After a silent spell, yours truly is back with stories: this time from India’s heartland. Before moving to North-East India, we lived in Madhya Pradesh for nearly four years. However, during that time, we could explore only a few places due to various reasons. Now that we are back in the state’s capital, our determination to visit as many places as possible is renewed. It has been six months of living in Bhopal, but with zero blogs. It is not that the travel had paused during the past months: one needs to be in a specific state of mind to tell the stories.

During the last week of March, When we saw a long weekend marked on the calendar, we packed our bags and set the navigation to Pachmarhi. Nestled in the Satpura ranges, Pachmarhi is the only hill station in Madhya Pradesh and is the ultimate weekend getaway for nature lovers in and around Bhopal. It was a hot and sunny drive, but only till we reached the edge of the jungle. As we started our ascent, the deciduous teak forests started giving way to Sal trees and the breeze turned cool and crisp. The scenery changed rather dramatically, from a dull, ghostly jungle of leafless trees to a verdant hillside. We stopped to get a better view of the deep gorges by the road, only to receive a stern warning from a passing policeman, to be on our way, as stopping within the jungle is prohibited.

Pachmarhi was a cantonment area during the pre-independence period. Currently, the town has a limited population as most of the area is under the administration of the Indian Army’s cantonment board. Pachmarhi has retained several cottages from colonial times, which are now converted to hotels. Most of the tourist attractions are within the jungle surrounding the town and need entry-passes which are easily obtained from the local forest office. The next morning, we visited the forest office and purchased the passes, and were provided with an accompanying forest guide, as well as a vehicle with a 4-wheel drive. Our guide was an enthusiastic young girl, one among twelve women trained to guide tourists in and around Pachmarhi.

We set off to Bee Falls, comfortably seated in the backseat of the Gypsy. Most of the attractions in Pachmarhi need at least a few hundred metres of trekking to reach and Bee Fall was no different. After climbing down several steps, we reached the falls, brightly shimmering in the sunlight. The place was quite crowded, even though it was an off-season month. I was also surprised to see water in the falls, given that the monsoons were long over. Apparently, the waterfalls in Pachmarhi never go dry: the hills are made of sandstone, which stores rainwater and releases them as natural streams throughout the year. One can see layers of pebbles interspersed in the sandstone rocks: perhaps an indicator of volcanic activity millions of years ago. After a tiresome climb back, our guide insisted that we dip our feet in a pool slightly upstream of Bee Falls; and we did so. It took me a moment to realize what the ticklish sensation on my feet was- fishes! We sat there, enjoying a free fish spa, watching monkeys snatch the unattended bags of the unsuspecting jungle-spa goers.

We also visited a few other waterfalls- Silver Falls (Rajat Prapat), Fairy Pool (Apsara Vihar) and Irene Pool: all of which required some amount of cardio to reach. Pachmarhi is also famed for its caves; in fact, the name Pachmarhi means five caves. There is a human-made structure called Pandava caves, which is thought to be either made by Buddhist monks or as legend has it, was used by the Pandavas during their time in exile. To me, Reechgarh- a huge natural cave seemed more interesting, where a narrow opening leads to a massive amphitheatre. Similar rock shelters can also be seen at Bhimbetka, which is a UNESCO world heritage site known for its pre-historic cave paintings. Later that evening, we went to Dhoopgarh, which is the highest point in the state. An enterprising lady had set up a telescope there, offering people a look at the hills through it, for a nominal charge of ten rupees. We too, took turns at the telescope while she explained the view. Before returning to the hotel, we booked the Gypsy for another day, to visit a few more places not included in the forest department’s daily package and to visit the nearby Satpura tiger reserve.

The next day we went to the Satpura tiger reserve for an afternoon jungle safari; aptly named “buffer mein safar”. Satpura has very few animal sightings, but they do compensate by taking the tourists on a longer route. The ride was calming and enjoyable for us, but our vehicle startled a few langurs who were lazily lounging on the treetops. Besides the langurs, we saw a lone Chinkara deer sitting in the shade. Those were the only wild animals we saw, apart from a Malabar giant squirrel which we saw on the first day near Bee Falls. On the way back from reserve, I saw a lone camel taking a leisurely walk along Pachmarhi’s main road. “That camel was trained to give rides to tourists in the town”, said the guide. “But one day, it started biting people and so it was set free. Now, the naughty camel roams the streets of Pachmarhi and even ventures downhill at times”.

As we drove back to Bhopal, I thought of the camel. The camel complied with people on its back for a long time, till it decided that its back was broken. Sometimes one needs to give a little nip here and there to say enough is enough, to be able to roam the figurative streets at one’s own will. Pachmarhi will stay in our memories for a long time- for the natural beauty, the colonial cottages, the safari without tigers, and of course, the camel who had enough.

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