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November 4, 1996


Whistlestop tour of Panchmari

A guide to a Satpura retreat

Shailesh Soni

How to get there

Nestling amidst the craggy Satpura ranges of Madhya Pradesh is Panchmari or Pachmarhi -- perhaps the loveliest hill station in India. Beautifully calm and serene, Panchmari is a lot more than a famous beauty spot listed in a tourist guide. Rolling meadows dotted with evergreen trees, rocks, hills, forests -- a profusion of greens and browns. Streams, falls and pools... through which runs a lyrical almost poetic refrain that makes Panchmari vibrate with a rhythm that no other place has.


Exotic Shiv temples
Marodeo -- an archaelogist's delight
The pools and falls
English Panchmari
Dhupgarh -- the pinnacle of the Satpuras
Trekker's paradise

Exotic Shiv Temples

Panchmari has a deep and exotic Shaivite tradition, many hundreds of years old. Shiva's shrines located in deep caves, ravines and atop cliffs speak of the untamed pre-Sankritic roots of Shiva.

Mahadeo, the most sacred Shaivite spot in Panchmari, less than an hour's drive from the town is located in the Chauragarh. Devotees come here to offer weapons or Trishuls to the Shiva. To reach Mahadeo one has to climb the 1,000,000 steps. Coming down from Mahadeo to Chauragarh and then to Jata Shankar is a very adventurous expedition to undertake. Jata Shankar, which gets its name from a rock formation that resembles the matted locks of Shiva, is another interesting place to explore. Here there is a deep cleft in the rock through which an underground stream runs. A short walk from the road leads to a point from where numerous steps descend. Below a large over-hanging rock are hundreds of streams and close by is the source of the Jambu Dwipa Stream.

Marodeo - an archaeologist's delight

The earliest settlements -- one of them which is Marodeo -- at Panchmari, were probably Buddhist in origin. The name Panchmari is a corruption of Panchmathi or "five caves" which are still in a fair state of preservation. Local legend tells us that at some stage the five Pandav brothers lived here too. Panchmari's 2000 year old settlement -- the caves, the rock shelters, cave paintings, stone tools -- are an archaeologists delight.

Marodeo, a pleasant trek of about two kilometres from the old Pipariya road is the most easily accessible and is an exciting and adventurous walk to undertake. Locally Marodeo is referred to as called Putiline or "row of dolls".

The pools and falls

The innumerable waterfalls and pools are special tourist haunts. Some of the famous ones are -- Fairy Pool, Brig Falls, Irene Pool, Duchess Fall, Bee Fall. There are many more known and unknown ones. All of these are green and pleasant locales, where the cascades glistening in the sunlight make for wonderful afternoons. Clinging to the rounded sandstones and emerging from under overhanging rocks like spiders legs, the green semitropical foilage lends a unique style to these fairy pools and falls. Since none of the falls or pools can be reached by car, it is a chance to take a pleasant trek.

English Panchmari

Amidst the deep Shavite tradition of Panchmari exists a pleasant English Panchmari, the colonial hill station. Pretty bungalows with red tiled rooves, well tended gardens and pebbled paths dot Panchmari town. The churches are lovely too. Some of them have beautiful stained glass windows, which are possibly among the finest in India. As typical of Panchmari as its pretty Englishness is its military starchiness too. Many military bands train in Panchmari. Each morning and almost through the day the hush is broken by the sounds of bands practising and they usually play a vast repertoire of tunes.

Dhupgarh, the pinnacle of the Satpuras

Flanking the Panchmari Saucer are ancient hills weathered into stumps, like those in Arizona. Dhupgarh at the pinnacle of the Satpura (1350 metres) commands a bird's eye view of the surrounding topography. It is the best place to watch the sunrise and sunset. Panchmari just due east from Dhupgarh, has the best vantage point to witness the morning sun rising above the glistening lake and behind the scrubby hills And even more spectacular sight is the sunset. It is advisable to find yourself a perch a little way off from the official Sunset Point and settle down on a quiet rock and the joy of seeing and feeling the landscape swiftly changing colour is overwhelming.

Trekker's paradise

Camping out in Panchmari's forests is a rare joy. It is famous for its scouts training camps, winter training camps and mountaineering camps. Pitch your tent in any clearing, light a fire, follow the smoke to the heavens. Pick up any trail and in no time you are surrounded by the sound of burbling water and the rustling of leaves. Tall ant-hills, that look like bits of sculpture, meditate under the sal trees and langurs stare down mysteriously from the occasional huge gular trees. The Satpura National Park, a lesser known wildlife sanctuary and reserve forest surrounds Panchmari.


Panchmari was 'discovered' in the year 1862 by Captain J Forysth. While exploring the Satpura forest, he found the Panchmari Plateau, 1067 metres above the sea level. The pleasant sight tempted him to settle down there.What caught the British imagination most was Panchmari's "Englishness" reminding them of Kent or Windermeter -- a wee bit of India that would forever transport them back to England. The British moved in. It became a sanatorium, and quickly thereafter a pretty little military cantonment. After independence it was further developed by the Madhya Pradesh government. The late President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad was fascinated by the beauty of Panchmari and would customarily spend his summers in Panchmari during his days in office.

After British discovered Panchmari, they felt it was too precious to be thrown open to the onslaught of the general public. The new town is therefore a kind of an afterthought and is hemmed in on all sides by cantonment. Panchmari still retains its tranquility, its silence, its gentle shades of green and its soothing forests. The Malls, fancy shopping arcades, skating rinks, ropeways that clutter Nainital, Simla and Mussoorie don't exist in Panchmari, making it poles apart from other hill stations. It is a place of solitude. Panchmari, one feels, has transcended the bounds of time.

How to get there

Indian Airlines flies to Indore, which is the closest airport to Panchmari, from Bombay, Bhopal and Delhi. It is 931 km from Delhi, 864 km from Bombay 599 km from Allahabad, 270 km from Nagpur and 211 km from Bhopal.

Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC) offers a range of accommodation, from log-huts and tourist villages to motels, where room tariffs run between Rs 60 and Rs 250.

MPSTDC also runs package tours to Panchmari. Contact the Madhya Pradesh Tourism office in
74, World Trade Centre,
Cuffe Parade, Colaba,
Bombay, tel # 2187603.
204-205 Kanishka Shopping Plaza,
19 Ashoka Road, tel # 3321187, 3324422.
Gangotri, TT Nagar,
tel # 554340, 554341, 554342.
Mor Hindi Bhawan, Jhansi Square,
Sitabuldy, tel # 523374.

The tourist office at Panchmari is located at
Amaltas, near Tehsil, tel # 100

Photographs by Kamlesh Soni