Monday, November 06, 2006

A visit to Chitrakoot

Chitrakoot is a quiet little town on the UP-MP border about 115 km from Allahabad. Surrounded by forests and small hills, the place does not have anything of much interest other than temples. Ram, Lakshman and Sita supposedly visited this place during their exile and spent eleven years here. Because of this, Chitrakoot has become sort of a little pilgrimage place among the Hindus. However, when we went there during my recent vacation, I was more interested in seeing a new place rather than doing pilgrimage.
We reached there by a hired Maruti Omni in the morning, around eleven. We checked in at the UP Tourism guest house. After relaxing for some time we had a delicious lunch and then went out for sight seeing.
The car set out through the forest covered hillocks towards the places of interest. At a fork in the road, our driver said he wanted to go to Sati Anasuya and be back before darkness, so we chose the road that went there. That road was narrow and serpentine, with cliffs on both sides at some places and forest at others. Our driver drove like crazy, and soon we started feeling that we were riding a sine curve. At one moment our stomach would be pulled downwards with a jolt, and the next moment we would be falling down a slope. After quite a bit of this roller coaster ride, we reached the Sati Anasuya Temple on the bank of a small little river called the Mandakini. There was little water in the river; whatever there was, was stagnant and covered in algae. There were oddly shaped boulders on the bank and in the water. The temple itself was partly cut into the near-vertical cliff face that rose straight up from the riverside road. We spent some time there, took a few photos and left. There were hordes of monkeys all over the place and on returning to our car we found dusty footprints inside. Our driver confirmed that they had raided our car in search of eatables.
After another crazy drive through the woods, and we were back at the fork. Now took the other road which was mostly through fields. Our driver said that he had been driving so fast before because that other road was full of bandits! They often stop cars and kidnap people for ransom in broad daylight.
Next we visited Gupt Godavari which is actually a cave temple. There are two caves: one which contains a temple, and the other which contains an underground river. As we entered the first cave, we suddenly felt warm and realized how terribly damp the inside was. The rocky walls were strange; they showed vertical marks as if cut away with enormous electric saws. The inside was quite well lit. After we came out of the cave, the “Memory Stick Pro™” of my digital camera failed, taking all my photos with it. Anyway, I still had the good old internal memory to take photos with. We entered the second cave now. This one has a tiny river flowing through it. Actually you can see it outside, and then it suddenly disappears. The water was ankle deep near the entrance of the cave, but rose almost up to the knees inside. It was crystal clear, though, and this cave was also quite well lit with big lamps like the first one. The barefoot walk over the rock-and-sand bottom in this cold water felt delightful. At one point on looking up we saw hundreds of bats hanging upside down from the ceiling of the cave.
Bats in the cave
Next stop was Sphatik Shila, again on the riverbank. Here there’s probably a rock that bears something like Lord Ram’s footprint. We did not climb up to see that as there were too many monkeys around that place, and they were not looking too friendly. We went to the Tulsidas temple after that. The decoration inside this temple is done with bits of glass. From here one can have a nice view of the river.
Finally as evening fell we reached Ram Ghat. This place is like a miniature version of Varanasi, with the continuous steps lining the river and numerous boats lined up along the ghats. The boatmen were tempting us with joyrides on their boats along the river. However, with a river only about three times as wide as the length of the boat, boating hardly makes sense. After sitting on the bank for some time, we returned to the guest house. There were wooden toys being sold in small shops along the ghat. The most remarkable among them were creepy wooden snakes that had most realistic joints all over the body. I cribbed and cried and ultimately made my mother buy one of those for me.
Back at the guest house, dinner was again a most delicious affair. I don’t know from where I had the appetite to eat as much as I did at dinner. Same can be said about the breakfast next morning.
After breakfast next morning our first destination was Hanuman Dhara. This is a temple cut in the rocky face of a hill near its summit. It has to be reached by climbing up 591 steps. The temple contains an idol of Hanuman, the Monkey God, and a small natural mountain spring, or ‘dhara’ next to each other. My parents climbed up only about 200 steps and relaxed on a bench under a tree while I and my sister accompanied Govind Guide --- a boy of about ten with a stick taller than himself who promised to protect us from monkeys and langoors, to the top. He charged five rupees for this, and it was a good thing that we took him along, for the place was almost crawling with monkeys and langoors. They, however, stayed away from his stick. Once inside the temple, our guide took out a small mirror from his pocket and carefully put a vermillion tika on his forehead. While coming down we were accompanied by Govind Guide’s dog Tony (we had a strong suspicion that the name was invented then and there as soon as we asked the dog’s name) who took his share of the fee in the form of sweets from his little master.
Langoors at Hanuman Dhara
Finally we went to the Kamadgiri temple. Pilgrims do a Parikrama, or circumambulation of the hill containing this temple along a path that is over a kilometer long. However, we did not do that. Rather, we returned to the guest house and worshipped our stomachs. Then we set out for Allahabad and reached home before evening in spite of having a tire puncture on the way.
This trip was memorable because of a very special quality that Chitrakoot possesses: in spite of being a pilgrimage town, it has not become an overcrowded, dirty business centre. Not yet. It feels really good to go far from the city crowd and spend a couple of days in a quiet little place like this in the midst of nature. However, things are changing. Although there are still no overenthusiastic pandas and shopkeepers around the temples, there are people collecting money in the name of car parking. Wherever you park your car near a temple, they will come and ask for money with a false receipt book. Then there was the man who blocked our road with his elephant and did not let our car go until my father had put a penny in the pachyderm’s proboscis. (Well, not a penny exactly, a five rupee coin; I said a penny for the sake of alliteration). In the night when we tried to see stars we could hardly see any because of the light pollution.
But still, Chitrakoot is a nice place to go. Even if you are not a religious Hindu, here you can meet the simple village folk, get a taste of the forests of UP and MP, enjoy the pure natural beauty of the Vindhya mountains. I only hope it will stay quiet and serene like this for some time to come.

10 comments:

  1. Nice description. Loved reading about chitrakoot from this post. How does one send links to desi pundit and likes? You should send this one.

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  2. Actually I just found out how to do it. Am sending it now.

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  3. Light pollution in Chitrakoot? That's strange. Surely, Allahabad's lights are too far to interfere with star-gazing? Or is Chitrakoot already developed enough?

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  4. @shreemoyee: Thanks for the nomination! :)

    @km: Allahabad is far enough. Actually the light pollution was there because the area around the guest house is quite developed. Moreover in the garden they have put large floodlights. Similarly the ghats nearby have large lights. I'm sure if we had stayed in one of the remote temples late we would have seen stars. But then that might have made us see stars in a different way, as there are robbers in those areas.

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  5. It was nice going thru this write up.
    I knew that there is a place called 'Chitrakoot' in 'Ramayana' but i never knew that it really exists!! Well... Goegraphy was never my field!!

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  6. Brilliant post, very well explained. i have been wanting to visit thisplace in a long time, but neevr go the oppurtunity and besides, havent heard from many people who actually went there. thanks for the great post. keep writing.

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  7. @aurindam: Well, now you know!

    @anjy: Probably you haven't met too many people visiting Chitrakoot because very few people go there. However, we met a few foreign tourists there, so the place is not completely unknown.
    Thanks for your comment, keep visiting.

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  8. Indian mythology comes alive in such places Sugata and writers like you make it more attractive to the mass's eye!Please blog up anytime you visit a historical place..you can motivate people to appreciate and understand the depth of Indian tradition and mythology!

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  9. Known as the hill of many wonders, Chitrakoot is known mainly because of its association with Ramayana. Highly revered as a spiritual abode, it also plays host to a number of fairs and festivals throughout the year. It is a haven for pilgrims, wanderers, explorers and the historically inclined. Here are a few more places to visit in Chhattisgarh.

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  10. Very nice information about Chitrakoot. Many people from all over India come to visit Chitrakoot. The distance between Allahabad to Chitrakoot is 113 kilometre and connected by road and train.

    Thanks to share with us.

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