The mythical image of India that enchanted the world since ancient times was of a land full of elephants, tigers, magicians, Hindu mystics, kings, spices, jewels, rivers, forts, temples and forests. It was a place where unmatched riches and pleasures awaited those who dared to venture in. The myth attracted explorers and invaders alike, especially in the medieval ages when travel was beginning to get faster.
Myth though it was, it endured for a surprisingly long time and even informed great works of British literature, from Kipling to Conan Doyle. Kipling was a known indophile. But even Doyle was tempted to situate a story of a treasure hunt (Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The Sign of Four’) in the tumult of 1857, in a mysterious, dangerous Agra fort and disease-infested Andman islands (with Jarawa tribesmen and their poisoned arrows thrown in for good measure!).
Today’s over-populated; polluted and urbanized India appears to have no connection with that imagined land of Adventure. It is debatable whether the image was real even in those times. But the appeal of the idea is stupendous and one can imagine why men from across the world braved great dangers and hardships to see this country.
Bhedaghat Marble Rocks is one of the very few places where one, with a bit of active imagination, can transport oneself mentally, back to those days. The experience of silently moving in a rowed boat as it floats between two hundred-foot marble rocks is magical.
We had night-halted in Jabalpur. On way, we had also taken a break in one of those brilliantly sited wayside watering holes of MP tourism.
Very imaginative on their part to think of suspending swings from the huge banyan tree here.
The food here is better not commented upon. But the place allowed us to sit at a table languidly for an hour and unconcernedly watch the highway traffic zoom by in a display of typical four-lane impatience. Believe me, it is infinitely calming and I even thought of staying the night. But we fought off the temptation and drove to Jabalpur.
Bhedaghat is just a short drive away (30-odd km)from Jabalpur. The first place on our itinerary was the Chausath Yogini Temple.
The hill-top temple of Shiva, located in a round-shaped fortress is a novelty. It is a thing of real beauty and must be seen. The sense of proportion and finesse is amazing.
The idol inside is old. The sanctum is small, dark and cosy, filled with wonderful incence smell.
If one goes by the ASI information board, the original temple must have been bigger.
The uniquely constructed edifice has survived those battles and other ravages, though the eponymous Yogini statues surrounding the temple are mostly disfigured.
The temple priest, Mr Goswami, has an air of jovial serenity around him. I was surprised to know that he is a second-generation migrant Kannadiga. Though he understands Kannada, he can not speak it while his Hindi (complete with the accent and body language!) is impeccable.
After the temple, we were looking forward to the boat ride. The ride surpassed expectations. The spectacular view of towering marble rocks stunned everyone into silence. Mind you, silence is part of the magic here. Fortunately, rioting brats and such other noise-polluters were absent in our trip.
Some braveheart local youngsters make a living out of display-jumping into the river from 100 feet and retrieving the money thrown by tourists.
I rued the fact that time did not permit me to climb up there and try a jump myself. It must be utterly exhilarating.
The boat guy showed us the spots where various movie songs had been shot. He spoke about ‘Raat Ka Nasha’ from ‘Asoka’ (see it here), ‘O Basanti’ from ‘Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai’ (see it here) and some scenes from Sunil Dutt’s ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’.
Narmada at the marble rocks is deep and calm. So much so, that it is difficult to believe that a mile upstream, the same river is a roaring, deafening waterfall.
This place had loads of fun-seeking tourists who were trying to outdo the din of the water with their screams and shouts. If it were not for the religious context, this place would have made a wonderful sunbathing spot!