Most of my previous travelogues and accompanying photographs related to a number of places in both the southern and northern parts of the country. Till now I have held back on the only place of major tourist interest I had visited in central India, in the last week of November 2009. This was Amarkantak, a place for pilgrimage and sightseeing in the largely tribal district of Anuppur in the eastern part of Madhya Pradesh, close to the town of Pendra Road in Bilaspur district of Chattisgarh state. I had been to Pendra Road on an official assignment much the same as the ones that took me to Anoopshahr and Hapur in western UP later and resulted in two of my more recent blog posts. To reach this town my colleagues and I had to travel a long distance by road through Bilaspur from the state capital Raipur after I reached there by air via Bangalore and Hyderabad. We reached our destination around 2 AM after having left Raipur airport by 5 PM the previous evening. The later part of the journey was through Achanakmar Wild Life Sanctuary, a large and dense forest area. This gave me an opportunity to indulge in my favorite hobby of watching the wonders of the night sky [see my blog post 21 titled 'Wonders of the Night Sky with the Naked Eye (Mar 11)'] from a location far removed from any kind of light pollution. As most stargazers are aware, late evening skies are particularly spectacular in the winter months. Sadly, such opportunities are few and far between for urbanites nowadays, a price they have to pay for material progress.
Other than the official work, there was nothing particularly interesting in Pendra Road and I headed for Amarkantak late on the second evening with a companion from the host institution.
Amarkantak is an elevated plateau region rich in exotic vegetation, steeped in ancient history and Hindu mythology, located on the northern edge of the wild life sanctuary which I had passed through two days before. It is the birth place of the famous central Indian River Narmada which flows westward into Gujarat state. It is also the birth place of River Sone which flows in the other direction and joins up with the Ganga in Bihar.
We couldn't find any decent hotel accommodation in the town and had to be satisfied with modest but superbly maintained guest rooms in the Shri Kalyan Seva Ashram that was located close to most of the places of interest. This was indeed a blessing in disguise as I was to discover early next morning.
The Ashram, with its impressive temple, large tracts of greenery and a residential complex, was a serenely beautiful place. My cameras went to work on a wonderfully beautiful, brightly sunny and pleasantly chilly morning as soon as I realized what was awaiting me.
The following picture captures the large temple complex, with architecture typical of most modern Hindu temples in the country:
[As in my previous albums, all pictures are in high resolution and can be blown up to their full size by clicking on a picture and opening it in a separate window]
The picture below shows a close up view of the two super structures in the front:
The next picture highlights the rich greenery and some of the beautiful structures with different religious symbolisms within a quadrangle at the main entrance to the temple:
The next picture presents a zoomed in view of the colorful structures shown in the previous one from a slightly different angle:
I found a harmonious blending of the neo modern temple complex with the distinctly modern residential complex on the opposite side. Here is a view of the latter. The statue-like person with a saint-like deportment in the left foreground is indeed a real itinerant sadhu!
The next picture is a close up view of the previous one taken at a different angle, with the focus as much on the staircase beautifully spiraling upwards as on the trees:
Beautiful as it was, nothing added more to the beauty of the ashram complex than the flowers grown in generous abundance everywhere. Here is one of these great flowers:
The Water Falls
A journey of about 8 km took us to the first of the two water falls in a picturesque and rugged region. Here is a panoramic view of it, the Kapildhara falls, dropping down about 50 meters:
Here is a close up view of the same falls, with the trees and branches in the foreground making the sight more picturesque:
Walking further downhill, we came to the second falls, the Dudh Dhara, cascading down a much shorter height in twin streams. Here is a view of it, with my companion seen squatting on the edge of the left embankment:
At one point in the neighborhood of the falls I happened to look up and catch the view of a spider hard at work weaving its intricate web. It was too good an opportunity for me to miss. Here is a full-zoom view of the scene:
Temples and Monuments
Amarkantak is home to numerous temples and monuments, both ancient and relatively recent. Here is a picture of the 12th century Trimukhi temple which is quite obviously in a state of neglect.
The monument just behind the Trimukhi temple (shown in the next picture) is of very recent origin and the outer portion of it was still under construction. No specific information about it was available.
The name plate in the next picture speaks for itself. It refers to a complex of ancient temples maintained in very good condition. It was polished like a mirror as can be made out from the reflections of myself (and my companion) even as I was clicking the picture.
The following picture shows the lush green lawns and pathways surrounding the group of ancient temples referred to in the previous picture:
The next picture shows the largest of the temples in the group cited above:
The next picture shows the nearby milky white Narmada Udgam Temple which can also be made out in the reflection from the name plate shown earlier. It is perhaps the best known landmark of Amarkantak and a small pond nearby is identified as the source of the famed Narmada River.
Sarvodaya Digamber Jain Temple
This new temple being built as a mega project at Amarkantak is said to be similar to the famous Aksharadhama temple of Gujarat. The following picture shows the huge structure under construction:
The next two pictures show portions of the temple's interior, focusing on the elaborate scale and intricate nature of the architecture involved.
After the visit it was a long road journey all the way back to Raipur where I stayed overnight and took a flight next morning back to Bangalore via Hyderabad.
I shall long cherish the memory of this brief visit to a place of obvious historic, cultural and legendary interest. However, I assume that no one in his right mind can entertain bizarre and outrageous claims like the following, made in a reputed resource like Wikipedia, stretching credulity far beyond reasonable limits even for matters exclusive to the realm of faith:
· It is believed that whoever dies at Amarkantak is assured of a place in heaven!
· If a lady makes offerings of fruits and flowers will gain the respect of her husband, and no doubt she will also achieve a place in heaven!
· When Lord Shiva destroyed Tripura (the three cities) by fire, the ashes of one fell upon mount Kailash, the ashes of another fell upon Amarkantak, and the ashes of the third were saved by Lord Shiva and kept in heaven. The ashes that fell upon Amarkantak turned into crores of Shivalingas!