Names are an integral part of identity. Few names induce mystery, while others have a certain gravitas about them. "Bundelkhand," perhaps, evokes both. This scenic region is nestled in the Vindhya mountain range in Madhya Pradesh and stretches beyond.
Arid and overpowering, the terrain acquires its name from "Boond", or a drop of blood in Hindi. It is a befitting name evoking a strong sensory and emotional appeal, symbolising the valour of its erstwhile Bundella rulers.
It has some renowned architecture, monuments, and a stunning skyline built centuries ago. Bundelkhand region offers a heady mix of legendary stories, a cocktail of romance, blood-soaked sacrifices, valiant fights, erotica laced with spiritual underpinnings, heroic revolts and endless inspiration.
Far from the spotlight and top attractions like Orchha and Khajuraho in the region, Dhubela in the Chhatarpur district is a hidden gem, which tourists often skip, but has some captivating stories to tell. It was ruled by the Bundela warrior king Maharaja Chhatrasal (1649-1731), who counted as one of the bravest kings in the league of Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji.
Chhatrasal fought the Mughals and finally won the battle in 1730, with the generous support of Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao I. Maharaja Chhatrasal was known as a fiercely independent, brave, decisive king and left behind a legacy of sacrifice and love for his people. His dominion stretched from Kalpi to Sagar in the north to Damoh in the south, with the Panna (diamond mine) as its capital.
Chhatrasal was only 12 years old when he accompanied his father on the battlefield. He witnessed the martyrdom (suicide) of his beloved father, Maharaja Champat Rai when Aurangzeb's army overpowered him. Eventually, his mother committed sati to save her honour. He inherited his father's struggles at a young age. This led him to boldly resolve to free Bundelkhand from the Mughals. He repulsed the invaders with continuous fights and prevailed over the region until the end. In the region, he captured several Mughal forts (Kalinjar, Banda, Hamirpur, Jhansi, Jalaun, Kalpi). He fought more than 52 battles in his lifetime and died at 82. Like many others, this legendary tale also did not catch the eye of our eminent historians. These larger-than-life stories, sadly, are consigned to the footnotes of our history.
Maharaja Chhatrasal's modest but opulent palace on the banks of Dhubela Lake is converted into a museum. It is one of the largest museums in the state and has a huge collection of idols and manuscripts from the 4th to 16th centuries. The museum has eight galleries, showcasing the inscriptions, copper plates, pillars, garments, heavy-duty guns, weapons and paintings related to the Gupta, Kalchuri and Bundela periods. An imposing statue of Maharaja Chhatrasal in the open-air gallery dominates the view. The Jain gallery features intricately carved reliefs and statues. The museum has protected and preserved some of the region's most irreplaceable historic heritage and legacy. A steady stream of visitors and schoolchildren can be seen thronging the museum, studying the displays with curiosity and muted conversations.
Adjacent to the museum is Mastani Mahal, a palace built by Maharaja Chhatrasal for his daughter Mastani, now a pop culture icon, made famous by the Bollywood movie "Bajirao Mastani". As per the folklore, the king offered the hand of Mastani to Bajirao and bequeathed a third of his kingdom to him in return for his help in the battle to defeat the Mughals. You may call it a marriage of political convenience, but the story of Bajirao and Mastani took on a life of its own and the stuff of great romance.
Mastani Mahal is the perfect destination to relive the Bollywood cinematic experience. The palace architecture is a unique mix of the Mughal and Rajput styles. It comprises beautiful gates, huge patios, staircases, windows, and balconies. It is crowned with arches and attractive oval-shaped chhatris, acquiring a signature Bundela style of architecture that you see in this region. The flamboyant costume designs and dramatic headgear that Deepika Padukone wore playing the role of Mastani in the film have been copied from the motifs adorning the wall and the roof of this palace. It will instantly grab your attention.
Hridayashah was the son of Maharaja Chhatrasal, and the ruins of his palace are situated nearby—it is the biggest monument but is in a dilapidated state. However, even today, it looks resplendent and glistens in the sun with streaks of fading light pastel colours on its facade.
The Chhatris (cenotaphs) dotting the skyline in the region are endearing and an everlasting spectacle. It is also a beautiful innovation and exposition of the unique Bundela architecture style. Dhubela offers many vantage points for shutterbugs and history buffs to explore. It is surrounded by other remarkable attractions such as Chausath Yogini Temple (2km), Bhimkund (1.5km) and its temples.
It is a place with riveting stories of the brave (King Chhatrasal) and the beautiful (Mastani). Dhubela conceals itself from the outside world, wrapped with thick foliage and dotted with Palash trees (flame-of-the-forest). The blazing red and orange Palash flowers blooming in the arid mountains give Bundelkhand an extraordinarily beautiful texture and character, much like its name. A visit to Dhubela will leave you amazed to discover and experience a hidden heritage gem and an incognito era.
The closest airport to Dhubela for air travel is Khajuraho Airport, approximately 53 km away. Upon reaching Khajuraho Airport, transportation by road is required, and booking a cab is recommended. Travellers opting for trains can use Chhatarpur station, which is located about 23 km from Dhubela and well-connected to major cities within the state and beyond. Additionally, road travel is a favourable option, with government-owned buses facilitating easy access to Chhatarpur District and Dhubela.