Madhya Pradesh is a destination of many faces. One shows the jungles of Kipling’s jungles, another shows the temples of Khajuraho. Yet another shows the face of mother Narmada, one of the holiest rivers in Hindu mythology and the list continues. We have visited this wonderful state of India several times in the past and this recent trip with MP Tourism just cemented our love for this wonderful region. We’ve often explained to our overseas friends how India cannot be taken as just a single country but more so a continent like European Union where every region / cluster of regions, speaks a different language, has of a different culture and boasts of a unique history to be proud of. Madhya Pradesh, one of the largest states in India offers unparalleled diversity in terms of wildlife, natural formations, cultural and historically significant destinations amongst others. We explored a very small part of this region in the limited time we had and found ourselves planning the next trip even before this trip ended. Our trip had us cover 3 unique destinations which we will introduce to you shortly. We’ve tried to write the post as a mix of a guide and travelogue so that it is possible for everyone who reads this to replicate the itinerary easily.
The following is a travelogue of the itinerary we followed for our trip exploring the destinations mentioned above.
Mode of journey: Flight: Ahmedabad to Jabalpur – Car: Jabalpur – Bandhavgarh – Amarkantak- Jabalpur – Flight: Jabalpur to Ahmedabad
Jabalpur is a city with an old heritage. Some Ashokan relics found here point towards it being a part of the Mauryan dynasty. History records it later being a part of the Satyavahana dynasty and Gupta dynasty as a city and vassal state respectively. It was later a seat of power for the Kalchuri dynasty, the Gond dynasty and Marathas before the British gave it its present name. Although it is a Tier 2 city in Madhya Pradesh, it remains an important city for both trade, tourism and cultural reasons. An interesting fact about this small city is that it was originally chosen to be the state capital after the Indian Independence when the state of Madhya Pradesh was formed. However due to a myriad of reasons, Bhopal became the state capital instead.
The city has good infrastructure with a number of activities catering to all age groups. We found the city very clean which shows the effort of both the government and the residents. Even the various walls across the city were adorned with murals and paintings evidently commissioned by the municipal corporation. Accommodations of all budgets can be found easily and the predominant language spoken is Hindi. A highly recommended target for MP Tourism to promote.
ACCOMODATION: Kalchuri Residency (MPSTDC) (***) | Vijan Mahal (*****)
DAY 1: JABALPUR
We started the day by covering parts of the old city market, the Kamaniya gate and having the famous khoya jalebi at Badkul, established in 1889. Cars are a big no when traversing the old city area and it is recommended to take either a cycle rikshaw or an autorikshaw to take you around. The prices are completely negotiable and depends on your haggling skills.
We then covered a couple of beautiful old churches including the English Methodist church (1874)which is only open for the public on Sundays. The High court complex (1889) is also beautiful and can easily be mistaken for a church owing to its colonial architecture.
We then visited the beautiful Shiva Temple in the Kachhnaar city area of Jabalpur which houses an enormous 76 feet tall open to sky statue of Lord Shiva in a seated position. The main draw of the temple is the statue, but the sprawling gardens around it provides a peaceful environment for both tourists and devouts to relax and enjoy the serenity of the place. The temple also houses the replicas of the 12 Jyotirlingas found in different regions across the country.
Our day wrapped up with the enchanting evening aarti on the ghats of the river Narmada. Popularly called the GwariGhat Narmada Aarti, it starts sharp at 19:00 and continues for 30 minutes. A treat to watch for its spiritual and visual experience, it can be considered a smaller but no less significant version of the more famous Ganga Aarti in Haridwar and Varanasi. One can participate in the aarti by just sitting on the cemented steps facing the river. It was perhaps one of the few times we felt like leaving the camera on the tripod and just experiencing the mesmerizing moment in front of us. This is a must do activity when in Jabalpur, infact it left such a deep impression that we could even recommend a special visit just for this aarti especially if you wish to partake in the ceremony minus the huge crowds.
DAY 2: JABALPUR
We started the day by visiting the famous Madan Mahal / Rani Durgawati Fort, named after the famous Gond rulers who built it. The beautiful small fort takes a bit of a climb to reach it but the ruins perched on a big boulder make for a wonderful sight. At the base of the climb is also the famous balancing rock where it is possible to sit below a huge boulder balanced on another piece of rock with only a few inches of contact with each other. We then left for Bedaghat to visit the breathtaking Dhuandhar falls and the enchanting boat ride through the Marble rocks. There are a few famous temples on the way which we visited. The Chausath Yogini Mandir is the only temple in the world which portrays Lord Shiva & Goddess Parvati sitting on Nandi, depicting their return to Lord Shiva’s abode after their wedding. The Bajnamath temple is one dedicated to Lord Bhairav who is the avatar of Lord Shiva as a guardian of the 52 Shakti Peeths scattered across India. PisanhariniMadiya is a Digambhar Jain Temple built by a simple flour grinder. The woman inspired by the preaching of a Jain monk decided to build a Jain temple. The temple is a standing testament to the hard work and dedication of the woman in building the temple where she invested her time, energy and all of her earnings in building the temple. At the end even that wasn’t enough and to adorn the head of the temple, she used the grinding stones which were her livelihood and also the most valuable things she possessed. Another must do is visiting atleast a few shops displaying the marble sculptures. Beware of cheap imitations in the form of soapstone sculptures which although cheaper and better to look at, are very fragile and may break in transit. The highlight of our day was definitely the entertaining boat ride where our oarsman cum guide cum singer took us through the journey in what can only be described as a musical. Witty one liners, rhyming couplets and ever so often, entire poems kept us clutching at our stomachs and cameras as the boat was expertly guided through the rock formations. We would recommend you visit during the sunset as we did as the changing hues of the white marble surfaces and its reflection on the river, are a delight to watch.
If you like road trips, you might like our Rajasthan roadtrip guide as well
DESTINATION: BANDHAVGARH NATIONAL PARK
Bandhavgarh was declared a National Park in 1968 and has a core protected area of 716 Km2with an extended buffer area of about 820 Km2. Best known for its high density of Tigers, it also has a significant population of leopards and different kinds of deer, namely sambhars, nilgai and chital. The Indian Bison or Gaur was recently introduced into the forest from Kanha after its own small indigenous population died from a cattle disease some years back. Although every safari comes with the thrill of not knowing when and if a predator will be spotted, the chances of spotting one in Bandhavgarh are definitely higher. This is despite the guides & jeep drivers not carrying any form of communication devices on them to coordinate with each other. The most famous residents of the forest were the tigers (and tigress) Charger &Sita. Most of the existing tigers in the national park are said to be descendants of the famous couple. Charger who once appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine is considered the second most photographed tiger in the world after Machli from Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. Charger, given his popularity, even had the erstwhile royalty of the region come visit him in his final days and has a memorial dedicated to him at the spot where he died. Underpromoted by MP Tourism despite being one of the best National Parks to see a Tiger in the wild.
ACCOMODATION: White Tiger Forest Lodge (MPSTDC) (***)
DAY 3: BANDHAVGARH
We started the day early to visit the Fossil Park at Dindori . The fossil park has a small museum with exhibits explaining the history of the region from the prehistoric times along with lovely visuals and lots of written matter which is self-explanatory and can be great for kids and adults alike. However the open museum or the open air fossil park is better traversed with a guide who can explain the significance of plant fossils at various locations. Also it is better to visit early in the morning or nearing the evening when the sun is less harsher especially in the warmer months. The drive to Bandhavgarhwasabout 3.5 hours from Jabalpur with great roads and lovely landscapes to accompany us. We reached in time for lunch and took the rest of the day off to relax.
DAY 4: BANDHAVGARH
A very early start to the morning saw us driving to the Magadhi Zone of the forest to experience a wildlife safari. Although we had seen tigers in the wild before, any wildlife safari has a unique thrill to it. The safari which probably deserves an entire writeup for itself was a wonderful experience and the national park is gorgeous. It was also the only national park we’ve visited which had a small area in the buffer zone where people could have some hot tea and packed breakfast in the forest setting. We were fortunate enough to catch a tiger sighting with full credit to the guide and our driver who heard the tiger growls and chital shrieks and then went on to track the tiger for over 30 minutes before it emerged from a clearing more than 3-4 Kms from where we had first noticed its presence. After the safari and a hearty lunch at our hotel we proceeded towards the Jwalamukhi temple in the Bandhavgarh village. The temple worships Goddess Jwalamukhi after the Jwalamukhi temple in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh which is known as one of the Shaktipeeths in India. A popular myth is that all Shaktipeeths represent a part of the body of Goddess sati/parvati who was divided into 51 parts by Lord Vishnu in order to calm down Lord Shiva who had gone made with rage after she had died. Jwalamukhi Ji represents the Goddess Sati’s tongue in the form of an eternal flame which is said to have been burning since thousands of years without being extinguished. The perfect day deserved a fitting end which we got via our kind hosts at Pugdundee Safari who entertained us with a lovely cultural performance by one of the tribes indigenous to the region and a romantic dinner in a clearing in the middle of the forest with good food and lanterns to keep us company.
You might like to read our previous story on our tiger sighting in Kabini
Amarkantak is a pilgrim town on the border of the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh. Popularly called the Teerthraj or king of pilgrimages, it is believed to be the place of worship for all three worlds. The poet Kalidas refers to it as Amrakoot and it is supposedly the place where he found salvation. The location of this town is unique because it is built where 3 mountain ranges meet, namely the Vindhya range, the Satpura range and the Maikal Hills. It is also the source of three rivers, Johila, Son & the Narmada. The Narmada is one of the holiest rivers in the Hindu religion and worshipped by millions of devout believers. As the source of the river, Amarkantak is naturally of great importance for pilgrims, especially for followers of Lord Shiva who believe that Narmada is the daughter of Lord Shiva & Goddess Ganga.
ACCOMODATION: Amarkantak Holiday Homes (MPSTDC)
DAY 5: AMARKANTAK
Although we were reluctant to part with Bandhavgarh, we had to leave early to reach Amarkantak (200 Kms and roughly 4 hours away) visiting Karopani Deer Park& the Patangarh village on the way. The Karopani Deer Park was an eye opener as it was a boundary less park with free roaming deer. However given its uniqueness, one would be required to leave the confines of the car and search for the deer herds, a difficult task indeed. We asked a few locals to roughly figure out where they could be found, but given the limited time at hand we could only spot a couple of black bucks grazing in the distance. We weren’t too disappointed though, as we had seen plenty of deers the previous day in our safari. Our next stop, the Patangarh village was a very different and interesting experience. There are artisans in each family in the village and the first person we asked for directions ended up being an artist himself. To understand the Gond art we need to understand the community first. The Gond people are an indigenous tribe of India and number more than 10 million today, making it one of the largest tribes in India. Although the community is spread across many states, the art form is said to be predominantly from Madhya Pradesh. As many members of the community started taking up different professions including agriculture, the Patangarh village has become a bastion of sort for the art form with artists from the village displaying and selling their paintings in art galleries and exhibitions all across the globe. The artists use either canvas or handmade paper as the base, acrylic colours and rotring drawing pens to create the final art piece. On an average it takes 5-7 days for an A4 sized painting which they sell for an average of USD 50 (INR 3000). SantuTekam, the artist we visited was kind enough to give Nirali a short walkthrough / tutorial, highlighting what goes into making a painting. The highlight of our day if not the trip for sure. We reached Amarkantak late afternoon and after our check-in and lunch decided to rest for the day as the sun was already on its way down.
DAY 6: AMARANTAK
We had a long day planned for Amarkantak with lots of temples in the itinerary. Although we had a brief idea from our research before the trip, the temples were so photogenic that we couldn’t stop ourselves from clicking it from every angle possible. What promised to be a spiritually active day had turned into a photographic tour for us. We started by visited the Kapil Dhara & Dudhdhara waterfalls. Although it can be seen from the viewing point at the top, most good things in life need some effort put in. It requires a short hike down the hill to get to the best place to view it from. However there are quite a few steps to be traversed to reach the point but given that we are photo fanatics, we felt it quite worth the effort. The Dudhdhara waterfall is an extension of the Kapil Dhara waterfall and is named such as the short waterfall given its volume and subsequent white colour, resembles milk (dhudh). Given its low height, a lot of people choose to bathe in its waters here given that it’s a waterfall of the river Narmada, one of the holiest rivers for Hindus. It is said that Maharishi Durvasa meditated here and there is a small cave with his statue inside. We then proceeded towards Sanjeevani nursery which is run by the forest department. A lovely place with a small building which houses photos of the various herbs and medicinal plants in the nursery, highlighting their use and effects. The building also doubles up as a shop and we did end up buying some general use medicines useful for cough and cold. The person managing it was very knowledgeable and as we were the only people there, he took his time explaining the various medicines on display. Our last stop before lunch, the Sarvodaya Digambhar Jain Temple is still under construction and should be completed by early 2019. After a small break for lunch we moved towards Sonmuda which is said to be the source of the river Son. Although the source is barely a trickle in this season, it doubles up as a fabulous view point looking out to a huge forest cover. We were incredibly lucky that after a short wait, the entire place became empty for about 2 minutes when we got some fabulous shots in. Our next stop, Mai ki Bagiya, which translates to Mother’s garden, is a natural grove of trees housing a small temple dedicated to Goddess Narmada. The place is very peaceful and was one of the few places where we choose to put down our cameras, sit down and just take in the quiet serenity of this beautiful place. Despite it being an important temple and a popular tourist spot, for some reason there was no chaos or noise despite the hustle bustle. Our last three stops were the most important landmarks of Amarkantak. Surprisingly all three were pretty close by and relatively near our hotel as well.
Our first stop was the Sri Yantra Maha Meru Temple which is being constructed by Acharya Mandaleshwar of the Attal Akhada Sri Swami Sukhsevanadji and after 28 years is in its final stages of completion. The most prominent feature of this temple is the huge sculpture with 4 heads at the entrance. The heads represent the faces of Goddess Laxmi, Saraswati, Kali&Bhuvaneshwari. Beneath them are finely sculpted figures of 64 yoginis along with the sculptures of Lord Ganesha&Kartik. The temple itself is built as a 3D projection of the Sri Yantra / Sri Chakra which forms the core of the Sri Vidya worship in Hinduism. This branch worships the divine power of the Goddess Tripura Sundari or the Empress beauty of the Three Worlds. In essence it is the geometric representation of the concept of Shakti. Though we could not enter it at the time, The view from an elevated point nearby lent a panaromic view of the temple from above and it looks gorgeous. Our next and final stop were the Ancient Temples of Kalchuri& the Narmada Udgam which were on either sides of a road. We first visited the Ancient Temples of Kalchuri which surprisingly are in very good shape. The gardens around the temple ruins are very well maintained and the temples themselves were in good repair. The Ancient Kalchuri Temples, as the name suggests were built by the Kings of the Kalchuri Dynasty who ruled the region between 10th and 12th century CE. The temples are built in what seems to be the Nagara style of architecture especially the Karnadev temple built by the King Karandev (1041-1073 CE) which is crowned with a towering ornate shikara. Although there is a short writeup about each of the temples in the complex, it would have been even better to have a guide explain the history behind the temples or maybe an audio guide we could rent and cover on our own. That said, the extremely picturesque temples are one of the prime examples of the wonderful work ASI is doing to preserve our heritage and we found ourselves clicking pictures till the sun went down (literally). Our final stop which was right opposite the entrance to the Temple complex, was the Narmada Udgamsthan which is supposed to house the Narmada kund, believed to be the source of the river Narmada. There is a similar small kund (water body) erected inside the complex for people wanting to take a dip in it (and wash away their sins) to preserve the sanctity of the original Kund. When you enter, all you can see is a sea of white temples with a gorgeous blue water body in between reflecting the sky. We spent the first 15 minutes clicking an insane number of photos of the beautiful, picturesque complex in order to capture what we were seeing. However, it was impossible to capture the feeling of holiness, the serenity and calmness one feels when they arrive there and could only give up in our attempts. We then proceeded to sit silently on the steps leading down to the kund, occasionally staring at a lone ascetic robed in white, meditating in front of one of the temples on the steps near the kund. The sun gradually set, reflecting the orange on the white walls of the temples and even lending a saffron tinge to the blue waters of the kund. There was chaos all around us with kids running around, bells ringing, voices chanting, but we were lost in our own world, pondering over millions of things and nothing at all. It is indeed difficult to describe a feeling we ourselves are yet to make sense of but it is sufficient to say that we were finally at peace after a long day of exploring. There could not be a more fitting end to our trip than this. We took a flight out from Jabalpur the next day, closing the curtains on this cultural and spiritual adventure in MP.
Feel free to write in either as a comment or via our social channels if you have any questions on any of the destinations we’ve covered in this post. We’ve had some of our readers on the various social channels pointing our various places to cover in those destinations and we would love to hear from you if you feel there are some interesting places we missed out on this trip.
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