Well, we discovered, that’s all what you pretty much do in Panchmarhi – caves and waterfalls hopping! An extremely rich bio-diversity zone, Panchmarhi has, historically been a cantonment hill-station since the time Captain James Forsyth of the British Army along with Subhedar Major Nathoo Ramji Powar, discovered it in 1857. Owing to its big cantonment base, the hill station is still, thankfully, free of the concrete clutter that has beset most other popular hill towns of India. Large open grounds that make you want to run around, almost endless cover of forests, instantly take you back to a world that we, the city-breds, have lost to ‘development and progress’.
We started off immediately upon reaching Panchmarhi, unable to resist the charms of both the beautiful surroundings and the lovely weather. And walked, trekked, climbed to caves, waterfalls and view-points that gave us a peek into Panchmarhi’s history, geography and folklore. Before you embark on the same adventure as us, make sure you have an authorised guide by your side and an open Gypsy van to take you from hill to hill…
Pandav Caves: Situated right in the middle of the town, our guide told us that the caves had nothing to do with the Pandav brothers despite the name. Built by Buddhist monks at various times from the 1stcentury AD, the caves are in a relatively low hill made of rocks.
Apsara Falls (or, the Fairy Fall): Called so because like to believe that fairies bathe in the little pool created by the fall, the Apsara Fall isn’t spectacular, but nice. It requires quite a bit of a walk through the woods and rocks though, so carry water.
Bee Falls: Now, this is the big one. And requires almost a one and a half kilometre of an arduous downhill trek. Not for the one with a weak heart and weak legs! The Fall is called so owing to the sharp sting sensation you can feel while bathing in the falls. Here too, you need to trek by the woods and a pretty stream to reach the hill from where the climb starts.
Priyadarshini: Or the Forsyth Point, this isn’t very far away from the Panchmarhi town, and gives a good view of the famous ravines of the Satpura plateau. Once again, you need to walk up a tiny hill to reach this point. What did we tell you about strong legs?
Bade Mahadev: Almost every cave around Panchmarki is the seat of one of the Hindu Gods. Like the one which is called Bade Mahadev, has a Shiv temple deep inside the cave with water spilling from its roof, giving it one sinister look. Visitors actually offer prayers at the Shiv Ling. We’d urge you to go take a look even if you are a non-believer. There is a Parvati cave adjacent to the Shiv cave, located atop a flight of stairs. This cave is a mere hole in the rock and hence, won’t make you gasp in wonder.
Gupt Mahadev: Probably called so, for, the cave is behind a narrow passage that allows only one person at a time. Another Shiv temple this, with a Hanuman standing guard outside, it is about 500 meters away from the Bade Mahadev, and you gotta walk!
Dhupgarh: What a lovely name! It means, the place of sunshine. That’s because, this hilltop is the highest point of the Satpura range and from here, you can see both the sunrise and the sunset. The drive uptoDhupgarh is very beautiful, takes you past curious vegetation, valleys of the Satpura and giant rocks. Ideally, we should have trekked up to Dhupgarh, but time, alas, or the shortage of it, decreed otherwise. A protected zone, entry to this point is restricted in the early morning owing to the wildlife that is often found loitering here. A lodge here, called the Bison lodge, has been transformed into a museum with information on the geography, history, flora and fauna of the region.
Our tip for Panchmarhi: When planning a holiday in Panchmarhi, make sure you allot at least two days to the little town. This way, you can both visit the sites that are on every tourist’s must-see list and also loiter around the grounds and hills just so that you are reinvigorated…