Indore’s biggest draw is its street food. Countless travellers have roamed Sarafa Bazaar and Chappan Dukaan, searching for spicy and steaming carbohydrates. However, the city’s gastronomic gifts sometimes overshadow other things Indore has to offer, like its eclectic architecture. Indore’s most regal buildings come from its history as a trading post and erstwhile princely state under the Holkars. When feasting on kachoris, pakodas, and dahi vadas in the city’s streets, don’t miss out on visiting these architectural icons.
Nestled in expansive lawns, which once had one of the largest rose gardens in the country, the Lalbagh Palace was completed under the reign of Tukoji Rao Holkar III in 1921 after a construction period of 35 years. Once the site of important meetings and gatherings hosted by the Holkars, it now houses a museum. While there is need for maintenance, the stately three-storey structure is still impressive; its European-inspired design is a testament to the architectural sensibility of the era. Thick pillars of Italian marble divide the rooms. In the dining room, a mural of Greek deities dominates the ceiling and a billiards table with thick yet skillfully carved wooden legs, sits in the room next door. Fierce taxidermy tigers inside dusty glass boxes stand in a large hall, once the venue of grand dance parties.
The understated grandeur of Lalbagh Palace, much different from more ornate buildings makes it stand out. Yet, there is not much that is said about this piece of history tucked away in the midst of Indore’s bustle.
A short walk from the chaotic Sarafa Bazar is the 18th-century Rajwada, also built by the Holkars. The palace has survived three fires, the most recent in 1984, which consumed many of its upper floors. However, the original seven-storey wooden front facade still survives. Heavy wooden doors with iron studs open to a high archway that leads to the inner structure that rises around a central inner courtyard. Arched balconies with jharokhas run around a grand hall with gilded pillars, and walking around the hall offers a glimpse of the site’s history as a grand palace. Elements of Maratha and Islamic architecture come together in the minimal yet intricate details of the Rajwada.
A breezy weekday afternoon here is bereft of much footfall. However, schoolchildren often visit the first-floor museum for a glimpse of royals’ personal artefacts. After a stroll around the busy market and food stalls right outside the rear entrance of Rajwada, visitors often amble in to catch the daily sound-and-light shows. The Rajwada has been painstakingly restored and though it is visited more by tourists than locals, there’s a definite place for it among the visual icons of the city.
Looking for Town Hall or Gandhi Hall can prove to be a daunting task. The reason is that most locals know this arts and culture venue as “Ghanta Ghar,” after its clock tower. Originally known as King Edwards Hall after its completion in 1904, it was renamed Gandhi Hall in 1948. The blocks of Seoni stone that the building is made of give it a reddish-brown colour. The narrow children’s park next to the building offers a peek into the airy passageways inside the Town Hall. There is a curious disparity in maintenance of the building: while the front facade is nearly perfect, the sides have windows without glass in all panels. However, this building has for years now hosted many a government and private function. While locals prefer to stroll in the park or visit the temple, the painting and book exhibitions and occasional fairs draw the crowds inside.
Stepping inside the marvellous 20th-century Kanch Mandir could be compared with being enclosed in a crystal bubble. Built by Hukamchand Seth and dedicated to Shantinath Bhagwan, the interiors of the Jain temple have inlaid glass from wall to wall and from ceiling to floor. It is believed that artisans were called in from Iran to help execute the delicate inlay work. The glass canvas is filled with chants, quotes and stories depicted through murals of coloured glass. The slightest movements of reflections on the sunlit glass tiles produce the same effect as broken bangles inside a kaleidoscope.
On Kshamavani or Forgiveness Day, the last day of the Jain festival of Paryushan in August/September, the resident idol is brought out to the street adjoining the temple. A special puja is organised which sees the attendance of a large gathering of devotees. Even on non-festive days, years of tradition unfold in scenes like that of a man who visits once a week with his daughter so they can sing to the idols together.