Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A trip down memory lane

Shefali Tripathi Mehta, May 18, 2014 :

I continued to write Allahabad in the space for “hometown” in school forms for many years after we had stopped visiting with the siblings having flown the nest, and parents caught up in life’s unending commitments, their dream of retiring there slowly petering away.

As the past begins to slip though the invisible sieve of the years, our hold tightens on the little that is left; on what can still be had. The journey back to the city that formed the background to every childhood tale, dinner-time conversation and the benchmark of what everything must be measured against, was inevitable.

One cannot help being sucked into history in the colonial city of Allahabad dotted with quaint bungalows and streets named Hamilton, Clive, Hastings or Elgin. But the remnants are crumbling away fast. A more modest dwelling stands in place of grandfather’s colonial bungalow with its large grounds, dog houses, fruit trees and a lily pond; where as a kid, I took my first wobbling bicycle lessons; and where my aeronautical engineer uncle had a motor workshop, in which Chevrolets and Cadillacs were refitted and we kids got free rides through the city.   

Footprints in history 

Once in every six years for the Ardh Kumbh and the Kumbh, Allahabad becomes the focus of world media. With the Army taking over the management of the mother of all melas, more and more people — believers and spectacle watchers alike, feel encouraged to travel to Allahabad. The Yamuna and the Ganga, flowing from the Himalayas, running parallel, meet here. Just before it loses itself into the Ganga, the Yamuna seems to cradle this historic city.

Forming the Triveni Sangam, the confluence of three holy rivers — with the Ganga and the Yamuna is the now subterranean Saraswati. Boatmen will take you to the exact spot of the confluence where the faithful take a dip on wooden planks raised into the waters to wash away their sins. The boatmen will point to where the waters from the two rivers mingle — one distinctly dark, the other milky white.

Along the southern edge of the city, on the banks of the Yamuna, stands a magnificent fort. Emperor Akbar constructed it in 1583. It was he who rechristened Prayag as Allahabad, the city of Allah. Hsuan Tsang visited Prayag during Harshavardhana’s reign in the 6th century and he too mentions a fort with a stupa and walls a 100 feet high on the banks of the Yamuna. So, an Ashokan fort probably existed on this site before Akbar built or restored it. An Ashokan pillar is now within the fort.

Mark Twain visited Allahabad in 1895-96 and wrote about the Kumbh and the fort, which he called “a large experience in religions”, because it was built by a Muslim ruler, it housed a Buddhist monolith, Hindu temples, and ‘now the fort belongs to the English, it contains a Christian church. Insured in all the companies’, he wrote. To the west of the fort is a 20-feet-long idol of a reclining Hanuman. During floods, that are an annual occurrence, the rise of the waters is measured by the number of times the idol is submerged, or in local-speak, by how many times Gangaji comes in to bathe Hanuman. Apparently, last year, he was bathed seven times.

It was in Allahabad’s Alfred Park that Chandra Shekhar Azad, on being surrounded by the British Police, shot himself in the head, preferring death to surrender. The park was renamed Chandrashekhar Azad Park.

Poets & politicians

Of all the famous people that have lived in Allababad, the poet Nirala; Rudyard Kipling, who incidentally never grew to like the city; Jnanpith Award and Nehru Peace Prize recipient, poet Sumitranandan Pant; Mahadevi Verma and Firaq Gorakhpuri, both Jnanpith Award recipients; and Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan, the city was the family home of the Nehrus. Anand Bhavan, the palatial home of the Nehrus since 1900, which served as the ferment of the Indian freedom struggle, is now a museum that displays the colonial lifestyle of the first family of India and documents the political happenings of the time.

The Jawahar Planetarium is within the same complex. In the Allahabad of today, the new Yamuna bridge, which connects Allahabad with the neighbouring city of Naini, is an architectural feat — the country’s longest cable-stayed bridge. It takes the load off the charming, double-decked Naini Bridge that has trains running on its top deck and the roadways below. The new bridge offers beautiful vistas of the Yamuna and the city skyline.

A childhood taste that lingers on the tongue as memories scud through the mind is that of the midget samosa — ghee-coated, crisp and golden on the outside and a tangy burst of taste inside brought in by relatives or visitors from Allahabad — Hari ke samose. Poets and politicians alike have all fallen for this delectable Allahabad speciality. Hari ke Namkeen in the Chowk area is a city landmark also famous for its dalmoth and the fried avvakai or seam seeds.

The famous chaats, jalebis, puas, balushahis, mathris called from every street corner, and I finally did succumb to the pleasure of the savoury khaja — its salty wafer melting in the mouth and the crumbling flakes making a fine mess of an adult savouring childhood memories.

 Allahabad is also home to the sweetest guavas, attributed to its soil quality. A winter-ripened fruit is large, fleshy, with fewer seeds and of a distinctly superior quality. A picture of me picking guavas in my chachi’s backyard drew quite a few envious comments.

A heart in denial of goodbyes, says, surely we will return another day knowing well how the journey of life leads us away, sometimes offering the chance to return to all that was lovely and dear, only in memories. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Drops that make a city

Shefali Tripathi Mehta, July 22, 2012

Shefali Tripathi Mehta sails through the many lakes of Bhopal, soaking up some history and pointing out to other sights of natural wonder along the way.

Bhopal, in the heart of central India with its lush forests and wildlife, is known as the city of lakes for the numerous natural and artificial lakes that highlight its beauty and pleasant climate. Besides the two better-known Upper (Bada) and Lower (Chota) lakes, the Motia Talab, the Shahpura Lake and the Hussain Baksh Ki Talaiya form a vital hub of the city’s social, cultural and historic milieu.

History has it...

There is an old saying about the Upper Lake of Bhopal, “Taalon mein taal Bhopal ka taal, baaqi sab tallaiya,” which loosely means that all the rest are ponds compared to it. The largest artificial lake in Asia, it sits in the heart of the city and winds its way around its south-western hills to flow away into the River Kaliasote.

In the 11th century, Raja Bhoj, the Parmara King of Malwa who ruled from Dhar, founded the city of Bhojpal, which later came to be known as Bhopal. Legend has it that he was advised to bathe in the waters of 365 rivers to cure him of an ailment. So 365 tributaries were made to converge and the Upper Lake was formed by constructing a clay dam across the Kolans river.

Till the early 16th century, Bhopal was a small village in the kingdom of the Gond tribes. The exquisitely beautiful Gond Queen Rani Kamlapati, who ruled from Ginnaur, was said to float around the Lower Lake of Bhopal on moonlit nights on a lotus-shaped barge.  Her life and rule ended abruptly when she hired an Afghan mercenary, Dost Mohammed Khan, to avenge the killing of her husband, Nizam Shah Gond. Dost Mohammed usurped her throne and invited her into his harem, leaving her with no other choice but to jump into the lake to save her honour. The ruins of her palace overlooking the Lower Lake still stand. The scary tales of her spirit lingering there kept us, as kids, away from the southern part of what is known as the Kamala Park. 

The city of undulating hills runs in a horseshoe around the Upper Lake, leaving it free in the southwest to blend into the horizon and display breathtaking sunsets each evening. The tranquil beauty of these sunsets is best enjoyed from the vantage points atop the two high hills on either side of the lake — the Shymala and the Idgah Hills. Just as the sun dips and the skies darken, the twinkling city lights in the valley town below present another quiet spectacle.

The Van Vihar National Park runs along the lake in the south and the wooded Takia island, a small island with the tomb of the Shah Ali Shah Rahamatullah, adds ethereal beauty to it. The lake is a haven for migratory birds like the white stork, the black-necked stork, the bar-headed goose, the spoonbill and the majestic Indian sarus crane.

Boating wasn’t such a common thing to do in our lakes back then. Some boats on the Lower Lake offered the recreation, but the pucca Bhopalees were content to watch. We were careful to not linger for too long after dark at the then ‘unsafe’ road along the Upper Lake up to the Yatch Club.

Now there is a swank new boulevard with neat flower beds and painted rails along the length of the Upper Lake. Dotted with restaurants and ice cream stalls, balloon sellers and peanut vendor carts, the scene in the evenings is more of a fair. India’s first National Sailing Club has been set up at the Boat Club and offers water skiing and para-sailing among other water sports. Motor boats zoom across the lake and an artificial rotating fountain spins on it at sundown.

Towards the north, where the ruins of forts and palaces of the old city dipped their feet into its waters, the VIP Road runs along the lake, connecting the city to the international airport. In 2011, the government gifted the city a statue of the tribal king, Raja Bhoj, which stands in the lake. The lake was also renamed ‘Bhoj Taal’ in his honour.

Among the other notable lakes, in the north of the city, are the Motia Talab, the Hussain Baksh Ki Talaiya and the Noor Mahal Talab, all within the precincts of the historic Taj Mahal Palace. The placid Motia Talab reflects like a mirror, the crown among mosques, the Tajul Masajid. In the posh, new part of the city is the Shahapura Lake constructed in the 1970s. Home to an amazing variety of resident and migratory birds, it is an oasis among the concrete human settlements. There are several other seasonal lakes dotting the landscape and adding charm to this beautiful city of lakes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Barrier-free Sanchi

by Shefali Tripathi Mehta, Mar 11, 2012 : Heritage

School and college trips invariably took us to Sanchi, just a few hours from Bhopal. We looked forward to such trips, except for the history lessons. And god knows how difficult it is to run from history when in Sanchi. So, I am not ashamed to confess that we found Sanchi rather monotonous. Also, in those days, the landscape was stark and even the winter sun felt harsh. But history grows slowly on some.

During subsequent visits, the ‘book in stone’ was slowly deciphered and devoured. Insight alone leads to appreciation. Yes, I could see the yakshini with the ‘bobbed hair’, discern the danam in Sanskrit engraved before the names of thousands of donors and take in the stories from the life of Buddha, beautifully etched in stone. History began to pulsate.

How did Sanchi, this sleepy, little remote town in a remote part of Madhya Pradesh come to be such an important Buddhist landmark? Curiously, I discovered that Sanchi had more to do with the Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka the Great, than with the life of Buddha.

Ashoka’s first brush with Buddhism happened when he was sent by his father, Emperor Bindusara, to suppress an uprising in Ujjain. Ashoka was injured in battle and was nursed in hiding by Buddhist monks and nuns. Among his caregivers was Devi, a follower of Buddhism and the daughter of a merchant from the neighbouring town of Vidisha, whom he had married. Devi, one of Ashoka’s many wives, was also the mother of his children Mahindra and Sanghamitra, who later took Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

After Ashoka turned benevolent witnessing the bloodshed of Kalinga, he published his edicts — his policies of rule based on ahimsa, mercy, respect for all religions; and examples of leading an enlightened life — on pillars that were erected all over his kingdom. Over the centuries, as Buddhism declined in India, much of the ancient Buddhist monuments fell to ruins. In 1818, a British General, Mark Taylor, discovered on a small hill in Sanchi, obscured by thick foliage, a great Buddhist stupa and almost 50 other ancient stone structures around it.

The stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars of Sanchi date from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD. The ‘Great Stupa’ at Sanchi is the oldest stone structure in India and was originally commissioned by Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. At 16 m in height and 36 m in diameter, it stands majestically with a paved procession path, walkway or pradakshina, and four exquisitely carved gateways in four directions. A balustrade encircles the entire structure. The carvings on each of the four gateways depict stories from Buddha’s life — the Jataka tales, Buddha’s renunciation of worldly life and enlightenment, the dream of maya, and his incarnations.

There are two other prominent stupas, a great stone food bowl, many temples and monasteries. The Ashokan pillar with its crown of the four lions, which has been adopted as India’s national emblem, is also among these. Only the highly polished shaft of the pillar remains here, though the crown has been removed to the museum.

My renewed interest in this UNESCO World Heritage site arose from it being recently made completely barrier-free and disabled-friendly, thanks to the efforts of a Bhopal-based voluntary organisation, Arushi.

What does it mean to make a historical site, a tourist spot, barrier-free when stepping out anywhere else in this country cannot guarantee such? Most roads have been widened to make place for more cars. Pavements for walkers are non-existent. Every few steps of public walking space is riddled with danger for the disabled — missing sewer covers, dug-out drains, uneven surfaces littered with muck and debris. How it must constrain the daily lives of persons with disabilities to access any public space — cinema, bank, railway station or library where there are no ramps or railings?

The stupas are now completely wheelchair accessible and have signages and information plaques in Braille, special tactile walkways, beepers and a Braille map that allow people with disabilities too to experience the splendour of the monuments.

The staff and the guides at the stupas have also been trained and sensitised towards the needs of tourists with disabilities, including wheelchair users and those with visual impairment. It is a befitting tribute to the benign emperor who bequeathed the teachings of Buddha to posterity. By creating an inclusive environment at this site, we honour the ideals of equality and humanism that these great lives exemplify.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Blushing Welcome

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Jaipur is a city of contrasts, a city that embraces the future without forgetting its past, notes Shefali Tripathi Mehta , after a walk through Rajasthan’s capital.

Squeezing myself through the sea of people thronging Jaipur’s Johri Bazaar (the jewellers’ market), I am beset by guides and sellers alike.

“See and buy,” I have been warned, but am totally unaware that as I walk past these pink-faced shops selling chooran, bedsheets, skirts, saris, jewellery and antiques, I will suddenly come face-to-face with the magnificent Hawa Mahal. The pink sandstone facade, five-stories high, dwarfs everything around, yet blends completely with its humble surroundings.

This is the uniqueness of the city — the wonderful amalgamation of old and new; of tradition and modernity; of the richness; of a secular culture and life with a scientific vision for the future. Swanky glass and concrete malls, an international airport, a world trade park and lifestyle stores stand shoulder to shoulder with the grand, graceful heritage buildings; local taxis, BMWs and Nanos zip past cycle rickshaws; people throng McDonalds and LMB (Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar, established in 1727) alike.

A city so firmly entrenched in its rich culture embraces all that is new and forward, without losing its essential character. Just like the petite foreigner in a turquoise sari and wrists full of glass bangles sitting on a stool by the dusty street getting a henna pattern drawn on her palms.

Of wares and wherefores

This shoppers’ paradise around Hawa Mahal takes you up to the twin markets — Bapu and Nehru Bazaars, where you will be welcomed as if it were your own home and also be made to feel like the shops’ delightful wares were being offered to you for free. This is where all your bargaining power must come to play.

Cross the arched gateway, the Sanganeri Gate, and suddenly out of the chaos of the colourful bazaars, the wayward cycle rickshaws and smoke-belching auto rickshaws, you come upon the sprawling Ram Niwas Gardens with fountain squares, shady trees and broad avenues. Once adorned by lush lawns, a dry grass stubble now covers the empty grounds, but does nothing to diminish the grandeur of the imposing Central Museum that sits serenely at its heart. The Albert Hall (as it was formerly known as) is a fine example of Indo-Islamic or what evolved as the Indo-Saracenic architecture — ornamental arches, carved brackets, fluted pillars and filigree-latticed parapets. The museum houses an extraordinary collection of rare traditional arts and crafts, paintings, sculptures, textiles and even a 2,300-year-old Egyptian mummy.

Go further south on the wide and sweeping Jawaharlal Nehru or JLN Marg, and you will be treated to the sight of the beautiful Birla Mandir on the hillock, and just off the road, tucked behind on Moti Doongri or MD Road, the historic Ganesh Temple built in 1761.

Looming over these landmarks is the picturesque Moti Doongri Fort on the hilltop. Built to look like a Scottish castle, this was the residence of the Rajmata of Jaipur, Maharani Gayatri Devi, till her demise in 2009.

Heritage walk

Going back into history, we must start with the Amer Fort and Palace, where the royals lived before setting up the city of Jaipur. A ride up this fort that encloses palaces, pavilions, gardens and temples on a sashaying elephant is indeed a royal experience.

The Sheesh Mahal with its entire walls and ceiling inlaid with coloured glass and mirrors — the Palace of Mirrors — is a glittering favourite. Sunset from this fort with a magnificent view of the city below has been described in a poem by one of the English friends of the royals:

An amber sunset greets me
And the sun begins to sink
While far below us, Jaipur town
Awaits in twinkling pink.

The most recognised landmark of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal, is part of the City Palace complex. Shaped like Krishna’s crown and looking like a giant honey-comb, it was a look-out for the ladies of the royal household who maintained strict purdah.

Overlooking the main street of the old city from this royal gallery, women could watch street life and processions. It offers a mystical view at sunrise, when the soft pink light glows and filters through its 953 windows.

The City Palace itself is a grand structure in the heart of the city. Now part museum, Maharani Gayatri Devi wrote about its collection in her memoir: “Moghul and Rajput paintings executed on the finest rice paper, the lines traced with a single-hair brush, and the paints mixed with the costliest and most brilliant ingredients: ground rubies, lapis lazuli, gold ...” She describes golden daggers and “guns with barrels bound with gold and butts inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl swords encrusted with precious stones.”

Close by is the Jantar Mantar observatory built between 1727 and 1734, a UNESCO world heritage site. It is an example of the scientific temper of the rulers and their interest in astronomy. The enormous stone observation devices built then still provide precise results.

Pink City

The city of Jaipur was built on the principles of the ancient Vaastu and Shilpa Shastras. Maharani Gayatri Devi writes, “In the 18th century, when Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh moved his capital from Amber to Jaipur, he commissioned Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, the best architect and town planner of that time. Vidyadhar Bhattacharya built a walled city of unparalleled beauty. It had broad roads, perfect symmetry and civic sense for the inhabitants. Jai expanded the capital beyond the city walls — hospitals, schools, colleges, the university, the secretariat and residential colonies were all built during his reign.”

In 1876, the city was painted pink to honour the visiting Prince of Wales (King Edward VII), a colour scheme that is still respected and maintained by the locals to a large extent.

There is an interesting anecdote about how the title Sawai, meaning one and a quarter, was bestowed on the Jaipur maharajas. Jai Singh once made a clever quip before Emperor Aurangzeb who was so impressed with his quick wit that he observed that Jai Singh was more than one, one and a quarter, or sawai; a title that has since been conferred on successive descendents. Similarly, the city has two flags — one whole and another, quarter sized.

Street life

One can spot the locals in their traditional dress everywhere. The Rajputana women wear ghagra and choli with a long veil, a borla, and ivory bangles that start from the wrist and go all the way up the arm. The bright colours of their dress and that of the men’s pagri might have been a step to add colour to the arid desert landscape of Rajasthan.

For a good dekko of the Rajasthani culture, life and food, a visit to the Chokhi Dhani is a tourist must-do. Most aspects of the local life have been encapsulated very authentically within this village resort close to town.

To say that Jaipur is a shoppers’ paradise is to state the obvious. The shops have the tendency to attract even a hardcore non-shopper, who will soon tire of saying no to themselves.

Among the fun things to buy are street clothes and jewellery, bandhani and laharia prints, sanganari prints, cotton razais, Jaipuri juttis (embroidered shoes) and lac bangles inlaid with glittery stones. Then, there are the antiques, precious and semi-precious stones and jewellery, miniature paintings and blue pottery.

On the food list, I would list the rich, creamy lassi being dished out in clay pots on MI (Mirza Ismail) Road, at the top. The historic LMB (Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar, Johri Bazar) is famous for chaats, sweets, snacks and meals. The pyaz ki kachori (onion kachori), crisp jelebi, ghewar are other Jaipur delicacies available at most street halwais.

Best time to visit is early winter. Summers and winters are harsh. During Diwali, the markets are beautifully lit. On Makar Sankranti, the skies are festooned with multi-coloured kites. The festivals of Teej and Gangaur are celebrated with fervour.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

For bliss-starved souls

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Weekend Getaway
For bliss-starved souls
Shefali Tripathi Mehta

The setting is perfect for a city-battered heart that longs for calm. It's a quiet getaway nestled in a hushed little village on a small island surrounded by placid lakes.

Alleppey greets me with open arms. The lush Kerala landscape flaunts its splendour everywhere. The eternal resonance of gently flowing water sets the pace for unhurried days. The rhythmic swish-swish of palms draws one deeper into the folds of this pristine land. The clear blue above turns spectacularly kaleidoscopic at sunrise and sundown. And at night, the darkness is studded with the light of a thousand glow worms.

The resort I was put up in is a two-hour drive from the Alleppey railway station. The sudden greenery of Kerala overwhelms the senses as you ride through quaint, scenic villages — your coir mattress most likely came from here. The only way to get to the resort or to the cottages on the other end is through boats. Venice of the East, oh yes!

A canoe ride around the lake during the day or at sunset is a must do. The vista is absolutely awe inspiring. The expanse of the glassy waters reaching the horizon and the verdant fringes of the lush land tipping into the lakes are a dream interspersed with the sight of people busy doing their daily chores and children running along, chortling — it is an exhilarating experience.
A walk through the village of Thrikunnapuzha is fascinating. Every household is engaged in spinning coir — the husk of coconut, which is used to make ropes. As you step into the quiet village, an invitation into a home will soon follow and you will end up trying your hand at making some coir. And it is not as easy as it looks.

You could take long walks on these traffic-free roads for a glimpse into the tranquil village life. We walked till we suddenly touched the main road. Soon, a roadways bus came along and unhesitatingly we got on to take a ride to the marketplace for three rupees.

And if you are in the mood to explore a little, a two-hour drive will take you to the Alleppey beach, which is beautiful at sundown but very mela-like. The Krishnapuram Palace and museum, which houses a 50 square meter mural, the largest in Kerala, is engaging, if a little far. The R-Block areas where paddy is cultivated in land reclaimed from the backwaters, almost four to ten feet below sea level, can be viewed from a cruise. Also, 30 km away, at Haripad, is the famous Sree Nagaraja Temple, a shrine for the king of serpents. It is headed by women priests and set within acres of lush forest.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Town with a colonial past: PACHMARHI (Madhya Pradesh)

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Hill station
Town with a colonial past
Shefali Tripathi Mehta

High up in the Satpura mountain ranges that rise to altitudes of more than 1,300 meters above sea level, like a verdant bowl, sits Pachmarhi. At the height of 1,067 meters, it is central India’s only claim to a hill station. Captain James Forsyth is credited with the discovery of this lush plateau.

Pachmarhi has a history of long battles between the British and the inhabitants of the Satpuras who had lived there for centuries. And it was only when their ruler, Raja Bhabhut Singh, was defeated in 1857 that the British took over. They declared the Satpura forest area as reserve forests, India’s first, and Pachmarhi with its invigorating climate was developed as a sanatorium for the British army in 1862. It became an army cantonment and the Army Education Corps Training College & Centre was established in 1921.

It is still, predominantly, a cantonment town and it is not uncommon to see platoons marching on the broad, tree-canopied, endless roads, or catch the musical notes wafting out of the military music wing on a wondrously silent evening. The lush landscape of Pachmarhi is dotted with old British bungalows, churches and cemeteries. Literally, a one-horse town, Pachmarhi used to have only one tonga as public transport till the early ‘80s.

Evening walks along never-ending, wide, no-vehicle roads were interrupted only by clouds descending and enveloping you in a mist for a few moments. By day, one could wade through clear streams and walk miles in the sun-dappled pine forests around town. More tourists have since discovered Pachmarhi, but the beauty is still unmarred. It is not crowded like the typical hill stations of Shimla-Manali and is an ideal place for a relaxed holiday.

Largely untouched even today, people throng to see the stunning natural sights of Pachmarhi — gigantic falls, clear pools, gaping ravines and breathtaking sunsets. Famed for its magnificent waterfalls and bathing pools, a dip in the crystal clear waters of a natural spring pool is a must-do in Pachmarhi.

The most famous waterfall, the Big Fall or the Rajat Prapat, which literally means silver falls, is so called because the water turns to a shimmering silver colour in the sunlight. It is a 350-foot, horsetail fall. Bee Fall is another spectacular sight that this hill station offers. The waterfall scatters wide as it cascades and the sound it makes is likened to the buzz of bees. A dip in the pool here is irresistible. Another stunning attraction is the Duchess Fall, which flows down in three cascades. To reach the base of the first, one must trek down a steep and rough track. All the pools at the falls are safe for swimming.

Dhoopgarh, the highest peak of the Satpuras, is a sunset point and commands a magnificent view of the Satpura ranges. The red sandstone hills and rock faces all round assume a crimson hue in the light of the setting sun. As opposed to this desolate landscape, Handi Khoh is a 300-foot-steep gorge amidst a dense forest cover.

The Pandavas are believed to have spent a part of their exile here in what is known as the Pandava Caves. Now a protected monument, these caves have lent Pachmarhi its name. There are several other places of religious significance, many of these dedicated to Lord Shiva. Around 1,200 steps lead up to Chauragarh where the devotees of Shiva congregate on Mahashivratri. Jatashankar is a formation of rocks in an underground cave that looks like the locks of Shiva.

The place has over a hundred shivlings and a stream runs through the cave. The source of the stream has remained a mystery, and therefore it is called the Gupt Ganga. There is also the Bada Mahadev and the Gupt Mahadev, other sites worth a visit.

Local attractions
- Pure honey and locally grown chironji nuts are good local products to buy.
- Pachmarhi can be visited year-round. n After the rains, Pachmarhi struts its beauty in lush greenery.
- The Jain, Gujarati, Maharashtrian thali meals are wholesome, light and quite suitably ‘unlimited’. They are a real treat.
- Places to stay range from the economy lodges and guest houses to exclusive cottages and heritage hotels run by Madhya Pradesh tourism. Jeeps can be hired for sightseeing.

How to get there
- Rail: The nearest and most convenient railhead is Pipariya, 47 km away, on the Itarsi-Jabalpur rail line.
- Air: The nearest airport is Bhopal (200 km).
- Road: Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation runs regular luxury bus service from Bhopal to Pachmarhi. Private and roadway buses as well as taxis are also available from Pipariya, Bhopal and other cities located nearby.