Last night, I was not inclined to stop at Nagpur for the night. Avoiding the various touts, I walked to a bus stand near the railway station. The distance to Jabalpur is ideal for an overnight bus journey.
‘Is there a bus to Jabalpur tonight?’ I ask at the counter.
There is no response. The fellows behind the counter whisper amongst themselves.
‘How many persons?’ someone asks finally.
‘There is a bus.’ He quotes the price and asks me to pay up. For some reason, I hesitate. The bus stand is deserted. There are no buses parked here.
‘Is this a government bus or private? What time will it reach Jabalpur?’ I ask. There is no response yet again. I am disappointed at the level of service.
I leave them to their chit-chats and hire a cycle rickshaw to take me to Geetanjali Talkies. I am told that there are lots of buses from here.
‘These fellows are cheats,’ says the rickshaw wallah.
‘They will arrange a bus only if there are enough passengers. If the bus doesn’t fill up, they make passengers wait for many hours before leaving. More often, you will be put on another bus from Geetanjali Talkies.’
I booked a seat for Jabalpur once at Geetanjali Talkies. A normal seat is Rs. 150 but a sleeper is only Rs. 50 extra. I had a simple dinner of daal khichdi at Hotel Blue Diamond and boarded the sleeper bus at 10.15 pm. I was at Jabalpur by six this morning after a decent sleep.
Jabalpur has a fort which was closed for visitors as workers were re-laying the steps leading up the hill. I stopped nearby to look at the Balancing Rock, a large boulder perched on a rocky base with very little by way of contact. The rock is lop-sided. Though it seems that a large part of it is overhanging above the bottom rock, the center of gravity is quite stable and keeps the rock in place. What seems a feat of nature is explained simply by physics.
‘They have put Fevicol,’ commented one elderly gentleman from Bengal. It was a comment made in jest.
About 23 kms from Jabalpur is Bheraghat which is locally pronounced as ‘Bhedaghat’ with a rising inflection on the first vowel. A popular name for the place is Marble Rocks. River Narmada drops some 40 feet at Dhuandhar Falls. The falls are impressive even in this dry time of the year. The sound is tremendous as the waters dash on rocks and the foaming currents below. The river then flows between tall cliffs of limestone and marble. It is a path it has carved for itself over time. The jagged edges of marblew, the smoothness of stone, the little veins of colour and shade against pure whiteness are beautiful even in such raw form. One can now imagine the source of Taj Mahal’s beauty.
At the head of the falls is a viewing point. Tourists gather here to take pictures. Young local boys in underwears will offer to jump from here some 25 feet, a spectable that will cost twenty rupees. But the Indian consumer will not miss a good bargain so that these poor boys will jump even for ten rupees. I asked one of them why he didn’t go to school. He had no reply. Later I found six such boys playing cards, having made enough to fill their stomachs for the day.
Boat rides are offered to view the cliffs from a low viewpoint. A ride costs Rs. 31. While I waited with others from the boat to fill up, the same young boys will tempt you to throw five rupee coins into the water. If they pick it up, it’s theirs. Tourists actually derive pleasure from such things and the debasement of humanity to play things and monkey entertainment.
Boats are allowed a maximum of 25. It is normal for a boat to be packed to 40. Life in India is cheap. Risk-taking is at every level. There are no safety checks, only reactive enquiries, committees and reports.
At the top of a hill is the temple of Chausat Yogini. The temple’s outer wall curves around in a circle enclosing within a shrine and a circular corridor lined with stone sculptures of deities. There are many more than 64 of these deities, all with individual names. Not one is preserved to the full and the extent of mutilation of these images is obvious. Other than this unique group of well-carved sculptures, the remains of the shikara is interesting. It is in the vesara style but curves slightly upwards. There is also a bangla roof and a chhatri, elements that for the first time appear in my travels. Bheraghat has the remains of another temple nearby which is unique in that a dome appears over the main shrine.
I had a nice but costly lunch at the Motel Marble Rocks run by Madhya Pradesh Tourism. After lunch I stopped at the tourism office which is actually the hotel’s reception. The manager, Joseph, first spoke to me in Hindi. When he later spoke in English, his strong accent betrayed his Keralite origin.
‘I am on an all India tour. I would like a set of brochures on Madhya Pradesh,’ I said.
‘I love travelling but I hardly get any leave. Most of the time I am here at the reception,’ Joseph replied as he passed me a set of tourism brochures of places in Madhya Pradesh. I am sure these will help me the next two weeks.