The Untold Story of MP: Bhanpura, Chaturbhuj Nala and Hinglajgarh


This post is about the tiny town of Bhanpura located in a forgotten corner of Madhya Pradesh. This post is a celebration of how small places like Bhanpura, a name you might never have come across, can hold such a wealth of history and natural beauty, yet be so far removed from public vision. But then places like these come as a blessing for travellers like us, who can go to great lengths for that ‘two streets over’ feel. Although the history of Bhanpura and its immediate surroundings go back thousands of years (as we shall soon see) it rose to prominence only in the 19th century, when it was ruled by the Maratha king, Yashwant Rao Holkar (1776-1811). In this post we will look at various facets of Bhanpura and its surrounding areas, including the Gandhi Sagar Dam and sanctuary, numerous shelters with prehistoric cave paintings, inaccessible forts and fabulous Maratha architecture. This satellite view of the region will give you an idea of the area in question (right-click and open in a new window for better view).

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Bhanpura (bottom) and its surroundings. The blue expanse on the left is the reservoir created by the Gandhi Sagar Dam

In the larger story of Bhanpura, Gandhi Sagar Dam also plays a short but interesting cameo. The foundation stone of the project was laid on 7 March 1954 by the then prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and electricity production started in 1962. Originally, most of the area around the dam was uninhabited except by a few villages of Bhil tribals. However, once the dam was built and began operation, employees of the project settled in a cluster of eight small townships (known simply as Gandhi Sagar No 1, Gandhi Sagar No 2 and so on), all within a few kilometres of the dam. Each ‘village’ has its own rest-house, and visitors may get permission to stay here from the Chambal Valley Project authorities.

We were lucky to be booked into the rest house in No 2 where we arrived after a fabulous adventure on a dark February evening. Sleep was aided considerably by a few drinks and a hearty dinner. I wanted to get up early as I wanted to capture the sunset over the lake. Also as I had arrived in the dark, I had no idea what kind of landscape I was in. I woke up just as the darkness was fading away. By the time I stepped outside, a faint dawn had broken. What surrounded me was a desolate expanse of rocky land, broken in places by large bushes and clumps of cactii. Around half a kilometre ahead of me, I could make out the recess in the ground through which flows the Chambal, one of India’s most enigmatic rivers. So I started walking towards it.

At this point of time I could make out three shapes approaching me from the direction of the river. In a couple of minutes, as the shapes drew closer, I could make out the faint outline of three dogs. But then with every step the dogs kept getting bigger and bigger. Wait a minute, dogs, especially of the stray variety are usually not this big. Also dogs don’t have stripes. Only then did it dawn on me that they were not dogs but a pack of hyenas, possibly returning home after a night of hyena-ing. The moment I realised what I was facing, I froze on the spot and the hyenas coolly disappeared behind a thicket. At their closest, they were barely 30-40 feet away from me. I did not dare raise my camera to take shots but got a couple of shaky ones from the hip. Caught two of them in the act.

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Hyena #1. Excuse the pic quality. This is the best I could do given that I was crapping my pants at that very moment.
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Hyena #2. Slightly better pic as I was done crapping my pants by them.

After the Hyenas had left and I had collected myself (which was a lot of collecting ), I continues on towards the river. Eventually i did reach the edge of the cliff and there was the Chambal, showing off its greenish blue hue. Dam was around 6 kms to my left and to my right was the oceanic expanse of the Gandhi Sagar Dam. Just a note, in case you ever find yourself here and are tempted to cool off in its inviting waters: Traditionally, the Chambal river has supported a large crocodilian population. And although their numbers have reduced substantially, crocodiles are still occasionally spotted in the river and on the numerous islands in the Gandhi Sagar reservoir. Now dont blame me if you are attacked and killed.

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At the edge of the cliff, looking towards the dam
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The depth of the gorge would have been at least double of what you see here prior to the construction of the dam.
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The sun rises. An exciting day awaits

By the time I had returned from my early morning adventure, Parvati was up and about and breakfast was ready.  Post breakfast, we visited a  beautifully-appointed Circuit House overlooking the endless turquoise blue waters of the Gandhi Sagar reservoir – a vast body of water that covers 2,280 sq kms. in February 2011, plans are underway to convert the Circuit House to an MP Tourism Hotel, to boost tourism in the area.

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View of the Gandhi Sagar Reservoir from the circuit house
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Interesting rock formations

The massive wilderness surrounding the Gandhi Sagar Dam and the reservoir has been designated as the Gandhi Sagar Wildlife sanctuary. It was notified in 1974 and further enlarged in 1983. Most of it is covered by stunted shrubs, dry deciduous vegetation – including tall, graceful trees such as Khair, Dhawda, Tendu and Palash, the last of which is known for its bright orange flowers – and flat arid grassland. Apart from the hyenas, the forest is home to leopards, sloth bear, various species of deer and antelope, hispid hare and monkeys. But on this particular day, we were going into the forest not in search of wildlife but for a rock shelter, adorned with pre-historic rock paintings – Chaturbhuj Nala.

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Inside the Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary
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Trying something different
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Inside the Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary

Deep within the sanctuary, along a sinuous, perinneal stream called the Chaturbhuj Nala (sometimes also referred to as the Chaturbhujnath Nala) are rock shelters stretching in a 5-km long ‘gallery’, with thousands of figures painted on its walls. The first 700 m of this gallery is easily accessible to visitors. Historians believe that the paintings here from the pre-pastoral (over 6,000 years old) to at least the early medieval age (circa 10th century AD), these have every qualification to be declared a World Heritage Site – like the rock paintings of Bhimbetka, also in Madhya Pradesh. Named after a small modern temple, Chaturbhujnath Mandir, located on the northern bank of the Chaturbhujnath stream, this site was discovered in 1977 by a local school teacher called Ramesh Pancholi, and his friends.

We approached Chaturbhuj Nala on a day that was as clear as its waters. Apart from Bhimbetka, all the other rock paintings that I have seen have been in isolated, smallish shelters. Here, there was a channel of overhanging rock fringing the left bank of the stream for as far as i could see. The water of the stream was still, crystal clear, and almost mirror-like in its reflections.

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Approaching Chaturbhuj Nala
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Glad to have reached the destination
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Chaturbhuj Nala
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Chaturbhuj Nala at its reflective best
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Perfect setting for a history lesson. Whatsay?

Contrary to popular belief, these paintings are not the result of a sudden efflorescence of creativity, but are the culmination of the evolving human ability to both perceive and depict. This is a process that began over 1,00,000 years ago, as is evident from the 500-odd cupules pecked into solid rock at Dar Ki Chattan, near Bhanpura (discussed later).

Most of the paintings in Chaturbhuj Nala have been executed in shades of red, ochre and, in rare instances, white and black.  It is also likely that many hundreds of compositions were made on the outer surface of the rock shelters, all of which have been erased by sunlight, wind and rain. Moreover, although it is likely that, over the millennia, many individual artists demonstrated their artistic prowess on these rocks, no artist can be individually identified, since all followed the styles of their clans.

So let’s have a look at the paintings:

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Rhinos appear in some of the oldest paintings
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A woman carrying stuff on a stick.
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Hunters chasing what looks like a herd of bisons
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Men riding hump-less cattle
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Humped cattle
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Dance
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Deer hunt
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Motifs and designs – Hallmarks of pastoral art
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Weird head and weirder feet
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Parvati checks a click
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Man on cattle wielding a huge axe
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Decorated cattle
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A procession
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A dagger
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Horns
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Melee
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More cattle
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Headgear means that the man depicted here was a clan chieftain.
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Camels
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Chariot
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A board game.
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A ritualistic dance. The wild figure in the middle is a spirit. Or thats what i think.
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March of the warriors
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Markings, old and new
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A cattle herder with his flock
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Warriors on a chariot followed by a man with a giant flaming torch
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Chaturbhujnath Temple, after which the gallery gets its name
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The idol of Vishnu in his sheshashayi mudra, enshrined in the temple

Twelve kilometres from Bhanpura on the road leading to Gandhi Sagar, a road branches eastwards to the ancient fortress of Hinglajgarh, named after the goddess Hinglaj Mata. Once off the main road, the metalled surface vanished almost immediately and was replaced by a dirt track that snaked through for 18 kms through wild landscape, desolate villages and a particularly tricky stretch that consisted almost entirely of rocks that suggest the ruins of a flourishing city now long gone. It was almost like the stones that were once used to build great mansions had come loose and were strewn all over the place. On reaching the high gates of the fortress, you may well feel some of the  exhaustion, and elation, of a medieval explorer. Just like we did.
This torture of a road ends on a plateau. On three sides, the landscape is dominated by rolling hills covered by the forests of the Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, while on the fourth are the high walls and thick stone bastions of the Hinglajgarh Fort. One cannot, in words convey the location of the fort or the wildness of the surroundings. Take a look at this Google Earth screengrab and decide for yourself.

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Hinglajgarh is located on the narrow tongue of land (to the right of the green arrow), surrounded by deep forested gorges.
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Close up of the fortress
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The monster road. Not comfortable in a car, especially if it has low ground clearance. Would have loved to come here on the bike.
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Parvati posing with the fort in the background
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Our driver was very enthusiastic. The car, not so much.

Although the fort’s ancient history is unclear, it reached its zenith during the Paramara period (10th-13th centuries). After the decline of the Paramaras, the fort was occupied by the Chandrawats of Bhanpura until, in 1733, the Holkar queen Ahilya Bai defeated Lakshman Singh Chandrawat and occupied the fortress. The fort has thus been built and rebuilt several times and to this date one can see carved and sculpted stones – obvious remains from previous structures – embedded in the walls of the fort.

Spread across several small hills, Hinglajgarh has four gateways – Patanpol, Surajpol, Katrapol and Mandaleshwaripol. Today the only access to the fort is through Patanpol. There are numerous water sources in the fort, chief among which is Surajkund, a tank that still exudes some of its former glory and is revered by the Bhil tribals of the region.

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Sculptures from an earlier period used to rebuild the fortress
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Walls of Hinglajgarh, viewed from inside the fort
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Walls of Hinglajgarh, viewed from inside the fort

At the height of its glory, Hinglajgarh was known for its exquisite sculptures. Some of the finest specimens from this period have fortunately survived to this day and are displayed at the Archaeological Museum in Bhanpura. The Department of Archaeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh, also has a site office within the fort where several loose sculptures and temple fragments are preserved.

At the western end of the fort, are two temples, one dedicated to Hinglaj Mata and the other to Shiva. Incidentally there is a famous shaktipeeth in Balochistan in Pakistan dedicated to the goddess Hinglaj Mata that is one of the most significant pilgrimages especially for Hindus from Kutch in Gujarat.

Except for the priest and his apprentice, the rest of the fort is entirely uninhabited. Food is brought in from neighbouring villages (the nearest one is about 10 kms away) while water is fetched from a mountain stream in the valley below. A steady stream of people – both locals and the occasional tourist – trickles in every day, and the quiet is regularly broken by the roar of cars and motorbikes conquering this rocky, desolate landscape. Near the two temples is an arched pavillion inside a walled compound. It is locally known as the kachehri, or court, but may also have been part of the royal durbar hall. As most of the fort is spread over a series of heavily forested hills, it is difficult to pinpoint all the structures still extant here. One can, however, still marvel at the sheer magnificence, and isolation, of this remote fort.

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The Shiva temple inside the fort.
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The fort walls as seen from the roof of the Kachehri
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The priest welcomes me with a much needed cool glass of water
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Surveying the ruins

Less than 5 kms north of Bhanpura and overlooking the town is a hill popularly known as Dar ki Chattan. Halfway up are two Shiva temples that date back to the period of Yashwant Rao Holkar. The larger of these is called Bada Mahadev and the other Chhota Mahadev. The hill was the site of the ancient fortress of Indragarh, a city that flourished as a major trading post in the Kushan period (1st-2nd centuries AD). The real attraction of Dar ki Chattan, however, is marked on the walls of a narrow and deep cave on its northern side. These walls are marked with 560 cup-shaped depressions.

Known as ‘cupules’, these are said to be the earliest attempts at artistic expression by human beings, predating the rock-paintings of Bhimbetka and Chaturbhujnath Nala by thousands of  years. Scholars have suggested, in fact, that these cupules are anywhere between 1,00,000 and 2,00,000 years old. Many hundreds of thousands of years ago – even before the continental shift, when the Indian Plate split from the primeval continent of Gondwanaland and collided with the Eurasian plate to form the Indian subcontinent as we know it today – the region that became Bhanpura was under the Tethys Sea. As the land was pushed up, sedimentary rocks, like the ones that make up Dar ki Chattan, were formed, interspersed with pebbles of harder metamorphic rock, which were much older. Scientists conjecture that ancient humans used these harder pebbles to make depressions on the cave walls.
Archaeologists who tried to recreate the cupules using these prehistoric techniques found that it took over 700 blows to form even a shallow indent. Obviously, great time, and patience, went into the creation of these concave depressions, but scholarly consensus about their purpose is yet to be achieved. In spite of a lot of research, it is not clear why early humans chose to make these cupules. There is no dearth of theories. Some think that the cup marks are actually the positions of stars plotted on a wall, pothers believe that the sound of the stone hitting the cave walls was a means of communication. Maybe someday we will have an explaination, but for now it remains a mystery

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Dar ki Chattan
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Climbing through the forested slopes
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Approaching the cave
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What we came to see, cup marks, or ‘cupules’. Perhaps the oldest form of human artistic expression
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Closer view of the cup marks
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Inside the cave
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Christopher Parvati discovers the new world

The story of Bhanpura cannot be complete without a mention of its great hero. Sometime in the early 1990s, Dr. Pradyumn Bhatt – a  schoolteacher by profession and amateur archaeologist by calling – had climbed to the peak of Dar ki Chattan to inspect the remains of an ancient temple. With him were two friends, Mr Agarwal and Mr Gaur. At about four in the evening, the friends noticed the sun’s rays gleam on water accumulated in small cups on the ground. All three had seen these little ‘bowls’ countless times in the past, but something about the beauty of light playing with water focussed their gaze, and they noticed, for the first time, how the cups were made in two straight lines. Suspecting that this could not possibly be a natural occurrence, the friends began exploring the hill for more cupules and so, eventually, a veritable treasure of 560 cupules was found.

Over the last 20 years, Dr. Bhatt has worked tirelessly to bring these cupules to the attention of paleontologists and archaeologists both within and outside India. He has also fought to protect the cave from the less welcome attentions of vandals, going so far as to reforest the hill to dissuade any but the most dedicated visitors from accessing the cave.

Already, however, the rock art that decorated parts of this hill has faded; and Dr. Bhatt and his friends need all the help they can get to ensure the cupules are not similarly lost in obscurity. Dr Bhatt is also a poet. If you find yourself in Bhanpura, talking archaeology with Dr Bhatt over a cup of tea, chances are he will gift you one of his volumes.

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Dr Bhatt in conversation with Paro in Dar ki Chattan

Another of Bhanpura’s attractions (albeit from a time much more recent) is Yashwant Rao Holkar’s chhatri. It took 30 years to complete and was designed to look like a temple. Built by his wife, Maharani Tulsibai, the memorial stands on a solid plinth over 2 m high. Within is a square mandapa, its ceiling embellished with intricate sculptures. The mandapa leads to the garbhagriha through a short antarala. In the garbhagriha there are marble images of the king and his two queens, Kesarbai and Tulsibai.

The chhatri is enclosed within a walled compound and is entered through an imposing gateway to the east. The compound walls have pillared cloisters, which have now been converted into a museum by the Archaeological Survey of India. The open-air Bhanpura Museum houses invaluable sculptures, mainly from the nearby fortress of Hinglajgarh. Even to this day, people in surrounding villages stumble upon priceless sculptures while ploughing their fields, digging a ditch or even washing their clothes on the river-bank.

Many of these have been found to be both exquisite and valuable, and several of these loose sculptures are displayed here. The collection starts from as early as the Gupta period (3rd-5th centuries AD) and includes exhibits from as late as the Maratha period (18th-19th centuries). The real gems, however, date to the Paramara period (9th-12th centuries). This was the time when the Paramaras occupied the Hinglajgarh fort and local artisans produced some of the most beautiful sculptures of all time.

Most striking among these are two images of Uma-Maheshwara and one of Nandi, the primary vahana  (vehicle) of Shiva. The  anatomically precise Nandi, the bull, is shown sitting down while a group of ganas (divine attendants) offer him a plate heaped with laddoos. Nandi is adorned with beautiful  ornaments, which historians conjecture, may have been gilded in the past.

The Uma-Maheshwar sculpture, on the other hand is a study of the divine family. Uma (or Parvati) is shown seated on the lap of Maheshwar (Shiva), who is in turn seated on Nandi. The divine couple is accompanied by their four children – Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartikeya – depicted in a diminutive form compared to the relatively larger images of their parents.

Both these sculptures have been exhibited in various international exhibitions where they have won critical acclaim. The museum’s caretaker, a brave man who has battled antique smugglers armed with nothing more than his lathi, is quick to point out that when the Nandi left the country for India Festivals in France and the United States, it was insured for the sum of 2 crores!

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The grand Chhatri of Yashwantrao Holkar
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Dr Bhatt poses with the famous Nandi
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A closer study of the Nandi
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Close up of Uma-Maheshwara
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A view of the courtyard of the chhatri. In the centre of the frame is the ornamental gateway
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The cloisters of the chhatri stores precious artifacts and also serves as the open air museum.
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Perspective.

Travel is a great leveller. A few months back I had no idea that a place called Bhanpura even existed. And now it has taken my breath away. I have done my share of travelling but never has a place had this air of ‘forgotten’ about it. I hope people do visit Bhanpura. I hope some of you do have that cup of coffee with Dr Bhatt or have your bones rattled on the way to Hainglajgarh. And above all I hope you explore, dream and discover.

Till I see you again.

Along the Eternal Narmada: Omkareshwar


The second and the last installment has  taken a long time and for good reasons. I have changed jobs again and now I am employed as a commissioning editor with a leading global travel guide publisher. So it took me some time to get used to the new job responsibilities and the trainings and the workshops that come as part of the deal. Oh and then the commute from Delhi to Gurgaon. The metro has made it much more comfortable, but it still take roundabout the same amount of time. But then again, for the first time in almost six years I will have a five-day week. Working Saturdays suck. Big time.

Coming back to Narmada, like I said in the previous post, the lives of the people of the region revolve around the river. When kids are born, they are bathed in its holy waters; a pot of the sacred water is essential for every marriage, the daily rituals happens on its banks; and when they die, their ashes are scattered on its choppy dark waters. The Narmada is the cycle of life. It was not unusual that when the but I was travelling on from Maheshwar to Omkareshwar hit a bridge on the river, almost all of my co passengers raised their folded hands to their forehead and chanted in unison Jai Mata Narmadae!! I could translate it  for those who do not know what that means, but then the devotion would be lost in translation. So I’d rather not.

Omkareshwar!

My arrival at Omkareshwar was very eventful as well. I caught the bus one evening from the main bus stand at Maheshwar and prepared for what was going to be a two and a half hour journey. But i was in for a surprise. You see, for those who are not accustomed to travelling in buses in India, you must know that there are several types of services – Super Express, Express and Local. The names of the services might differ from state to state but in essence they remain similar. The Super Express has very limited stops on its way whereas the Local service will stop anywhere, all you need to do is stick out your hand. So the thing is what i thought was a super express, turned out to be a local.

So we stopped at every village and finally after three and a half hours we arrived at Sanawad, 15 kms from our destination. To my surprise the bus emptied itself and for the last leg, I was the only person in the bus. So I moved up front to the driver’s cabin and started a chat. The terrain from there on was hilly and the bus had a pair of grimy 40 W bulbs for a headlight. Worrying. More worrying when a single bolt of lightning tore through the night sky and almost immediately conjured up a dust storm of Biblical proportions. Okay..ALMOST Biblical proportions. By the time we reached the bust stand at Omkareshwar, the heavens had opened up and it was raining by the bucket-loads.

Omkareshwar is a vehicle free town, and as a result the main bust stand is outside the city limits and you need top walk from there. Not good news for lazy people like me. We waited in the bus for the rain to slow down and in a while, the driver conjured up two bottles of country made whiskey! That eased the pain considerably. Half an hour and three drinks later the rain held and I was able to walk down to my hotel for the night.

First view of the holy town!

Omkareshwar is located on the old volcanic rocks almost halfway down the Narmada’s course. Here the river passes through a narrow and deep gorge and in the process creates an island in the shape of the holy symbol ‘OM’. So technically it’s the island that’s called Omkareshwar, but just like the town, even its name has spilled over to both the banks.

A dharmashala in Omkareshwar

It was these banks that i set about exploring the morning next. Being vehicle free (motorcycles not included) the lanes of Omkareshwar were easy to navigate. They were lined, much like any other holy city in India with shops selling colourful puja paraphernalia and other trinkets and a score of dharmashalas. I eventually found my way to the Gomukh Ghat, one of the busiest places in Omkareshwar, just when the first sunlight was touching the temple spires.

The narrow and plunging gorge that the Narmada cuts in the ancient rocks of Omkareshwar is known as Gomukh, meaning the ‘mouth of the cow’. Legend has it that, long ago, a demon went on a rampage killing sages and sadhus. The sadhus assembled at Omkareshwar and prayed to Shiva for protection. Moved by their prayers, Shiva fought the demon and killed him with his trishul (trident).

To purify the trishul stained with the blood of the demon, Shiva flung it towards the Narmada at Omkareshwar. The trishul landed a fair distance from the river and its impact gave rise to an underground stream that resurfaces to meet the Narmada at the Gomukh. The stream is referred to as Kapildhara and the ghat built around it called the Gomukh Ghat.

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Gomukh Ghat
Gomukh Ghat and the moored boats: A bird’s view
One of the bridges to the island
Old palaces overlook the gathering crowd at Gomukh Ghat

There are two bridges connecting the mainland part of the town with the island, but many tourists and pilgrims prefer to cross over by boats from Gomukh ghat. The boats moored on the ghats carry a maximum of eight passengers and charge Rs 10 per head. You could also hire a boat to take you on a joyride on the Narmada. The boats sport colourful canopies and even more colourful names like Titanic, Tu Chor Main Sipahi (You are the convict and I’m the cop), Jalpari (mermaid), etc.  For the sinners among you, who want to attain redemption by taking a dip in the holy waters of the river, do be careful. The steps of the ghat are extremely slippery and as the Narmada flows through a gorge here, it is extremely deep. Also, crocodiles are known to stray here from time to time.

The ghat is located roughly midway between the two bridges. From  here, another shop lined, colourful lane winds up and down the hilly bank towards the newly constructed suspension bridge. Incidentally, both the bridges are for pedestrian traffic only. Although the policemen are known to turn a blind eye towards bicycles and motorcycles.

Piles of sindoor (vermilion)
A baby Krishna graces one of the piles of sindoor
Choose your god, sir!
Floral Offerings

Omkareshwar Mahadev Temple, also called Omkar Mandhata Temple, is the key attraction for pilgrims who visit the island. It is the ancient site of one of the 12 sacred jyotirlingas. Local legend holds that the linga, or cosmic pillar emblematic of Shiva’s procreative energy, arrived here as a result of the devotion of the mythological king Mandhata.

The white shikhara (spire) of the Omkar Mandhata Temple dominates the rocky little island that is sacred to millions of people
Seen from a boat, the Narmada here does feel like the cosmic ocean
Boats from the Gomukh Ghat dock here, and the steps then lead up to the temple. Shops, boats, merchandise and even the plastic sheets, everything adds to the riot of colours here
One more

Omkar Mandhata Temple is said to have been built by the Paramaras in the 11th century and rebuilt by the Holkars in the 19th century. The temple is suffused with symbolism, much like the island. Its shikhara is said to correspond with Mount Meru, the axis of the world according to Hindu mythology, and to overlook the cosmic ocean, represented by the Narmada.

A series of steps from the ghats leads up to the mandapa of the temple, marking the entrance of the enclosure. The mandapa is decorated with heavily carved soapstone pillars with elaborate capitals in the form of yakshis, while niches on either side are occupied by images of Ganesh, Ram, Sita, and other deities. As one crosses the mandapa, one encounters Nandi, Shiva’s divine vehicle. From the first mandapa, one ascends to the recently built sabha mandapa or prayer hall.

A vast terrace above the sabha mandapa leads to a small door through which one can enter the upper levels of the shikhara. Inside are three shrines, one above the other, enshrining more manifestations of Shiva – Siddhanath, Kedareshwar and Guptanath.

In the room just before the sanctuary
No kidding. This is the main deity in the temple

The two approaches to the temple are lined with shops selling baskets of flowers, incense and other puja paraphernalia. There are also people manning little stalls where for Rs 1 you can deposit your foot-wear for safekeeping till you are done with your darshan. It is likely that you will be approached by several priests and chances are that the experience might not be your best. You have been warned.

The temple is the hub of all activity in the island. All roads seem to converge here and it is the starting point of the famous Omkareshwar parikrama. The 16-km parikrama or circumambulation of the island starts from the Omkareshwar Mahadev Temple and proceeds clockwise around the island. Until a few years ago, the path of the parikrama was an unpaved road, making the journey quite arduous. Recently, a proper track has been laid. All along the road, painted on boards, are verses from the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit and Hindi.

Govindeshwar Gufa, at the base of the Omkar Mandhata temple is where the Omkareshwar parikrama begins

Along with temples old and new, ruins of ancient shrines and remains of fort walls, the path passes through a number of tiny villages. For generations, the villagers have served as priests and caretakers of the island’s many temples, and remain tied to this tradition even today. The route passes through a series of crests and troughs in the landscape and may be intimidating for those that are not used to long walks. The harsh Omkareshwar sun, which can be surprisingly hot even in winter months, is an added challenge. The best safeguard would be to drink enough water and rest when exhausted. I, for one was smart enough to start just at sunrise, to make sure that I was back in my hotel room by about noon.

In this journey, one encounters numerous langoors or hanumans. These monkeys are known to snatch food from people’s hands and it is a wise idea to carry foodstuff in covered bags.

Some truth in it!
Oh how the Narmada changes her look with every passing km
The writing on the wall

The sacred and purifying Narmada meets the fast flowing Kaveri at the sangam, or confluence, of these two rivers. Located on the westernmost part of the island of Omkareshwar, this narrow projection of land at the meeting point of the streams is covered with stones of all sizes shaped like shivalingas. The Kaveri, actually is not another river, but a part of the Narmada itself that encircles the island on the north.

Legend has it that it was here that Kuber, the god of wealth sat here and meditated without food and water for 100 years. Satisfied with his devotion, Lord Shiva appeared before Kuber and asked him what he wanted. To this Kuber replied that he wished to be the king of the Yakshas and gain immortality. Like all good mythological stories, his wish was granted and he lived happily ever after in the photo-frames in many a temple and home.

Apart from its religious sanctity, the sangam is the perfect spot to cool down after the arduous parikrama. It is a good idea to take off your shoes and sit on a rock while the cool water plays around your tired feet. Pilgrims are required to take a dip in the waters of the sangam to cleanse themselves before heading on.

The sangam – viewed from a distance
Walking among the pilgrims at the sangam
Saw these at the sangam. My best guess is that these are meant to ward off the evil eye

After the sangam, the parikrama route becomes even more interesting. The path takes a sudden turn and  after a few climbs one reached the top of the island. For the next few kilometres, the road is level. Here you come across broken fort walls and ruins of temples and gateways which prove that at one point of time, the city existed only in the island. Many of the old temples have been built over and modernised, some of them wonderfully preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India, but most are still in ruins.

Rinmukteshwar Temple – it is believed that if you pray here all your debts will vanish. Mine didn’t.

On a large clearing, on the highest part of the island stands the Gauri Somnath Temple surrounded by numerous smaller shrines and a number of ashrams. Built in the early 15th century by the Paramaras, the temple was once faced with a pillared mandapa which is no longer extant.

In the garbhagriha of the temple is a 2 m high, black granite shivalinga. It is believed that this linga once possessed the power of revealing to a person their previous and future incarnations. When the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1618-1707) was passing through Omkareshwar, he expressed the wish to verify if this was true.

The story has it that the emperor was much disturbed by the linga’s revelations and, in a fit of rage, had the entire temple burnt down. The linga cracked in the intense heat and its surface was scarred and since then it has lost its special ability.

The state archaeological department runs a site museum at the premises of the Gauri Somnath Temple. While the more intricate and delicate sculptures are placed indoors, many others have been installed on pedestals all around the temple.

Gauri Somnath Temple

After you leave the temple and proceed onwards, to left of the parikrama path runs a fallen wall which was once about 9-12 m high. At various places on the parikrama route you will come across ruins which at first glance look like a pile of stones. Closer examination reveals that these are actually remains of the ancient walls of older temples, and gateways.

While most of these temples are barely recognisable, interestingly, some sculptures have survived almost intact. Some of these sculptures have been painted a bright red and a few have been taken over by nature with creepers spreading their delicate tendrils across them. The atmosphere here is completely different from that at the main ghat. It is almost as if two different towns exist on the same space.

The mammoth statue of Lord Shiva, a little distance away from the Gauri Somnath Temple
Ruins of a temple
Only the goddess survives
A ruined gateway
The air is so clean, so so so clean.
Flotsam
The parikrama path passes through another gateway

After descending through a valley, the road emerges on to the second plateau of the island, with the last destination on the parikrama, the famed Siddhanath Temple, perched on it. According to some historians, this is one of the oldest temples on the island.

A fine example of early medieval Hindu architecture, the temple is built on an adhisthana, or plinth, which is about 1 m in height. The sides of the plinth are embellished with an exquisite frieze depicting elephants in various postures. Legend has it that when the shikhara of the temple was still extant, lights in Mandu, 145 kms away, could be seen from it.

Recently a couple of silver Sheshnagas have been installed in the garbhagriha, shading the linga. Every day, a puja is performed here in which the linga is decorated with freshly picked flowers. The entire temple structure stands in the middle of a wide enclosure, which at one time could have been surrounded by high walls, though no sign of these exists today. The courtyard is filled with free-standing sculptures collected from this and other ancient shrines across the island. A walk through the courtyard reveals bharvahakas and chandrashilas along with numerous other temple fragments.

Siddhanath Temple, or whatever remains of it

When you reach the Siddhanath Temple, it means that the parikrama is almost over. It’s all the was downhill from there. From one point in the descent, you are offered a fabulous view of the town with the suspension bridge in the foreground and the path snaking through the river bed, which has shrunk substantially since the dam has come up.

Hey.. i can see the town again!

I had stared really early in the morning and had almost no breakfast. I had, however, stopped at many places on the road and rested or had nimboo paani. Times are tough for the villagers and to make the extra buck, many of them have opened up nimboo paani stalls. Please do stop at a couple of these stalls if you do the parikrama. The  10 rupees or so that you spend on this delicious and refreshing drink wont hurt you much, but to the villager, it is precious. Support the local economy, buy the nimboo paani.

Anyway, in spite of all the drinking and stopping, I managed to finish the walk by noon and headed to the MPSTDC rest house for lunch. It is on  top of a hill on the mainland part of the town and offers a stunning view of the island with its temples and little houses and the Narmada in the foreground.

View of Omkareshwar Town from the MPSTDC property

While most sites of tourist and religious interest in Omkareshwar are along the parikrama path on the island, the town itself, on the other side of the river, is home to a number of attractions, the most significant being the Mamleshwar Temple. It is in the mainland part of the town where most tourist infrastructure is concentrated. A walk through the narrow lanes of the town reveals a large number of dharamshalas or religious rest houses (dharma means ‘religion’ while shala means ‘sanctuary’). Many Indian communities, such as the Rajputs, the Agarwals, the Yadavas and the Jats, have their own dharamshalas in this town. All the markets, the police station, municipality offices, the main bus stand and hospitals are also located here.

Mamleshwar Temple is located barely 200 m from Gomukh Ghat. Also known as Amaleshwar, Mamleshwar is generally considered to enshrine one half of the jyotirlinga, the other half of which rests in Omkar Mandhata Temple on the island. Set in a walled enclosure and meticulously maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the east facing temple is five-storeyed with a shivalinga enshrined on each floor. The enclosure also has six other temples built on the lines of the main temple.

Mamleshwar Temple
Nandi Nandi burning bright!

The long parikrama and the hearty lunch thereafter propelled me towards my hotel room where i spend the rest of the afternoon sleeping. At around 4 in the afternoon, relaxed and rested, I set forth again, this time to explore the Omkareshwar Palace. Commanding a wide view of the Narmada and the town, the palace is located on the island on a flat piece of land above the Omkar Mandhata Temple. A narrow lane leads from the bustling flower market at the ghat and winds up to the entrance to the palace. From the outside, the entire palace looks like a single structure, but upon entering it is revealed that it is actually a series of three large courtyards surrounded by rooms on two levels.

The most striking aspect of the palace is the central room or the durbar. It was here that the king would receive guests and preside over the affairs of the state. The circular ceiling of the hall was once painted and inlaid with glass. Although the past glories of the Holkars have since faded, traces of their grandeur are still clearly discernible. When you visit, the chances are that the bright fluorescent colours that you see in the photograph will still be there, but i can guarantee you that back in the good old day of the maharajas, it looked classier. Taste, you see, has taken a nosedive since then.

The southern wall of the durbar hall opens into three jharokhas (projecting balconies). These balconies with their superb view of the temple town make the perfect vantage points for observing life in the town below.

Omkareshwar Palace as seen from the Omkar Mandhata Temple
And as seen from the MPSTDC property
God in the wall!
Ma Narmada – Graffiti seen on the wall of a house on the way to the palace
Huffing and puffing up the stone steps with goats leading my way
The Durbar Hall.. in Eastman colours!
View of Omkareshwar from the palace jharokhas
‘Is everything alright down there?’

I couldn’t end my narrative on Omkareshwar without a mention of the daring kids that make a living from the waters of the river. They lead, what I call a recycle business. When devotees offer their prayers on the ghats, they usually throw a lot of flowers, colours and coconuts on the river. The kids, sometimes on boats and sometimes on inflated tire tubes  venture into the river and pick up the floating coconuts and bring them to their parents who then sell them again.

Incidentally, I have seen the same thing in Mumbai. Lots of people offer coconuts to the dogs in marine drive. Following them are a group of youngsters armed with a basket tied at the end of a length of rope. Just as the devotees have turned their backs, they come out swinging their baskets with the same air that a cowboy would swing his lasso. eventually every coconut would be fished out from the sea and resold. We Indians are very inventive and innovative people, you see!

The recycle boys
The recycle boys on the job

A travel writer’s job is not easy. You often have to talk the talk while you walk the walk. Omkareshwar was one such trip. In spite of the afternoon siesta, I was tired, so I headed off to a local barber’s for a wet shave and a nice champi. For the philistine, it is a sort of head massage with fragrant, mint infused herbal oil. If done  right, it has the power to relieve you of any stress, mental or physical. My guy was good and before I knew it I was fast asleep.

Jadu ki Champi!

Freshly massaged and feeling like a million bucks I headed off to the ghat for a cup of tea and a moment of quiet reflection. Dusk had just started to set in and one by one the lights started to come on. Before I knew it was dark and the temples on the islands were lit up. The waters of the Narmada were now forebodingly dark and on its choppy surface danced a million reflections of the thousand lights that shone on the island. I sat there until one by one most of the lights had been switched off and all the shops had closed down. All I heard as I walked the deserted streets back to the hotel were the distant chiming of the temple bells.

When the stars go blue

In the next post, I shall be talking about the road trip I took to a scenic hill station in the middle of the monsoon. That reminds me, unlike my other trips, this time I had used public transport. From Indore to Maheshwar, from Maheshwar to Omkareshwar and from Omkareshwar back to Indore, it was all on crowded buses, and how I loved it.

On my return trip, I shared a seat with a guy my age who was travelling with his two little daughters. The first thing he did after he sat down was to deposit the smaller of the two on my lap. Trust comes as a given. You are, on a long journey supposed to look after each other and their children. I guess to illustrate the point even further, halfway down the journey, he leaned his head against my shoulders and went to sleep!

Oh, how I love my India!

I, Pillow!

Along the Eternal Narmada: Maheshwar


It is said that of the five most sacred rivers of India – Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Godavari and Kaveri, Narmada is the holiest. It is also said that when Ganga herself feels unclean, she takes the form of a black cow and using the darkness of the night as her cover, comes to cleanse herself in the waters of the Narmada.

Narmada at Maheshwar

She is known by many names, one of them being Shankari, or the ‘daughter of Shankar (Lord Shiva)’. It is believed that she was borne out of a drop of tear that fell out of Shiva’s eyes. Narmada’s connection with Shiva does not end here. Anyone who has travelled to any town on the Narmada has heard the saying ‘Narmada ke kankar utte Shankar‘, meaning ‘Shiva lives in each pebble on which the Narmada flows’. True to the legend, the banks of the Narmada are replete with cylindrical pebbles, looking rather similar to the shivalingas worshipped across India. Banalingas, as they are better known are collected by tourists and pilgrims and taken back to their homes.

The Narmada, for most of its course flows through Madhya Pradesh, a state that has always amazed me. Owing to its sanctity, there are many temple towns on the river. Amarkantak, at the border of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the river originates is one of the holiest places in India, and so is Omkareshwar, which is located roughly midway through the river’s course. And then there is Maheshwar. This tiny town on the banks of the Narmada is known not for its temples but for its benevolent queen, Ahilya Bai Holkar, considered by many as a goddess. Also, there is the famed Maheshwari saris, a dying weaving style which has now, fortunately, been revived.

I set off from Delhi for Maheshwar and Omkareshwar on a rainy November night from Hazarat Nizamuddin Railway station. My train would take me to Indore from where I would continue by bus, first to Maheshwar and then to Omkareshwar.  I reached Indore station at 5:30 in the morning and then caught an auto to Sarwate Bus Terminus. Maheshwar is 92 kms from Indore and depending on the bus you take (express, super or local) the journey could take you anywhere between 2.5 to 4.5 hours. Luckily for me I managed to get hold of an express bus which was scheduled to leave at 8:00 am. The bus followed the beautifully laid National Highway 3 till the town of Dhamnod from where it diverted off to a charming double-laned road for the last 15 kms to Maheshwar.

Narmada, as seen through the pillars of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Maheshwar

After alighting in the main square at Maheshwar, I realised that staying options in this town was very limited. There was the Fort Ahilya, a very expensive heritage hotel and a couple of tiny lodges. After some asking around, I was shown into a very basic, yet clean room for Rs 400 a night. Since I am not fussy about accommodation, provided it is clean, I took it. A quick shower later, I was all ready to explore Maheshwar.

The landscape around Maheshwar is typical of the Nimar plains which are drained by the Narmada. Scorchingly hot in the summers and warm during the winters, this undulating land is composed of red soil, which itself is derived from the ancient lava rocks that once covered the region. One afternoon during my trip, I borrowed a moped from the owner of the hotel I was staying in and drove for around 75 kms on the small roads leading out of the town connecting it to the tiny villages.

The red soil of the Nimar plains. Some say that these plains have seen so much battle that the blood of the fallen have coloured the whole land read.
Bhils, the tribe that populate the arid plains were once hunters. Civilisation has made them drop their lethal bows and arrows and pick up shovels.
A small dargah

As instructed by the owner of the hotel and the moped, i drove around 5 kms on a dirt track to the top of a hill west of Maheshwar town. From there one could see the Narmada tumbling over a rocky bed giving rise to thousands of tiny streams. It is for this exact reason that this cascade has been called Sahasradhara (Sahasra, in Hindi means ‘a thousand’ while dhara means ‘stream’)

Sahasradhara

Surroundings visited, I turned my attention to the town itself. All there is to see in Maheshwar is located inside its fort, and to get to the fort, one has to walk two kms through the busy market. Although it was November, the afternoon soon was burning in all its fury and the temperature was hovering around the 40 degree mark. It was as if the entire town had gone for a collective siesta. The shops were open but there were no shopkeepers. The customers too were absent. Every know or then I would spot a stray canine, a dusty kid running after a rolling, used bicycle tyre or a housewife making a quick trip to the grocer.

A shop selling framed images of Maheshwar’s famed queen, Ahilya Bai Holkar
Before and After?

Very soon, the north gate of the fort, Ahilya Dwar was visible. Previously known as Gadi Darwaza, it is the largest gate and the only way to enter the fort on a vehicle. Just as you enter through the gate, to your right is the quaint Laboo’s Cafe. Stop here for some much-needed lemonade or if hungry, a home-made lunch. The café also offers rooms to travellers, which in my opinion was a little overpriced.

Ahilya Dwar from the inside
Laboo’s Cafe
A tiny wall-shrine in the café

As you enter through the gateway, you also step into the old, walled city of Maheshwar. Although people continue to live here, the main city and its all-important market lies outside these walls.

Straight ahead of Laboo’s Cafe is a small gateway which is the entrance to the Rajwada, or the palace. Half of the palace has now been converted into the luxurious Fort Ahilya Heritage Hotel, while the other half has been converted to a museum and is open to the public. The first thing that strikes you about the palace is its simplicity. If you have travelled to historic destinations around India, you would have noticed the opulent palaces that the rulers used to live in. This is a complete antithesis to the seemingly vulgar pandering of wealth, often accumulated over the blood of poor farmers. It is not that Ahilya Bai, the Holkar queen who constructed much of this fort or the palace was the queen of a small dominion, unable to muster money for such luxuries. At the height of her rule, she controlled over half of what is now Madhya Pradesh.

She spent the money instead on building temples. The famed Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi was built by her. She constructed temples, dharmashalas (guest houses) and baolis (wells) in Haridwar, Badrinath, Rameshwaram, Kanchi, Jagannath Puri, Pushkar, Nasik and Pune. She is, even today depicted wearing a simple white sari, the same costume she used to wear while she was the queen. It is said that she possessed only three of these saris, all of which were woven by her.

View of the Rajwada from the front
View of one of the courtyards in the Rajwada
Lord Krishna and his cows keep an eye on the main entrance

The simplicity of the queen can be further seen at her so-called durbar hall, where she conducted the affairs of the state and held audiences with the average person. Located on the verandah in her wing of the palace, it is nothing but a white mattress covering the floor with a low, wooden throne at one end of it. These days, a white marble image of the queen can be seen on the throne.

The audience ‘hall’

From the simple to the plush. Here are some snapshots of the Fort Ahilya Hotel in the palace:

Old World
The swimming pool
One of the many charming courtyards in the hotel.
Maheshwar town viewed from the ramparts of the fort

A double storeyed gateway, directly opposite the main entrance to the Rajwada leads to a flight of steps leading down to a cluster of buildings on the banks of the Narmada. It is from this gateway that you get your first glimpse of this holy river, which at this point is over a mile wide!

At the foot of the flight of stairs, to the right is another gateway, which opens into a compound at the centre of which lies the Chhatri (mausoleum) of Vitoji Rao Holkar. He was the younger brother of king Yashwant Rao Holkar (1798-1811). Built on a high plinth and sporting two bulbous domes, this chhatri is known for its exquisite carvings, especially that of a row of caparisoned elephants on its side.

Chhatri of Vitoji
Another angle
The beautifully carved row of elephants
A night-shot

Facing the entrance to the Chhatri of Vitoji is a gateway to yet another enclosure which houses the Ahilyeshwar Shivalaya. Although it sounds like a Shiva temple, and is definitely built like one, it is actually the chhatri of Ahilya Bai Holkar. Built by the queen’s daughter Krishna Bai, this towering structure combines the north Indian nagara style of temple architecture with the Maratha style.

Ahilyeshwar Shivalaya
A night-shot of the chhatri’s spire
Inside the chhatri’s sanctum. The priest decides to pose
While on the outside, his wife tries her hand at modelling!
Interesting sculptures in the chhatri 

From the enclosure that houses the two chhatris, another gateway leads to yet another flight of stairs that forms the main ghat of Maheshwar. Almost two kms of the riverfront of Maheshwar has been paved in stone to give rise to a series of ghats.  Of a total of 28 ghats, the most important are Ahilya, Peshwa, Phanse and Mahila

Gateway leading to the ghats
Sculpture on the walls
Ever so faithful
Perfect place for a quiet prayer

Just like a couple of centuries ago, the lives of the people of Maheshwar revolve around the ghats. At daybreak, people throng to the ghats to offer their prayers. The morning air resounds with chants of Om Namah Shivay as people brave the morning chill to take a dip in the holy waters of the Narmada. Locals believe that the waters of the river have purifying properties and hence a morning dip ensures success in the day’s endeavours.

The holy dip
A priest readies himself for the worshippers
While some opt for a more personalised service!
Others busy themselves with the yoga routine…
..and I capture a quick mug shot of the self!

After the initial stream of devotees have taken their dips and have gone on their respective missions, come the tourists. Colourful boats lie moored on the ghats to take the tourists for a cruise on the waters of the Narmada.  There are two kinds of boats available at the ghat – row-boats and the ones powered by modified motorbike engines. While the latter is definitely faster, they create one hell of a racket, which can effectively ruin the ambiance of a quiet  morning. So it is advisable to take the row-boat. Oh, and do bargain beforehand not only about the price, but also the duration of the ride. I hired a row-boat which took me around the river for a good hour and I paid Rs 150. Also, if you can, do tip!

Them tourists!
Leaving the ghat on my beautiful red boat

Many of the temples and ghats of Maheshwar are best viewed from the boat. I shall describe them as we go along:

Located on the Mahila Ghat is Laxmi Bai ki Chhatri. However, do not let the name fool you, as it really is the chhatri of Ahilya Bai’s daughter, Krishna Bai
On an island in the middle of the river stands the Baneshwar Mahadev Temple. It is believed that a heavenly line (an axis of sorts) from the North Star passes through this temple to the earth’s centre
Mid-river bliss
The Narmada is but an ocean
..and all of humanity a mere island.
And back at the ghat

As the day rolls on and the devotees and tourists have long vacated the ghats, come another group of visitors. Predominantly women, they do most of their cleaning and washing on the waters of the Narmada.

One of my favourite shots from this trip!
Done for the day!

On my long walks across Maheshwar, I was accompanied by a local boy, Chhotu, who was acting like my guide. He used to work as a waiter at the Fort Ahilya Hotel and as a result had picked up a spattering of English which he was more than eager to advertise. On the last day at Maheshwar, which I had left for visiting the weavers, he tells me ‘saar, mere paas one more temple hai. Chalein?’.

‘Chalo’, says I

So he leads me on this dusty track by the side of the Narmada. Very conveniently, he had forgotten to mention that we would be walking for around 3 kms, one way. So I did not bother to carry water with me. The river water was full of all kinds of rubbish and was undrinkable. So I walked on in the 40 degree heat without water or shade. We finally stopped at the base of a steep hill which had a small ghat and seven small shrines on it. The shrines, Chhotu says are to the ‘seven mothers’, but refuses to explain further. Their identity remains hidden forever. What I did learn was that this site was called the Sapta Martuka Mandir. On top of the hill in the background, however is a 17th century pre-Holkar Shiva temple known as Jaleshwar Mahadev Mandir. The priest of the temple was kind enough to save mu life with some water.

The track by the river
The shrines of the seven mothers with the Jaleshwar Mahadev Temple rising in the background

This is also the point where a smaller river, called Maheshwar, after the town, joins the Narmada. At the point where the two join is a small hill surrounded by water. On top of the hill is another, even older temple which, interestingly, is heavily fortified. Sadly though, there were no boats here to take us across , so we had to give it a miss.

The fortified Kaleshwar Mahadev Temple

With barely hours left for my bus to Omkareshwar, Chhotu and head off to the weavers’ colonies. A few decades ago, the art of weaving a Maheshwari sari was almost at its deathbed. Richard Holkar, the current scion of the royal family and his wife Sally, while on a visit to Maheshwar realised the need to revive it. So with a paltry grant from the Indian Central Welfare Board, in 1979, they started a weaving project involving the local women and called it the Rehwa Society. Rehwa, or Rewa, is another name for the river Narmada.

Over the next three decades, the number of weavers has gone up to 250 and they operate over 1,500 traditional looms. Inspired by the success of the Rehwa Society, individuals have also taken up weaving and now within the walled city, the stillness of the sir is broken at all hours by the click-clacking of the wooden looms. Though the weavers, back in the day produced mainly saris, the modern weavers have diversified into dupattas, scarves, shawls and dress material.

The traditional loom
The weavers are mostly women
The quaint building housing the Rehwa Society

Maheshwari saris are usually coloured using vegetable dyes, though to bring down prices some weavers do use chemical dyes. The most popular colours used in Maheshwari saris are angoori (grape green), dalimbi (deep pink), gul bakshi (magenta), jaamla (purple), tapkeer (deep brown) and aamras (golden-yellow). The pallav or aanchal of a Maheshwari sari is distinctive with five alternating stripes of which three are of different colours and two are white. The use of zari and kinari is used to embellish the saris which often have a rich golden border and two gold bands on the pallav. The unique feature of a Maheshwari sari is its reversible border. The border is designed in such a way that both sides of the sari can be worn. An original Maheshwari sari can cost anywhere between Rs 1,500 to Rs 5,000. The fine, airy cloth is perfect for hot Indian summers while the blend of silk and cotton makes the cloth float above the skin.

I am no sari photographer, but still…
Another one

My two days in Maheshwar has been extremely rewarding and at the end of it I was off to Omkareshwar. Predominantly a temple town, the vibe of Omkareshwar would be completely different from Maheshwar. On top of that, this particular trip was planned on a shoe-string budget, which means that all the travelling was done on buses – another experience.

Watch this space for the Omkareshwar chapter of this series. Till then I leave you with two images of the sunset on the Narmada.

Tequilla sunset
The late goodbye