Friday, December 7, 2012

Madhya Pradesh Tour - Day 3&4 (The hill station of Pachmarhi)

Day 3 & 4 (Pachmarhi – 18th & 19th Nov 2012)

          Our train for Pipariya was from Habibganj, that too at 5:30 in the morning.
          I shouldn’t have bothered to set an alarm for 4 am. My dad, as usual, whenever there is a morning train to catch, got up at 2 am or maybe didn’t sleep, went for his bath, making all possible noises of the tap water, the switches, of his shivering, of opening the bags and zipping them back, of striking his matches for an early smoke. I saw and tried to go back to sleep. Half an hour later, when I got up, my whole family was up and ready/ getting ready! And then we tried asking the front desk for some tea. Though the guy at the front desk politely said ‘no’, am sure he must have abused us for trying to get him to fetch tea at such a horrible hour in the night. So, while most of Bhopal slept comfortably in their blankets, we sat and looked at each others faces for another hour, till it was time to leave and catch the morning train from Habibganj.
          So, 5 grown up people, a few moderately plump, rest of them regular and 1 kid plus the driver with 8 travel bags, like stuffed cattle, shivering with cold, at 4:30 am, travelling amid the Bhopal alleys, reached Habibganj station at 5 am. The rickshaw gave a sigh of relief as we emptied it!
          The train journey was a short one of around 3 hours and we reached Pipariya station. Pipariya is the station you need to get down at to reach Pachmarhi. Several touts immediately swarmed to take us to Pachmarhi. From INR 1,000, one person agreed to take us in a Tavera at INR 300 only. It’s quite some distance (around 57 kms) between Pipariya and Pachmarhi and while I was wondering why the guy agreed at such a low price, he himself broke my reverie saying that just because he has a return pickup from Pachmarhi, he has to go there anyway and it’s better to get paid something than to go empty handed. While our vehicle zipped and zoomed through the good roads and twisted and turned through the ghat, we had a good time checking out the scenery of the dense forest. Pachmarhi is actually within the Satpura Tiger Reserve area and if you are lucky, you might see some animals while you are driving through the forest. We saw a couple of peacocks, though they weren’t dancing and some monkeys.
          We were put up at ‘Hotel Highlands’ which is a MP Tourism property. The lodging is at the very entrance of Pachmarhi and far from the various tourist spots. Though the property is good and well maintained with a children’s park, the restaurant is pretty expensive and they tax you on almost everything. You eat an single egg omelette and they charge you for gold! I had booked the hotel through the internet (through their website). While booking, you need to bear in mind that they tariff after adding the peak season amount excludes tax. It’s only during checkout, that the radiant light is shone by the front desk attendant on you that the tax doesn’t come under the tariff you’ve paid and needs to be paid now and he gloriously highlights the bullet point in the ‘Terms & Conditions’.
          There are two ways to go about Pachmarhi, if you haven’t brought along your own vehicle. Either you take the minibus provided by Hotel Highlands or you hire a Gypsy from the market area. After a long time, I was seeing one of my favorite vehicles, the Maruti Gypsy and that too in abundance.
          We were here for 2 days, so the first day we took it easy and walked to the nearby ‘Jata Shankar’ temple. The next day turned out to be more of a religious detour visiting destinations like ‘Gupt Mahadev’, ‘Bada Mahadev’, ‘Pandav Gufa’, ‘Priyadarshini’, ‘Handi Khoh’, ‘Rajendragiri’ and the ‘Nauka Vihar’.

Jata Shankar
The Jata Shankar shrine and cave
          The Lord works in mysterious ways and appears at mysterious places! As you walk towards this Shiva temple, you come across some huge mountains so close that you can feel their enormity. At places, you are bewildered on seeing some people walking these mountains as if walking on air along some hidden paths. As you walk ahead, you come across a statue of Lord Shiva in blue. Keep walking and the mountains close down on you and soon you are walking down a ravine. As you walk down the steps, various local shops selling cures for ailments ranging from asthma to arthritis grow in number. An old lady, with unwashed silver hair, seemingly not having taken a bath for ages, having looks that can give you the jitters and you are afraid that she might curse you for nothing or maybe for the mistake you made and have conveniently hidden from all – this woman sings an ode to the Lord and it makes the place you are strutting on more surreal.
          The temple is inside a natural cave, where stalagmites, which are basically calcium deposits, have spurned up and look like the matted locks of Lord Shiva, and are worshipped as lingams. Though I didn’t count, it is said that there are 108 such lingams. Jata means hair and Shankar is another name of Lord Shiva, hence the name Jata Shankar. Water drips from the surface of the rock above.

          There are 2 ponds on its 2 sides and near one of the rocks a huge rock looks like floating in mid air or being perfectly balanced by the huge boulders. It is claimed that the source of water in one of the ponds is unknown; hence it is also called ‘Gupt Ganga’. The place was a bit crowded but we enjoyed the location.
Story of Bhasmasur:
          Lord Shiva once offered a boon to an asura and he asked that any creature he touched should be burnt to ashes. No sooner did the asura get this power, he tried it on Lord Siva itself. Shiva fled to Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu took the form of Mohini, the enchantress. The asura fell in love and asked Mohini to marry him. Mohini agreed only if the asura could dance like she could. So they danced and during one step, while imitating Mohini, the asura touched his head and was instantly reduced to ashes. This asura was Bhasmasura and Shiva is said to have fled to these caves at Jata Shankar when the asura was following him.

Amba Bai Temple
Jai Maa Ambe
          This temple is situated on the road from Pipariya to Pachmarhi and from this temple; one can see the ruins of a Begum Palace which is mentioned in the number of points to be shown to the tourist.
The temple houses shrines of other Gods and Goddesses other than Amba Bai.

Pandav Caves

One of the larger Pandava Caves
          To get to the Pandav Caves, one walks through a garden, decorated with flower and cactus plants. The structure doesn’t look as enthralling since quite some work has been done upon it for the visiting tourist. There are railings built over the rock cut steps leading to the caves. There is not much to look at except if you can visualize and go back to the time of the exile of the Pandavas and know that they stayed here for some time. You wonder though how the mighty Bhima would have found it comfortable in these small caves. It is said that Arjuna, disguised as a eunuch taught music to Nagpati and wedded the daughter of Nagraj Vasu, who lived in Nagdwari about 15 Km from Pachmarhi.
          Photographers throng you to click and deliver a photo in 5 minutes but with the advent of the digicam and everyone having their top class DSLRs nowadays, sooner or later these guys are going to run out of business
          There are eating and drinking stalls outside the garden in case you are hungry.

Gupt Mahadev

Guarding the gates of Gupt Mahadev - Jai Veer Hanuman!!
          The road to salvation isn’t easy and if you have more ounces of flab on your stomach, it becomes more difficult. To reach the temple or rather cave of Gupt Mahadev, a small walk is required through the forest full of monkeys. All guides will warn you of the monkeys and to not carry eatables, but people don’t stop monkeying around and the monkeys do the needful. They believe in snatching, not begging. In fact, all over Pachmarhi, you need to be extremely careful of these monkeys because they can prove to be very dangerous. After about 5 minutes of walking, you come face to face with a huge Hanuman statue painted gloriously in orange. The shrine or Shivling is hidden deep inside a cave where the passage is so narrow that only 1 person can enter at a time and that too the person needs to walk sideways as there is not enough space to walk straight forward. A fat lady in front of us tried to go in but the moment she saw the narrow passage, she got terrified that she will get stuck and came back. Since the shrine is hidden, it is called as Gupt i.e. hidden, Mahadev meaning Lord Shiva.
          Lord Shiva is an ascetic and loves the Datura flower and the bel leaves and offerings are made to him of these. It’s amazing how these places were discovered in the first place. At a time only 6 to 7 people can enter the cave, one by one, else it becomes very claustrophobic.
A path from Gupt Mahadev leads to Chauragarh, another Shiva temple and a tourist destination, but the climb is pretty steep with 1250 steps and it takes almost 5 hours visiting the shrine and returning.

          Saw a giant flying squirrel couple and their nest. This animal, also called the 'Shekru' is just wonderful and its coat is a shiny reddish brown with a long fluffy tail.

Bada Mahadev

          This temple is in a large cave around 60 feet long with water dripping on the Shivling as well as inside the cave. There is a small pond inside the cave where devotees and Sadhus take a dip during Nagpanchami and MahaShivratri. The cave of Goddess Parvati is situated nearby. As you walk ahead from the cave of Goddess Parvati, up the hill, you see large Trishuls covered with black cloth. I am presuming this denotes Kaal Bhairav.
          There is a big Hanuman temple also in the premises and there is a floating stone brought from Kanyakumari - talk of miracles!!

          The mythological belief is that Lord Vishnu, in the form of Mohini killed the Asura king Bhasmasur here.
          Beware of the monkeys. One of the monkeys tried to snatch the bag from my sister-in-laws hands. Another monkey jumped on my nephew and held to my mothers’ sari. At Gupt Mahadev, an angry monkey pushed a small girl from a high platform and if she wasn’t caught in time, would have been badly bruised. Please don’t throw stones at the monkeys cause if they start doing the same, their won’t be any respite. You are in their area, they are not in yours, please remember that.
Priyadarshini & Handi Khoh

A layered look at the Priyadarshini point
          Captain Forsyth discovered Pachmarhi from here and Indira Gandhis’ visit here gave it its name viz. Priyadarshini. You get a view of the valleys and the surrounding landscape from here. The points and valleys of Mahabaleshwar are much better than this.
You can take a small horse ride, eat boiled chana, bhel, nimpu paani and spend some time here though I didn’t find it too enthralling.
          Handi Khoh is a similar view point and one can see parts of Handi Khoh from Priyadarshini. It is a deep ravine formed in a V-shape, created by the adjacent gigantic hills. It is said that a British officer called Handi committed suicide from this point, hence its name.

Nauka Vihar (lake)

Paddling it out at the Nauka Vihar - Aadhe idhar dekho, aadhe udhar, baaki camera me..
          We then went to the Nauka Vihar post our lunch. It is a lake like other lakes and paddle boats are available for 2 people and 4 people at a cost of INR 90 for 30 minutes.
          As we paddled with the sun in our faces, my nephew, the great navigator steering the boat, left us stranded near the shallow waters as our boat was stuck in the muddy waters and refused to budge. Help arrived, our boat was pushed and we were back on the calm waters.
The Nauka Vihar is more of a picnic spot with small games, rides and eating joints at its banks.

Rajendragiri (Sunset Point)

Beautiful Sunset at Rajendragiri!!
          By now we were tired as we moved to the last point on our itinerary for today, the Sunset point of Rajendragiri. You walk through a maintained garden having a statue of the great Dr.Rajendra Prasad. The hills of the Satpura range can be seen from here. As you walk to the edge of the garden, you come to a cemented flat patch at the end of the hillock. Was surprised to see a huge crowd of people gathered to see the sun set, as if they had their seats reserved or as if waiting for a feast. As the sky turned a distinct orange, we returned back to our hotel.

The other tourist destinations, which we didn’t have time to visit, are:
Bee fall: The height of this waterfall is about 150 feet. It is also known as Jamuna Prapat It gives a feel of Milky Way when water comes down. It is one of the most spectacular water falls of Pachmarhi.
Dhoopgarh: It is the highest point in Pachmarhi and visitors throng here to view the sunrise and sunset.
Apsara Vihar: Apsara Vihar is a naturally formed kund and visitors prefer taking a dip here.
Rajat fall: Rajat Water fall is around a kilometer away from Apsara Vihar. Here waterfalls down from a height of about 350 feet.
Dutch fall: Dutch Fall is another beautiful waterfall in Pachmarhi.

Reechgarh: Due to the type of construction it gives an appearance of Fort to Reachgarh. It has 3 entrance gates. It is surrounded by the hills from all the three sides.

Tourist pointers
Eating options: There are a few good eating joints or hotels in Pachmarhi but most of them offer vegetarian food. If you need some non-veg food, there is a small hotel adjacent to the Hotel Indraprastha or take a left from here and there are other hotels like Bombay Hotel’ and ‘Hotel Garib Nawaz’. There are good shops near these hotels where you can do a bit of your shopping.
Don’t miss the ‘paani puri’ opposite Hotel Indraprastha near the market area – very nice!
Staying Options: Depending on your budget, there are enough choices for accommodation near the market place and close to the tourist spots. Please enquire about the tax you need to pay before you book your hotel.
Travelling Options: If you are travelling from Pipariya to Pachmarhi, you need to take a private vehicle (charging INR 750) or you can take the bus which is available just outside the station (you need to enquire on the bus timings). If one doesn’t have his own vehicle, one compulsorily needs to hire a vehicle (mostly a gypsy – open or covered) or take the bus available at Hotel Highlands (please enquire) which takes you through a fixed route and the fixed 7-8 points. Though some of the points can be covered by foot, the others need a vehicle and there are no buses, autos or Tongas in Pachmarhi.
Shopping Options: You can shop for memorabilia at the small shops in the market. For the female species, there are bangles, necklaces, shoes etc. For the religious kind, there is a lot of stuff.
Taxes and tolls: To visit the points like Bee fall, Apsara Vihar, Dutch fall, Reechgarh and Dhoopgarh, one has to shell out INR 300 as toll tax since it is a part of the forest area. You may be charged a little extra for a guide.
For reaching Pachmarhi from Pipariya, one has to pay INR 40 + 30 as toll tax.

          Overall, I didn’t like Pachmarhi much and would have been better of spending another day sightseeing in Bhopal. So, you won’t see pictures of some of the sights we visited as I was too tired to take out my camera and click.

Sleepy cold faces on the train to Pipariya

Standing tall in Pachmarhi

Hotel Highland reception

Hotel Highland

Hotel Highland

Covered up!

Kitty kitty bang bang

Tour bus

Me what doing..chuha eating tooth

On the way to Jata Shankar

Huge mountains en route to Jata Shankar

Har Har Mahadeo

Near Jata Shankar caves

The holy waters near the cave

Perfect balance...hanging in mid air

High and higher....

Ae Ganpat chal daaru chai laa
Our rooms at Hotel Highland


Amba Bai Temple

The ruins of the so called Begum Palace from the Amba Bai temple

Entrance to the Amba Bai Temple

Wild Gypsy, wilder ride

To the Pandav Caves

Way to the caves

Something to keep the Pandavas happy during their exile

Chetak and the Maharana

Towards Priyadarshini
Having a darshan at Priyadarshini

Ready for take off - the Flying Squirrel

Shake shake my Shekru

An offering to the Lord - at Gupt Mahadeo

Love between the King and his subjects at Gupt Mahadeo

Lifes ups & downs

Sunset at Rajendragiri

Aye car, tujhpe hai pyaar


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