Tag Archives: rock-art

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:


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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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