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Maheshwar

The first sight of the tiered temples and beautiful Ahilya Fort Maheshwar, shimmering above their reflections in the waters of the sacred Narmada River, is something you will never forget. Not many tourists make it this far, which is a shame because it is one of the most atmospheric villages in India, where visitors can watch pilgrims come to the riverside ghats to immerse themselves in the holy water and make offerings to the Hindu god Shiva. 

Maheshwar, a town in the Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh state, was once the capital city of King Kartivirarjun, revitalised in the 18th century by the Holkar queen of Indore, Queen Ahilyabai, who built Maheshwar’s magnificent fort. Ahilya Fort has now been converted into a heritage hotel run by Prince Richard Holkar, and it is one of Ampersand’s favourite hotels in India. Within the fort are several more complexes of temples including the Maheshwar Palace, where the public can wander through the ornate and multi-tiered courtyards and explore a museum showcasing some personal artefacts from the life of Queen Ahilyabai.

There are wonderful views from the fort and temples to the plains beyond – Ahilya Fort is a place in which to savour the peace and quiet. If visitors ever tire of this low-key village then a visit to the island temple of Omkareshwar, named so because pilgrims believe the original mud mound to appear as the form Om, is nearby on the Narmada River. The deserted city of Mandu offers a truly mystical exploration of its long and varied history through the palaces, tombs, monuments and mosques of this area. Of particular note is the awe-inspiring Jahaz Mahal which appears to magically float above water and the extensive Jami Masjid and Hoshang Shah's tomb, which is credited as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

Back in Maheshwar, visitors should make time to shop for the famed local saris, woven in plain cotton with decorative silk ends. Handloom weaving in Maheshwar has been a tradition that brings about economic revenue for its inhabitants since the 5th century. A co-operative of weavers at the Rehwa Society is a good place to watch weavers at work and purchase the distinctive geometric printed saris. Behind the craft workshop there is a school, funded entirely by the profits from the material.

The sleepy riverside town of Maheshwar is infused with the spiritual chill-out vibes for which India is renowned, and it is a wonderfully authentic and romantic place to spend a few days.

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