Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Monsoon Ride to the Heart of India

Quite a few people asked my why was I picking this season to go there. Looks like nobody likes to travel during monsoon, especially to the heart of India! Why me? Because monsoon is like a car wash to India. Grime and dust gets cleaned off the landscape that gets covered in a wild splash of greenery. So why Central India? Because it is there...right there in the middle of everything!

Raghu messaged me one day asking me to plan a trip. I considered a few routes and discussed it with Raghu, Rajaram and Karthik. Finally, we chose the central India trip....because it was far away from home (Raghu- Hyderabad, the rest - Chennai). Raghu prepared his Mahindra Scorpio for the trip and the rest of us flew to Hyderabad with our back packs and cameras to join Raghu.

From there it was a drive for 5 days to Nagpur, Jabalpur, Chhindwara and Adilabad before returning to Hyderabad. The route map for the main circuit is given below:

Day 1: Hyderabad to Nagpur- National Highway 7
We started off early at 4.30 AM but lost way within Hyderabad delaying us by an hour.

Breakfast: Surprise!! Kamareddi had a superb original Udipi restaurant complete with Kannadiga waiters, crispy vadas, idlis and sweet sambhar.

NH7 was a mixed bag all the way to Jabalpur from Hyderabad, with the four-laning in progress. Parts of the road were ready but most of it was under repair.

Sriram Sagar dam near Pochampad as seenf rom NH7 over the river Godavari. The river here forms a border between Nizamabad and Adilabad districts.

Bad roads and ghat sections after Nirmal took their toll on trucks.

Post Nirmal we hit a wonderful ghat section with forestry(fringes of the Kinwat and Kawal Sanctuaries) that lasted all the way till the border of AP and Maharashtra.

Stretches of good roads, ghats and a relaible vehicle made the drive a pleasure.

A peasant and his wife till the land using a pair of bullocks somewhere between Nirmal and Adilabad (close to Neredikonda). Adilabad district grows a lot of cotton and maize and the people are mostly poor farmers.

Rains caused catchments to overflow with water that spilled into rivulets.

Lot of monkeys all along National Highway 7.

Pochera Falls, Adilabad District, Andhra Pradesh

Pochera Falls was not on our agenda. This place is literally off every tourist map and a totally hidden monsoon jewel. Fortunately, AP Tourism put up enough signposts along the NH7 to attract our attention. The detour from the highway was short enough to digress from our ride for a brief while. The detour comes at Neredikonda between Nirmal and Adilabad towards left side en route Nagpur. The signpost says winter is the best time but mark my words, make it here just after monsoon!

Now you know why I insisted on monsoon? The sky was not Photoshopped!

A nice grand stand to view the falls. I was surprised to see the neat landscaping by the tourism folks at such an obscure place. Of course they do rob the aesthetics. One more thing. I have absolutely no idea which river is it. Someone at the venue told me it is the Godavari. But we crossed it way before Nirmal. This might be one of those monsoon rivulets that go dry in any other season.

A total surprise package for us. A good addition to my growing list of waterfalls trips.

Dusk - Somewhere between Hinganghat and Nagpur. We had plenty of tea all along. Dhabas in Vidharba specialise in good masala tea!

Big cities, big woes. A nasty traffic pile up broke our run just outside Nagpur. It took us two hours to clear it amidst pouring rain and rapidly failing light.

Night Halt:
Hotel Gokul, Hanuman Lane Sitabuldi, Nagpur
Phone: 0712-2548587, 2541182
Rs 1000/- per night for a A/C double bedroom
Pretty decent and good service. Front desk was very helpful.
Dinner: Haldiram's close to the hotel. A snazzy two floor affair with multicuisine pure vegetarian fare.

Day 2: Nagpur to Jabalpur NH7

Breakfast: Our first tryst with Kanda Poha at a thela right outside Hotel Gokul. We polished off two plates each.
Lunch: Hot Samosas and Mava Jalebi at Seoni Chappara and plenty of tea en route

We followed the Ring Road right upto Kamptee and continued further. After Mansar, the fun began with this rather unusual natural gateway to the Pench National Park lands.

Jungle engulfed us. We were on our way to Seoni in MP.

Road improved suddenly even as we were still in Maharashtra. The teak jungle thickened. We were doing 140 kmph! Our attempts to enter Pench park proved futile as the park was closed for monsoon and a big swing arm gate blocked us. The detour to Pench is at a place called Deolaphar. One has to go via Sillari to Totaladoh from here. A tourism office is situated at the entrance for any queries.

Someone told us to head to Mogarkasa and its lake on the opposite side of the highway. So we headed in that direction forgetting the name every now and then and somehow retrieving it along with tthe route from the locals. The jungle kept getting denser as we went deep into it.

We found the lake deep in the forest far away from the nearest sign of civilization. It was uncannily silent and eerie. Adding to our anxieties were these signs posted on all the trees !

We found a hut and an abandoned bungalow (Goldilocks?) beside the lake. It turned out that Mogarkasa is actually a small wildlife sanctuary around it. The lake itself was covered with hyacinth and lilly pads. P.S.: It stank! Nevertheless the place was very beautiful. If only those Beware of Bears signs were not posted....

For all those bear signs, the only life we found in these jungle were these langurs.

Somewhere between Khawasa and Seoni, we came across some really cool sights like this one.

After Seoni...what looked like a mosque was actually a temple.

3 most common things on NH7 : Pot holes, dead dogs and trailers loaded with new tractors!

Post Seoni we were blessed with such table tops!

After Chappara we chanced upon this terrific scene by the banks of the Wainganga. A Monsoon Moment!

More scenes followed....Lone Mango Tree

We were awfully late....thanks to the scenes that played each kilometer.

Need I say anymore? That is still NH7 somewhere close to Lakhnadon, by the way.

At Lakhnadon, the shops reminded me of Raksha Bandhan two days later

Somewhere between Sukri Mangela and Bargi we had a tryst with the NG Railway too. The same one I had covered here.

Bye bye little train...

Bhedaghat-Dhuadhar Falls-Marble Rocks

Bhedaghat is 20 km from Jabalpur on the banks of river Narmada. Here the river through a beautiful gorge of marble for about 3 km. Dhuadhar Falls is also situated here.

The Narmada flowing towards Marble Rocks

Dhuadhar Falls as seen from the cable car

Monsoon again proved to be the right season to check out the 'dhuan' at Dhuadhar.

Could not make out what this was. Looked more like the ramparts of a watchtower or view point

Narmada gushing through the canyons of marble

Failing light at dusk made it somewhat difficult to shoot.

I still prefer Chitrakote Falls :-)

Ah! Yes! The cable car runs right over the falls

Night Halt:Hotel Arihant Palace, Russel Chowk, Jabalpur
Ph: 0761-327311
Tariff: Rs 975 for a double A/C room per day
Again a decent and well maintained hotel with friendly front office and a good restaurant
Breakfast: Plates and plates of poha with rassa , jilebis, samosas and plenty of tea at Narmada Devi Dhaba , Kareli

Day 3: Jabalpur - Chhindwara NH12, NH26 & MP state roads
Surprisingly, the state roads of Madhya Pradesh were in good shape. The Congress state government somehow woke up to the realities and Uma Bharati's campaigns and turned around the condition of the roads. We were skceptical of paying the toll everywhere expecting the roads to worsen but they turned out to be neat. However the dampeners turned out to be NH12 and 26 which we took to get out of Jabalpur and from Kareli to Barhman respectively. Full marks to MP govt. None to NHAI!

Barhman Ghat
This was not merely a Hindustan ka Dil trip but also a Narmada Darshan. So we wanted to see the Narmada not just as a rapid on rocks state but asa staid river goddess at a holy bank. Hence Barhman Ghat which was about 12 km from Kareli.

We crossed the river to reach the major Barhman ghat. The chota Barhman ghat lay across the bigger ghat but was not as easily accessible as the major one. The monsoon scene played out fully here with heavily overcast skies and a muddy rough river in spate.

The river splits into two streams and rejoins again forming an island in the middle. A Shiva temple stands on the island. Boats ply from both banks to the island. In oter seasons, there are almost seven streams in between.

The copious amounts of inflows indundated the ghats greatly. Almost submerged is a marble Shivalingam and Nandi that stands on the ghats.

Small man made islands of faith form every monsoon.

The boat that plies the faithful.

Tamia and Patalkot

We returned back from Barhman to Kareli and resumed our journey to Chhindwara via Pipariya and Matkuli. Seen here is the wonderful road that winds all the way to Pachmarhi. We avoided Pachmarhi conspicuously as it would need at least two days. The good road lasted only till Matkuli. From there it was a torture all the way till Chhindwara.

We went through a wonderful forest as the road climbed almost 900 metres above sea level to Tamiya. A short detour off the Chhndwara road from here took us to a place that proved to be a wonderful alternative to Pachmarhi - Patalkot. Little Tamiya village has a 'foreign liquor shop' it seems :-)

The road to Patalkot promised a lot!

We had to keep stopping every now and then in the 20 minute detour as the vistas were too good to ignore.

Finally, Patalkot was more beautiful than what we anticipated. Nestled in a 1200 feet deep horse shoe shaped valley it had a cluster of villages some of whose tribal inmates remained cut off from civilaiztion for many years. Seen in the picture above is another valley even deeper at the bottom of Patalkot that is home to the almost pehistoric Bharia tribe. We were at the top of the hill where we met Dr. Deepak Acharya. He started a venture named Abhumka Herbal (Ahmedabad) that develops herbal remedies from the hitherto unknown and rare tribal herbal medicinal system of this region which in turn supports the tribals enabling them to continue living and cultivating the land here. Dr Acharya is on a mission to protect and preserve the herbal medicine system, the forestry and the quality of life of the tribals here. It is was a culmination of sorts for me in meeting and chatting with Dr. Acharya by chance at Patalkot as I was inspired to visit this place after checking out his website Read the website to know more about Dr Acharya's initiatives and do provide him the moral support to his noble mission.

The highest point at Patalkot where the road ends. Monsoon is the best time to visit Patalkot. Dr Acharya tells me that the state government plans to build a golf course and a resort here and he is trying to prevent that. It will be a disaster to the lives of the tribals who are already tasting modern civilization and abandoning their usual way of life for small handouts. Already forest mafias made inroads into the valley. They have negotiated rather cheaply with the unsuspecting tribals and robbing them of the green cover and the rare herbal medicines. Some tribals already stopped cultivating grains in Patalkot thanks to the populisitc 2 rupee a kilo rice scheme. Patalkot falls within the constituency of Chhindwara, a long time traditional stronghold of Kamal Nath, Union Minister of Commerce. I wonder if he knows anything about these tribals and their way of life and the immense herbal wealth.

A legend says that Meghnath, son of Ravana entered Patal Lok from here and hence the place is called Patalkot. The Gond tribals here settled during Shivaji's rule and it is believed that there is a subterrenean tunnel somewhere in the nether regions of this valley that goes all the way to Pachmarhi

It was 6.30 PM at the top of the valley. Finally, we 4 were the only people around and were rendered speechless for quite sometime thanks to the sheer beauty of the place.

I would love to come back here the next year around the same time. This time I would also like to meet the tribals and learn about them.

Night Halt: Hotel Puja. Nothing great to write about. Totally avoidable. But then it is the best you can get in Chhindwara
Breakfast: Poha poha and poha at Sri Harihar Tea Stall opposite our hotel

Day 4 & 5: Chhindwara - Adilabad - Hyderabad - NH7

We had a last hurrah as we returned back to Hyderabad. Close to the spot where we took a detour to Pochera falls three days ago, we found another short detour towards the Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary. A few km from NH7 took us to a thick forest with yet another wonderful waterfall.

Kuntaala Falls
Kuntaala is popular amongst the locals at Adilabad who came in droves on the cool Sunday morning for picnics. The place is not maintaned by AP Tourism like Pochera. Since it falls within the fringes of the reserve forest of Kawal Sanctuary, the Forests Department maintains the infrastructure as a part of their Eco Tourism.

The falls is bigger and more spaced out than Pochera. There is a shallow slide first (seen above) followed by a quick and frothy rapid and finally big fall. Again I could not figure out which river is it. Someone again told me it is thw Godavari. There cannot be three Godavari rivers within 20 km of each other can they?

The roar was more pronounced than even Dhuandhar Falls!

Kuntaala had some nice rock formations

Beautiful forest downstream for treks and picnics

That culminates our week-long drive. Another day, probably another road...less travelled I hope.

The travellers: Scorpio, Me, Raghu, Karthik, Rajaram


Rangachari Anand said...

I loved this travelogue. For those of us stuck far away from India, this is most enjoyable.

Sriram said...

Great photos... and really nice trip report :)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful trip you guys had there! Would love to join you guys on your next travel adventure.


Anonymous said...

Excellent write up, hope you bring more of these remote places to the web for all to enjoy. Thank you.


workhard said...

Love the pics, especially of the the rivers... And the farmer and his wife... Visual treat from the hustle bustle of the city..

Haiku Poems

Aarti said...

BEautiful! I'm jealous. And an amazing travelogue.

ADC said...

This post came up while searching out for Jabalpur and Pachmarhi/Patalkot during the monsoon.

Absolutely a wonderful journey and travelogue and thanks a lot for sharing.

We too plan to go to Jabalpur from Kolkata via Varanasi and while coming back from Pachmarhi to Nagpur to Kolkata via Sambalpur, mid August.

Thanks again

ADC [Safari 2.2 VTT-TMT]

Anonymous said...

I am from Nagpur. Enjoyed reading your blog. Great pics. Next time do visit Pench/Tadoba/Melghat-Chikhaldara.They are worth visiting during October-November.

kamlesh GOLHANI said...

thanks bhaito show lakhnadon in your trip

kamlesh GOLHANI said...

thanks to mention about lakhnadon

Anonymous said...

i am in malaysia and after looking about lakhnadon in net.....i am very happy thanks...yar....nigam

Anonymous said...

Good one dude !!
Nice clicks !

Roshan RK said...

very good pics and post about chikhaldara hotels .I hardly know it.