Legends abound

Unexplored

Legends abound

The safari at Panna National Park had got over by the forenoon. It had turned out to be just another drive in a pretty forest with the usual suspects — hyena, nilgai, sambhar and hare, standing camouflaged or crossing our path. As always, I had missed my date with the striped beauties. Yes, a few feline have been duly posted to the Reserve after alarm bells had sounded doom a few months back. 

I remain a little luckless in spotting them. After the safari, we had time on hand and exploring the territory ahead seemed tempting. I was at the Madla entry point to the Reserve, which is the closest to Khajuraho (25 km), and the onward highway (NH 75) was a delicious strip of impeccable black tarmac, the kind you’d like to pack and carry.
This part of Madhya Pradesh lies in the Vindhya Ranges, thus it’s slightly hilly and filled with dense teak and bamboo plantations.

The highway runs through this absolutely splendid leafy forest country, dotted with picturesque spots and lots of happy brooks, making it perfect for a driving trip.   

Picturesque

My first halt was 16 km ahead at the Sabal Shah Trekking Centre and Gangau Sanctuary. Gangau is a small wildlife district situated on the banks of River Ken and is considered a good zone for spotting the striped hyena, sambar, chital, langur and wild boar. I made a note of the trekking facilities available here and drove on to stop about 5 km ahead at the pretty Pandav Waterfall.

Legend says that the Pandavas spent a part of their exile by these very scenic falls, an off-shoot of River Ken, where the water collects in a lovely pool, enticing tourists to swim. But the activity is prohibited. 

Giving evidence to the belief that the Pandavas stayed here, there are dorms carved at the base of a rock knoll flanking the pool, as well as five small temple-like structures enshrined with idols of the mother goddess, which draw their share of pilgrims.

The waterfall makes for an attractive picnic spot and I decided to spend extended time here. By late afternoon I had clocked mere 40 km from the Reserve, but by now I was in Panna town. This was once the capital of the much-admired Maharaja Chhatrasal (AD1649-1731), who founded the Bundela kingdom around 1680 AD and whose legend still echoes in the entire region that’s been demarcated as Bundelkhand.

Chhatrasal, a hero of 52 battles, hardly suffered reverses during his illustrious career that saw him crushing his arch-rivals, the Mughals lead by Emperor Aurangzeb, on most occasions. As he extended his empire and gave it four formidable corners by way of Panna, Gwalior, Kalpi and Damoh, the Mughals were left with no choice but to cement cordial ties with him.

Today a dusty town, its crumbling edifice bears testimony to Panna once being the jewel in the crown, where royal buildings were studded with gems and diamonds, excavated from local mines (the Kohinoor diamond is supposed to have been found here).

Amongst royal brick-and-mortar on view, I found the colonnaded Mahendra Bhavan most impressive. As a reflection of the times, goats were lying sprawled on its sweeping flight of stairs, which once welcomed kings and courtiers. Now housing the District Collectorate, it was built by Maharaja Mahendra Madho Singh Ju Deo Bahadur who reigned from 1898 to 1902 AD.

Panna is also known for its temples and I barely managed to manoeuvre the SUV through the narrow lane that connected the most popular amongst them all, the Mahamati Prannathji Temple. This is Mecca for the Krishna Pranami sect started by Mahamati Prannath, who was Chhatrasal’s guru and a political adviser.

A faith that speaks about secularism, the temple structure in itself is a blend of Indian and Islamic architecture — it has spherical central dome and a multi-domed open-lotus shaped roof. Another outstanding structure was the Baldeoji Temple. Interestingly, this temple in Palladian style is a replica of St Paul’s Cathedral in London! It's considered the finest building in the area and speaks of a time when Bundela architecture was at its peak.  

Pitstops

On my way back to Delhi, once again the wheels raced past a verdant countryside. I skipped Chattarpur town but decided to stop at Dhubela. Here, a small signboard pointing to a museum had piqued my interest. Located inside a fort, the museum held an engrossing collection dedicated to the much-loved Maharaja Chhatrasal.

On seeing the projections here, what came to light was Chhatrasal’s life being replete with challenges, valour, series of accomplishments and strength of character. His chapter came to a close at the ripe age of 82 years, and then were born his legends which begin somewhere here and reverberate till Panna, where I was returning from.  
 
On my way ahead from Dhubela, I spotted Alipura, which also abounds with history. Interesting towns like these are barely visible on maps but in their folds hold
many a fascinating tale of Bundelkhand’s dynasties. 

Travel tips

n *National Park and 44 km from Panna town. By Road: Panna is on NH 75 
By Rail: Khajuraho is the nearest railway station.

* Entry fee: Panna National Park is open from October 1 to June 15. Entry by car/jeep carrying up to 8 persons costs —  For Indians it’s Rs 500, while for foreigners a ticket costs Rs 2,000

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