Rightly called the ‘Queen of the Satpuras’, Panchmarhi offers much more than what is generally written about it. It enjoys the status of being the only hill station in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Rising over 1200 m, it offers the visitors a destination to relax and recuperate from the scorching heat in the nearby areas.
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Though discovered by a British Army Officer a couple of hundred years back the area has been inhabited since times immemorial. It is confirmed by numerous cave paintings dating 10,000 years back. There is a single entry/exit road for Panchmarhi whether traveling from Bhopal or Nagpur. A 40 km drive from Pipariya is both rugged and romantic. Dense forests, chirps, and cries of the local fauna and delicately curved roads make for an ideal starter for the destination ahead.
As soon as one arrives in Panchmarhi, one can experience the exuberance of a typical Indian hill station. Local street markets, gift shops, souvenir outlets and lots of restaurants claiming themselves to be India’s best, if not the world’s. Take a right turn and one is on the way to Jata Shankar – a holy temple of Lord Shiva. Ayurvedic shops boasting of curing nearing everything infest the place. Local guides are in abundance and a must have at this place. Not just because they are a source of valuable information about the site but also because they, out of sheer excitement, would tell the stories which in all probability are too good to be true but do make for an interesting anecdote. To reach the temple, one has to climb approximately 200 stairs downhill. Do not miss the magic shops on the way. The guide will ensure that you deduce various animal figures out of the lumped, jugged mountain face. The temple also has a natural perennial water source at the very bottom.
On the way to a waterfall known as Bee Fall, 10km from Jata Shankar, one finds the Bison Lodge which gives a wonderful insight about the flora and fauna of this region. Interestingly, it is also claimed to be the oldest building in Panchmarhi. Bee Fall is a very popular destination among tourists. It enjoys a reputation of being a part of many Bollywood movies. The way to reach the fall downhill is not a particularly easy one. But the chilly, fresh waters of the 150 m fall more than makes up for it. Sometimes, it does get a little crowded at the place so minding one’s step is not a bad idea to avoid injuries. There is a vantage point at the top of the Bee Fall which provides beautiful scenery of the hills and the forests ahead. For those who cannot climb all the way down, an artificial reservoir at the top is a perfect place to rest their feet in the crystal clear water and enjoy the jungle surroundings.
A few miles from Bee Fall, Reechgarh makes for a wonderful place to spend a few hours at and appreciate the creations of nature. The natural cave formations are exquisite and otherworldly. Eroded by the forces of nature for thousands of years, a gully has been created between two mountains with smooth rocks dotting the way. After crossing the gully, the area widens up to reveal a marvelous rock formation on in all directions. Prehistoric paintings can be found at this place. Adventure enthusiasts can explore going through a nearby pitch dark 10m eerie cave only to come out from the other side of the mountain. One can go for a strenuous 4km trek to Duchess Fall ahead and further till Sunder Kund which provides a natural swimming pool in the midst of the forest.
Pandava Caves lies in the heart of Panchmarhi. There are five caves in an almost monolithic rock structure. The legendary Pandavas are believed to have spent time in these caves and it is these caves that Panchmarhi derives its name from. There is a beautiful garden at the base of the Pandava Caves. Now protected monuments, one can have a nice view of the hill station from these caves.
The Lake near the city center is an ideal spot for kids and younger crowds. It offers boating, recreational activities and numerous game joints. Do indulge in one of them. There is a very organized and hygienic, though a bit expensive, food court maintained by the town authorities at the banks of the lake. Pao Bhaji, an Indian delicacy, is a must have at this place.
Chauragarh lies at the southernmost point of Panchmarhi. It is a demanding climb with a Lord Shiva temple at the top. One needs to be aware of the food items, purse, wallets and the cameras being snatched away by the local thieves, the monkeys. Apart from the surreal scenery at the top, one encounters hundreds of ‘Trishuls’, the weapon of Lord Shiva, overhanging the temple premises. On the way to Chauragarh, there lies the secret, obscure temple known as Gupt Mahadeo. It is a horizontal crevice in the mountain so narrow that only one person can move inside at a time. It is 15-20m long and completely dark with only 8 people admissible at a time due to lack of oxygen inside. Claustrophobic people should avoid the place. Another thing to avoid is the fruit ‘Ramfal’ being sold outside the temple. The vendors sell a small piece of the fruit boasting that the fruit was eaten by Lord Rama himself. The blisters one gets on the tongue the following hour makes one remember all the gods instead.
Apart from the above-mentioned points, there are many more points of interest that Panchmarhi has to offer; Dhoopgarh, Handi Khoh, Rajat Prapat, Foryth Point to name a few. Overall, Panchmarhi is still an underrated, unexplored hill station in the heart of India. From religious dwellings to natural marvels, from trekking trails to silvery cascades, from glorious peaks to majestic ravines, Panchmarhi is a bag full of surprises; and pleasant ones for sure.
Featured Photo by Christopher Kray Visuals