- darkometer rating:  4 -
A city in the centre of India, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh, and thus an important administrative and economical hub. But since December 1984, the name Bhopal has been firmly associated with the worst chemical industrial accident in history, when a cloud of poisonous gas leaked in large quantities from the plant and killed and injured thousands of local residents. The case is still ongoing. The victims have never seen proper compensation, nor has the site even been cleared up. Toxin-related illnesses and birth defects continue to plague Bhopal to this day. There is now a museum about this as well.       
Background: Compared to Delhi, Mumbai or any of the other Indian megacities, Bhopal, even though a regional capital, is a relatively small city – “small” by Indian standards, that is, with a population of  “only” ca. 2.5 million. It's also an industrial, administrative and educational centre and transport hub.
But all that pales into insignificance, historically speaking, compared to what Bhopal is primarily associated with: it was precisely its chemical industry that made the worst headlines for Bhopal. The name will be forever etched into international public consciousness for the Union Carbide disaster of December 1984, still the very worst chemical industrial accident of all time. See under Union Carbide plant for more on this. 
This disaster has been haunting Bhopal ever since – and the political struggle about it, the calls for justice, compensation and for a clean-up of the old site are ongoing and the matter remains far from resolved. 
Yet Bhopal claims to be one of the “greenest” and cleanest cities of India … though that probably has to be taken with a good dose of doubt. It's also earmarked as one of the first cities for sustainable redevelopment under the prime minister's “Smart Cities Mission”.
Yet, the polluted grounds and rusty ruins of the old Union Carbide plant still stand as a reminder that often in India it's more about business-friendly smart talk than about actually smart solutions for the people ...
What there is to see: For the dark tourist, or in fact most people outside India, Bhopal will first and foremost (if not exclusively) be associated with the Bhopal disaster in 1984 at the city's Union Carbide chemical factory. This, and the museum about it, are hence the top two dark sites here, but there is also a much lesser known place of a completely different nature deserving its own entry here too:  
Other than these there isn't really much of interest to dark tourists, unless you're into military museums, in which case you might enjoy Bhopal's own such institution at Yodhasthal (near the airport to the north-west of the city centre, open Tue-Sun 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.). 
For those who get a kick out of seeing dystopian industrial landscapes, a drive through the south of Bhopal could provide that. This is where Bhopal's current industrial heartland is, with plenty of smoking stacks and scary looking chemical industry installations … elsewhere they'd probably not be especially noteworthy, but in the Bhopal context, of course, they become involuntarily evocative … 
Location: almost exactly in the centre of India and the state of Madhya Pradesh, a bit under 400 miles (600 km) south of Delhi, a good 400 miles (650 km) north-east of Mumbai and 700 miles (1150 km) east of Kolkata. 
Google maps locators: 
Train station: [23.2677, 77.4137]
Taj-ul-Masajid mosque: [23.263, 77.393]
Jehan Numa Palace: [23.2399, 77.3869]
Access and costs: not too difficult to get to, but less easy to get around in, except by car. Costs vary vastly. 
Details: Bhopal can be quite easily accessed by train, with regular connections to e.g. Delhi, Agra and Lucknow to the north, or Mumbai to the west. Moreover it has got an airport, nominally even an international one, though almost all flights are domestic. 
Getting around Bhopal may become easier if the projected metro system is built, but until then it's the usual chaos on the roads that cannot be avoided (either by taxi or tuk-tuk), though there is also a bus rapid transit system – but that's probably not so useful for foreigners. In any case, the distances between the sites featured here are too great for walking.  
In terms of accommodation and food & drink, I had one of the best experiences here, namely at the Jehan Numa Palace, a Heritage Grand Hotel originally built in the late 19th century during the reign of Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum and now a 5-star hotel. The rooms are perhaps not quite the epitome of luxury but the grounds and interiors of the public areas are indeed of regal grandeur. But the best feature of it all is the acclaimed “Under the Mango Tree” restaurant at this hotel. I had some of the best food here of my entire stay in India – and it was clear that the place was also popular with the local upper crust who flocked here for big family feasts (it was Christmas at the time of my visit, which is a time of festivities, certainly in culinary terms, with Indians too, even though most of them are Hindu or Muslim). 
At the other end of the scale, Bhopal also has its share of cheap hotels and simple roadside dhabas too, of course.  
Time required: a day or two.
Combinations with other dark sites: none nearby (as far as I am aware), see under India in general.
Combinations with non-dark sites: Bhopal does have its own non-dark sites too. First and foremost, there is the large mosque, Taj-ul-Masajid, in fact the third largest mosque in Asia, so I was told. 
There are also a number of museums, in particular the two anthropological museums, the Museum of Man (or nowadays also known under the more PC designation: “National Museum of Humankind”) and the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum.
Bhopal is also a relatively green city, by Indian standards, and its lakes (natural and artificial) add a bit of tranquillity too. Yet the downtown streets of Bhopal are as hectic, loud and grimy as in any other place anywhere in India.
Outside the city itself, the most famous tourist attraction is Sanchi, an ancient Buddhist site of stupas and ruins of monasteries that were rediscovered only in the 18th/19th century, and which feature some astounding stone carvings.
Wildlife watching can also be had not too far from Bhopal. The nearest national park is Van Vihar, more a wildlife sanctuary and safari park or large zoo really, in so far as the large predators like tigers and leopards are not free to roam, but are basically kept in enclosures, i.e. in captivity. 
For seeing animals in the wild you could, however, head south to the magnificent Satpura National Park or, quite a bit further away to the north-east to Panna National Park and Tiger Reserve.
And not far from the latter is one of the most celebrated and unique cultural sights of India: the “erotic temples” of Khajuraho that feature masses of elaborate stone carvings depicting often quite outrageously acrobatic-looking scenes from the Kama Sutra. 
See also under India in general for more.
  • Bhopal 1 - artificial lakeBhopal 1 - artificial lake
  • Bhopal 2 - grand mosqueBhopal 2 - grand mosque
  • Bhopal 3 - cityBhopal 3 - city
  • Bhopal 4 - Hindu temple with swastikasBhopal 4 - Hindu temple with swastikas
  • Bhopal 5 - Jehan Numa PalaceBhopal 5 - Jehan Numa Palace
  • Bhopal 6 - Under the Mango Tree restaurant at Jehan Numa PalaceBhopal 6 - Under the Mango Tree restaurant at Jehan Numa Palace
  • Bhopal 7 - plastic rubbish and slum by the railway lineBhopal 7 - plastic rubbish and slum by the railway line
  • Bhopal 8 - plastic, plastic, plasticBhopal 8 - plastic, plastic, plastic
  • Bhopal 9 - hiding goatBhopal 9 - hiding goat


©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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