Spiritual Encounters & Wildlife Wonders: A Trip Through Madhya Pradesh

An expedition through Madhya Pradesh's Amarkantak, Bhedaghat, and Kanha National Park blended spirituality with wildlife, unveiling India's essence beyond urban landscapes
Portrait of a tigress at the Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Portrait of a tigress at the Kanha National Park, Madhya PradeshShutterstock

On a recent family trip, I ventured into some lesser-explored parts of Madhya Pradesh, including Amarkantak, Bhedaghat and the Kanha National Park. A mix of spirituality and wildlife, the getaway was an eye-opener to an essential part of India.

We arrived at the impressive new terminal building of the Jabalpur airport (for a Madhya Pradesh itinerary, click here), from where we drove to Amarkantak, about a 250-kilometre-long drive. On the way, we passed several beautiful Tesu trees, which are plenty in this part of the state. Owing to their bright orange colour, these palash flowers are often called the "flame of the forest," and we can see why. As we got closer to Amarkantak, the barren landscape around us gradually transformed into a greener hue, and tiny hillocks began appearing. We began crossing fields full of wheat and teakwood plantations lined by rows of eucalyptus trees on either side of the road. As we got higher, the air felt cooler and windier, too. We also noticed several groups of langurs jumping from one tree to another.

Two of India's sacred rivers, the Narmada and the Sone, originate in Amarkantak, located on the border of Madhya Pradesh (click to read about places to visit in Madhya Pradesh) and Chattisgarh. A small town, it is filled with various temples and blessed with an abundance of nature. The first spot we visited in Amarkantak was Kapildhara, a scenic 24-metre-high waterfall located six kilometres from the source of the Narmada. Further down lies another waterfall called Dugdhadhara. The famed Kapileshwar temple is close by. 

Kapildhara is a scenic 24-metre-high waterfall located six kilometres from the source of the Narmada
Kapildhara is a scenic 24-metre-high waterfall located six kilometres from the source of the NarmadaShutterstock

Our next stop was Kabir Chabutra, a small tank near which Indian mystic poet and saint Kabir is believed to have meditated. Further, one of the most important temples in the town is Narmada Udgam, which marks the source of the mighty river. Many pilgrims come here to take a holy dip in its waters. The best time to visit the temple is during the daily aarti hours of 7:30 am and 7:00 pm. Just opposite the temple lies the Pataleshwar Mahadev Temple complex. It consists of a group of ancient temples, such as Keshav Narayan temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu; Machendranath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva; Juhila temple named after the Johilla river; a group of five temples known as Panchmatha temple; and Karan temple considered to be built by King Karandev of the Kalchuri dynasty.

A short distance from Narmada Udgam temple lies Mai ki Bagiya, an orchard where, according to legend, goddess Narmada came to pluck fruits. Another important site here is Sonmuda, the source of the river Sone. Meandering through thick forests, the river flows from here to join the Ganga. Another noteworthy tourist spot is the Digambar Jain temple, which consists of a huge metal statue of Lord Mahavir. 

Into The Wild

After spending a day and a night at Amarkantak, we left for our next destination, Kanha. A 250-kilometre-long drive later, we reached the forest in the evening, which was a majestic sight. Lush, green, thick vegetation surrounds you amidst the sound of buzzing fireflies and a hint of the bright moon in the dark sky above. Among other things, the Kanha National Park is home to the Royal Bengal tiger, leopards, sloth bears, Barasingha, and the Indian wild dog.

Sunrise at Kanha National Park
Sunrise at Kanha National ParkShutterstock

We woke up early the following morning for our much-awaited jungle safari. As the orange tint of the sunrise slowly brightened the dark sky, birds could be heard chirping. Gypsies full of impatient tourists gathered outside the Sarhi gate of the dense deciduous forest filled with evergreen Sal, red-leaved kosum and old bamboo trees. As we entered, "The Jungle Book" scenes came magically live. We began spotting the animals one by one—sambar deer, wild cocks, hens, peacocks and wild boars. A herd of graceful Barasingha or swamp deer crossed the road. A bison family, unbothered by our vehicle, merrily chewed leaves from a tree. A sprightly jackal scooted by, scavenging hungrily for bones. 

Apart from these, we also saw several birds, such as parakeets, paradise flycatchers, stork-billed kingfishers, greater coucals, racket-tailed treepies, greater racket-tailed drongos, jungle owlets, spotted doves, tiger birds, blue jays, shikras, Asian green bee-eaters, white-throated kingfishers, great cormorants, junglefowl, Malabar pied hornbills, grey-headed fish eagles, Indian rollers and white cattle egrets.

Barasinghas at Kanha National Park
Barasinghas at Kanha National ParkShutterstock

Now and then, our jeep would stop dramatically, with our guide craning his neck, hearing out for jungle calls and showing us tiger footprints. Termite mounds, artificially created water bodies, and broken antlers that fell on the ground were other encounters that made our journey exciting. 

On the second day of our morning safari, we entered from the Kanha gate of the forest. This was our lucky day to see the much sought-after female tiger. Neelam (T-65) was in deep slumber and hidden behind the thick bushes. For almost an hour, our jeep and many others waited with bated breath for the tigress to awake. Finally, we observed her raising her head, turning and moving majestically to another location—which evoked the crowd's excitement.

Tigress Neelam with her cubs
Tigress Neelam with her cubsShutterstock

At the end of our visit, we also took time to visit the national park's educational museum, housed within four buildings. At the museum, we learnt that all the villages inside the forest were removed in 1969. There is also a fascinating arch near the museum, created in 2015 using the antlers of Barasingha, chital and sambar deer collected by local villagers. 

Antlers grow naturally every year on the heads of male members of the deer species before the breeding season, after which they are shed. After spending about three nights in Kanha, we drove 170 kilometres to our next destination, Bhedaghat. 

Chasing Cascades

Located 12 kilometres from Jabalpur, Bhedaghat is a small sacred village blessed with nature's splendour. Our first stop here was to the magnificent Dhuandhar waterfall. Here, the Narmada River falls with great force from 30 feet, its vapours floating above, resembling smoke. Several little shops in the area sell small artefacts made particularly of the famous local marble. The Chousath Yogini temple is another important pilgrim site in Bhedaghat. Located atop a hill, one reaches the temple after climbing a long flight of stairs. From here, one can view the Narmada flowing through jagged marble rocks.

Located on the periphery of Narmada River in Bhedaghat, this waterfall pours down from a height of approximately 98 feet
Located on the periphery of Narmada River in Bhedaghat, this waterfall pours down from a height of approximately 98 feetShutterstock

Another memorable experience is an early morning boat ride on the Narmada River, lined by marble and limestone rocks on either side. Along the hour-long ride, the rocks change from blue to black and white. During the ride, our rowers entertained us with poetic commentary and trivia about the place and the sights around us. They also informed us that several Bollywood movies, such as Awaara, Sadak, Mohenjadaro, Ashoka, Khoon Bhari Maang, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain, and Dunki, have been filmed here.

Overall, our weeklong trip to this part of the state was a great way to explore a lesser-known part of the country and dip into nature away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Getting There

If travelling by air, major cities like Bhopal, Indore and Jabalpur have airports with domestic flights. Alternatively, Indian Railways offers extensive train services connecting Madhya Pradesh with other states. Buses are also popular, with numerous state-run and private bus operators offering routes to different cities within Madhya Pradesh. If driving, well-maintained national highways provide access from neighbouring states. 

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