Was it the humming of the midges or the singing of my mind
That rose above the crashing of the waters hurtling the rocks
In reckless abandon?
The strange frond faced lizard sat basking in the sun,
Looking at me
From its vantage of grey camouflage,
While a prussian blue dragonfly lay velvet and gauze upon
A rock, cool and damp over the pool formed
Between one plunge and the next.
Little silver baubles of fish darted in mad circles hither and thither
Upon the surface of the water,
While others like soft brown streamers, wavering and gliding,
Swam the sandy, pebble specked clear shallows
Delighting in the fresh bubbles and the frothy foam that brought life and succour
To their watery world.
The sun dappled shadows courted the murmuring branches
That swayed in gentle capitulation,
While an old red monkey sat in solemn thought
In regal solitude.
We arrived in Piparia Station at 1.30 am. Our train was 14 hours late. If it hadn’t been for the only other person who got off with us, we would have been stranded for the night. Is it only in India that one comes across such spontaneous unquestioning kindness extended to a fellow traveller or is kindness a universal traveller’s code? Mrs. S was being met by her husband who had arrived at the station to meet her. They offered us a lift and did we jump at it! Mr. Sarma told us he was a resident from Nagpur but that he was originally from the South. Wherever they are now, it was thanks to them that we did not waste yet another of our precious four days.
The ride up through forested area was beautiful. There was a full moon up and the landscape was bathed in its surreal light, everything in shades of charcoal, smoky grey, silver and midnight blue.
A hare raced once or twice across the road, A large owl whisked offended, into the scrub disturbed by our flashing headlights and rushing wheels. Strange rocky silhouettes rose up into the velvet sky, a giant’s playground of strange shapes and odd humours. The ghats merge into the Satpuras somewhere along the way, old, old country, a geological museum.
A signpost welcomed us. It said “Welcome to Tiger country”. Another signpost, closer to Pipariya, said there was a Tiger Patrol posted there. We seem to have restricted our tiger spotting to the brightly painted signposts along the way. Whether the tiger spotted us or not is, of course, a different matter.
Panchmarhi even by itself, as a part of the special fabric that is Madhya Pradesh, has a lot to offer. If you have a colonial hangover then the old churches and pretty tiled houses with their high ceilings are well worth an inspection. The profusion of jacaranda there beats description. There is one house, Bison Lodge, which has been converted into an interesting and well thought out museum, with a thrust at conservation that attempts to educate in the vernacular as well as in English. It is very popular so one hopes the message is getting across to a wider range of the Indian public.
One exhibit says, “It may take years for a tree to grow to its full capacity, but only minutes to cut it down”. Food for thought, that. The archaeologist too would be delighted with the kind of treasures that lie almost casually scattered around and about. Be it cave paintings or cave temples, or several-storied cavelike palaces, or ornately carved temples on the tops of mountains, there’s something for everyone. We must admit though that the heat and the crowds sapped our enthusiasm. We climbed only the Pandava caves, viewed the mountain-top temple built over a sheer gorge with awe through a telescope, and avoided the rest. There was one cave, which was a narrow crack in the wall where you could only go in single file. It has an exhaust fan to ventilate it but it had alarming looking dust covered “sadhus” sitting with tridents outside and far too many people crushed in single file for us to dare to venture in.
The moon rising over the almost Martian landscape was even more spectacular than the sunset. The beauty was enhanced by the fact that the day trippers to Panchmarhi were all gone and the brooding rocks were left once more in peace to reflect on their past.
Panchmarhi is full of waterfalls and lakes. The view from the highest pinnacle at Sunset Point, is unforgettable. The mountains eroded with time, wind and water are chiselled into sculptured shapes. We watched the sunset. It could have been noisier considering the sheer crowds. What we did mind was the thoughtless litter chucked all about, though there was a place to throw rubbish. We were in Panchmarhi during Hanuman Jayanti, which was full moon. The moon rising over the almost Martian landscape was even more spectacular than the sunset. The beauty was enhanced by the fact that the day trippers were all gone and the brooding rocks were left once more in peace to reflect on their past. Here you could imagine a dinosaur grazing while a pterodactyl soared overhead.
We did not manage to go to too many waterfalls at Panchmarhi as we were short of time, so we stuck to Bee Falls which was close to where we were staying. It was not a long walk, The jeep took us to the edge of the forest, and we walked steadily down the dusty track armed only with water and a little food to eat at the falls. Unfortunately our younger daughter, tired and cranky with the heat, could not do the entire walk down so I suspect we missed the full grandeur of the falls themselves, but perhaps that was compensated by the peace of sitting by a rock pool watching your kids paddle, and making quiet discoveries which would stick in the memory forever. I never knew that dragonflies were ever made midnight blue, and that lizards, though excellent camouflage artists, could grow fronds on their faces that looked for all the world like ashy grey remains of the silver fern growing on the hillsides.
The next day we had to make our way back to another dimension, so we soaked the morning in the verandah of the private bungalow we were at, watching the pitta (could it be?- I like to think so) twitter among the branches, listening to the murmur of drying leaves, the music box whistle of the white-cheeked Bulbul, the deep call of the crow pheasant, the monotous roll of a barbet, the suspicious chuck of what I took to be Junglee murghi, and the incessant whizzing of the cicadas. The Touch-Me-Not opened and closed with the passing of every insect and little dried leaves and bougainvillea came alive and played catch me if you can in little eddies around our legs.
We were not ready yet to leave Panchmarhi. As we looked back at the Hanuman gravely contemplating us from his perch, we vowed we would be back.
Illustration : Shaio Bose