Last weekend was spent in the part of Maharashtra which hardly seems like my state. Its not only culturally different but has an odd mix of Hindi and Marathi languages, which becomes a whole new dialect of its own. I had been there several times when I was young but had not noticed the variation. This time was different and had fun observing and learning about this side of the country.
My trip was very short, just two days. I didn’t have a very good idea of what was hidden in the box for me, whatever popped out, did surprise me to a large extent. In Vidharbha, we went to this small city of Chandrapur which has super thermal power plant, one of the biggest in Asia, and it is also known for its vast reserves of coal. They say that the entire city is dug up underground to excavate coal. The thought of having underground passages beneath you is quite an unimaginable feeling.
After lunch we decided to go to two places, the Mahakali and Anchaleshwar Temples. Though I am not a big temple person, I really enjoyed visiting them. The temples were built in the 1540 t0 1615 century by Dhundya Ram Sah a tribal king from the Gond dynasty. Both the temples were built of the east gates of the fort of Chandrapur. What amazed me was the architecture of the place. The sculptures on the Mahakali temple were a remarkable blend of Tibetan and Hindu figurines. For example, the lion sculpture had a strange mix of a dragons-like head. They were unlike Hindu carvings and depicted its tribal character. What I liked about the place was its very basic but at the same time bold and daring posts, pillars and structures. Though I did not enjoy the muck around the place, I did enjoy walking amidst the quaint shops selling vivid items like bangles, scarves, flowers, puja thalis, etc.
The next day was the most awaited trip, everybody was talking about it and was looking forward to it……it was the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserves and National Park. We started our day at 5 a.m. since a lot of people told us that there were sightings before day break. Our group split into two, one batch of slightly older people and the second one in an open Gypsy. The morning was crisp and frosty but that didn’t seem to bother us, after all we were excited to see the tiger!
We had an uninterested guide with us who gave us a little information about the forest. It is a deciduous forest of the Deccan Peninsula comprising of rich teak and bamboo trees. I was quite surprised to hear that the forest was as big as 625 sq/ km and had three gates – Tadoba-Andhari, Moharli and Kolsa. We decided to go to Andhari since it had innumerable water holes, therefore more chances of animal sighting. Our trip started on rubble roads along the Andhari Lake and grasslands as high as 6-7 feet. It was fascinating the see a strange mixture of tall grass on one side and dense foliage on the other. As soon as we got there, we spotted an old bison walking alongside the lake and enter the thicket. To my knowledge, bison live in groups and hence asked the guide about this one being by himself. He told us that when these creatures grow old, they are unable to catch up with the herd and tend to isolate. Even though they are isolated, they are not as often hunted by tigers due to their enormous strength and aggression unless a few decide to attack it in a group.
A short while later, the guide asked us to stay quiet since we heard a screeching call perhaps from a monkey. He informed us that this kind of a call is let out only when there is a tiger on prowl. We waited for a while in silence but it was nearly impossible for us to see beyond 10 feet in to the woods. Since a lot of cars arrived during our wait, making a lot of noise, we did not catch any glimpse of the wild cat. Later we tried waiting along a few water holes but were not lucky enough to spot one. Though we did see the usual animals like the spotted deer, some more bison, crocodiles and peacocks. To think about it, there are only 43 tigers in the jungle of Tadoba and to spot one in 625 sq/kms of expanse is indeed difficult. Anyway though we did not spot one, we did have a fabulous time. We spent nearly 5 hours in the dense forest hoping to catch a sight of one!
Our trip had more in store for us. That evening we decided to travel 20 kms north of Chandrapur to this little town called Bhadravati. Bhadravati is known for its 32 wells, 32 temples and 32 ponds. According to the residents of the area, a punishment was given to 3 brothers by one of the Gond Kings to build 32 wells, temples and ponds. It sounded more like a fable told to relate to the existence of so many wells, temples and ponds. We had 3 temples and Buddhist caves on our agenda for that evening. We started off with the most captivating part of Bhadravati, the 2000 years old Buddhist caves or Bodha Vaastu on the Vijasan hill. The caves have a very mystifying appearance. It is a cluster of 3 caves, all depicting the magnificent hand carved Buddha dug deep in to the rock of the Vijasan hill. The caves are basic, untouched and non-commercial, making them very appealing.
Followed by the Buddhist caves, we visited the Nag Mandir and the Bahavani Mata Mandir. Both the Nag Mandir and the Bhavani Mandir had underground tunnels which connect to the Mahakali Temple in Chandrapur which is almost 22 kms from there. The Bhavani Mata Mandir interested me a lot. Before we left for Bhadravati, a lot of people described the significance of this place. We were told that the temple was dug out very recently. The people had a fair idea about the passage but did not know the existence of the beautiful statue of the goddess that lay beneath the Bhadravati soil. A local named Mrs. Borkar dreamt of the deity and eventually the location was excavated. They not only found the majestic, 6 feet tall idol but also two more idols of a “Nag and Nageen”. They were fantastic, crude and jet black.
I was overwhelmed by the history and intensity of this place. The strangest thing I noticed is that there is so much heritage in this part of the country and hardly anybody knows about it! Most of what I have written is from the facts we picked up from the locals. How I wish this could all be rebuilt, restored and more could be known about this lost past.