Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dakshinayana Part Seven – Jabalpur: Kalchuris, Gonds and Narmada

Dhuandhar Waterfalls
“Come to parking area, it’s raining!!!” At first, I didn’t comprehend what exactly he wants to say. “Smell of soil after first rain....” he continued.

It was the first rain in this season [in Bangalore], and who would like to miss it? To stand in an open area, and let the heavy rain drops to hit the face and split in to tens of tiny droplets. I left my desk and went outside; parking slots are a bit away from the building. In school days, during monsoons we used to be in the middle of big rice fields, or playing cricket. In both cases monsoon would completely drench us, from cricket pitches we used to run towards the shades of nearby huge Tamarind trees. But suddenly some in the group would definitely shake the branches drenching rest of us.

Monsoon and Mango shower used to gave very hard time for mothers; by the end of the day blue and white uniform would change its colour to greyish brown. Sometimes, right after the rain there would be a beautiful rainbow on the sides of mighty Western Ghats. I can still visualize the sight of a double rainbow formed right after a heavy monsoon rain.
Suddenly rain became heavier and I came back to present world, parking slot is still some hundred metres away.  My memories again went back to the past – to the days I spent in Jabalpur.

I started my journey to Jabalpur from Indore. Train came around five in the evening; I got a side lower seat next to the door. Evening turned to night and the temperature also started to fall. I cursed ‘the moment’ I forgot to take the sweater in the beginning of the journey. In night, whenever train reaches some station were coming in and going out, without taking any interest in closing the door. Every time I had to wake up and close the doors, temperature was less than 7 degree Celsius.

Sometime in the night, we crossed Bhopal and continued our journey towards Jabalpur. There were two armed police men in the train walking from one end to another end. Along with the passage of time, it became very difficult for me to sleep. Forget about sleep, I was not even able to lie down in the seat. Finally, I woke up around two in the morning and looked around; everyone was happily sleeping below blankets weighting a tonne!!! Walked towards the door and closed it once again, did some exercises and spread all the pages of Business Standard and Indian Express over the seat and tried to sleep. It was a futile exercise; finally I gave up and tried to sit in that seat. My heart was beating so fast and loud that, I could hear the sound. I felt that the nerves in the brain were expanding so fast that, it may break at any moment.


At Jabalpur

After every night there is a day. Finally, we crossed Madan Mahal – most of the people in my boggy got down there - and reached Jabalpur. After having a tea and spending some time in that platform, I walked towards platform number one and left the bag at clock room. Here I met a family from Chhattisgarh, who were going to Bedaghat. For a moment, I thought of asking them - whether I can also join with them in cost sharing basis? But they were travelling as a family, it may not be appropriate to ask that question. I couldn’t see any bus there, only autos and four wheelers. I used to think that, platform one will have the biggest entry – exit gates in any railway station and easy to catch bus from there. However, in Jabalpur it’s exactly the opposite
For a 22 km, journey from Railway station to Bedaghat, one guy demanded 700 INR. I almost fainted after hearing it!!! ‘No’ came automatically from my mouth - 700 rupees is a daylight robbery – and I started walking back to railway station. Suddenly the charge reduced to 400 INR. Well, I walked along with him towards a red coloured Maruti Omni. However, it didn’t work out. Omni driver started expressing his inability to take an extra person, probably to increase the price or genuinely the seats were full. This Omni was apparently hired by that Chhattisgarh family. I thought of trying my luck with local trains.

At enquiry counter,
‘Any train to Bedaghat?’
‘Around 4 in the evening’
‘How many kilometres?’
‘Around 190’ (I almost fainted!!!)

Next to enquiry counter there was a computer screen, where we can check train details. It looked like a Stone Age equivalent of modern touch screens available in stations of southern railway. Because of the usage, numbers were almost wiped out from switches. Unfortunately, it didn’t give much info. I went back to the enquiry counter and gave her the paper sheet, which have my travel plan. She told, “Some 25 km from here, better to take local vehicles”. Ok... so it was all about pronunciation...

I left the station with a hope of finding some buses. An elderly person standing near to a tea stall advised me to walk straight, and catch a shared auto to reach bus stand. On the way, another auto driver offered me a ride for 50 INR. Finally, I got a shared auto. Three people were already on board. So I had to adjust myself on a small wooden bar placed opposite to traveller’s seat. After some time we stopped again. This time, driver wanted to buy a school bag for his kid studying in second or third standard. He went outside and started bargaining with a street vendor. Price dropped from 120 to 100, but our driver was not at all ready to spend anything more than 80 rupees. So he came back, with a sad face, and sat on the seat. Many auto drivers make customers crazy with their hard money extraction techniques, still I feel very bad.
Taking that small bag in hand, street vendor came and started describing its beauty. Then suddenly, he started complaining about the heavy loss he would suffer in case he sold it for 80 INR.

I don’t think, that small green bag with some yellow coloured picture on its front deserved that much prise. Finally they settled for 85 INR and we started moving. In the next turn our vehicle stopped again – this time one chotte bayya (younger brother) was sending off his bade bhayya (elder brother) to village. As the lady sitting opposite to me got down in that stop, I was about to get relieved from this hard wooden surface. At the moment of departure, our younger brother still on a scooter touched his elder brother’s feet (he is almost 55-60) and asked for blessings. After seeing this, I sat there itself and left that comfortable one for him. Back in Kerala, I can’t even imagine someone touching another’s feet, unless some rituals like marriage ceremony demands it. At that time also people will touch the feet of father and mother only..
Our auto stopped in front of a soil dump, bus stand was on other side. I gave 10 INR to driver, crossed the construction area and reached the other side. From here, I got a shared auto to Bedaghat - 25 INR. We started our journey - looking both sides of the streets, crowds in the bus stops etc. So many people came in and went out. The guy sitting next to me was checking his position in GPS, after half an hour, all of a sudden in the middle of nothing he asked the driver to stop. Just like me, he was also confused. I looked around, but didn’t find anything other than big trees on both sides of the road. He got down and started walking backwards, he was still looking his position in his phone’s GPS screen.

After some time, we took a left turn from the highway. Bedaghat was not very far. Driver advised us to visit Dhuvanthar (for an extra 5 rupees) first and then come back to Bedaghat for boating. We agreed and went to Dhuvanthar. We followed the zig-zag path dotted with small shops, selling marble statues and other marble works. One young couple were walking in front of me, suddenly one store owner came out and showed some attractive statues to the lady. I think the guy was not so interested in buying it, knowing this, store owner showed it to the girl. Anyway, they went to the store and started looking around. I was walking just behind them, but he paid little attention on me!!! By the way, I liked many of the statues they have and the price also looked reasonable to me.


Me at Dhuvadhar.
This is a small waterfall in Narmada River. Rope way facility - across the river – is also available here. Height of waterfall is not big, still the white colour it forms in the bottom is fantastic. From here onwards, Narmada flows through marble gorges. Looking to these waters, I sat there for some time.

64 Yogini Temple 

This temple is in between, Dhuvadhar waterfalls and Bedaghat. You have to climb around 100 steps to reach the top of a small hill, where the temple is located. Outer temple is circular in shape and has idols of 64 yoginis. A little away from the centre of this circle, you can see a Shiva temple as well. Carved stone figures of deities in this 10th century temple belongs to Kalchuri period. After seeing the Yogini idols, I went inside the Shiva temple. One pandit was doing poojas with some mantras, a lady standing in front of me was taking photos using her mobile. From pandit’s face it was clear that, he wanted to ask her to stop taking photos of idol but he can’t break the mantras also. So he didn’t say anything, by the time he finished, she also finished and went outside.

“At present one can enter inside the temple only from South-West gateway. In outer circular structure – which has a two meter wide roof – a sculpture is installed between every pair of pillars. The temple was built in second half of tenth century. In its original form it was only a circular enclosure. The roof and pillars were added perhaps in 12th century. Yogini worship developed in the medieval period from the cult of the mothers. In ancient period mothers are believed to have numbered seven, eight or nine. Later on this number increased to 64 or 84.

The chief propagator of Yogini worship is believed to be guru Matsyendranatha. He established the Yogini Kaula cult. In fact yogini’s are related to Shaktha tradition. According to ancient texts they can revive the dead, they also help.”


Another view
Next destination was Bedaghat. Boats were available in sharing basis for 40 INR in Bedaghat jetty. Using these boats, one can travel through the calm waters of Narmada which itself is flowing in between beautiful marble gorges. Except me all others in my boat was from Bengal – two families. Apart from us, there were two sailors and one guide – this guy also controls the navigation. Interestingly, guide was telling everything in terms of Parady songs. He was speaking non-stop about the films shot there, loves coming to spend some of their time, people coming with broken hearts and sacrifice their life etc. It looked like these jokes didn’t go down well with two old ladies sitting in the middle of the boat (I don’t know whether they didn’t like it or just want to keep the serious appearance) – all others were enjoying. After some time, boat stopped and operators told us – for going further, you have to pay an additional 10 rupees (per person). Well, finally everybody agreed on additional payment and we went further.

Some marble quarries are operating at a distance, fortunately it’s prohibited here. Some kids standing on top of the hills asked, whether to jump or not? Suddenly, one boat operator explained that, if somebody told yes then they will jump to the water and charge you 20 INR. One guy sitting close to me, told yes. Within no time one small kid – probably aged 10 to 12 - jumped to the river, started swimming towards us caught the back side of the boat. Finally, one guy sitting in the other end had to 20 INR to him. It was an innovative method to make money, but they are wasting their formation years which they should spend in school.
Who will miss a chance to see Taj in a moonlit night? Here also, boat rides are available in the night – under flood lights – as well.

To Madan Mahal 

My next destination was Rani Durgavati Fort. From Bedaghat another auto took me to Madan Mahal. Here, I didn’t see any trace - sign board, photo graphs etc – of Durgavati fort. Unfortunately, I was not at all able to recall the Hindi word for ‘Fort’ – ‘Kila’ – so people were wondering, whenever they hear Fort. Suddenly one guy asked - do you mean ‘Rani Durgavati Kila’?
“You have to travel in that way (pointing towards the way I just came in) and take a left; it’s on the top of a hill”
“Thank you”

I was not in a mood to climb any hill in that afternoon. Madan Mahal railway station was very close, so I walked towards it and sat on a lonely chair. After some time, a small girl probably 8-10 years old, came and sat next to me. Later her father came, put her on his lap, and sat on the same chair. I slowly looked here and there; suddenly I saw a big picture of Bedaghat, Dhuvanthar, Rani Durgavati Fort pasted in the wall. This time checked with the person sitting next to me; well, he didn’t disappoint me.

Rani Durgavati Fort

From Madan Mohan Chowk, I got another shared auto to Sharada Mandir – just 5 INR. After 10 minutes, driver told – “Sharada Mandir”. On left side there was a way going towards the fort, it is indeed on the top of a hill. On the way to top there was an Engineering college – apparently all the guys in that college seem to have a bike. Here I met another guy, who was also travelling in the same direction. Next in line on the left was a balancing rock. After showing me the path to fort he left. Following signboards I moved up through the steps.

Warning for young couples
At one place there was an interesting warning painted on nearby rocks – “Is kshetra ke paas ladka ladki ka bitna evam aapath janak sthithi mem bitna sakth mana hei. Paaye jaane par sakth karyavahi hogi” (Boys and girls sitting close to each other or sitting in a dangerous position is strictly prohibited. If found in such a situation, strict action will take against them). 

I can bet that, whoever wrote the message must have spent a good time searching for a word and finally settled for dangerous. I couldn’t stop laughing after reading the lines – especially “’sitting in a dangerous position”’!!!

After climbing a lot more steps, I finally reached fort. There was nothing much to see, other than a portion of fort on top a big rock; and a block some 30 meters away from this rock but in the opposite direction. Here, I met the Chhattisgarh family again; they recognised me and enquired about my journey. They were relieved to hear that, I finally made to Bedaghat. I was more than happy to say that, I made it for just 30 INR. In fact, they hired omni for a journey across important locations in Jabalpur for 700 INR – not a bad deal while travelling with family.

From the top of the fort, one can see entire Jabalpur city – a beautiful view – but, you can’t see this fort from there. This was one main reason to construct the fort here in the first place. After spending some time sniffing the fragrance of history, I went back to the city. Sarada Mandir is close to the fort.

History of Jabalpur

On the way back, I thought about Jabalpur. Till 675 AD, this region was ruled by Paramar dynasty, later it was taken over by Raja Bamraj Dev of Kalachuri dynasty. Gondas conquered the territory in 13th century - Madanshai, Sangramsahi, Rani Durgavati were the famous rulers among Gondas. Later in 1560’s Mughal forces under the command of Khwaja Abdul Majeed Harawi conquered the region. In the historical ‘Battle of Narri’ in 1564, Rani Durgavati and many of her associates – including her prime minister- made supreme sacrifice. Under the umbrella of Mughal Empire, Gond administrators continued to rule and maintained a practical independence until the rise of Marathas.

In 1781, Maratha governors of Sagar conquered the region. Seven years later Peshwa granted Nerbuddah valley to Bhonsle kings of Nagpur. This arrangement lasted till British defeated Marathas in 1818. Jabalpure (then Jabbalgarh and later Jubbulpore) got a cantonment and developed into commission HQ of Saugor and Nerbudda. This place was notorious for Thugee murderers and Major Sleeman (Later Chief commissioner of Jabalpure, British resident at Lucknow) who suppressed thugs.

1857 uprising tremble this city as well. In June 16, 1857 Gadadhar Tiwari fired on his European superiors and ignited the movement. Locally spearheaded by Gond Raja Shankarsahi and Prince Raghunathsahi uprising lasted for four months. These two leaders were later arrested. In 1861, Saugor and Nerbudda Territories became part of Central Provinces - which in 1903 became ‘Central Provinces and Berar’. Afterwards Jubbulpore became the HQ of a brigade in 5th division of Southern Army as well.

Mahatma Gandhi called on Jabalpure during Independence Movement. In 1933, Gandhi was accompanied by J Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Ravishankar Shukla, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Khurshed Nariman, Abul Kalam Azad, Jamnalal Bajaj, Dr Syed Mahmud, Mahadev Desai etc and congregations were organised at Beohar palace. Tripuri Congress session of 1939 also saw the ideological differences in Congress and witnessed the exit (Bose resigned later and formed Forward Bloc) of then Congress president Subhas Chandra Bose from the party.

Rani Durgavati Museum

It was very hard to find this building. I checked with many people, most of them were not aware about the presence of such a building in the city. All I know was museum is not far from bus stand. Finally, one old person told me the route. ‘Go straight, you will find a petrol pump. Museum is close it’. I reached the petrol pump, but they were not aware about museum. Again I had to walk back and forth without reaching anywhere. Tired and thirsty, finally I dropped the plan and went for a plate of pani-puri. After having two full plates, I walked towards bus stand.

As a last attempt, I raised the museum question in one more store as well. One of their customers finally gave the correct path. So back to petrol pump again, next to it there was an under construction road. Finally, I could see ‘Rani Durgavati Museum’ written on a board on top of a building in Blue colour in both English and Hindi. Please note that, photography is permitted inside the museum.

Inside, there were a number of Galleries – Shiva, Vishnu, Jain, Apsara, Inscriptions, 64 Yogini, coin, adivasi etc.

Back at Railway station

It was the time for museum to close, so I went outside and walked towards bus stand. It’s private bus stand; there were only two direct buses to Kanha – one will start at 7.00 in the morning and other one at 12.30 in the afternoon. In short, I have to spend the night in Jabalpur itself. Well, I took another shared auto to Railway station – my home for the night. Jabalpur municipal building is located in this road. Auto dropped me in other side of the station, this newly build portion was indeed big and offers bus connectivity.

By the way, I have to tell something about bus service. I discussed about the quality and availability of intercity buses, to a guy I met on my way to Rani Durgavati Fort. He told, “a lot of buses are there especially to medical college”. But, I couldn’t see more than 3-4 red coloured, fully crowded, buses near to bus stand; two in the railway station; and probably one or two on my way to Bedaghat. As far as I can say availability of buses for intercity travel is very much limited. Citizens have to rely on private vehicles, shared autos etc. A Lot of people are going to Bedghat every day, but I couldn’t see a proper public transport infrastructure in place. Roads are good, but people can’t walk all the way to destination, right?

It’s just after the sunset; I slowly walked towards station entrance, bought one platform ticket and went inside. After having some water and hot tea, rest of the two hours were spent in roaming around. Many trains come and went. Entire railway machinery was in non-stop motion. I just checked the time again, only 10 minutes left in my platform ticket. So I walked back to front entrance and joined with numerous other people sitting in the chair, waiting for the train. Difference was – I am not at all waiting for any train. Using a platform ticket of 5 INR, you can spend only 2 hours in platform. However, you can buy a general ticket for a nearby station and spend almost one day in the platform.

The Guy from Kolkata

I spent four more hours by reading papers and books coupled with some sleep in between. Clock hit one in the morning. Finally, there was some slot in the plug board to charge my mobile and camera. One guy came and sat next to me. Slowly we started talking, first about general things and then about Calcutta; he was in Jabalpure on a business visit. When he came to know that, I am a traveller – he advised me to visit Calcutta. Even I liked to visit this old Capital of British India and the biggest city in East India. He started describing about the facilities in Calcutta, exaggerating the things.

He: “In Kolakata we count everything in lakhs. There are one lakh buses, two lakh four wheelers, three lakh autos, five lakh rikshaws...”
Me: “oho”
He: “There are 90 crores people living in the city”. [This was more than I could digest].
Me: “In entire India there were around 124 Crores people only. How could Kolkata have 94 Crores?”
Some minutes passed, in between I checked whether mobile was fully charged or not.
He: “Kolkata have a population 19 Crores” (I don’t remember whether he told 19 or 24).
Me: “Entire UP has a population of 19 Crores and that is the biggest state in India, not West Bengal” (again some more time lapsed)

Finally he brought down the number to 8 Crores. Again the problem remained the same, Mumbai city’s population is much lower than 8 Crores, but that is considered as the biggest city in India.

In fact according to numbers, Kolkata Metropolitan area ranked third with a population of 1.46 crores and Kolkata city ranked 7th with a population of 44.86 lakh. Later, we simply moved to other topics - about his business, its networks in India, his ambitions etc. Time was around 3 in the morning; both camera and mobile cells were fully charged. Adjusting my position in the chair, I slept for 2 full hours.

To Kanha

Around five in the morning I woke up, temperature was roaming around 10 degree Celsius. Boarded the first bus parked in front of railway station and bought a ticket to bus stand; unfortunately I reached there too early. After having tea, from a movable stall in front of the bus stand, I simply roamed around. Finally went to the counter and bought a ticket to Kanha – 140 INR. Here all - bus drivers, conductors etc were very friendly.

Finally, the bad news came. Direct bus to Kanha broke down yesterday night and the morning schedule was cancelled. One person in Kakki dress advised me to go in a Madla bus. “From Mandla you will get busses to Kanha”. He even helped to refund the ticket and showed the Mandla bus as well.

Finally, I boarded a bus to Mandla (Jabalpur to Mandla – 69 INR). Good Bye Jabalpur.


Main attractions in and around the city are,

1. Bheda Ghat Marble gorges
2. Walk towards Chausat Yogini Temple
3. Dhuandhar waterfall
4. Madan Mahal Rani Durgavati Fort
5. Durgavati museum
6. Bargi Dam (constructed on Narmada River, located on NH 7 [Jabalpur – Nagpur] around 40-45 kms from city).
7. The Dumna Nature Reserve (spread over 1048 hectres of land, located on the way to Dumna Airport, some 10km from city centre)

Various sculptures in the museum
For reading rest of the articles please visit,

Dakshinayana Part One – An Introduction
Dakshinayana Part Two – Bangalore to Bhopal
Dakshinayana Part Three – Sanchi
Dakshinayana Part Four – Bhopal: The city of lakes
Dakshinayana Part Five: Ujjain – The Holy City, hearing the sounds of forefathers
Dakshinayana Part Six: Indore – Trade hub of Central India
Dakshinayana Part Seven – Jabalpur: Kalchuris, Gonds and Narmada
Dakshinayana Part Eight – Kanha National Park and Mandla
Dakshinayana Part Nine – Chhattisgarh and Raipur
Dakshinayana Part Ten: Nagpur – The Orange City
Dakshinayana Part Eleven – Sevagram: Walking with Gandhi
Dakshinayana Part Twelve – Aurangabad: The City of Gates
Dakshinayana Part Thirteen – Ellora Memories
Dakshinayana Part Fourteen – U shaped Ajanta
Dakshinayana Part Fifteen – Pune: The Maratha heartland

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