Sunday, November 29, 2009

MP trip: Khajuraho - Eastern and Southern group of Temples

31st October 2009 - 2nd November 2009

While everyone visiting Khajuraho would see the western group of Temples, only a few of them would visit Eastern and Southern group of Temples.

But unlike western group of Temples, the eastern and southern group of Temples are scattered around old Khajuraho. The western groups of Temples are in a single complex at the center of the town.

Vamana Temple
Javari Temple

Jain group of Temples
Parsvatha, Adinath and Shantinath Temples form the Jain group of Temples.

Duladeo Temple

Chaturbhuja Temple

Ghantai Temple
This Temple is in ruins.

To be continued...

Friday, November 27, 2009

MP trip: Khajuraho - Western group of Temples

October 31st - November 1st 2009

Continued from Bandhavgarh.
After Bandhavgarh, our next destination was Khajuraho. We hired a taxi as there were no direct buses or trains between these two places.

The distance was 250km. The route we took passed through the towns of Umaria, Amanganj and Panna. Panna Tiger reserve has now lost its shine after all its 24 tigers were poached early this year.

We reached Khajuraho afternoon and check into Hotel Payal. We were amazed by the number of five star hotels in that small little town.

Hologram of Chandela rulers

Evening, we headed towards the Western group of monuments for sound and light show. A one hour show gave the details of the history of the Temples of Khajuraho and its rulers. If one wants to take photographs of the light show, tripod is a must. I struggled a lot to take a decent photo. The show itself was quite good with some good light effects and voice of Amitabh Bachchan.

Next day morning, we were at the gates of Western Group of monuments. The most important Temples of Khajuraho are in this complex.

Architecture on the roof of a Temple

The Khajuraho Temples are famous for its erotic art. Our guide started explaining with extra emphasis on sexual aspect. While lots and lots of sculptures tells about different positions of sexual act, some exhibit the homosexuality and one with many in the act (Which is a very famous sculpture!!). There are few sculptures that depict the sexual act between humans and animals.

Side view of Khandariya Mahadeva Temple

We started with the visit to Lakshmana Temple. The Temple dedicated to Vishnu was built by the Chandela ruler Yashovarman between 930-950AD. Like all Khajuraho Temples, this temple stands on a high platform.

The nearby Varaha Temple was also built during the same time. It is a small Temple but has a colossal image of Varaha.

Vishawanatha Temple is one of the magnificent Temples in the Western group. This was built after the Lakshmana Temple and architecturally more superior than its predecessor.

In front of Vishawanatha Temple, is a Nandi Temple with a huge statue of Nandi.

And there are Jagadambi Temple and Chitragupta Temple which resembles each other.

The largest and the loftiest monument in Khajuraho is Khandariya Mahadev Temple. It is said to be the pinnacle of North Indian Temple architecture.

I am not writing the details about the Temples or its sculptures. There are available on the web and the information is too large to write here!!

We were at Khandariya Mahadev Temple again the evening. Our guide had mentioned that the Temple gets a reddish tinge just before sunset. He was right!!

To be continued.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

MP trip: Bandhavgarh

28th - 31st October 2009

Continued from Bhojpur.

It is generally said that one must be lucky to spot a tiger in a National Park, but in Bandhavgarh one should be unlucky if the tiger is not found!!

It is not that there are lot of tigers in Bandhavgarh. National Parks like Kanha, Bandipur and Nagarahole have more tigers than Bandhavgarh but it is the high density of tigers in Bandhavgarh that makes the big difference. Maximum numbers of tiger documentaries are also filmed in Bandhavgarh.

Grasslands of Bandhavgarh

Travel to Bandhavgarh:
We boarded Narmada Express from Bhopal at 11:30 in the night. At 11 in the morning, we alighted at Umaria, which is the gateway for Bandhavgarh. Almost all resorts and hotels are situated in a village Tala, 30 km from Umaria. We hired a taxi which took us to White Tiger lodge, an MPTDC resort.

About Safari:
The two entry gates through which the safaris are conducted are from Tala and Khitauli. Tala is preferred by everyone as maximum number of sightings happens here. Two safaris are conducted veryday. The morning safari starts from 6:15AM and ends at 10:15AM. The afternoon safari is from 2:15PM to 6:15PM.

Only Jeeps that are registered with forest department are allowed insde the forest. A maximum of 45 Jeeps are allowed per safari. It is on first come first basis. Rest of the vehicles must go though Khitauli entrance.

Durinf previous years, if a tiger was spotted, the news would have spread to all safari jeeps and within matter of few minutes the tiger would be surrounded by 45 Jeeps creating tension and stress for the feline. To minimize the traffic, the safari path is now divided into four routes A, B, C and D. All routes converge at a mid point where the drivers have to report to Forest officials. This is only the place where tourists are allowed to get down. Snacks and drinks are also provided here. So, a vehicle will be assigned a route from start to mid point and another route from mid point to exit. There can only be 12 Jeeps at any point of time in a route.

Forest department charges Rs680/- for a Jeep and the driver charge are Rs1000/-. The total cost of a safari is Rs1680/-. This would also include a guide from forest department. The prices are fixed and no one asks for extra money. Each Jeep can take a maximum of 6 people which would then cost Rs280/- per head. While the cost turns out to be cheap for people in groups, it would be extremely expensive for solo travelers. But it is a common practice that people would form groups to go for safari to reduce the cost.

Barking deer
Trekking is not allowed inside the forest. Elephant safari is also stopped now. “Tiger shows” which ensured 100% chance of spotting a tiger is also on hold.

Common kingfisher

What is a tiger show?
Every morning, the trackers would track the pug marks of the tiger and find out the location where the tiger is resting. This information is provided to forest officials. The people on the Jeep are then taken on Elephants which would go very near to the tiger!! This was the most popular way of seeing the tiger in previous years.

I got down into business the moment I entered the resort. I had decided to go on every safari for the days I stayed in Bandhavgarh. My wife and kid decide to take rest in that afternoon while I decide to go on a safari. Resort people would arrange everything that is needed for the safari with no extra cost!!

A sambar deer

The striking difference in Bandhavgarh when compared to south Indian jungles is the total absence of elephants and bison in former. It is the deer family that is omnipresent in Bandhavgarh.

The first safari was eventful. Within few minutes, we saw a strange phenomenon (details in the next post). I was excited when our driver Sanjay Singh showed the tiger pugmarks. They were present for nearly a km after which the tiger had entered into the forest.

Pugmarks of a tiger

News that a tiger was standing at the periphery of the jungle prompted the driver to rush towards the spot. Unfortunately we were bit late and tiger had crossed outside the jungle. But we could hear the alarm calls of langur which meant that the tiger was in the vicinity. Few minutes later, there was a commotion in the nearby village. The sound of the villagers’ followed by tiger’s growl!! Sanjay told that the tiger might have entered the village to pick some livestock.

But the jungles were silent on the next day morning. An hour had passed since we started the safari but still we haven’t sighted anything. I think I was in some dreamland which was disturbed by a sound “Bagh! Bagh!!”. As I scrambled up, Sanjay pointed me towards a bush telling that a tiger was hiding inside that. I immediately saw a tiger running away!! I was quick that day to take a photo of the running tiger. It was my first tiger spotting and I was happy with it.

This was not the behavior of a tiger in Bandhavgarh. They are used to human beings and rarely run away. Sanjay told that the tiger we saw was about 20 months in age. It had lost its mother few months ago and was struggling to make a living. It was therefore was vary of human beings.

The safari on the next day morning was even more eventful. We see a tiger just next to us!! But the tiger never came out of the bush. Else, we could have got a nice shot of tiger in open. We were within its striking distance on an open Jeep!! What an excitement. We just stood and enjoyed for next 15 minutes.

The tiger news spreads like a wildfire in Bandhavgarh and within minutes there were 12 Jeeps surrounding the tiger. People were shouting and Jeeps were moving back and forth (to provide opportunity for others to take snaps!!). The tiger got fed up of all this and silently slipped away.

And we saw one more tiger within few minutes!! What a day!!!! But again, it never came into open.

Bandhavgarh fort
After the tiger, my focus shifted to Bandhavgarh fort. Located on a hill at the center of the National forest, there are no records to show who constructed the fort but the fort was ruled by various dynasties from 3rd century BC.
A very few people visiting Bandhavgarh would see the fort. One of the reasons is that the forest department allows only 5 vehicles per day to the fort. The trip to fort is also expensive (Rs3160/- per Jeep). Again, it makes sense to share the Jeep with others.

The road to the fort is steep which can be covered only by a four wheel drive vehicle. Earlier one had to trek for 30 minutes to reach the fort. The fort also is home to few tigers. So, a road was constructed to avoid trek through tiger land.
The fort is completely in ruins. The only structure that is intact is a Temple where pooja is conducted daily. One can see the remains of the fort everywhere.

One of the 18 ponds in Bandhavgarh fort.

Our driver Sanjay cautioned us not to deviate from the main route as the area was home to a tiger family!!

From a view point, one can see large tracts of Bandhavgarh forest. The place is also home to several vultures.

Final notes:
Before my Bandhavgarh trip, I was under the impression that sighting a tiger in Bandhavgarh was easy. This was due to many write-ups that I had referred. But it is not so. Tigers are always elusive. A majority of people return without seeing a tiger. The recent modifications for the safari route and with no tiger shows, the chances of seeing a tiger is reduced. But it is safe to say that chances of spotting a tiger are high in Bandhavgarh than in any other forest in India.

The forest remains closed during monsoon months (From 15th June to 15th October). The best time to spot tigers is during summer months. But one should be ready to face the temperatures ranging 40-45C during that time.

Focus of the safari is completely on tiger. Other animals and birds are simply ignored. The usual comment from guide is that “We know that you have come here to see a tiger. You can always other animals anywhere”.

How to reach Bandhavgarh:

The nearest railway station is Umaria which is 30 km from Bandhavgarh. There is one train from Bengaluru which passes through Umaria. Katni (100km) and Jabalpur (150 km) are other major towns near Bandhavgarh. There are daily trains from Bhopal and Indore that pass through Umaria.

To be continued...

Friday, November 20, 2009

MP trip: Bhopal - Bhojpur

27th October 2009

The main attraction in Bhojpur is the huge Shivalinga in Bhojeshwar Temple. Bhojpur is about 25 km from Bhimbetka and about the same distance from Bhopal.
The linga is about 7.5 ft in height and the platform itself is about 21 ft in height. It is huge!!

This Temple was built by Raja Bhoja of Paramara dynasty in the beginning of the 11th century. But for some unknown reason it was not completed.

We then went to Bhopal, did some shopping and after dinner set out to the railway station. This ended our journey of Western part of Madhya Pradesh.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

MP trip: Bhopal-Bhimbetka rock shelters

27th October 2009

Continued from Sanchi.

In order to visit Bhimbetka, we had to come back to Bhopal from Sanchi and then travel 45 km down south. Bhimbetka is 3 km from the National highway connection Bhopal to Hosangabad.

We had our lunch at MPTDC hotel which is on the highway deviation. It is a small but a neat hotel.

At Bhimbetka, we found that there were no knowledgeable guides. I was thinking that the paintings will be similar to that of Ajanta. But it was altogether different. In fact, some of the paintings found dates to Neolithic era (12000 years old!!).
A painting of man being hunted by an animal.

Painting of animals.

Bird painting.


A painting of a warrior.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

MP trip: Bhopal - Sanchi

27th October 2009

Continued from Ujjain.

Three hours journey on train from Ujjain brought us to Bhopal. We had made Bhopal as the center point to visit the nearby places.

The hotel we stayed was Palash Residency (From MPTDC). It was a very good hotel with a restaurant open for 24 hours. It even had South Indian menu. My daughter was very happy to see her favorite dosa!!

Since the places that we wanted to visit were in different directions, we booked a taxi for the entire day to visit the places around Bhopal. The first place we visited was Sanchi.

Sanchi is about 45 km from Bhopal and would take about 75 minutes on a taxi. Alternatively, one can take a train from Bhopal and get down at Vidisha, which is about 10 km from Sanchi. There are buses and autos from Vidhisa to Sanchi.

Sanchi was a major Buddhist center that has several monuments built during 3rd century BC. Lot of monuments was vandalized during the course of time. With the decline of Buddhism in India, Sanchi became a forgotten place. It was rediscovered by a British Officer in 1818 and many of the monuments were restored back.

The Sanchi monuments are situated on a hillock. ASI is doing a very good job in maintaining the monuments.

The famous Sanchi stupa. (Also called as Stupa 1)

Eastern gateway of the Stupa.
A Buddhist monastery.

A big bowl which was used to keep food for monks!!

Stupa 2 was slightly away from the main monuments.

Stupa 3 which is next to stupa 1.

Though the monuments are situated in a small area but it takes quite a while to see all of them.

We also visited the museum at the base of the hill which contains several sculptures of Buddhist period.

To be continued...