The 4000 year old town of Maheshwar on the banks of the Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh is far off the usual beaten track but its isolation is its attraction. The Narmada is one of India’s holiest rivers, said to have been formed from a drop of sweat from Shiva’s forehead and the town finds mention in the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabarata. Maheshwar regained its ancient importance when the Holkar quen Rani Ahikyabai of Indore built a stronghold here in the late 18th century and Ahilya Fort continues to sit in the centre of the action.
You can while away hours watching life on the river ghats where laundry is washed and ablutions performed. Take a boat on the river to explore Baneshwar, a tiny island with a temple on it, and view the extensive bird life, or take a dip in the river – it’s safe to swim here as there is no major urban area on the river. Maheshwar’s weaving traditions were revived in the 1970’s and about 150 men and women work with the Rehwa Society to produce a range of delicate hand-woven textiles in silk, cotton, linen and wool so you don’t need an excuse for shopping as all proceeds go direct to the local community.
While in the area it is also worth using Maheshwar as a base for exploring the monumtal tombs, fort and palace ruins at Mandu where the tomb of Hoshang Shah is said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Further afield, Omkareshwar, a small island in the Narmarda shaped like the Hindu holy symbol Om, attracts a steady stream of pilgrims and the temples are beautifully carved.