Famous for its magnificent palaces, old temples and the impressive fort, Gwalior was the erstwhile capital of the Scindias. Lying 122 km south of Agra and 423 km north of the state capital Bhopal, Gwalior occupied strategic importance throughout history.
Also known as the ‘Fort City’, the massive hill fort of Gwalior served as the seat of several northern Indian kingdoms. Mughal emperor Babur is believed to have described the fort as ‘the pearl amongst fortresses in Hind’.
Gwalior was among the five princely states which enjoyed 21 gun salute during British rule. Along with Hyderabad, Mysore, Jammu and Kashmir and Baroda, Gwalior held important stature within British India.
Gwalior is the headquarters of Chambal region and a major industrial and commercial region. Often referred to as the tourist capital of Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior is the fourth largest city of Madhya Pradesh and an education hub.
The city is also famous for Scindia School located inside the Gwalior fort. Established in 1897, it is among the prominent boarding schools of India. It was originally started exclusively for nobles and princes and housed in the erstwhile barracks of the British soldiers.
Gwalior is also known as city of music. Gwalior is one of the oldest gharanas or schools of Hindustani classical music. The city is the final resting place of Tansen, the musical genius and one of the nine gems of Emperor Akbar’s court. Sarod Ghar, the first ever museum dedicated to Indian musical instruments, is based in the city.
It is believed Gwalior was named after sage Gwalipa, who cured King Suraj Sen of leprosy. The history of Gwalior can be traced back to the 8th century AD.
According to historical records, Gwalior was under the rule of the Hunas in the 6th century and later under Gurjar Pratiharas of Kannauj till 923 AD. In 1196, Qutub-Uddin Aibak of the Delhi Sultanate captured the city. His rule was followed by that of Shams-ud-Altamash in 1232.
The splendid Gwalior fort was constructed by Raja Man Singh of Tomar dynasty in the 15th century.
When Peshwa Baji Rao expanded Maratha Empire to the north, Ranoji Shinde was in charge of the conquests in Malwa. When Peshwa’s control weakened and Maratha confederacy was formed, Ranoji established his kingdom in Ujjain. The capital was later shifted to Gwalior. The Scindias (anglicized from Shinde) held sway over many of the Rajput states and even conquered Ajmer. The Scindias were forced to accept British suzerainty after the Third Anglo-Maratha war.
The city was also witness to several momentous episodes of the Revolt of 1857. After the fall of Jhansi, Rani Lakshmibai sought shelter at Gwalior fort. When the rebels took control of the fort, the British attacked Gwalior. Lakshmibai died fighting in Gwalior.
Maharaja Jivajirao Scindia acceded to India and the princely state was merged with other states to become Madhya Bharat.
- The 9th century shrine Saas-Bahu temple inside the Gwalior fort is also famous for its architectural splendour.
- The temple is not dedicated to Saas (mother-in-law) and Bahu (daughter-in-law). It is the short form of Sahastra Bahu, which is another name for Lord Vishnu.
Culturally, Gwalior is a mix of two rich cultures, namely Bundeli and Braj. Ahir dance of the region is well-known. It is generally performed by communities which have traditionally been into cattle herding.
The relatively new Sun Temple is dedicated to the sun god and is an exact replica of the famous Sun temple of Konark, Orissa.
Gwalior Gharana, among the oldest gharanas, flourished under the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar. The Dhrupad genre in Hindustani classical music, believed to be the oldest musical tradition, thrived under the patronage of Raja Man Singh Tomar. Baijnath Prasad alias Baiju Bawra was a musician at the court of Man Singh.
Celebrated musician and singer Tansen’s mortal remains are buried in Gwalior. Every year, the city holds Tansen Sangeet Samaroh in his remembrance. Sarod maestro Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan also hails from Gwalior. His grandfather Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash was a musician at the Gwalior court.
Gwalior is also known for its architectural splendour. The Gwalior fort is an example of medieval architecture. Gujari Mahal, built by Raja Man Singh Tomar and dedicated to his queen Mrignayani, is an impressive structure. The striking Jai Vilas Palace is a mix of Italian, Tuscan and Corinthian styles.
Gwalior is famous for its handicrafts and leather products. Visit the shops at Rajwada, Lashkar and Patankar Bazaar for artifacts with a royal touch. Shops specialize in art and craft items such as lacquer ware, jewelry, dolls and hand woven carpets. Gwalior is also a good place to buy Chanderi Saris. You will find a huge variety of Chanderi saris at the Chowk at Bara. Silver boxes decorated with images from Man Singh Palace, a Gwalior favourite, makes wonderful gift item.
Where to stay
If you want to save time commuting, opt for a hotel along Naya Bazaar which is the heart of Gwalior. Most of the budget hotels are located here. A decent air-conditioned room in a budget hotel would cost between Rs 800-Rs 1500 per night. A deluxe hotel room with a bar, pool and internet access could cost between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,500. Gwalior also boasts of several luxury hotels which offer facilities like discotheques, health clubs and 24 hour coffee shops. The luxury hotels would cost between Rs 4,000 and Rs 7,500.
Where to eat
People of Gwalior like to have kachoris, samosas and other fried snacks served with potato curries and chutneys. Jalebis, rabdi, kebabs, bhutte ki kees (curry made of grated corn), mawa-bati, khoprapak and malpua are popular. Also try out Morena Gajak, made of jaggery and sesame.
Almost all hotels have in-house restaurants and cafés. You will also find delicious food at Chhatri Bazaar and Ratnakar Bhawan. The famous City Mall has several eateries and some international fast food joints like Domino's Pizza and McDonald's. Besides Indian, some restaurants also serve Continental and Nepali dishes.
Indian Coffee House located on Station Road serves vegetarian food. Breakfast favourites include dosa, scrambled eggs, etc. It also serves proper main-course menu, including thalis. Don’t forget to try their coffee.
Best time to visit
Gwalior has extreme climatic conditions, very hot summers and chilly winters. Best season to visit Gwalior is from October to March.