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The Art of India: Travels in Prehistoric Madhya Pradesh

We’ve been writing about Madhya Pradesh for many years now, so we’ve all grown quite familiar with its long and varied history, but it wasn’t until we started researching and travelling for Rock Art of Madhya Pradesh: Travel Guide that we realised how MP’s past stretches wa-ay back into the really, truly long ago.

An utterly unpredictable concatenation of geographical phenomena means that the ‘heart of India’ is chock full – quite literally – of ‘rock shelters’. Typically, a rock shelter looks like somebody armed with a really big spoon scooped a chunk of rock out of the side of a mountain – leaving a little hollow, complete with an entrance, a roof and a floor. In fact, the perfect place to catch your breath – particularly if you were wandering the prehistoric jungles of central India and were in no mood to confront a hungry tiger.

The Bhimbetka hills have over 600 shelters. This one actually looks like a hungry tiger

Tens of thousands of years ago, the men and women of the Stone Age wandered through these thick jungles, climbing up the many undulating ranges of MP – and turning the Vindhyas, the Satpuras, the Kaimur hills into crowded colonies.

Adamgarh was a tool-making factory

Pengwana probably looked like it does now – except for that blue door in the rock

For Rock Art of Madhya Pradesh, we went tramping in the footsteps of our most distant ancestors, and discovered how they spent their spare time.

One hundred thousand years ago, people made ‘cupules’ for art. There’s a whole wall of these spherical hollows in Dar ki Chattan, Mandsaur district.

Paintings like this mythical boar on the Cobra Rock in Bhimbetka are relatively recently. Only 20,000 years old, or so.

And herds of animals are a common theme

No matter what they were painting, though, prehistoric settlers certainly knew how to pick the most scenic spots.

Like Pachmarhi – still a beautiful hill-station

Or this serene stream, called Chaturbhujnath Nala

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Madhya Pradesh galore!

Just when we think we’ve exhausted all possibilities of doing guidebooks on Madhya Pradesh, newer ideas come up! 🙂

Our two latest publications on this wondrous state are Temples of Madhya Pradesh and Rock Art of Madhya Pradesh.

As the titles indicate, these are thematic guides put together for travellers with specific interests — those interested in exploring the temples in Madhya Pradesh (and believe you me there are many and numerous!), or in trailing the rock art sites in the state (with many of them dating to prehistory!). Visually attractive and readable, the books are as much delight for curious readers exploring these subjects.

With these two guides we’ve completed 17(!!) titles on the ever-surprising Madhya Pradesh. And it goes without saying that the state has acquired a special place in our hearts!

The Pioneer’s feature on the release of the two books: http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/bhopal/59077-tourism-dept-launches-three-new-guides.html

 

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Ujjain Travel Guide

‘In the ancient history of India, Ujjain occupied… a most conspicuous place. Nature ordained that this city of light, with a climate temperate and salubrious and soil very fertile, should play an important part’
(Keshav Balwant Dongray, In the Field of India’s Ancient Literature)

An ancient and thriving centre of Hindu religion, Sanskrit literature, science and mathematics, Ujjain is a shining jewel in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, set along the banks of the Shipra river. Along with Varanasi, Ujjain enjoys the distinction of being one of India’s oldest and most holy cities, with a history that stretches back at least 2,400 years. Indeed, it is impossible to separate this city from ancient myth and legend, from grand dynasties and immortal poets, from the worship of Shiva and the pilgrimage of the Kumbh.

For more on the holy city of Ujjain, pick up a copy our Travel Guide:http://tinyurl.com/mxw5jlj

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Temples of MP: Some personal favourites

While working on our book Temples of Madhya Pradesh, we came across several incredible temples, some whacky, some awe-inspiring, and some just caught my fancy! Check these out:

The Bhojeshwar Shiva Temple at Bhojpur is particularly fascinating because of the HUGE shivalinga enshrined in its garbhagriha (5.5 metres high!). The absence of the customary shikhara is also pretty unusual.

Speaking of impressive, this Varaha avatar image stands tall, at a height of 4 metres, in the midst of 4th-5th century temple ruins, at Eran.

The grand Maladevi Temple at Gyaraspur, near Sanchi, is an architectural marvel! Carved out from a cliff, the temple juts out from the slope.

Think what you want, but you have got to admit... that linga is pretty freaky! The Chaumukhnath or the Chaturmukhnath Temple at Nachna is named after the four-faced linga enshrined in its garbhagriha. Each face has a distinct expression, with the terrifying one pictured above being my favourite. (Photo courtesy: American Institute)

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in goodearth guides

 

Day out in Gwalior!

While places in Rajasthan, Himachal and Uttarakhand are seen as most viable for planning short excursions from Delhi, few realise that Madhya Pradesh too is just round-the-corner! One of the many options here is Gwalior — a mere 3.5 hrs from Delhi by the Bhopal Shatabdi. Here is an account of our day trip to Gwalior!

The train ride to Gwalior itself is a pleasure ..particularly for it cuts through the enchanting Chambal ravines. Formed due to erosion by rainfall and the fast flowing Chambal river, the sight of the rugged and barren hillocks stretching for miles is truly awesome! Moreover, its notoriety for sheltering inter-state dacoit gangs in the past, adds a huge sense of mystery to it..drawing images of dacoits running on horseback even in broad daylight! A sight i always forward to when travelling through this part of the country!

As the train pulled into Gwalior station well before 10 in the morning, we walked with hurried steps to make the most of the day we’d got to explore a new city.

Without doubt it had to begin with a visit to the much-acclaimed Gwalior Fort.

The scene of many a battles and conquests, the Fort was held to be the most impregnable fortress in all of north and central India.

A Hanna Motana pinup at the back of an auto caught my eye.

Driving up to the Urvahi Gate of the Fort. Presently the main entrance to the Fort by motorable road. For those who prefer trekking up, access is from the Hathi Gate.

While there are varying accounts of the construction of the Fort, it was under the Tomar dynasty, founded by Bir Singh Deo, that it was rebuilt to achieve its present scale and grandeur. The magnificent Man Singh Palace was built by Man Singh Tomar, the most celebrated scion of this dynasty.

Gigantic images of Jain tirthankaras flank the road leading up from the Urwahi Gate. These were sculpted in the 15th century during the reign of the Tomar kings who were great patrons of Jainism.

First glimpse of the Man Mandir Palace on entering the Fort complex.

Embellished with blue mosaic tiles, the Man Mandir Palace is the most identifiable image of the fortress.

Row of yellow ducks on the walls of Man Mandir Palace

The guide entertained us with colourful stories of the royal life its kings lived, which made the otherwise empty pavillions and corridors come alive. One particularly charming story was of how the dasis would wear ghungrus (anklets with bells) in the morning and lightly dance around the king’s chamber to politely indicate that it was time for him to wake up! Gosh, what pampering!

Goodearth guides on sale in the small cafe near the entrance to the Palace complex <glee!>

The built structures in the Fort stand far apart from each other, accessed by motorable roads. Thus having a car to yourself drastically reduces the walking required. Our next stop in the Fort was the Saas Bahu Mandir.

Literally meaning the temple of the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law, the pair of temples was built by king Mahipal around 1093, supposedly for his mother and wife. Built in nagara style, both the temples are richly decorated with carvings of deities, human and animal figures, and geometric patterns.

Saas Temple, with the Bahu Temple in the background. The larger of the two, the Saas Temple is dedicated to Vishnu, while the Bahu Temple is dedicated to Shiva.

Intricately carved panel above the sanctum doorway in the Saas Temple.

Peering in to see what the sanctum holds. Presently, nothing but bats!

Carvings on the ceiling

Base of the pillars. Most dieties, figurines carved in the temple stand defaced.

Fort walls enclosing the temple complex

Bahu Temple sitting pretty on a high platform.

Quiet musings sitting on the Fort walls

The fort complex also encloses the Data Bandi Chhod gurdwara, believed to have been built where Guru Hargobind Singh was imprisoned by Jahangir for over two years. The name ‘Bandi Chhod’ meaning ‘free the prisoners’ comes from the story of how with his own release, the Guru aided the release of his 52 royal companions as well.

Walking across the central courtyard in the gurdwara

Like most gurdwaras, Data Bandi Chhod is a modern marble white structure.

While our original plan included lunching in town after the Fort visit, the early morning start and the sun growing sharper made us stop for langar in the gurdwara, which, nevermind the soupy dal, was more than welcome.

Langar being prepared in the courtyard.

Teli ka Mandir, seen from across the sarovar in the gurdwara

Our last stop in the Fort, the Teli ka Mandir is the largest temple in the complex. A mix of north and south Indian temple architecture styles, its gopuram like shikhara is mounted on a nagara base.

Teli ka Mandir, seen through its arched entrance.

Striking a pose against the towering walls of the temple

We discovered rock art on its stone walls!

Peek-a-boo! Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhod seen from Teli ka Mandir

After good 2.5 hrs spent in the Fort, and the sun beginning to beat down, it was time for a refreshing lunch break in town. We headed straight to Usha Kiran Palace, a heritage hotel managed by Taj. The choice befitted our day’s iterinary of heritage visits.

Before lunch began, it was time to cut the cake!

Yes, part of the reason for the day out had been the birth-day!

Rejuvenated from good continental food, we head out for our post-lunch plan – of visiting Jai Vilas Palace, the opulent residence of the Scindias, the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior. In fact, it is part of the same complex as the heritage hotel, in Lashkar.

Jai Vilas Palace. Though it continues to serve as the Scindia residence, a part of it has been converted into the privately-owned Jiyaji Rao Scindia Museum.

Starting with a gallery displaying the Scindias family tree and old photographs, to their belongings (including Madho Rao Scindia’s royal golf set!), the museum has several of their rooms on display — the dining room, queen’s dressing, scent room (?) with vessels that carried fragrant oils and perfumes.. The locals seemed to take in every little detail with a lot of awe, reverence and delight.

Inside Scindia Palace

Of the many stories abounding its splendour, perhaps the most impressive is which recounts that two enormous Belgian chandeliers, weighing 3.5 tonnes each, had been bought to be hung in the Durbar Hall. And to make sure the ceiling could take the weight, ten elephants were made to parade on the roof of the Hall!

It is also in Gwalior that the legendary musician Mian Tansen rests, and thus the city plays host to the annual Tansen Music Festival. His grave rests in a small marble tomb in a gardened compound along with several others. The most striking here is the tomb of Mohammad Ghaus, a 16th century Sufi saint and Tansen’s spiritual Guru.

Mohammad Ghaus' tomb viewed from the side. The sandstone mausoleum is a specimen of delicate craftsmanship, with intricate stone screens on all sides.

Lounge and gossip

Stunning jaali screens around Mohammad Ghaus' tomb.

By this time we were sapped of energy, and after walking around, lounged on the lawns just like the umpteen locals there (it turned out to be a popular hangout place) ..and waited for it to be time to drive to the station to catch our train back to Delhi.

Arriving back around 11, we looked forward to our soft mattresses and deep sleep. Long day no doubt, but amazing that we managed to see a whole new city in just that long! Day well spent!

* For someone wanting to stay for longer in Gwalior, the city offers enough! Our Gwalior City Guide can help you plan your iterinary.*

 
 

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Weekend at Gary’s Farm

It was the perfect season to visit a farm in Punjab. The pre-Baisakhi fields were golden with ripe wheat and the smell of fresh sugarcane juice wafted in the air. The large trees flanking NH1 added to this with their impossibly new glossy, baby leaves and spring blossoms.

chara and wheat fields

a pristine blue canal, one of the many that criss cross the fertile state

NH1, a picturesque ride

Our whole team of six was headed to Gary Farms, a plush 1600 acre farm in Nabha, Patiala, to check out what ‘farm tourism’ was all about.

Our first stop was of course a dhaba at Murthal, barely an hour’s drive from Delhi, for a breakfast which was a preview of what was to come in Punjab, paranthas with huge dollops of white butter and creamy curd.

parathas with huge dollops of white butter, our staple during this trip

It was a fairly smooth drive to Chandigarh where we met our host, Mr AS Grewal, a sprightly gentleman well on the other side of sixty. He suggested that we stop by his office in Gary Arts in Mohali before proceeding to the farm.

Gary Arts took us by surprise. With a Spiderman perched on the roof in take-off mode and a gorgeous village belle peeking out of a haveli window, all conjured out of fiberglass, the factory cum showroom transported us to toon world meets model Punjab village. As a result we became shutterbugs and posers. I needed a photograph with my childhood hero Bugs Bunny, the boss wanted to be clicked with Sardarji with mobile and Bodhi found a gun (was it real or fiberglass?) and got an entire portfolio shot by Nidhi.

village belle at the entrance to Gary's Arts with leaping Spiderman in the background

Mr Grewal informed us proudly that Gary Arts, known for its fiberglass reproductions of Punjabi village scenes, made the Sheras given as tokens to the athletes in the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi.

An hour’s drive from Mohali brought us to Nanoki, the village where Gary Farms is situated. After depositing our bags in the guestrooms in the family gurudwara where we were to spend the night we rushed off to catch our evening entertainment, ‘kushti at the village akhara’. As we drove through the fields at dusk we realized how quiet and clean the air around us was! At the akhara, while the regular spectators sat in charpoys we sat in plastic chairs facing the pit which we were told had been prepared by mixing the earth with turmeric powder(for its antiseptic qualities) and mustard oil (to soften the ground). The village pehelwans were already in their loincloths and after the customary lap around the pit and some thigh slapping they dived at each other, grappling in pairs matched in weight and strength.

'Kushti' at the village akhara

We gathered that the heaving struggle concluded only when one of the pair landed on his back and was unable to extricate himself from the opponent’s grip.

Elaborate photo sessions with the local heroes, some of whom have competed at the national and international level followed.

At night, we drove down to Nabha town to see a parandi factory and got ourselves rainbow hued naras!

coloured yarns being woven into vibrant naras and parandis

We drove to the local fort which looked massive and forbidding in the night and on our way stopped by the grand Punjab Public School located in the vast buildings and grounds of the court of the erstwhile princely state.

the Nanoki Gurdwara, our shelter for the night

Our day ended with a scrumptious dinner served by our hosts which included fresh paneer from their dairy and fish from their ponds. And yes we did locate some of those long forgotten constellations in the star filled sky (a rare treat for us city slickers!).

The next morning we went to see Col Grewal’s (Mr AS Grewal’s brother) fish farm set amidst three ponds which yield quintals of fish every month. We were, however, enthralled by the other animals in his menagerie, the handsome black kadaknaths (indigenous hens of Madhya Pradesh), the charming cow and calf, the ducks, the turkey and the horses.

prized Kadaknaths and the Turkey who thinks he is a chicken

Our team on Col RS Grewal's terrace

After yet another lavish meal of paranthas, curd, butter and fresh milk (counting calories is a city fad) at Mr Grewals’ we left the farm satiated, rejuvenated and all set for our next stop…Patiala.

 

In Lands of Yore

It doesn’t take much doing for Madhya Pradesh to catch my fancy. There are so many destinations, so varied. As Parvati and I headed to Bhimbetka  and Bhojpur, we wondered if there was a way to connect their attractions, like the NH-12. I had visited both sites earlier as part of a school trip and what loomed large in my memory were a) the massive shivalinga of the Bhojpur Temple, among the largest in the country and b) the mosquitoes of Bhimbetka, with a swiftness to match prehistoric predators.

Bhojpur, located 11 kms into the countryside on a rocky hilltop, seemed grander than I remembered.

As we walked around the ASI-enclosed space, we looked for clues to the unfinished character of the temple we had read about…architectural plans, a damaged ramp, fragments of loose sculpture….

but the most striking feature that stands out like a beacon of faith in a desolate landscape is the shivalinga.

Parvati and I watched the priest-caretaker, a very knowledgeable and engaging elderly man, perform the ritual abhishekam (or milk-bath) of the linga. He then climbed down and approaching us, signaled to us to make coconut offerings. My coconut took some persuasion to crack but the priest didn’t require any to launch into an engrossing narrative, peppered with shlokas and folk-sayings, of the history, legends and mystery of Bhojpur.

From Bhojpur, we headed straight to Bhimbetka and the excitement grew as soon as Parvati spotted the silhouettes of rocks that led the noted archaeologist VS Wakankar  to this incredible site in the first place. Unlike my last visit, 14 years ago, Bhimbetka now had a cosy Highway Treat hotel-cum-restaurant run by Madhya Pradesh Tourism, which, other than snacks and beverages, offered a great opportunity to observe trains brushing past on the adjacent track every 10 minutes.

Nourished and pepped, we headed to the caves, which captured our imagination, almost making us forget time. The UNESCO World Heritage Site provides evidence of human art (cave paintings) from as far as 100,000 years ago. From layer-marks of sedimentation revealing that the rocks here were once below the primaeval Tethys sea to the Zoo-Rock with thousands of overlapping centuries of animal sketches, to the precariously balanced Turtle-Rock, the sights of Bhimbetka are fascinating. A word of advice though: don’t go by everything the guide says. In fact, he probably won’t show you the the coolest, and most ancient, green paintings, that are 2kms uphill. But if you want to needle him, do ask about rhino sketches.

Interestingly, the mosquitoes were still there, and the bites did swell but not before we had completed two rounds of the complex. Armed with tripods, we looked a bit mosquito-like ourselves.

By evening, we were back in Bhopal where the ASI scholar, Manuel Joseph discussed more interesting points about Bhimbetka, but once we reached Bhopal Station, the train chugged in and we knew it was back to the 21st century.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in goodearth guides, travel

 

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Walking on the Buddhist Trail – Sanchi, Sonari, Satdhara

 Sanchi is a small and charming central Indian town. It is so small, that wherever you decide to stay, the Buddhist stupas are walking distance. They are on a low hill and can be seen from the National Highway running through Sanchi, from the trains that pass through Sanchi, even from the pool in our hotel!

The Great Stupa at Sanchi

The most enduring image of Sanchi has to be of the Great Stupa and its toranas (gateways). Begun by emperor Ashoka in the 2nd century BC, it was added to by succeeding dynasties. Till the 13th century, Sanchi was a spiritual centre where Buddhists would come from far and wide. Monasteries, temples and stupas were built here, patronised by the prosperous merchants from nearby Vidisha. Now a lot of them are in ruins, but they are well preserved. The site is a World Heritage Site and is protected by the ASI.

Temple 18 - that's what its called. Quite an uninspiring name for those towering pillars which look uncannily Greek.

Stupas have a terrace where devotees circumabulate. This is the medhi or terrace of stupa 3 (again, that's what its called)

So what were we doing in Sanchi? We were there for a work trip for a book that we were doing with Madhya Pradesh TourismBuddhist Circuit in Central India. Apart from Sanchi, we also had to visit some Buddhist sites around it, which are not part of the regular tourist circuit – Sonari, Satdhara, Andher and Murelkhurd. Getting to these sites is an adventure in itself. Except Satdhara, the others are not connected by motorable road and are well-guarded by jungle, hills are streams.  

 The people of Sanchi are courteous and always willing to help. Even though Parvati and I walked to and from the stupas at odd hours, we never felt uneasy. If you’re the lazy type there are always autos at the base of the hill willing to ferry visitors up and down for a small sum. But for those who have the time and inclination, there are the ancient stone steps leading up the hill. The walk is a good way to meet people: other travellers and locals.

Sanchi Town at dusk from the Stone Steps

Pilgrim-travellers, Monk-guide. This is a group from Sri Lanka with their guide. Lots of pilgrims from Sri Lanka visit Sanchi annually, and most stay at the Mahabodhi Society-run Guest House

 

 

Sonari was where we went next. The car would only go as far as Sonari village from where the stupas were a three kilometre walk – over two hills and across one stream. Our guide, Surender Singh Baduria navigated through the shrubbery.

In Sonari Village. A woman and her house.

Phew. The uphill task

Our guide took this picture of the stream on the way. Notice the two river nymphs perched on the rocks.

There were times when the landscape looked completely untouched by any human presence, not even small huts in the distance. Would it have looked just the same 2000 years back when the Buddha’s followers trod over the same hills to reach the stupas? Or would there have been cart tracks, and footprints and frequent human settlements?

  There are two main stupas at sonari and a monastery. The site is on a clearing, which is surrounded by unending forests on every side. The caretaker of the site, Bhagwan Singh, came to greet us with his dog. The only resident on the site, he has lived here for a year now and says he will never leave.

Mr Surender Singh, Bhagwan Singh and Parvati who's taking notes

 Of the four, only Sonari and Satdhara were accessible, so Satdhara was our next destination. Parvati and I were tossed about in the car during the drive (which can only be done in a four-wheel drive). There are some 8 stupas here set in some really breathtaking natural beauty. The stupas overlook a river which flows in the valley below.

Mr Surender Singh showed us some ancient paintings on a rock-face on the mountainside which takes a somewhat steep climb downwards. Parvati wouldn’t come, so I risked my life alone (and barefoot). Here is the proof:

See? The rockface is twice as tall as Surenderji. The photographs of the rock paintings are in the book

The Grand Stupa of Satdhara

Our book is almost out on the stands. The Buddhist Circuit in Central India will appeal not only to Buddhist pilgrims, but to anyone interested in Buddhism, Madhra Pradesh, our built heritage, Sanchi, the excursions from Sanchi (like Gyaraspur and Udaigiri)….

 Here’s the cover, so that you know what to look for when you reach the bookstore:

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2009 in goodearth guides, travel

 

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MILESTONES

  • Our first guidebook, Delhi City Guide, was published in 1996, and released with much aplomb by the then chief minister of Delhi, Shri Sahib Singh Verma, in a function at India Habitat Centre. In its concept, in-depth research, visual impact and high production values, the guide was seen as a seminal work — the first travel guide of its kind by an Indian publisher.
  • Walking with the Buddha: Buddhist Pilgrimages in India released by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama on 6th Aug, 1999, who praised its excellent historical research and brilliant production.

  • In 2001 we received a landmark order from the Archaeological Survey of India for printing 100,000 copies each of a series of 13 guidebooks on the World Heritage Sites in India. This was the first time that ASI had entered into a publication partnership with any private agency. Thereafter we have been working closely with them of various kinds of publications related to Indian heritage and culture.
  • Received the Award for ‘Excellence in Publishing’ from the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India in 2002 for our book Speaking Stones: World Heritage Sites in India.
  • Brought out the state guide Madhya Pradesh:The Heart of India for Madhya Pradesh Tourism in 2007, and with this entered into a long-standing relationship with MPT. Till date we have published 18 guidebooks — destination and thematic guides — on the state.
  • Monuments of Delhi, a coffeetable book published for the ASI in English  released by the Prime Minister in his residence in Oct 2010. Thereafter, the Hindi translation of the book was released in the Vigyan Bhawan in Dec 2011.

  • Madhya Pradesh Tourism received the ‘National Award for Best Publishing and Promotional Material’ for 2011-12, for three guidebooks published by Goodearth : Bhimbhetka-Bhojpur, Maheshwar-Omkareshwar, and Ratlam, Mandsaur and Neemuch.
  • Release of Rabindranath Tagore: Documentation of National Commemoration on occasion of his 150th Birth Anniversary (published for Ministry of Culture, Govt of India) by Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, in March 2012 in the North Block in Central Secretariat.