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Sunday, January 14, 2018

12.01.18 Our Madhya Pradesh Tour Report – 4th and Final Part

On the first day of our stay at Bhopal, we decided to see the important places within Bhopal and use the last day to visit Bhimbedka and other sites outside Bhopal.

Our first stop was at Taj-aul-masjid, one of the three largest masjids in the world, the construction of which started in 1887 during the time of Nawab Shah Jahan Begum. 
Taj-aul masjid

Taj-aul masjid
From there, we went to Hanuman Tekre, a small hillock on top of which a beautiful Jain temple had been built. One could either drive the car all the way to the top of the hill or use the rope car. We used the latter. 

From Hanuman Tekre, we took a public bus to People’s Mall, probably one of the latest entertainment centres in Bhopal. For a small entry fee of Rs.50 one could spend the whole day here. We were quite impressed about the mall, with its exquisite entrance hall, multiplex theatres, various miniature replica of several important structures from all over the world – Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Eiffel Tower, British Parliament, Statue of Liberty, and so on. The accompanying pictures will speak it all, no need to describe them.

It looked as though the entire mall is constantly under development. Please remember, it is not a mall for shopping.

From People’s Mall, we took another bus to the famous Birla Mandir. On the way, we were caught in a terrible traffic jam which lasted for more than 2 hours around the areas closer to the railway station, Hamidia Road, Nadra Bus Stand. And these areas form the border of the old and new Bhopal. Eventually, we learnt that traffic jam was a regular feature in Bhopal in these areas. Hardly any police was there to solve the problem. There was complete chaos and ‘free for all’ traffic. I also noticed that in such a sensitive place with several side roads, junctions, markets and shops on either side there were very few traffic signals to regulate the traffic. The behavior of the public, driving cars and two wheelers compounded the problems, for the most part.

As it got very late after visiting the Lakshmi Narain Temple we were mentally tired and so returned back to the hotel hoping that we would be visiting the two important ‘talab’s (lakes) the next day, which, unfortunately, didn’t happen.

On the last day of our trip to Madhya Pradesh, we had arranged for a taxi to take us from Bhopal to Sanchi, Udaigiri Caves, Bhojpur Shiva Temple, and Bhimbedka Rock Shelters. All these places were stunningly beautiful in their own way.
Sanchi Stupa belongs to the 3rd century, commissioned by the Emperor Asoka.

Udaigiri rock caves represent some of the oldest surviving rock caves, belonging the Gupta period of 5th century CE.

In Bhojpur, the Bhojeswar Temple dedicated to Lord Siva belongs to 11th century. The temple commissioned by the King Bhoja is incomplete and houses the 18 feet tall Shivling. The temple, its location in a vast expanse of open area, and Shivling were very impressive. A lot of tourists and devotees were seen in and around the temple. 

At a short distance from the Bhojeswar Temple there is another historic Jain temple.

One can see the 18-feet tall statue of Lord Shantinath, with two other smaller statues of Lord Parshvanath and Lord Suparshvanath. There is evidence to show that the main Lord Shantinath’s statue was commissioned by the King Bhoja. As we went there after the lunch time, the temple was closed. We could only view the Jain statue through the grilled gates.

As we were in a hurry to reach Bhibedka before it got dark we didn’t visit the Parvathy cave and remains of Bhoja’s royal palace.

When we reached Bhimbedka, it was past 4 pm. In fact, the urge in me to visit Bhimbedka rock shelters only culminated in our visit to Madhya Pradesh. I had read on the internet that these rock shelters belong to the ‘paleolithic’, ‘mesolithic’ and ‘historic’ periods. They exhibit the earliest traces of human habitation in the Indian Subcontinent. Containing more than 750 rock shelters spread over 10 kilometers there are evidences that they were home to the ‘homo erectus’ some 100000 years ago. On some of these rock shelters there are cave paintings which are at least 30000 years old. These paintings represent themes like animals, early hunting, and dancing.

As you enter the area you will find yourselves in the ‘auditorium’ cave, a significant structure, and the largest one. We walked through quickly some 12 rock shelters of different shapes and sizes.

It was really getting dark and the park was to be closed soon. Probably, one needs the entire day to visit all the rock shelters. They have properly paved the path at least to those we had visited. We have no idea about the other hundreds of shelters. Visiting Bhimbedka rock shelters, incidentally, became the most memorable experience of our MP tour. Of course, baring aside the visit to Bheda Ghat Marble Rocks at Jabalpur.

I felt that probably we should have come to Bhimbedka Rock Shelters first and reversed our route - Bhopal to Bhimbedka to Bhojpur to Udaigiri to Sanchi and then back to Bhopal.

We boarded a late night train – Hazrat Nizamudeen to Chennai Duranto - which came a full 4 hours late due to delayed start from Nizamudeen on account of fog in Delhi. We whiled away our time in the Upper Class Waiting Room in the railway station in the meanwhile.

Await my concluding remarks tomorrow.

Friday, January 12, 2018

10.01.18 Our Tour to Madhya Pradesh – 3rd Part – Ujjain, Indore, Omkareshwar and Mandu

At Ujjain railway station we engaged an autorickshaw for visiting various temples. We agreed to pay him three hundred and fifty rupees. We rented a small room in a small hotel just for the purpose of taking bath. The autorickshaw took us to several temples, importantly:

Sandipani (Shandhipani) Ashram: This is where Lord Krishna, in the company of Balram, studied under the tutelage of Rishi Sandipani. The Ashram has since been converted into a temple. There is a stepped well inside the Ashram. The atmosphere inside the Ashram was quite calm and serene.

Shri Mangalnath Temple: Located on the banks of Shipra river, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The earliest Meridian (of earth) is claimed to have passed through this place, and hence the place is believed to be very significant for astrological studies.

Harsiddhi Temple, believed to have been built by King Vikramaditya. Legendary beliefs say that the elbow of Kali fell at the spot where the temple is built.

Shri Kalbhairav Temple, believed to have been built by the King Bhadrasen, several centuries ago. Here, the main offering to the Lord is brandy, besides the customary flowers. It was really funny to watch the Lord consuming litres and litres of brandy as the pundit pours down the mouth of the statue of the deity the brandy brought by devotees, and nobody knows where the brandy drains.

Bartrihari Caves: It is believed that King Vikramaditya’s step brother renounced his worldly life and chose to spend his remaining life in meditation in these caves. The caves were so narrow, deep, and small that it could hurt claustrophobic people.

Ghadhkali Temple: It is here Kalidas got his boon from Devi Maa. Some scholars believe that during 7th century this ancient temple was reconstructed by King Harshwardhan of Thaneshwar when he visited Ujjain. It is indeed the most ancient temple of Ujjain. The former Gwalior rulers rebuilt this holy shrine to its former glory.

On our way back to the main Mahakaleshwar Temple, we stopped briefly at Vikramaditya Temple and Bada Ganesh Temple – both on the roadsides and quite small. We also stopped over at Ram Ghat on the banks of Kshipra river, where the Kumbh Mela takes places once in 4 years.

There was a very long queue of devotees in front of Mahakaleshwar Temple, where one of the 12 Jyothirlingas is located. We learned that it could take several hours for free darshan. Fortunately, there was a special darshan, paying an entry ticket of Rs.250/- per head and we chose the short cut. We had very good darshan of Lord Mahakaleshwar. As they have built a kind of stepped platforms in front of the deity for managing the queue we could stand in front of the deity for longer time.

We took a Volvo AC bus and reached Indore by the evening. We checked into our hotel for the night’s stay.

The hotel was located in a busy area, surrounded by shops, restaurants, multiplex cinema theatre, etc., and we had a stroll to the nearby places in the evening.

Next morning, we decided to take a public bus to Omkareshwar, the other Jyothirlinga. It was a pity that there was no direct bus to Omkareshwar from Indore, despite the place being an important holy place. After nearly four hours, after changing a bus on the way, we were at Omkareshwar bus stand, which is another about a kilometer from the temple. An autorickshaw dropped us near the bridge to cross Narmada River to reach the temple.

Narmadha is an amazing river, the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh, 1312 kilometers long, originating in the Amarkantak plateau, and draining through the Gulf of Khambat into the Arabian Sea. It flows from East to West, rather the longest West flowing river. It also forms a kind of border between the northern and southern India.

At the Omkareshwar Temple, there was a chaotic crowd to have darshan of the Lord. Besides, the darshan was to have a break for an hour or so at 12.20 pm, and so, everyone pushed and crushed everyone else to enter the sanctum before the gates were closed. We were fortunate that we were also pushed inside the gate to have a very brief darshan of Omkareshwar. Virtually, everyone was pushed out from the sanctum.

We took a boat to cross the river to reach the Mamalleshwar, which taken together with Omkareshwar, his twin, is considered one of the 12 Jyothirlingas. Hardly, any crowd was here in this temple. We had good darshan, then finished our lunch, took a bus and returned back to Indore by the evening.

Next morning, we packed our things, left our luggage in the hotel itself, and departed for Mandu, an historical place. Again, we decided to use the public transport, and there was no direct bus. After changing over at Dhar, we reached Mandu after nearly three hours or so. Only taxis plied inside Mandu for sightseeing. We visited a number of historical mahals, masjids, and temples. Overall, I wasn’t so much impressed about the place, having seen several Islamic structures at various places in India. However, they all look beautiful in pictures.

The same evening, we took a late-evening bus and reached Bhopal by around 11 at night and checked into our hotel.

The next report will be our final on our Madhya Pradesh Tour.

Friday, January 05, 2018

06.01.18 Our Madhya Pradesh Tour – Part II

Our train from Satna – an express train from Varanasi to LTT terminal, Mumbai - reached Jabalpur quite late - nearly 2 hours – at 08.30 in the night. The hotel had offered a free pick up from the station. But the taxi wasn’t in sight, despite a personal conversation with the travel manager of the hotel. Probably there was a goof up. We were, in fact, frustrated, waiting outside the chilly railway station and that too, after a boring rail travel. I had to give the hotel reception staff a bit of my mind in the strongest terms. To appease us, the manager offered a free breakfast to us for the next morning. Other than this goof up, the hotel, the stay there, and the food were excellent.

Next morning, we had arranged a taxi to take us to Bheda Ghat Marble rocks – some 25 kilometers away from Jabalpur town - and other sightseeing places around Jabalpur. 

Balancing rock

Balancing rock

Rani Durgawati Fort

Rani Durgawati Fort

Rani Durgawati Fort
On our way, we stopped over at the ‘Balancing Rock’ and Rani Durgawati Fort. From the picture of the balancing rock you might wonder how these rocks had been balancing themselves delicately over thousands of years, as I had wondered too. Rani Durgawati Fort is situated on a small hill, and one can view this dilapidated fort, climbing some 200 steps. In northern India, this is possibly the story in many places; several kings and queens building small forts in places not easily accessible to enemies, to protect or hide themselves from (mostly) the barbaric Islamic invaders. Or, some of them hideouts built by Islamic chieftains to protect their Hindu concubine queens from the view of others.

We also went to a famous 1000-year-old Tiruparasundari temple. 

Bheda Ghat offers a fabulous view of Narmada River flowing between tall marble rocks, just similar to a canyon.

After loitering around the viewpoints and after doing window shopping at several makeshift shops selling exquisitely carved marble statues and articles of varied sizes along the way we went for the boat ride on the river. Another remarkable experience. A small boat which can accommodate about 15 persons. 

The boat rower told a number of stories about the river, the rocks, the film shootings, the film stars, and what not as he rowed the boat. Some funny, some hilarious, and some not-so-serious stories. At many places, the river was quite narrow between tall rocks and was a bit scary too. The pictures on the sides will tell the beauty of the river and the marble rocks. No need to explain in word. 

At one place, three young lads, not even 10-12 aged, jumped from sharp rocks, some 100 meters tall, into the river to entertain the boat riders and collect money. Dare devils! The river was very deep in many places – some 80 to 100 feet deep.

After visiting Bheda Ghat, we went to Bargi dam – another 40 kilometers drive. I have read about Bargi dam that it was one of the first of the chain of 38 dams built across Narmada River for irrigation and power generation. However, it turned out that other than a cruise on the waters there was nothing else to see there. When we went, only a motorized speed boat was run, and we had a 5 minutes ride in a speed boat for the first time in our life. Visitors, better avoid Bargi dam, if you want to save time.

We returned back quite disappointed from Bargi dam, went straight to the 76 feet tall Lord Shiva Statue temple in Kachnar, on the outskirts of Jabalpur.

A mammoth statue, indeed. We could see a lot of people visiting the temple – some devotees and many tourists. From there, we rushed to Gwarighat to watch the holy Aarti to Narmada River, which takes place at 7 at night every day. In the chilly darkness of the night, with the silhouette of the river in the background, five pundits performed the Pooja and Aarti to Narmada Devi to the meticulous chanting of Vedic mantras. Yes, in India, all rivers are considered very holy and as a form of female gods, reverently called Devis. The Aarti song always lifts up my mood, anywhere, everywhere, and anytime. So, for about thirty minutes I spent my time in some different world, forgetting all my worldly connections.  Really, a fantastic spiritual experience. A must see when one visits Jabalpur. There was quite a good crowd to watch the Aarti. In fact, they allowed a number of visitors too to perform the Aarti, holding the huge Aarti plates. We were one among the fortunate to perform  this Aarti. 


After the Aarti got over, we were dropped off at the Jabalpur railway station to catch our 21.30 train to Ujjain. We reached Ujjain the next morning at around 08.30 am.