In Photos: From Popular to the Offbeat, north-eastern Madhya Pradesh's diverse charms

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wooden arches of the women's swimming enclosure at Govindgarh Fort
[Women's swimming enclosure at Govindgarh Fort]

Even when things seem to be going nowhere, India has the uncanny ability to surprise you. By now, I'm tuned to believe there's always light at the end of the tunnel. So even though I was awake for more than 22-hours straight at that point and we were literally in the middle of nowhere, I was hanging onto a faint ray of hope that the morning could bring some magic. A bunch of us were travelling in the heart of Hindustan, Madhya Pradesh and it sure got off to a shaky start. But the tide turned quickly and how! From exploring totally off the grid places to discovering the hidden charm of well-known destinations, my one week in Madhya Pradesh went by in a blur of awe and perplexity. (What's travel really if it doesn't make you reflect?)

In the one week that I travelled exclusively in the north-eastern corner of Madhya Pradesh, a region I had never been to before, in collaboration with HolidayIQ and MP Tourism, here's a quick recap of what I saw in 14 pictures. Detailed blog posts to follow.

Sanjay National Park Safari

A winter evening in Khajuraho
We began the trip with a misty sunrise safari in Parsili(L) and ended it with a balmy sunset at Khajuraho(R).

Sanjay National Park, Parsili

Has the "Tiger Tourism" got on your nerves already? If you, like me, are looking for a worthy alternative to the well known national parks where assured sightings come with the added frenzy of a crowd, Sanjay National Park is your answer. Opened to tourists only two years ago, Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve is spread over an area of 831 Sq. Kms between Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Home to about 40 tigers, leopards and sloth bears that especially oblige visitors with their unbridled presence, a safari in the thriving jungles of Sanjay National Park offers a novel high– one that is unencumbered by the trappings of a more popular national park.

Sanjay National Park's grasslands glowing in winter sunshine
The glowing grasslands of Sanjay National Park. This was perhaps a village once, hence the lack of the characteristically thick forest prevalent here.

Somewhere in those bushes is a big Sloth Bear
Somewhere behind those bushes is an ambling, big, black Sloth Bear. Sanjay NP's trump card is not the Tiger but Sloth Bear and Leopard sightings apparently. No leopard but I saw two bears!

Khajuraho's misguided stereotype

One of the biggest duds and highlights of the trip was Khajuraho. To begin with, I was never fascinated by Khajuraho. It probably had to do with the western exoticisation of the erotic sculptures that these temples were reduced to. So when I visited, I was expecting to be bombarded with those sculptures. But it felt like much ado about nothing. I had to literally trawl though the panels to find the racy carvings. I wondered, if these temples didn't even live to up to the stereotype they've been reduced to, then what were they even worth? Only when our guide commiserated saying less than 10% of these carvings were erotic, I realized how misguided the hype was. Once that was clear, I was happy to refocus and look at the temples in a new light. The winter light sure did work its magic, as I discovered, the charm of Khajuraho was not in its minute details but in its surreal setting, at least for me. The mystery of their origins and the timeless tenacity of surviving a thousand years got to me eventually. Khajuraho was an acquired taste for sure. 

Indian tourists walking in the Western Temple Complex in Khajuraho. I was quite surprised to find more domestic tourists than international here.

Women at Devi Jagadambi Temple in Western complex of Khajuraho
Devi Jagadambi Temple is western complex is usually overshadowed by the more famous Lkashmana and Kandariya Mahadev termples but it is coming into its own of late.

Jain Temples at Khajuraho
Possibly because Chandelas wanted to suppress Buddhism, as our guide conjectured, they gave patronage to Jains who built their temples in Khajuraho alongside the Hindu temples. Eastern complex primarily houses Jain temples.

Panna National Park

Panna National Park is probably one of the country's few conservation stories showing a surprisingly remarkable turnaround. From loosing all its tigers in 2009 to the steady success of tiger reintroductions from Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Panna has bounced back to normalcy after a period of despair. Today, tiger's may still be the biggest draw of this national park but what intrigued me more was its landscape. A pristine Karnavati(Ken) River flows through the heart of the park and forms the lifeline of the jungle and its dwellers. The river that criss-crosses the landscape also forms deep ravines that offer gorgeous outcrops to loop into the valleys where vultures and crocodiles thrive. If Kanha's crowning glory is its grasslands, it's the canyons for Panna.

Early morning safari at Panna National Park
One of Madhya Pradesh's big four, Panna, along with Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench forms the important areas in the state for Tiger conservation and sightings.

The stunning canyons of Panna
One of the defining characteristics of landscape in Panna is its gorgeous canyons and deep ravines. Dhundwa Seha, a cascade that drops from a height of over 100m into a deep gorge mellows down in the blue pools of the stream that cuts through the valley.

Raneh Falls, in the canyon that forms over Ken River
One of the pleasant surprises on this trip was the Raneh Canyon over the Karnavati(Ken) river- it's 5 kilometers long, formed due to volcanic action and has 5 different kinds of igneous rocks ranging from pink to black! This must be quite a sight just after rains.

Rewa & Govindgarh's historic ruins

Most of us would associate Madhya Pradesh with its Tigers, national parks, Mowgli and Jungle Book. I know I did, for a very long time. Then I found out about Bundelkhand, remnants of its glorious past littered generously across the state in the form of quaint towns and forgotten monuments.

Then, on this trip, I hear about Bagelkhand, another region right next to Bundelkhand brimming with history and monumental heritage. The princely state of erstwhile Rewa is where I first came face to face with the crumbling history of Bagelkhand. Later, I visited Govindgarh Fort that was in a pitiful state of dilapidation but it sure was holding plenty of untold stories. Unfortunately there wasn’t a guide around who could tell us these stories that have now become secrets. But MP Tourism is now looking to promote this region and if it does, I can see great potential here.

The gorgeous fort gate in the historic city of Rewa
The colorfully painted fort gate in the historic city of Rewa

Govindgarh Fort's impressive yet crumbling entrance
Set on the banks of Raghurajsagar Lake, Govindgarh Fort is a forgotten and crumbling monument today.

Tattered ruins of Govindgarh Fort
The dilapidated state of the fort is in equal parts haunting and alluring.

Have you been to any of these places in Madhya Pradesh before?

Related stories:
Living with the Tiger
Wild Things of Kanha & Bandhavgarh National Park - A Photo Essay
A Wild Monsoon Outing & My First Tiger Sighting - K Gudi Jungle Lodges at BR Hills

Note: This post is published as part of the #ChaloMPwithHolidayIQ campaign and I was hosted by HolidayIQ in Madhya Pradesh.

Come along with me, on a virtual journey! Find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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  1. Amazing pics,I am waiting for your detailed posts

    1. Thank you! Working on the posts, should be out by next week. :)

  2. Such hidden gems, loved the shot of the tiny lake feeding a waterfall.

    1. Oh yeah, that place was quite a surprise, wasn't expecting much from it. It looks stunning just after monsoons actually, with hundreds of waterfalls flowing through the canyon.

  3. Have never been to MP and after reading your post I think I must visit this place soon. Have been interested in going to the national foresrs there , Whats the right time to visit the place?

    1. I love MP, some of the places there are straight out of a fairy tale, like Orccha and Kanha. Now added these new places I visited too. :) Winter's the best time to visit the jungles if you'd like to see stunning scenery along with wildlife. If you're interested only in wildlife, no better time than summers when all the wildlife is forced to congregate around few remaining watering holes.

  4. Have set my eyes on Bundelkhand and Bagelkhand for some time now ... And I just added Govindgarh n Rewa to the map ... Thanks!

    1. Both amazing places with lots of history. Although Baghelkhand is a bit difficult to explore, no infrastructure at all unfortunately. Fascinating nonetheless.

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