LAND OF PARADISE

WAYFARER: Nature holds its sway in Madhya Pradesh, a land of verdant landscapes and tiger trails, says Deepesh Das --

A FAIR TO HELP CHOOSE AND PLAN A TRIP OF YOUR TYPE-UTTARAKHAND-Stunning Landscape-

Thrilling Adventure-Fascinating Wildlife-Spiritual Bliss

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Escape to paradise

The first thing that struck my city-battered eardrums as I woke up to Pachmarhi was silence. No blaring horns, no rumbling trucks, no human cacophony. Only silence. Its only when your ears get used to it that you take in the pulses of life woven into it – birds calling, the screech of frolicking monkeys, scuttling of squirrels and the rustle of leaves in the wind. Snuggled in the heart of the Satpura Range in Madhya Pradesh, this sleepy town is also called the Queen of Satpura”.

The Marble Rocks soar above the flowing Narmada

         As I walked down the road the first morning, I could feel the tranquility of the place seep into me along with the chill. The stupendously smooth roads were virtual green corridors with rows of trees bordering them – and they were almost empty. With a population of just 15000, Pachmarhi is a haven for anyone whos seeking solitude. And its thanks to Captain J Forsyth of the Bengal Lancers, who discovered this saucer-shaped hamlet in 1857 and developed it into a British cantonment.

The army, which runs a training school here, now occupies many of the colonial buildings. Standing on the outskirts of the town, they impart a strange Old World charm.

         Pachmarhi is best explored on foot, or alternatively for the fitness-challenged like myself, by car. We started off by getting a breathtaking view of the valley from Priyadarshini or Forsyth Point (as had Forsyth about 152 years ago) and Handi Koh with its 300ft-deep ravine. We trekked down to Apsara Vihar, the falls so named by the tribal who mistook the English women bathing in the pool for apsaras or fairies. We also trekked to the beautiful Bee Falls, the biggest of its kind in Pachmarhi.

         The high point of the trip for me came when I dared the rage of a livid (read scared) parent to go parasailing on one of the towns vast grounds. When the parachute, tied behind a speeding jeep, unfurled and we left the ground, my heart almost stopped. Nothing can beat the thrill of the moment. Youd agree it was quite an achievement for someone always trooping in last during school races! Next we drop to Dhoopgarh, the highest peak of the Satpura Range in Pachmarhi at 4429ft, to watch the sun go down behind the mountains.

         Pachmarhi derives its name from the ancient Pandava caves where the five Pandava brothers are said to have lived – actually they are the remains of a Buddhist vihara. Its also said to be the chosen terrain of Lord Shiva, who hid in several caves-turned-pilgrimages to escape the demon Bhasmasura, who he had blessed with the powers to turn into ash whatever he touched. The poor god had to run when the demon decided to test his powers on his benefactor. Thus the existence of the cave temples of Mahadeo, Gupta Mahadeo, Jatashankar and Chauragarh.

On our third day there, we took a safari to the Neemghan belt of the Satpura National Park, which covers an areas of 520sqkm. It was an amazing experience to see dawn break in the forest and also to watch deer gobble up Britannia biscuits from my palm. Animals are difficult to spot in this dense, undulating terrain but we caught glimpses of a couple of bisons, sambar and have course, and birds.

            A view of the valley from Handi Koh in Pachmarhi

         Back in town, I was also lucky to catch a rare tribal dance that afternoon organized by MP Tourism. Performing for the camera to promote tourism, the group of about 10 young men with painted faced and dressed in peacock feathers, impersonated the birds. Songs in their dialect and the beat of drums accompanied the performance.

         We drove to Kanha the next day stopping over at the Marble Rocks in Bhedaghat, 25km away from Jabalpur. Once there, we hopped in for a boat ride on the Narmada. Words cant do justice to the beauty and grandeur of the towering marble pinnacles soaring up to over 30m on either side of the river. As we sailed in and out of the white rocks, they changed colour in the sparkling sunlight. A mile ahead, the river plunges into a thunderous cascade to form the awe-inspiring Dhuandhar Falls or smoke cascade”.

The second half of the drive to Kanha had all the makings of a thriller. We lost our way and drove blindly through phantom villages with not a soul in sight (it seemed to be midnight although it was only around 9pm). There were forest stretches with awful roads with a rabbit running in front of the cars headlights. To top it all, there was an almost Gothic full moon casting a pale sheen over everything. Just as we were beginning to lose hope, a car came up and we gladly followed it to the Kanha Safari Lodge in Mukki.

 Tribal dressed up in peacock feathers during a dance

We woke at 4am next morning in time for the safari in Kanha National Park, which covers an area of 1945sqkm and was the backdrop of Rudyard Kip lings The Jungle Book. Kanha Tiger Reserve is presently home to over 100 Big Cats. Unfortunately, Sher Khan eluded us although the forest guide managed to keep the excitement high by pointing out pugmarks and stealthy footsteps in dense bushes.

         The jungle, however, was enchanting. The verdant, vast stretches of grassland with the endangered Barasingha, sambar, chital, wild boars, peacocks, bison and beautiful birds, looked like one bewitching canvas where time and the human world had little significance.

         The sun had set and the shroud of darkness was falling fast. Our last attempt to spot a tiger had failed. Our car seemed to be on wings as our driver set out in full speed – its unsafe and illegal to stay in the park after sunset. We could see other cars also rushing out of the forest trails. The landscape was a haze of dust and fog as the mercury dipped rapidly. As we left the jungle behind, I could only look back and think that this was where nature was red in tooth and claw.

                                  deer in the Kanha National Park

Travel trivia:

Apart from the tiger, Kanha is also home to the endangered Barasingha or Swamp Deer. They derive their name from their large antlers, which may grow to have more than 12 points – which is why they are also called the 12-antlered deer. They can grow to a height of 130cm and weight up to 180kg. Marsh or swampland is a Barasinghas preferred territory.

Ready reckoner

Getting there: Pipariya is the nearest railhead, 47km away from Pachmarhi. Bhopal, the nearest airport, is 210km away. Jabalpur is the nearest railhead and airport to Kanha.

Staying there: MP Tourism properties offer the best options in Pachmarhi and Kanha. Visit www.mptourism.com,

Best time to visit: Pachmarhi is a year-round destination but its best to avoid the monsoons. The best time to visit Kanha is April to June and November to January.

 

Summer sojourn

Come recession or high water, Calcuttans bitten by the wanderlust bug are all heading to the Cox and Kings Travel Mela at The Kenilworth this Friday and Saturday?

         The travel organization brought deals of up to 50% cash back on international and domestic group holidays. Other attractions of the fair include spot discounts, lucky draws and special prizes.

         Summer breaks and holidays in sleepy hill stations go hand-in-hand. Which is why most are heading for Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh. Check out the 8-day-7-night Majestic Kashmir trip in the summer group tours category. The trip includes a stay in a houseboat in Srinagar and a shikara ride, a one-day excursion to Gulmarg, a trip to the Shankaracharya temple and the Mughal gardens of Chashmashahi, Nishad and Shalimar. Stroll around Dal Lake and go on an excursion to the golden meadow of Sonmarg. The trip is priced at Rs.18995 with 15% cash back.

         If youd rather skip the bustle of a group and opt for a holiday with friends or family, choose the 7-day-6-nigh Enchanting Himachal package. The trip begins with an 8-hour drive from Delhi to Shimla, a trip from Shimla to Kufri and Chail. Hike through cedar woods in Kufri to Mahsu Peak for a view of the majestic Himalayas. And in Chail see the worlds highest cricket and polo ground. Day three starts with a drive to Manali, which offers a breathtaking view of the River Beas amidst Kulu valley. In Manali, stop by the Hadimba Devi Temple and a picturesque monastery. The next day, its time for the excursion to Rohtang Pass, for some snow. End your trip with a drive to Chandigarh or Panchkula while visiting the Pinjore garden en route. The charges (per person, twin sharing) are between Rs.18555 and Rs.27555 depending on choice of hotels (economy, standard or deluxe).

         Prefer a European Experience instead? Try this package that comes for Rs.104999 with 50% cash back! The 11-day-10-night tour includes stops in London, Paris, Chamonix, Geneva, Gstaad, Lucerne, Schaffthausen, Black Forest, Heidelberg and Brussels. See the Tower of London, the Louvre and shop for perfumes at Fragonard at Paris.

         If none of these tickle your travel bone, there are packages and options galore at the fair. From participating in wife-carrying competitions in Finland to gazing at geysers at Whakarewarewa in New Zealand, it looks like the world is truly your oyster.

A glimpse of the ongoing Cox and Kings Travel Mela at The Kenilworth.

 

 ONE STATE. 4 DHAMS. COUNTLESS BLESSINGS

In the lap of Himalayas,Uttarakhand,the land of “Chardham” –

Yamunotri,Gangotri,Kedarnath,Badrinath,is the holiest of the places to attain nirvana or moksh.A walk on the path of divinity amidst the celestial beatitude is certain to rejuvenate not only your body but the soul too.

The trip doesn’t just stop here.Take a deep breath of fresh air and explore other heavenly places like Hemkund Sahib,Jageshwar,Rishikesh,Haridwar,Kaliyar Sharif,Nanakmatta Sahib and many more.The mystique surroundings will take you into a trance;transporting in a seemingly different time zone and thereby,bringing you face to face with God.

It’s completely out of the world experience which is certain to bring out a new you!

 

For more in details visit www.uttra.in/portal/tourism/index.htm

 

Route Map

FLYING HIGH

 

If youre looking for some serious thrills on a short getaway, then this package is just right for you. Temple Pilots Paragliding has introduced a Flying Holiday package in Pavana lakeside, Kamshet, near Lonavala. This three-day package offers a beginners paragliding course at Rs.10600 per person (if you avail of it over a weekend), and Rs.9100 per person (for weekdays). The package price includes a course fee and accommodation for two in a double room with complimentary dinner at Kalbhor Farms (a beautiful bungalow with swimming pool), at Kamshet. There are charges (between Rs.30 and Rs.150 per person) for breakfast, lunch and transport to the flying site. The package is valid till May 25, 2009. For details, mail to fly@templepilots.com or call 09970053359.

 

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