Kalinjar Fort, Bandhavgarh National Park and Maihar Devi Shakti Peeth
October month of 2020 was coming to an end. We were already in lockdown condition due to COVID pandemic for almost 6 months now and a few things had started opening slowly. So this thought came to have a short visit to some place, which should be refreshing as well as where we should have least contact with crowd. With some discussion with Shashank, finally we zeroed on Bandhavgarh National Park.
Bandhavgarh is about 500 KMs South East from Lucknow in Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh and is famous for Bandhavgarh National Park, which has the pride of making Madhya Pradesh as one of the states with most number of Royal Bengal Tigers, the pride of India.
We planned carefully about the travel. Abhishek also joined the trip with us.
We decided to include Kalinjar Fort as well as Maihar Devi Temple also in our itinerary, as both were on the way to Bandhavgarh.
From Lucknow we took, Lalganj - Fatehpur - Banda - Kalinjar - Maihar - Bandhagarh route. It was about to take almost 10 hours of whole day driving.
We started early at around 7 AM, Shashank picked me from home. Abhishek was waiting for us at Raebareily Road.
We stopped briefly near Lalganj to enjoy boiled and delicious water chestnuts.
The road is nice but traffic was a bit high and as it passes through small towns and villages so we have to be little cautious as any unexpected intrusion infront of vehicle can happen anytime!
It was around 12 mid-day as we reached Kalinjar, which is part of Budelkhand region in central India.
Kalinjar means The destroyer of time in Sanskrit. 'Kal' is time and 'jar' destruction. Legend says that with churning of great ocean "Samudra Manthan", the "Halahal Poison" appeared. Lord Shiva, drank the poison and his throat became blue (hence the name Neel (blue) Kantha (throat)). Then he came to Kalinjar and meditated here hence the name Kalinjar, victory over death.
This town is famous for its magnificent fort, which has seen many generations of rulers and wars across this region. Its strategically located on an isolated rocky hill at the end the Vindhya Range and overlooks the plains of Bundelkhand. It served several of Bundelkhand's ruling dynasties, specially by Jaiswals and Gupt dynasties including the Chandela dynasty of Rajputs, Bhar shiva in the 10th century, and the Solankis of Rewa. The fortress contains several temples dating as far back as the Gupta dynasty of the 3rd–5th centuries AD.
This fort is the place where Sher Shah Suri met his death in 1545 when he was killed by a cannon shot. In 1569 Akbar captured the fort and it was under Mughal Rule till the Marathas captured it. In early 18th century the fort was captured by the Peshwa Bajirao after defeating the Mughal garrison. He established a Maratha light infantry garrison.
Kalinjar played a prominent part in history down to the time of the Revolt of 1857, when it was held by a small British garrison. The fort was decommissioned and its buildings were demolished by British, to prevent any further garrisoning.
Kalinjar occupies a very important place of pride in the history of India. The place is also a symbol of cultural and religious glory, marked by the famous temple of ageless Neelkantha, the tallest 'Kala Bhairava' image and number of high class sculptures ranging from the Gupta period of the time of Chadellas.
We visited Rani mahal, Chaube Mahal as well as other nearby deserted ruins. Hardly any other tourist was there. We took a glimpse of area through its vast ramparts.
Then we descended towards Neelkath Temple, where worship is still continuing. The famous Bhairava idol is also nearby where water drops does the abhisheka continuously!
It was about 2 PM and time to take road to Bandhavgarh. We still had to cover a lot of distance!
It was dark as we crossed the Panpatha range of forest to reach the Tala zone. As hotel was prebooked, so easily we got a cosy room to relax and then take a good dinner.
Bandhavgarh National Park is home to a large biodiversity of flora and fauna, and has one of the latgest density of the Tigers in India. Maharaja Martand Singh of Rewa captured the first white tiger in this region in 1951. This white tiger, Mohan, is now stuffed and on display in the palace of the Maharajas of Rewa. The Park derived its name from the most prominent hill of the area which is said to have been given by Lord Rama to his brother Lakshman to keep a watch on Lanka. (Bandhav = Brother, Garh = Fort).
Bandhavgarh National Park consists of mixed vegetation ranging from tall grasslands to thick Sal forest and so is the perfect habitat of variety of animals and birds.
There is also one Panpatha zone. It was closed at the time when we visited. I heard that they were planing to start night safari in a few days. Recently I heard that forest department has also started hot air balloon safari in the area.
There is a saying about the Park that goes "In any other Park, you are lucky if you see a tiger. In Bandhavgarh, you are unlucky if you don't see it.
Anxiously we were waiting for morning!
At 530 AM we were at gates of forest and soon we entered the mush awaited area. We were also accompanied by a Marathi couple, who drove on a bike from Nagpur to witness the majestic tiger, for which we had visited many forests across India but so far the king on Indian Jungles had remained elusive from us!
In next one hour, we sighted tiger pug marks, which raised the excitement and then alarm calls alerted us. The King was on move!
At a suitable place, we parked the safari Gypsy and waited for any movement. For almost 30 minutes we remained there in same posture with little noise from us, we could detect nothing.
So we moved ahead further.
And then our guide got a call that in some region tigers have been spotted, our Gypsy ran towards the direction.
A few other vehicles were also there and many excited tourists were scanning the area (through eyes) in our left direction, and then I got first glimpse of a tiger cub as it leaped from one bush and disappeared in another. I also got a faint view of mother Tiger as well but could not click her!
It was most exciting moments of me as an adventurer. Finally I got a glimpse. But the best was yet to come!
We waited there for some time, but tiger family had moved away through the bush and there was not much hope now. We also moved ahead and there is a specific area to get some break=fast etc., where we took Maggi. It was around 8 AM.
The reserve is also densely populated with other species of mammals like Sambar, Barking deer, Spotted deer and Nilgai. There are also Indian wolf, striped hyena , sloth bear and Leopards.
I came to know that Bandhavgarh National Park had a small population of Gaur (Indian Bison), but due to disease passed from cattle to them, all of them died. The project of reintroduction of Gaurs dealt with shifting some Gaurs from Kanha National Park to Bandhavgarh. 50 animals were shifted by the winter of 2012.
I befriended one gentleman from Sultanpur, who had got a much better sighting and he proudly showed his clicks in his mobile. I was highly jealous, but calmly requested him to share that with me, that request he readily accepted!
After breakfast, we started again for another area of forest. A couple of vehicles were ahead of us and then suddenly our driver applied sudden breaks and Gypsy came to halt, our guide put his finger towards our front left side and I clearly saw the face of a tiger!
I utilized the zoom of my camera to take clear shots and also a few videos. It was a family of mother tiger and her 3 cubs.
I had never imagined such a nice view of tigers in wild!
Then she stood and started walking towards us. My camera was recording her movements as our hearts were racing as distance between us was reducing. She came were close to us, just a few meters away and then crossed the path next to our vehicle and moved into the bushes on the other side. Her cubs followed her but from a more distance from us, with her in between cubs and us.
My God, I had never imagined such a close sighting!
We were just overwhelmed. Don’t know if again in life, we will get such a close view again!
The tiger family disappeared in bushes and with hearts pounding with excitement, we moved ahead.
I requested the driver and guide to take us to fort also but prompt refusal came, as they told that it will take more time and it can be either jungle safari or the fort. One thing to note here is that Fort can be accessed only through Tiger safari Jeeps and not otherwise.
With some dejected feeling we started our way back to forest gate. On the way we stopped and clicked some good shots of a mammoth Tusker.
Back to hotel, we took lunch and then started planning for evening.
One suggestion we got for a waterfall about 30 KMs away so we started for the place.
At the gate there the forest guard stoped us that our car is not suitable for terrain further. We request some other Jeep travellers if they can accommodate us but refusal came, though they suggested us anther place called "Ksheer Sagar" some 20 KMs further from the place.
We discussed quickly and took the road.
This place is a nice picnic spot in Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh. The route was also very scenic. This place has a temple and confluence of rivers Son and Murna.
The Murna river makes a small canyon before it meets much larger Son. The place is very beautiful and we spend some time there taking photographs of the area and also chatting with some villagers there.
A good dinner and a very satisfying evening had awaited us.
Morning, we started back to Lucknow. Plan was to visit the famous Maihar Devi Temple enroute.
Maihar known for the Shakti temple of the revered mother goddess Sharda situated on Trikuta hill.
It is said that when lord Shiva was carrying the body of the dead mother goddess (Mai in Hindi) Sati, her necklace (haar in Hindi) fell at this place and hence the name "Maihar" (Maihar = Mai+Haar, meaning the "necklace of mother").
This sacred town is also related to famous Warriors Aalha and his brother Udal.
According to the locals of Maihar, the warriors Aalha and Udal, generals of King Paramardideva Chandel who had war with Prithvi Raj Chauhan, were very devout of Sharda Devi. It is said that they are the first ones to visit the goddess in this remote forest. They called the mother goddess by the name "Sharda Mai", and henceforth she became popular as "Mata Sharda Mai". The people of Maihar believe that brothers are still alive and comes at early morning to worship the Goddess Sharda.
There are 1,063 steps to reach the top of the hill and temple. Along with stairs, there is a ropeway for convenience of the pilgrims developed by government authorities.
We decided to utilize the ropeway in the interest of time. But later realized that it was our folly as rush was too much on that and we wanted to avoid the crowd due to fear of pandemic. Anyways now nothing much can be done. Though we tried to keep some distance from crowd as much as possible.
We got blessed with very good darshan of mother goddess.
The surrounding view from top is also breathtaking. The atmosphere there was very serene and full of devotion.
While returning, we decided to take stairs and it took hardly fifteen minutes for us to back to our car.
Then a long drive to Lucknow, reaching there by late evening to comfort of home, lovely home!