It was Mid-April, 2022 and I was on exploration of Pachmarhi and nearby areas.
After visiting Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, we took the cab, towards Narmadapuram. Idea was to visit the iconic Sethani Ghat on Narmada.
Hoshangabad (now Narmadapuram) is about 35 KMs from Bhimbetka and about 75 KMs from Bhopal. Pachmarhi is about 120 KMs from here. Sethani Ghat is one of the largest ghats in India. During Narmada Jayanti celebrations the ghat comes alive when thousands of people converge on the ghats and diyas are floated in the river. The ghat was built after generous contributions by Jankibai Sethani from the Sharma family in Narmadapuram after devotees complained to her about the difficulty in getting to the river, Hence the ghat is named after her. I remembered Ghats of Varanasi after visiting Sethani Ghat, there resemble each other. Though It was a hot summer afternoon, sitting close to Narmada was a blissful experience. Spending sometime there, I took the road to Pachmarhi. Situated at average elevation of about 1100 meters above sea level, Pachmarhi is popularly known as 'Satpura ki Rani' (Queen of Satpura), as it sits beautifully amidst the Satpura ranges.
This town was established by Captain James Forsyth in 1857. It has been the location of a cantonment since British Raj. It took us almost 3 hours to reach here from Hoshangabad. The road particularly the ghat section is in midst of thick forest area. As it was summer, trees had shed their leaves and things look barren. I feel Feb/March and Sep/Oct are best time to visit here. The name Pachmarhi is believed to be derived from the words Panch ("five") and Marhi ("caves"). According to a legend, these caves were built by Pandava brothers during their thirteen years of exile. The caves are situated on a hilltop in the middle of town.Before the British, the Pachmarhi region was under the kingdom of the Gond Bhagvat Singh, although it was not a populated village or town at that time. Captain James Forsyth of the British Army along with Subhedar Major Nathoo Ramji Powar who was later made the Kotwal (in charge of the Armory) of Pachmarhi, spotted the plateau in the Pachmarhi region in 1857, while leading his troops on the way to Jhansi. It quickly developed into hill station and sanatorium for British troops in the Central Provinces of India. There was unexpected rush at town as we reached there late evening. It took us sometime to find a suitable hotel to stay. Rate were very high and overall I found the place to be quite costly. It may be because of rush of tourist. Not sure, may be in other seasons, it is a bit cheaper.A good dinner and rest at night made me fresh to explore the Pachmarhi town. There are two kinds of attraction in Pachmarhi to visit. First one are those which are in forest and so only forest department vehicle can go there. Second group of places are those which can be covered on their own by tourists. Below is a list of both group of places: 1. Main places that require forest department vehicle a) Museum b) Bee Falls c) Para Sailing Point d) Reechh Garh e) Dhoop Garh 2. Non Entry Points - Main places where people can go on their own (no forest department permission needed) a) Jatashankar Temple b) Pandav Cave c) Handi Khoh d) Jatashankar Temple e) Priyadarshini Point f) Mahadev Cave g) Gupt Mahadev Cave h) Rajendra giri i) Chauragarh j) Pachmarhi Lake Day 1, we planned to cover the Forest points, which we covered by noon and then rest of the day and on Day 2, we explored other points. To get the forest entry pass and vehicle, we had to go to MP Tourism, Bison Lodge. The counter opens at 9 AM, but we reached their at around 745 AM itself. Even at that time, there were 8 people ahead of us. Soon we realised that we did good by coming early as by 9, it was big rush and almost 100+ people behind us! Our first point that we covered was Museum, which is within the Bison Lodge itself.It was the first property constructed in Pachmarhi. It was done by Captain James Forsyth and he named it Bison Lodge as there areas was full of Bisons. The head of a Bison, killed by him is also kept at signboard just outside the Museum. It was his residence and now its converted into a small museum.Now we boarded the forest Jeep along with guide and proceeded towards Pandav Caves, which is not very far from here. Though as we reached close by, we realised the heavy rush over there. There was no place to park the vehicle and so we decided to return again in afternoon and took the road to Bee Falls. The Bee Falls is also called the Jamuna Prapat. It provides drinking water for the Pachmarhi Valley. There is a pool below and another one above the water fall.One has to take about 350 steps to reach the main falls below. It is a natural waterfall located in the pristine hills. There are a lot of honeycombs in that area, hence the name. It is very beautiful place. People can take bath also, but I was not inclined for same. One has to be careful in ascending and descending, particularly in rainy seasons as steps may become slippery.
Mount Dhupgarh or Dhoopgarh is the highest point in the Mahadeo Hills (Satpura Range). It has an elevation of 1,352 metres (4,429 ft). The top of the hill is a popular area to watch sunsets. It was noon time and very hot summer month. We could not enjoy the place much as its best to visit in evening for Sunset. An open auditorium kind of construction has been done there so that people can enjoy Sunrise and Sunset from there. Two different places in east and west have been marked for same.Dhoopgarh, originally known as Harvatsa Kot, gives the best views of the entire town of Pachmarhi along with the surrounding lesser Satpura ranges and Vindhya range. The best season to visit Dhupgarh is during the monsoon season when the place is enveloped by thin monsoon clouds and lush green foliage.The name Dhoopgarh is perhaps because being at a high elevation, it gets lot of sun throughout the year.There is a colonial British bunglow also at Dhoopgarh. It was constructed a few years later than the Bison lodge.The road to Dhoopgarh involves ghat section also. The entire stretch is full of greenery and beautiful with lot of panaromic views. We returned back towards Pachmarhi town and went straight to Pandava caves.The Pandava Caves are a group of five caves in a small hillock. It is believed that the Pandavas during their period of exile took shelter in these caves. The one which is comparatively bigger with enough air circulation is called Draupadi Kuti. The most congested and dark cave is called Bhima Kothari or Cave. The archaeological evidences claim that the caves where constructed by Buddhist monks during the 1st century as they used them as a place of refuge. But, the story of Pandavas is more popular. Caves are not at same level, one need to ascend a bit to reach all caves. It was lunch time, which we did at "Beta Bawarchi". This entire plan was for a day, but we covered in about half a day and so decied to explore other places on our own. After lunch we headed towards Mahadev caves. On the way the first spot is "Handi Khoh"The 300 feet tall steep cliff makes the finest ravine in the country. Its surrounded by dense forests. Handi Khoh has mythological stories associated to it. It is believed that once it was a huge lake but the devilish snake who was guarding the lake was destroyed by the fury of Lord Shiva and the event dried up the lake into shape of a pot (Handi). One has to be careful while taking pics and selfie. This ravine is a straight fall and hence precaution needed.
Our next halt was Priyadarshini Point, earlier known as Forsyth point. It is this point from where Captain James Forsyth is said to have first witnessed the beauty of Pachmarhi in the year 1857. Standing here, one can get an eagle eye view of the entire Pachmarhi. It is situated on the other side of Handi Khoh. A short walk of about 400 meters from the road takes us to the point.So now the major attractions covered, we headed towards Mahadev cave. Mahadev cave is bigger and another Parvati cave nearby is a bit smaller. Gupt Mahadev cave is about 200 meters from Mahadev cave is very narrow and a max of only 8 people were allowed at a time. First we visited the Gupt Mahadev temple. Lord Shiva is said to have hidden here after blessing Bhasmasura.Next we visited Mahadev cave or Bada Mahadev cave. It is a 60 feet long cave where shiva is worshipped. As per legend, this is the place where Lord Vishnu killed Demon Bhasmasura taking the form of Mohini, a celestial beauty. It has water dropping from the cave continuously and it gets collected in a pool. Taking bath in this pool is supposed to cure one of all ailments, but now the bathing ritual has been stopped. Nearby is Parvati cave. We visited that as well and got blessed. The place is very serene and blissful. One must visit, when at Pachmarhi.Evening was approaching and we had thought of covering two more places today. One was Rajendra giri and then JataShankar cave. We headed towards Rajendragiri first.Rajendra Giri Sun Set Point is a picturesque spot and offers panoramic views of Pachmarhi. The site was named after Dr Rajendra Prasad, as he was a frequent visitor to Pachmarhi. It is an ideal place to enjoy a great view of nature, especially the sunset.I felt it like being at "Dolphins's nose" point at Ooty. I liked the place and we roamed there for sometime. The view of Chauragarh temple was beautiful from here. It was inviting us!Evening was approaching fast and we decided to return back to Pachmarhi. But before going to hotel, we decided to cover Jatashankar cave temple. This is in Pachmarhi town only.As per folklore, it is also the place where Lord Shiva had hidden from the Demon Bhasmasur. The rocks of this sacred cave looks like the tangled hair of Lord Shiva, hence it is named Jata Shankar. It is a natural cave and located in a deep ravine with enormous boulders perched above. Jata means hair and Shankar is another name of Lord Shiva.One has to go deep below into the ravine through many steps (I guess may be around 100) to reach the cave. The aura of cave is mesmerizing. This was our last point for the day. Happy with pace of our exploration, we spend sometime there and then headed back to hotel.There was a debate among ourselves whether to vist Chauragarh Temple or not. It was at a distance of about 4 KMs from Gupt Mahadev cave and involed about 1350 steps to ascend (and descend while returning) and summer season was complicating the mater. With some discussions finally we decided to trek it.We enquired about this at hotel. Those people told a time of minimum 6 hours to cover the to and fro distance. Even our cab drive, who had visited Pachmarhi many times, suggested the same. Anyways we decided to start for it early morning. Nestled amid the verdant valley and the undulating forests, the Chauragarh Peak is situated at an altitude of 1326 meters. It is third highest point in Satpura ranges. It gives a wonderful view of the dense forest and the valley below.There is a famous Lord Shiva temple on the Chauragarh Peak making it an important pilgrim center. Devotees bring Trishul as a token of respect for Lord Shiva after their wishes gets fulfilled with blessings of almighty Lord. We started early morning after a quick breakfast. Initially the route is up and down for about a KM and then steps start.As we started climbing higher the Sun god was also become intense and it slowed down our progress a bit. But slowly we pushed onwards. We stopped a couple of times in between to enjoy local berry from vendors.
A couple of shops are there enroute which sell cucumber, berries and cold drinks etc.Water is a issue here, so make sure to carry it with you. Near temple, one can get that. At one place on the way also tap is there to provide water, but its advisable to carry it. Temple is under construction, but very beautiful. View of surroundings is also breathtaking. We spend sometime there in that beautiful and merciful environment of Lord, who blessed us to be there. It took us about four hours to complete the distance and to be back to our waiting cab.It was time to move on.
Pachmarhi, we explored as per our satisfaction and it was time to move towards our next destination, Satpura Tiger Reserve at Madhai, about 100 KMs away with a detour from Hoshangabad route.