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.