So, this trip of mine was very internally focussed on looking after myself and hence, I planned a few mini-trips out of Delhi so I wasn’t always surrounded by the cloud of cancer! The first one being to a place called Bandhavgarh.
The journey to the centre of the country is certainly not easy- the closest train station is a 45 km drive away (Umaria), the 2nd 2 hours (Katni), 3rd 3 hours (Satna) and 4th 4 hours (Jabalpur). Sadly there is not much to do in some of those places… so the focus needs to be very clear and the roads aren’t always great. And oh0 definitely forget the idea of trying to get food en route- even a packet of Uncle Chipps were difficult to come by!
Near Umaria: There is a huge mining district here and if one is keen, coal mines can be visited- we didn’t do this. There is also a single temple closeby with similar architecture as that portrayed in Khajuraho- we stopped here for a very quick visit as the sun was too strong and I have been to Khajuraho and my sister is planning a trip there in the future.
En route from Umaria towards Jabalpur: There is a “stopping” point called Shahpura- this is where the taxis like to take a tea break- horrible spot- we didn’t eat anything that was not packed due to the flies and unhygienic conditions! About 15kms from here is a Fossil Park that I wish I had known about so I could have explored it. This seems to be something the locals never really talk about but from my understanding a volcano erupted and everything has been preserved as is from the many years ago, including dinosaur eggs (myth or reality- am not sure!)
Katni: Since we never went there, I can’t say about all that is there but I believe there are some amazing pre-historic caves and dwellings (near the DC’s house is the landmark) that are worth checking out.
Satna: Nothing at all!
Jabalpur: The awesomely pretty marble waterfalls. The falls have marble on either side and they are just absolutely stunning, I would imagine even more so during the monsoon seasons when they are absolutely massive. I went expecting Iguazzu and was a wee bit disappointed but nevertheless, they had their own charm. Even though we went on a random Wednesday afternoon, it was brimming with tourists and people, so that certainly takes away some of the pleasure…
During our journey, we had some interesting conversations, met some fascinating characters and basically savoured the Indian railway experience that is unique in its own way!
I have figured there are some characters that can be found easily:
#1: The phone talker: These guys will spend all their time on the phone, talking to other people, loudly and will ensure everyone knows how prominent they are in the society, who their family members are, what they do etc etc etc.
#2: The sweet boy: This will usually be a college student who is still trying to find his feet and will offer to do errands, offer you their food (a big no no in trains to share, btw, for safety reasons) and will spend his time trying to look cool with earphones.
#3: The religious fanatic: Sometimes will try to get people involved in ‘kirtans’ and discussions regarding the Gita- poor lad should be prepared for the atheists who have extensive knowledge of the Gita though- I suspect he will not forget his encounter and argument with me anytime soon.
#4: The oldie: They will invariably have the top berth and want to swap it for a lower one. They expect you to do it ‘cos they are old and often consider it their birthright and forget politeness in the process!
#5: The amused: Me- there are always a few who are too busy having a good time observing it all, taking it all in and enjoying the ride!
So we finally did get to Bandhavgarh and were lucky to be staying in a beautiful place– great hospitality, clean rooms, wholesome food (not very hotelly, not very homey), well priced. I highly recommend this place and if I ever go back, I will stay here again. The owner there is a massive tiger buff and loves to talk about his experiences with them and gets exceptionally excited about every tiger he spots- which are not as uncommon as one would imagine!
We did a total of 3 safaris- there are 3 safari options: Tala- always booked out months in advance so plan well and considered the best place to spot tigers. Also the driest so with few watering holes! The most restricted area as it is too tough to go from one path to another and it is very closely monitored, Maghdi- the second best option and the one we spent our time in- small area but exceptionally dense with 2/3 big watering areas allowing for some good spotting, Khitauli- the newest one coming up now. We had a driver who was a goldmine of information and very good to us on day 1- after that he seemed to lose his enthusiasm but either which way, a fountain of knowledge and available independently- his name is Bhammud and he can be reached on +919425344221.
There is the option of climbing to the fort and though we had the option of being 1 of the 2 cars, we had to decline the option due to the heat- it’s a good 2-2.5 km hike which would normally not be an issue but for the heat so I recommend doing this in the winter months only. There are ruins there with not too many other options but the 16 reservoirs for water are meant to be intact, as are some of the religious statues dotted around. Apparently, some of the rare birds can be spotted here.
All in all, not much to do but go for safairs, eat, sleep and enjoy a good break! For those keen to see a tiger, I highly recommend Bandhavgarh but do be aware, it is overcrowded with tourists and not the spot for a serious naturalist etc!