Watch the day to day lives of the locals along the sacred Narmada River, do Yoga on the Ghats, get enchanted by the evening Narmada Aarti or go on a temple run to satisfy the spiritual part of you.
One can spend days along the Ghats of Maheshwar doing this. Probably, nothing has changed in centuries here. The people are very simple & their whole life revolves around Narmada Maiya. Narmada or more commonly called as Rhewa by the locals has been a mute witness to their lives for generations.
Maheshwar is the legacy of Queen Ahilya Devi Holkar of Holkar Royal family. It was the first capital of Holkar royal family of Malwa. Maheshwar is believed to be an ancient town & it was inhabited even in 4th century. The Maratha Queen Ahilya Devi Holkar gave Maheshwar its bygone glory in 18th century. Ahilya Devi constructed many beautiful temples, ghats along the Narmada River.
Entrance to the Fort
The first thing I noticed about Maheshwar was the large numbers of holy cows wandering in the narrow streets of the town. It blends well with the holy character of the place. The centre of attraction of the town is the Ahilya Fort towering high above the town on a hill along the river. The entrance to the Fort is marked by a big, old door.
There are a few good eateries inside the palace like the Laboos Cafe which gives you an experience of having your breakfast in the medieval settings. The current Holkars have continued the legacy of Ahilya Devi’s social work in many forms. You can see the Devi Ahilya School on the left as you enter the royal property inside the fort.
Statue of Rajmata Ahilya Devi Holkar
You will be welcomed by a recently erected grand statue of the queen herself. Though, Holkars are famous in history for their richness in the form of diamonds, jewellery & palaces, Ahilya Devi is known for her good governance & social work in form of temples, dharamshalas and wells all over India.
The Humble Wada
The humble Wada of Ahilyabai where she used to stay is an example of simplicity of the legendary queen. Inside the Wada, you can see the personal belongings of Ahilyabai like her Palkhi, Gadi(Throne), temple, and swords. The pictures of the brave Holkar clan are displayed inside the Wada. As Ahilyabai was very religious by nature, you can see many Shivlingas there.
Inside the Wada
Priests making Shivlingas
You can see the royal priests making 15000 Shivlingas in clay inside the compound. This is a century old tradition of Ahilya Fort. The Gold Swing is another attraction for the devotees. This little swing is made of pure gold for infant Lord Krishna.
The fort itself offers panoramic view of the vast Narmada River, temples & Ghats of Maheshwar.
View of the Ghats from the Ahilya Fort
The panoramic view of the Ghats
View of Naramada from Ahilya Fort
Before heading down from the Fort, I decided to visit the Rhewa Society known for the Maheshwari Sarees.
The Maheshwari sarees are famous all over the world for the unique five stripped pallus & reversible border. The pattern is believed to be designed by Queen Ahilya Devi Holkar herself. These fabrics, with a royal touch are hand woven from silk & cotton. Rehwa Society is a non-profit organisation started by Maharaj Kumar Richard Shivajirao Holkar. Rhewa is one of the names of the sacred river Narmada. The profit from this organisation goes to a school, housing schemes & health services of the weaver families. Rehwa Society is trying to revive the century old hand weaving tradition of Maheshwar.
As you get down the slopes of the Fort towards the Ghats, the sight of the beautiful temples built with stones will amaze you.
Vithoji Chhatri _ Ahilyeshwar Temple
The work of carvings & sculptures done on stones are fine example of the Maratha architecture. Ahilyeshwar Temple & Vithoji’s Cenotaph are the most prominent among them. One can spend hours watching the minute details of these sculptures.
Sculptures on temple walls
Sculptures on temple
Carvings on the walls.
The carvings on the temple wall
The temple steps from the Ghats
Fine Maratha architecture
The grand entrance from river side
Few of many Shivlingas _ Nandis on Ghats
The grandness of Maheshwar can be seen once you get to the sacred Narmada River. The Ghats, temple & the towering Fort take you to another era.
You can watch people doing their daily chores. People washing clothes, priests performing pooja, devotees taking holy dip in sacred river & the boatmen taking the locals to the other side of the bank.
Glimpses of Ghat life
The boat ride will offer you the panoramic view of Maheshwar.
Vistas from boat ride
Take a mini trip to Baneshwar Temple constructed on a tiny piece of land amidst the Narmada or go to Sahastradhara where the river flows in forms of thousands of springs on the rocks.
In Hindu mythology, Baneshwar Temple is said to be on the axis of earth & Rajmata Ahilya Devi use to visit this place on a daily basis for pooja.
If you feel hungry get down at the MPTDC’s Narmada Retreat Resort by the Narmada River and try their excellent food. Narmada Retreat is also an excellent option for stay with many air conditioned rooms, deluxe suits & Maharaja Tents by the river.
MPTDC’s Narmada Retreat
The other option is majestic Ahilya Fort itself. A part of the palace has been converted into a boutique hotel by Richard Holkar. Staying in this palace with royal hospitality can be a memorable experience.
As the day closes, get to Ghats again to watch the panoramic sunset on River Narmada. Watch the locals taking a stroll along the Ghats or doing Yoga & womenfolk offering the ‘Diyas’ to Mother Narmada. Elders take their children and feed the fishes which in return entertain the children by making splashes in the water. The milkmen return to their villages by boat. This is a little place & almost all the people know each other.
The Ahilya Fort at night
The evening Narmada Aarti
At around 7.30 the priest starts the preparations for the evening Naramada Aarti & the people will start gathering near Narmada Temple. The Narmada Aarti will take you on a spiritual journey. The impressions of this quaint place called Maheshwar will linger in your memories forever.