more recent attraction. Prayers are held each evening in the small prayer hall.

At
Paunar
, 10 km north of Wardha,
Vinoba Bhave
, one of Gandhi's keenest disciples, set
up his Ashram. He championed the 'land gift' or
Bhoodan Movement
, seeking with remarkable success to persuade large landowners to give away land to the poor. The self-help
concept is kept alive by his followers (mostly women) dressed in blue, unlike other ashramites
elsewhere in India who conventionally adopt white or saffron. It is possible to hike across from the Sevagram hospital along a village track for about 45 minutes to get there.

Tadoba National Park

Approximately 100 km south of Nagpur, the area around Tadoba was once in the possession of the Gond tribals. The compact 120-sq-km park has rich deciduous forest - mainly teak with bamboo, gardenia and satinwood. There are several troops of langur
monkeys, palm civets, gaur, jackal, wild boar, chital, bison, sambar and a few tigers (although
you are more likely to see a leopard in the evening). Waterbirds attracted by the perennial circular lake include cattle egrets, purple moorhens and jacanas. It also has quite a number of marsh crocodiles with a breeding farm for the
palustris
species. There are minibuses for viewing, which is best in the evening around lake in the dry season. A road runs around the lake, while other roads radiate to the park perimeter. The best season to visit is between November and June. There are no official guides, but a forest guide will accompany you if you hire a searchlight. The nearest transport connections are at Chandrapur, 45 km away.

Achalpur

Until 1853 this important market town was the capital of Berar Kingdom, established in 1484 by Imad Shah. The old cantonment, which had been occupied by a regiment of the Hyderabad infantry, was abandoned in 1903.

To the north, and just before reaching Chikhaldara, is the fort of
Gawilgarh
(Gavilgarh). An important fortress of the 15th-century Shahi Dynasty, it was taken over when the kingdom of Ahmednagar expanded in 1574. Arthur Wellesley, subsequently the Duke of Wellington, who had defeated Tipu Sultan of Mysore at Srirangapatnam just four years previously, captured the fort in 1803 during the second Maratha War. The defences were destroyed after the 'Indian Mutiny' in 1858. Today it is a deserted ruin.

Chikhaldara

Known as the only hill station in the Vidharba region and as the northernmost coffee growing region in India, Chikhaldara is high in the Gavilgarh Hills, at an altitude of 1200 m, a branch of the Satpura Mountains. Established as a hill station by the British in 1839, historically the hills marked the southern limits of the core region within which the epics of Hinduism were played out. It remains a tribal region, peopled largely by the Korkus, an Austric tribal group. The settlement is reputed to have taken its name from Kichaka, a prince who was killed by Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers, for having insulted Draupadi. Today, the Satpura Range in which Chikhaldara lies mark the southern boundary of Hindi speech.

The
Melghat Sanctuary
surrounding Chikaldara was one of the earliest to be designated a Project Tiger reserve. Its altitude makes it pleasantly cool during January-June, the best months to visit. The latest count suggests it has 45 tigers, occasionally seen in the dense and dry deciduous teak forest which also supports panther,
gaur, chital, sambar and nilgai.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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