Our journey from Amarkantak to Nagri, a small town in Bastar, 370 kms away, barring a near fatal skid, was rather uneventful . It was a miracle that our car only brushed a stationery truck instead of ramming into it. My wife’s brother was posted in Nagri in the heart of Bastar, a tribal dominated area of Madhya Pradesh. We spent a few delightful days with him and his family. Bastar is a large district, almost as big as the state of Kerala. Bastar is a beautiful country predominantly inhabited by tribals who lead a primitive life, wear no clothes, are untouched by modern civilization and lead lives hardly better than animals. No wonder the Naxal militants find them to be easy recruits.
We had been on the road for nearly two weeks and it was time to get back home. So, at 5.15 AM on 20th June, we started on our return journey. On the way to Jabalpur, our destination for the day over 500 kms away, we climbed nearly 1000 steep steps to visit Bamleshwari temple. The temple, though supposedly ancient and popular in the region, was a disappointment. There was a big crowd of devotees and a large number of shops catering to them. The loudspeakers blaring bhajans (holy songs) fashioned after popular Bollywood songs added to the din and cacophony. We could not take it for more than a few minutes, beat a hasty retreat to the safety of our car and continued towards Jabalpur.
The famous marble rocks in the river Narmada are close to Bhedaghat, Jabalpur. We reached Bhedaghat at 7 PM and decided to stay the night there. All hotels were full. We were offered accommodation in thatched huts. The huts were spacious and clean. Alka and Bitto were excited at the prospect of being able to get a feel of, what they thought, village life. They were in for a disappointment as a closer inspection revealed that the huts were infested with insects and lizards. Since no other accommodation was available, we decided to try our luck in the city. Finally we checked in at a Madhya Pradesh Tourism Hotel at about 9 PM.
We made Bhedaghat, 27 kilometers from Jabalpur, after breakfast the next day and straight away entered the river in a boat. Bittoo was thrilled to go boating in a river which, only days earlier, she had stepped across in Amarkantak. Soon we found ourselves among white rocks, reflecting the bright June sunlight. We passed under some overhanging marble rocks which, the boatman informed us, were known as bandar kood (monkey’s leap), I expressed my doubt. It would have to be an exceptionally athletic monkey to be able to jump across. The boatman tried to convince me telling me that parts of the rock had fallen in the river, thus widening the gap. I believe him.
A while later we came upon a human like black figure on the face of a white rock. It was the image of Kalbhairav, another manifestation of god Shankar, the destroyer. It was natural formation, according to the boatman. It looked painted to me.
Image of Kalbhairav
At Dhuandhar, the river falls from a height of 39 meters to form a milky white pool before flowing downstream.
There being nothing else to see, we proceeded to Lalitpur. Running low on fuel, we stopped at every fuel station but could not get any. They were unable to dispense petrol because there was no electricity. It must have been a regular feature of the area for a few kilometers down the road we found a couple of enterprising villagers selling fuel to motorists like us. We bought the much needed petrol at a premium and drove on.
We could smell rain in the air as we neared Sagar on way to Lalitpur. And then we saw the rain falling in the distance. We were mesmerized by this beautiful ethereal sight. The rain gradually overtook us. Alka tried to raise the glass on her side, and the glass came in her hand. Somehow, we kept most of the rain out and reached Sagar, bright and sunny and dry, in time for lunch. Alka and Bittoo enjoyed a leisurely lunch. I joined them for a quick bite after I got the glass repaired.
We had planned to stay the night at Lalitpur and see a whole palace which we were told was built using glass bottles, mainly beer bottles. Once again we could not find accommodation because all hotels were taken by a political party for its delegates attending a political rally. Having no choice, we motored on to Jhansi. A unique feature of this drive was that we kept entering and exiting the states of UP and MP alternately. No, it was not a winding road. It was the state boundary which was winding. Thankfully, we checked in at a hotel minutes before their bar and kitchen were to close. We placed our orders even before signing the register.
The next morning we proceeded to Shivpuri near Gwalior. Shivpuri used to be the summer capital of the erstwhile Maratha rulers of Gwalior state till it ceded to join the Indian republic. We stayed in a charming little cottage within the national park. Once again we found the park bereft of greenery, thanks to the dry month of June. We did visit some beautiful monuments though. It was a marvel to see a stone wall in one such monument, a chattri (cenotaph), through which the flame of a match could be seen from the other side.
Left Shivpuri after breakfast and could have reached home around tea time but were diverted to Aligharh from Mathura because the highway was block due to Haryana bandh.
Were relieved to finally reach home after a grueling outing lasting over two weeks and 4000 kms.
(Revised under duress. My wife and daughter decided that the original did not faithfully described all that we had actually encountered. Hope they would be satisfied)