Significant information is now floating on the net about Pandava Falls and Caves. Two decades ago the place was quite unknown. We would have missed it if the man we asked for directions to Satna had not told us about it.
We had left Khajuraho early, just after our morning cup of tea. About a km off the highway, 12 kms from Panna, we found a gorge about 100 feet deep, stone steps leading to the bottom. The place was deserted. Nothing moved. No vegetation except a few shrubs on the edges of the lake which had shrunk to form a small pool, a thin stream of water trickling in from some height. A few caves could be seen around the pool and some stone statues nearby. The cruel summer months had devastated the area, burning all the greenery brown. It was pleasantly cool at the bottom though, as if air conditioned. The place transforms into a lush green forest in the monsoon months. Pandavas, of the ancient epic Mahabharata, are reputed to have spent part of their twelve year exile here, hence the name.
We refueled at Panna to reach Satna just in time for a late breakfast. Bandhavgarh National Park, the next on our itinerary, is about 135 kms from Satna. The road, a state highway, was in a shambles, littered with stones almost large enough to qualify as boulders. Resolutely we crawled through in first gear and reached Bandhavgarh around 3 PM.
We checked in at the White Tiger Forest Lodge within the park. Joined a jeep safari to view tigers and almost immediately found a family of tigers lazing in shrubs after a kill. Took a number of photographs but, thanks to the film role purchased in Khajuraho, none came out well. We watched the tigers for a couple of hours from the safety of our jeep. They continued with their siesta.It was getting dark and we returned to the lodge.
A black faced monkey (langoor) visited us
The charming thatched cottage built on tall wooden stilts was surrounded by green shrubs and tall trees. It was like living in a tree house. We retired to bed after a wholesome dinner, hoping a tiger or two would visit us. We were disappointed. We hit the trail again early in the morning and saw a lot of wild life. Saw sambar, deer, antlers, wild boars, peacocks, langurs and more in abundance, but no tigers.
A group of caves in the Park betrayed signs of ancient human habitation. We were told that the caves were home to primitive man thousands of years ago. We also came across a rare monolith of Lord Vishnu reclining on Sheshnaga, the thousand-head serpent, near the caves.
The reclining Vishnu
We reached Amarkantak , 200 kms from Bandhavgarh, in the afternoon. Not being able to find a room anywhere in Amarkantak, we were forced to stay in a crowded and shabby dormitory. It was our worst stay of the trip. We found the locals to be singularly ignorant of, and indifferent to the mythology and history of their beautiful town. We did not have access to the net then and had to rely largely on the locals who never told us about the neighboring 900 years old Kalachuri temples. I had earlier visited Amarkantak almost a quarter century ago. It was a small town then, almost a village. Some distance from the town we had found a pair of human footprints embedded in the rock over which a still young Narmada flowed. These footprints were said to have been left in mythological times by the sage Kapil. I wanted my wife and daughter to see them too and asked our guide to lead us to them. He was surprised. He had neither seen nor heard of them. Together we launched a search and, in a short while, it was my turn to be surprised. We found not one but two pairs where I had seen only one (so much for the veracity of some of our myths). Our guide was happy though. The discovery had added to his repertoire.
Sage Kapil’s feet imprinted in solid rock
Amarkantak has the distinction of being the origin of three major river rivers – Narmada; Sone, a tributary of Yamuna; and Johila, in turn a tributary of Sone. No wonder Amarkantak is considered holy and is a sacred Hindu tirtha.
A temple in Amarkantak
A rectangular tank (Narmada Kund) surrounds the source of Narmada from which a rivulet emerges. My daughter never stopped boasting that she had crossed the mighty Narmada (more than 1300 kms long) in one single step. The area is marked by a number of temples around the Kund. Some distance away is the Dudh Dhara (Milky Falls) where the falling water appears as white as milk.