This park is about 35 kms southwest of Jagdalpur. While there are many things of interest within the park, I am first after Tirathgarh Waterfalls and then some caves in the area. After making some enquiries I find there are no buses to the park. However, there are shared jeeps going that way. I get one of these and make it to the park within an hour.
From the main road, there is path to the right – 5 kms to Tirathgarh Falls. A path to the left leads to many other sights of the park including some famous caves. The Kailash Caves are 30 kms away and Kotumsar Caves are 10 kms away. There is no way I can visit Kailash Caves without transport. I may be able to visit the other two if I have sufficient time.
With this in mind I start off briskly towards Tirathgarh Falls. Less than a kilometer on the road, I find a sign that reads,
I am excited to leave the road for a short detour into the forest. The trees are mostly sal. The path is clear and sometimes wide. The ground is baked hard and brown. It hasn’t rained for many days here. Anthills are all over the place, some reaching eight feet high. The forest floor is covered with dry leaves that rustle and break as I pass through. Little lizards sunning themselves scamper into the undergrowth. I peer through the shades and distant foliage for signs of movement, a sighting of wildlife of some sort.
Soon I hear the flow of water. I continue on the path. I can sense that a river is close by. Right then there is a rustle in the undergrowth fifty meters away. I see movement. I stand still trying to fix my eyes on whatever is out there. Soon it comes out to my right into a small clearing, stares at me for a quick second and disappears beyond into thicker forests. It is a wolf; or perhaps a fox that looks so much like a wolf.
I spend some time at the river. The sunlight is glancing off the flowing waters. Uprooted tree trunks lie along the banks. The water is clear. This flow must be quite a torrent in the monsoons. I return by the same path to the main road and continue my walk to the falls.
I must have walked only for fifteen minutes when I got a ride on a lorry going past the falls. The driver would not accept any cash in return. The cliffs at the falls are steep, their surfaces rugged with sharp points and ledges. There are a couple of temples of no particular significance but they are a necessary addition to complete a place of tourism. For in India, what is tourism without a touch of pilgrimage?
The falls themselves are beautiful. To start with, there is a steep drop but the water do not make a free fall. They come down in a pretty cascade, breaking themselves at many ledges along the cliff’s steep drop. The flow then continues further down, narrows through a smaller cascade until it finally drop in free fall to the large pond below, a place where pilgrims are used to bathing themselves. This free fall is like a curtain to the caving rock surface. You can walk behind the falls, get wet in the spray, listen to the splash and watch the cliffs across the pond through a moving veil of whiteness. This place would be thunderous during the monsoons.
I start walking back to the main road. This time I walk nearly half the distance until I get a ride on an open trunk. As luck would have it, this trunk drops me off within a kilometer of the caves. There is a small groups of tourists at the caves. I am told that a guide is necessary. I join one of the group for a guided tour.
The entrance is steep and narrow. There is a stairway built for visitors. The guide takes us down while shining his torch through the darkness. The stone walls are wet. They bear lines that speak to geologists their history. In some of the caves the ceiling is almost a perfect dome with lines defining concentric circles converging to the center. The guide then points out another ceiling with two such domes, smaller and elliptical. Above these is a little white patch of limestone seeping through the rocks.
‘People consider this as Durga Mata – those are the two eyes and that’s her bindi,’ he says as he shines the torch to the ceiling.
He then points out limestone formations all over the caves. Stalactites and stalagmites, sometimes joined to form a continous pillar, are frequently found in these caves. They come in all shapes. The guides points out an elephant’s face and trunk, a lion’s body, a lion’s paw raised to strike and a shiva linga at the farthest point of the caves.
After about an hour inside we come up and out into good old sunshine. I take a picture of the guide and pay him Rs. 25. I linger around for a while. A group of Bengalis come out. I get a ride in their vehicle back to the main road. Hitchhiking has worked out for me quite well today. I wait for a vehicle back to Jagdalpur.
One of the forest guards offers me a slice of apple.
‘Prasad,’ he says.
‘Is this grown here?’
‘No, no. We received it today from Kashmir,’ he replies. He moves off to distribute them to workmen and forest guards hanging around nearby.
I have not had a proper lunch today. As I relish this slice of apple, a jeep to Jagdalpur arrives and I am on my way back.