My guide has pulled it off again. During the long journey to get here I may have had a few doubts, but Pachmarhi is definitely worth the trek. This is our third visit to Madhya Pradesh, and P is its only hill station; very popular with Indian tourists, but like other places we visited in the state, not frequented by western tourists. Maybe because it takes a certain amount of some effort to get here. Few people speak English and the food is characteristically HOT…you know you’re in the middle of India.
We were drawn by the guide book description of “an idyllic plateau in the heart of the Mahadeo Hills” – with plenty of country walks. Walking in the surrounding hills, we found a remote cluster of caves, where Sadhus lived and performed their practices.
After the busyness of Bhopal and Pune, the much appreciated silence was broken only by birdsongs. Another day we walked down a ravine to a natural temple hidden among the boulders where priests were chanting constantly.
The most surprising walk was to the five caves from which Pachmarhi gets its name. (Panch means five). According to legend, the Pandavas from the mythical saga, the Mahabharata, spent their exile in these caves. After seeing Ellora and Ajunta, these caves were merely holes carved out of the rock…not impressive.
But the flower gardens at the base of the hill were spectacular! We’re unaccustomed to seeing anything flowering in Indiaduring the dry season, and especially not a formal English style garden.
The guidebook talks about “the faded Raj atmosphere” – and at first it looked as if it had faded completely out of sight. But these gardens, a few bungalows, and a neogothic church confirmed the presence of the Raj.
Hearing an Indian tourist describe the thundering waterfall in nearby Bhedaghat, we decided to leave Pachmarhi a day early to visit it. Bhedaghat is three hours up the train line we were taking to Varanasi, so it didn’t seem a big deal to go there the day before our reservation. But first we had to come back down off the plateau to Piparyia. This time we decided to take the local bus – twice as long as the taxi, and a bumpier ride but there would be more room to spread out. True at first. But after multiple stops in little villages the bus was packed, with a large old lady squashed in beside G & I and the aisle full to overflowing.
Then at Piparyia we made the mistake of buying “general seating” tickets. It was a simpler transaction…and we were only going three hours. How bad could it be? But we’d never ridden unreserved general seating before. It was so crowded we couldn’t even board much less find a seat. So hoping no one would notice, we jumped into a “sleeper” coach, one class higher. But this was no better, once again reserved seating was almost as crowded as general seating, and no one wanted to make room for us.
So we ended up standing in the corridor beside the toilets leaning against our cases. After a while some boys invited Gerard to sit with them in a cramped space beside the door. I sat on my case wedged in beside a sleeping boy, trying to avoid tripping up the continual flow of food vendors, blind beggars and passengers using the toilets. Then three railway employees came and reclaimed their precious space on the ground ordering the boys, including Gerard to leave so they could sit down and eat their lunch. We were both leaning on our cases again. After they finished eating, the railway employees took pity on us and ordered two young boys sharing a pull out seat against the window to get up and let the old Western tourists sit down. Reluctantly they relinquished their seat and for the rest of the journey we perched on it together…and grateful. The next time we see overcrowded trains with people sitting in the doorway we will much more empathy for their situation.
After three long hours it was a relief to disembark in Jabalpur. But our journey was not over….we still had an hour’s rickshaw ride. With no buses or taxis, this was the only public transport to Bhedaghat. An eager young rickshaw driver was waiting by our train; we didn’t haggle much over the price, we just accepted. A bumpy road accentuated by no shocks left on the rickshaw – but we were on the last leg of our journey and would soon be in Bhedaght. Then suddenly, a loud bang and the rickshaw pitched toward the ditch…not a flat tire this time, the whole wheel was broken! Rather than yell and swear, the driver politely apologizes, “Sorry, Sir!” And standing in the road hails down another rickshaw – already full of people, but we’re squeezed in with our bags. Further down the road, we transfer to yet a third rickshaw…..and finally reach Bhedaghat!