Reaching Chauragarh


Around a year ago, work took me to Pachmarhi. As usual, our organisation was asked by Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Developement Coporation to write a travel guide to Pachmarhi. This is the first step of an elaborate plan that ends in the declaration of Pachmarhi as a UNESCO World heritage site. To be honest, i have only heard mentions of Pachmarhi and had no idea whatsoever of what surprises awaited me. In my initial research, it was clear that it was a hill station of sorts (come on, having spent a considerable amount of time practically next door to Darjeeling, the tag ‘of sorts’ is only fair). What interested me more were the hills on which Pachmarhi was located – the Satpuras.

The landscape is dominated by rugged hills, plunging ravines, and ancient monoliths that resemble the tough hide of some colossal primeval beast deep in an eternal slumber. Dense forest covers the land and paints it in swathes of a thousand shades of green, broken only by the deep brown of some of the most ancient rocks known to mankind. At every possible point in this landscape, mountain streams tumble down the steep slopes to give rise to cascading waterfalls.

Although the main photo-journal of my Pachmarhi trip will come later, i could not resist giving a standalone mention to one of Pachmarhi’s most daunting attractions – the Chauragarh Temple. Located on top of the Chauragarh Peak,at an altitude of 1,330 m, the temple can be accessed after a 3.6 km ling trek. Just when you are thinking that the three-and-a-half odd kms is not really a big deal, let me just tell you that the last kilometer is basically 1,380 steps cut on the sheer rock face.

View of the Satpuras from Forsyth Point. Look closely at the top of the highest hill on the right… what you see as a little pyramid is the Chauragarh Temple, my destination for the day
Wish you were here!

You can take your car upto the Mahadeo Temple, 9 kms from Pachmarhi town. From there begins the trek to Chauragarh. For the first kilometre, you climb up and down a number of small hills till you come to the base of the main hill. See, the thing is, i USED TO be a fit guy when i was in college and played sports regularly. The lesser said about my present state of physical fitness, the better. So i hired a guide (read: porter) who would carry the water and the extra camera. For people planning to go there, please carry your own water as there are no vendors on the way. A few tribals set up shop here and there selling gutkhas, cigarettes and nimboo paani. For the last item, they mostly use a lemon that grows in the wild and makes a nimboo paani unlike anything else you have tasted. Must-have!

Initial stages of the trek.
Signs of His presence

Almost halfway through the trek, you begin to wonder why on earth did so many people spend so much verbal bytes on how difficult the trek was going to be. I was making good time and there was no sign of any challenging climb. At one point of time i was even thinking that MAYBE i was not as unfit as i thought i was…MAYBE i am in fact the superfly and that i would conquer Chauragarh in no time.

Anyway, condescending thoughts aside, halfway through the trek, you encounter a large cave. The opening is rather wide and as one ventures inside, it gets narrower and the roof gets increasingly lower. At the end of the cave was a deep pool full of what seemed like the most sinister looking water that ever was. If i was in a pulp detective novel, this was the kind of place i would find the remains of the victims of a Dahmer-isque serial killer. But that was not to be…all i found was an idol of Shiva!

My guide decides to take a nap while i explore the cave!
Shiva at the end of the tunnel

After the cave, the track finally starts winding upwards. On one side of the road was an unrestricted view of the Satpura valley, most of which is part of the Satpuras National Park and Tiger Reserve. As you trudge on higher and higher, the scenenery begins to unfold under you. At this point of time, you begin to wonder if this view looks stunning, what would the view from top be like.

Onwards…
The valley that was
A little further up

Two-thirds of the way up, i started feeling the pinch of the climb. Heavy breathing graduated into discernable panting and at the first sign of the real climb began to show itself. I was standing at a point where the hill had risen sharply. The moderately inclined road had come to an end and the stairs had started. They were cut into the side of the rock and each of them was almost twice the height of the ones we encounter everyday at home or in office. At some places, the steps were almost vertical it was almost like climbing up a ladder.

This should give you an idea of what i am talking about.
View from almost halfway up the hill.

After the first 300 steps, relief came in the form of a stretch of level road. Chest swelling, muscles aching, i stopped here for a breather. It was amazing how silent it was. Due to the difficulty of the climb, not many people attempt the trek. It had already been almost one and a half hours since i started from the Mahadeo Caves and i had seen not more than a dozen souls on the road. All i could hear was the rustling of leaves and the occassional chirping of a bird.

The rare level road. The little shop sold some very refreshing nimboo paani
Still a long way to go..
It was all very silent
Where the god resides
Halfway up yet another climb

After what seemed like an endless climb, i finally reached a terrace of sorts. It was almost at the neck of the hill, with one final flight of moderately high stairs (for a change) to the top. I rang the bell here in all my earnestness to thank the lord that the ordeal was almost over.

Almost there
The final climb

The temple courtyard is stacked with thousands of trishuls, some weighing over three tons and standing nearly 5 m tall. On the occasion of Nagpanchmi and Mahashivaratri, devotees come here in droves, lugging up these heavy tridents or trishuls as offerings. These are then stuck in the ground around the temple creating a forest of trishuls. It is generally believed that the wishes of anyone who offers a trident here will be fulflled.

A giant heap of divine weaponry
And then some more
The real pilgrim

The temple itself is a half-built modern structure with an idol of Shiva in the garbhagriha. A small hut by the temple serves as the residence for the two priests. A conversation with one of the priests reveals that the hill was held sacred by the local adivasis long before ‘outsiders’ came. An assimilation of cultures let to the identifcation  of a tribal deity with Lord Shiva.

I will not describe in words the view from top. Here, see for yourself:

The view from top. You can clearly see a part of the road leading to the temple.

The climb down took almost a fraction of what it took me to reach the top. I calculated that from start to finish, the entire trek took me around 6 hours. My guide thought that i was rather quick compared to the numerous others he had accompanied. Having said this, he added that this 16 year old nephew was known to do the round trip in under an hour. I wouldnt want to meet the lad though.

on the way back

This remains, to this day the most physically demanding trip i have ever undertake. I am not much of a trekker and given a choice, i would let by Bullet do the walking. But if any of you guys are planning on going to Chauragarh, give me a shout. I might just come along. This was special.

Amundsen..well, almost!