Bhimbhetka : Rock shelters and cave paintings of central India

I have been a history aficionado since I was young. My mom being a history teacher, we have grown up loving our history books, discussing the Harappan civilization at home and discovering places of historical importance during our travels. Yet, before visiting Bhimbhetka, I never knew that we actually had rock paintings from the Stone Age, right here in the center of India!

The Bhimbhetka caves are located 45 km from Bhopal. They have been declared a World Heritage Site and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have done a really good job maintaining the caves in a good condition. There are guides available at the entrance and there are details of the site available near the main entrance.

Rock Shelters

Although there are around 700 rock shelters in this area, not all are open to the tourists. They are spread across a forest area. As you enter, you can see various interesting rock formations, that illustrate the magic of erosion over several thousand centuries.

Auditorium Rock Shelter
Auditorium Rock Shelter

The Auditorium rock shelter is one unique formation that the guides generally point out. This shelter was probably used in ancient times as a gathering area or auditorium, and hence the name.

Cup marks
Cup marks

At the end of the Auditorium shelters, there are unique cup marks. These marks are supposed to be dated nearly 10,000 years back!!

Cave shelter
Cave shelter

As you move through the path with your guide, you will come across several caves. These were used as shelters by the ancient man.

Cave Paintings

The paintings are seen in different colors: white and red being the most popular, followed by some yellow and green. The guide explained that they depict different periods in time. The white ones seem to be the oldest. On observing carefully, you can make out that the white ones look more primitive in their designs. The drawing patterns improve with the reds.

White elephant
Big tusker

Elephant

Man riding horse
Chief with his entourage

This particular pattern is pretty elaborate, showing the men carrying weapons and riding horses. There is one man (probably the chief) riding an ornately decorated horse. There seems to be some celebration with people playing drums around.

There are places where you can see a mix of paintings in various colors, done on top of each other. One of the most popular must-visit spot is the Zoo rock shelter.

Zoo rock shelter
Zoo Rock Shelter

The Zoo Rock Shelter supposedly contain the most number of animal paintings on one rock. The paintings here date back from the Mesolithic to the Medieval ages. You can see spotter deer, antelopes, elephant and other cattle in white.

Zoo shelter up close
Zoo shelter up close

The red paintings of the Zoo shelter show human forms with bows and arrows, and some other forms of weaponry probably.

Hunting Deer
Hunting Deer
Peacocks
Peacocks

There is an interesting patch of paintings which, very distinctly, show a stationary and a flying peacock, as well as a snake.

Men riding horses
Men riding horses
Horse
A magnificient horse

Another point of interest is the Mythical Boar. You will understand why it is termed as “mythical”, when you see its size in comparison with the humans drawn beside it. Since no remains of an animal of such proportions have ever been found, this painting is believed to be a work of fiction. Probably the first creative fiction story ever!

Mythical boar
Mythical boar

But the one painting that really left a mark on me, was of a human palm. Someone, who existed some thousands of years ago, left an imprint of his hand (left hand to be precise) behind, giving us a story to think of. For that person, it was probably a pastime, just scribbling away with paint. But in that ONE painting (I believe) ‘She’ literally left her mark behind.

Hand impression
Hand impression

“Bhimbhetka” or “Bhimbethika” : The Mahabharatha connection

The locals talk of the original name of this place being Bhim-Bethika, meaning the seat of Bhima (One of the Pandavas). There are forest areas, not very far away from Bhimbhetka, that are named “Lakhajur”. Locals tell stories that this was the place where the Lakshagrah was built for the Pandavas.

In the Mahabharatha, the Kauravas try to kill the Pandavas by building a palace for them made entirely of Lac (which is highly flammable) in the woods. When Kauravas think that the Pandavas are deeply in sleep inside the palace, they set it on fire. But the Pandavas are already aware of the Kauravas’ plan and escape.

Tips:

  • The forest trail that takes you around the caves is narrow, pebbly and rugged. So be sure to wear good walking shoes.
  • The trail might not be comfortable for people with knee or leg pains.
  • Entry to the rock shelters is closed a little before sundown as there is no artificial lighting available. Plan your travel properly.
  • It is best to hire a car, if you are traveling from Bhopal.
  • If you can make a one-day trip from Bhopal, you can cover Bhimbhetka and Bhojpur. Bhojpur is famous for its Shiva temple and connection to the Pandavas.




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Shaan-e-Bhopal

“Shaan-e-Bhopal” : Rail dining in the heart of India

I have been married to a Bhopali for four years but I am still unraveling little treasures in the city. Madhya Pradesh loves its food. If you know anyone from Madhya Pradesh, you will certainly hear them praising the food from Indore and Bhopal. Every time I visit Bhopal, I instantly hit the fast-food places there. They are small but neat and extremely cheap for a person traveling from Mumbai.

Every time I am in Bhopal, my in-laws make it a point to take me some place new, so that I can explore the city one place at a time. This time when they suggested “Shaan-e-Bhopal” I did not know what to expect. The only input that I got was that its a unique restaurant. I had never thought that in the heart of India lies the World’s first Broad Gauge Rail Coach converted restaurant! Sheldon Cooper from TBBT would have had a blast here 😛

Bhopal Express
Bhopal Express

As we parked outside, and I saw the first glimpse of the station platform, I could not contain my excitement. The whole premise has been converted to give you the feel that you have actually reached an Indian railway platform, albeit spic and span.

Platform
Platform

The waiters were dressed up like railway porters (or Coolies). There were tables on the platform, for people who prefer to sit overlooking the green lawn and listen to the live singer outside.

Waiter dressed as a railway porter
Waiter dressed as a railway porter

The platform sign and the train signal completed the authentic look of an Indian railway station.

Railway Signal
Railway Signal

As I entered inside the single railway coach, my smile got even wider. Although they have done away with the traditional India interiors and replaced them with sofas and chairs for comfortable dining, the red “chain” (that you can pull to stop the train) has been retained.

The most interesting thing is that the windows are screens running a video. The video is of moving landscapes, probably shot from a moving train, and so you get the feeling that you are having dinner inside a moving train.

Train Interior
Train Interior

On top of that, an audio is played every few minutes with sounds you are familiar with from an Indian railway station – sounds of people moving rushing to catch their train and confirming if this is the right platform, of vendors selling tea and pakoda, of other trains passing by. It all adds up to a genuine train dining experience.

The menu opens with the story of how the creator had earlier planned to build this concept-restaurant in another Indian cities, but had to scrap his idea twice before finally getting help from Madhya Pradesh tourism. The restaurant is actually called “Bhopal Express” as you see in the menu, but Bhopalis love to call it “Shaan-e-Bhopal” because this was the name of the train (Bhopal to Delhi) from which the coach has been taken.

Menu
Menu

I have been inside European rail dining coaches, and yes they are a delight. They provide a unique experience of traveling through fabulous country-side, enjoying good food at the same time. But for most Indians, gaining such an experience is something they cannot ever think of. We do have the Palace on Wheels, but not everyone can afford traveling on it.

Shaan-e-Bhopal’s Bhopal Express provides an opportunity for the common man to enjoy the ‘virtual‘ railway dining experience.

Note:

The food was pretty good. That’s all that I remember as I was too mesmerized soaking in all details of the “Indian rail dining experience”.

I was not prepared for such an experience and hence all pictures have been captured by my mobile camera. As it was night, the pictures are pixelated.



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