Pachmarhi To some it offers a weekend retreat. To others, religious bliss

Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh is one of those rare places with an agreeable confluence of religion and Nature. A small, quiet and peaceful hill station, located over 200 km from Bhopal, Pachmarhi — also known as Satpura ki Rani — presents a perfect weekend retreat for those desirous of enjoying the pleasures of rich flora and fauna with great weather to boot.

With several sacred shrines of Lord Shiva inside the caves among the hills of Pachmarhi — the Jata Shankar, Mahadev and Gupt Mahadev caves, together with the Chauragarh temple — this small town teems with Shiva devotees who descend from across the country during the Mahashivratri festival.

Nevertheless, the natural splendour of this hill station ensures a steady tourist inflow throughout the year.

According to some locals, Pachmarhi is the sum total of five prominent sites — Pandav caves, Jata Shankar, Chauragarh, Mahadev and Dhoopgarh.

As per popular belief, the Pandav caves have been so named as the Pandavas sought refuge here for some time during their 12-year exile. They are now protected monuments.

Jata Shankar is a cave-shrine carved in between large blackish-brown rocks that dominate Pachmarhi's topography. Devotees revere the centuries-old formations of boulders inside the Jata Shankar cave. Many believe it represents the matted mane of Lord Shiva. The rocky path leading up to this cave has scores of stalls selling Ayurvedic medicines and herbs that claim to cure all kinds of ailments from acne to heart diseases.

Mahadev Hills, is considered the “niwas” of Lord Shiva in Central India. Also, in 1858, Tantya Tope, one of the finest leaders of the First War of Indian Independence, militarised troops against the British in the hills of Mahadev and Chauragarh.

The Chauragarh Temple is located on a rectangular hilltop at a considerable height, and one has to climb 1,300-odd steps to reach the shrine.

The highest peak in the entire Satpura range, Dhoopgarh, situated at about 4500 feet, presents a splendid view of Pachmarhi, its hills, rocks, ravines, lake and forests. One can stand here soaking in the beauty of the surroundings for hours on end. At dawn and dusk, tourists come in droves to witness sunrise and sunset.

The unfailing falls

Pachmarhi is also known for its several streams and spectacular waterfalls, such as Bee Fall, Big Fall and Duchess Fall. On the way to Mahadev Hills, one must necessarily halt at two places — the Priyadarshini vantage point and a gorge called Handi Khoh.

The vantage viewing point was initially named after British army captain, James Forsyth, who apparently discovered Pachmarhi from this point (the British later developed this town as a resort and sanatorium for its troops; today, the Indian Army maintains a sizeable cantonment in the area). But it was rechristened “Priyadarshini” after former Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi visited the spot.

Handi Khoh, infamously called the Suicide Point, is a deep gorge; the dense vegetation and the eerie stillness of this rocky ravine entice.

Near Pachmarhi lies the diverse Satpura National Park, known for its rugged terrain and sandstone peaks (the Dhoopgarh peak also falls within this park). The park is home to some rare species of plants.

Not just flora, these forests are home to numerous species of birds and wildlife too, with panthers, wild boars, gaur, monkeys, langurs, peacocks and even tigers being sighted.

Adventure enthusiasts can have their slice of fun parasailing on a large field next to a seldom-used airstrip or trekking in the park. If you are a handloom lover, you can pick up some exquisite silk saris and fabric from the two Government-run shops in Pachmarhi.

Because, the British had a presence here, there is a strong colonial influence in the architecture of the cottages and churches here.

But, what will bring you back time and again are the peaks, the rocky ravines, the waterfalls, the dense green cover, and the overall tranquillity.