inkbrushnme

Odyssey of the Neelkanth in Madhya Pradesh - Pachmarhi

They call it the Rani (Queen) of the Satpuras. And why not, since it wears the crown of the most picturesque place in Madhya Pradesh.

As one of the most idyllic places in India, Pachmarhi is a quiet quaint and cozy place with beauty at every glance. I arrived here from Tawa, with an invigorating excitement; what I found here was the sound of silence. I was immediately at ease, free from any worry or stress. The energy and vibe immediately relaxes you, and makes you want to go and explore.

Pachmarhi was discovered by a British Army Captain – James Forsyth in 1857 and he wrote book on Pachmarhi called “The Highlands of Central India”. Dense forests and its inaccessibility had made it a safe place for hideout for freedom fighters like Rani Jhansi and Tatya Tope. The presence of 5 ancient caves had made it famous with the name of Pachmarhi where “Panch” means five and ”Marhi” means caves. Its scenic beauty and climate had made it popular among Britishers during the pre-independence era in summer.

I stayed at the Champak Bungalow, a place with a historical flavour, frozen in time. It makes you feel immediately connected to all the stories of India’s history. It was sheltered in the middle of a lot of trees and connected to a small water body. The moment I walked to the reception, there was a list of around 20 different places to be visited. My brain started planning each trip. I was ecstatic.

The nearest destination was Christ Church, with architecture of a distant past. It is true that Art and Architecture have always captured the essence of the time in which they came into being. I enjoyed its delicate yet bold roof, the magnificent rosette, the evolved and mixed forms of tracery that came from a time before it and I continued to stare.

The next destination was Bison Museum. It is a lovely expanse, with intimate structures that hold the documentation of flora and fauna of MP. I saw the images and description of species I had just read in textbooks about and thought that I might encounter a few while I am here. I felt like an explorer searching for these natural treasures.

The Church and museum had taken my heart and I walked out full of joy. The only thing my eyes fell upon was the majestic sight of Dhoopgarh. And so I began my chase.

“Sunlight reaches this peak at the earliest and sunlight leaves this peak at the last. It is the tallest peak in the Satpura Range”, said the guide explaining things to a tourist family next to me. I overheard and thought that it does makes sense as I was preparing to capture the infinite stretch of mountains and sky in front of me. I was 4400 feet above sea level, and on the tallest point in central India. The colours of the sunset were taken straight out of a Neoclassical painting, my brain was making this association as I found myself unable to capture the view in one sight. But the sky! The sky was pure magic. The clouds were blending into greys but left a sharp bright lining of the sunlight. The sky, however was in a dynamic crimson and orange. Before my mind figured out how to make this specific colour with proportions of yellows, reds, oranges it had already moved to another combination. Then I stopped. I started to internalise this infinite view. I felt humbled as I knew that I am a mere speck in front of this regal theatrical of nature.

The next day, we were taken to Apsara Vihar, popularly known as Apsara falls. Pachmarhi is endowed with more than 10 waterfalls, but my guide insisted that we visit the most enamouring of them all.

I saw these waterfalls and I had already figured out why the name was so. Such a magnificent site! Smitten by its charms, I continued to descend where the waterfall had taken a break to carry on horizontally. I saw the years of passage had cut down into the bed and the waters were crystal clear. I touched the waters gently, and I thought of it to be the most poetic of places. What a wondrous sight! 

To one side, I see waters falling and moving towards me, to the other, waters moving and falling away from me. I moved closer to where the curtains of water touched land. As I moved closer to it, I could feel the droplets softly touching my skin, from where they separated from the curtain. It was almost like it was calling me further towards it. I reached out my hand and touched the drapes of water and there was nothing left but a big smile.

In Pachmarhi, I watched the world change in a matter of a few minutes and I thought of what a rapid river time is.

About the artist

Artist-storyteller Harshvardhan Kadam is fascinated by surreal landscapes, mystical beings and mythical creatures. His collective, inkbrushnme, with its eclecticism, has produced conceptually and stylistically powerful Visual Art. With conceptual clarity and solidity, he has illustrated many characters in graphic novels, and children’s books.

By Harshvardhan Kadam
Odyssey of the Neelkanth in Madhya Pradesh - Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

On this crisp morning after Dussehra, I am  driven to the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, renowned for exhibiting the earliest traces of human life on the Indian subcontinent, and hence the beginning of the South Asian Stone Age. We were literally starting our journey at the inception of time since some of the shelters were inhabited by Homo erectus more than 100,000 years ago!

Bhimbetka owes its name to the characters of the longest epic in the world, the Mahabharata. It is believed that when the five brothers, called Pandavas, were banished from their kingdom, they came here and stayed in these caves, the massive rocks seating the gigantic frame of Bhima, the second Pandava.

Bhimbetka is a natural art gallery and an archaeological treasure. For miles together, the footsteps of the prehistoric man can be easily discerned upon the sands of time, since the caves here house rock paintings, created by man from as early as about 15,000 years ago in vivid and panoramic detail.

As I walked into these gigantic natural sculptures, one by one, they revealed man-made ornamentations in the form of rock cut paintings. They have very minimally documented history about the lifestyle of man, and the way they’ve been preserved feels like nature’s protecting them. I said to myself, that these creations and etched in stone are symbolic of the genesis of human storytelling.

Only a limited and few traces remain of our predecessors; both as humans and artists. So much to ask and the responses have been laid out in beautiful boulders and trees with infinity of flora and fauna. My experience there was an instant connection with nature; like a language before language was invented, with peace before peace was achieved.

I found myself imagining them in the act of executing these beautiful paintings as though I had been pulled back in time where even rocks and pebbles had more colours than that of a retina display. I imagined a time where man was not man, but a part of nature. I passed through the maze just like a new leaf in a river called time and I emerged reborn.

(The Neelkanth bird is truly symbolic of my journey in Madhya Pradesh. We both have escaped our respective cages to transcend the physical and the mythical in our voyage to discover the hidden secrets and nature’s abundance of this spectacular region)

About the artist

Artist-storyteller Harshvardhan Kadam is fascinated by surreal landscapes, mystical beings and mythical creatures. His collective, inkbrushnme, with its eclecticism, has produced conceptually and stylistically powerful Visual Art. With conceptual clarity and solidity, he has illustrated many characters in graphic novels, and children’s books.

By Harshvardhan Kadam
Odyssey of the Neelkanth in Madhya Pradesh - Gupt Mahadev

Gupt means Hidden. And Mahadev is another name for Lord Shiva.

Jata Shankar caves were mesmerisingly beautiful. And then we proceed towards the known Gupt Mahadev - a 40 feet long cave that is so narrow, only eight people can pass at a time.

The path that leads to Gupt Mahadev cave goes from inside the Bade Mahadev cave. As we walked, my guide tells me that we are about to discover a truly miraculous hidden wonder.

I have always been fascinated with treasure hunts and this is exactly what it felt like. A deity associated with mountains hidden in the mountains. One cannot help but process the possibilities of how Lord Shiva is going to welcome you to another one of his serene abodes.

From the parking, I started walking towards where the road lead. A rivulet lead the way, as I noticed how clean its waters were - accompanied by rocks, eroded with time and turned into soft round pebbles. I went a little uphill and I saw this majestic sculpture of Lord Hanuman. He stood there as the protector of the gate and right next to it was a gap in between two rocks. I was taken aback, for the gap seemed very tight. Was this the hidden wonder?

I saw a sage come out of it! He resembled someone I had seen before, that established a very different comfort with me.

I decided to enter. With my shoes off, I crept into the darkness. That tiny gap did not seem tiny, but in the darkness opened up all my fears and pain I carry with me. I was alert, I was scared but I forged ahead step by step. This was an experience very new to me, it was like I was conquering my conscious to get to my subconscious. I reached a dim lit mandap, an oil lamp burning illuminating the Shiv linga. I bowed down as all my fears had been erased.

I was in the heart of the mountains, and I had just stepped into my own.

About the artist

Artist-storyteller Harshvardhan Kadam is fascinated by surreal landscapes, mystical beings and mythical creatures. His collective, inkbrushnme, with its eclecticism, has produced conceptually and stylistically powerful Visual Art. With conceptual clarity and solidity, he has illustrated many characters in graphic novels, and children’s books.

By Harshvardhan Kadam