A Secret In The Undergrowth
A Secret In The Undergrowth
Traverse into the depths of the Bandhavgarh forest with Ankita Shreeram, and discover a mystical and timeless treasure…
Unknown to us, a 1,000 year old supine statue of Lord Vishnu lay in wait, in the depths of Madhya Pradesh’s Bandhavgarh forest. That early morning towards the end of July, the monsoon Gods rose from their slumber and conspired with the peace-loving Hindu deity to craft an encounter enveloped in the inimitable fragrance of moist leaves. Our party of five drove off from the warm confines of the luxurious King’s Lodge in the company of their naturalist Naresh Singh (fondly called Gudda) and Sapna Dhall. Soft droplets of water wafted down to meet our sleep-lidded eyes and tea-warmed hands. Sapna and Gudda wanted to keep the details of Shesh Shaiya a mystery and I did not probe too much.
Outside the windows of our safari jeep, thick forests unfolded, backed by picturesque mountains. Clouds of mist circled over these mountains, resembling scoops of green mint ice-cream topped by foamy white cream. Our inroads beyond the Tala Gate were proving to be a complete different story, compared to the drier parts of Bandhavgarh we had explored on earlier safaris. As we neared the famed sculpture, the path began to get narrower and darker until we had to disembark and proceed on foot.
Few things are as adventurous as walking among the creatures of the undergrowth on a misty, rain-swept morning. Our feet trod on the same ground that wild animals had walked upon and we breathed the same fruit-scented air that the builders of the 35 feet-long Shesh Shaiya had once subsisted on. The walk took us on a winding upwards path and spread out majestically on top were the man-made Badi Guha caves. Sleeping bats graced its cobwebby interiors and I tried to imagine soldiers hiding behind its towering columns. Back in the 10th century AD, Gollak, the minister of the Kalchuri king Yuvrajdev, had these caves carved out of a single sandstone rock.
Leaving behind the shadowy lure of the caves, we walked up a mossy flight of stairs and at long last, laid our eyes on the enormous statue of Shesh Shaiya, reclining on the seven-hooded Shesh Nag (serpent). In Hindu mythology, Shesha is the king of all nagas and the primal being of creation. Legend goes that the movement of time is a function of the uncoiling of Adishesha and when he coils back, the universe will no longer exist. Perhaps in that shrine of timeless history, some version of Shesha had coiled back, because the ticking of the clock seemed as irrelevant as the pursuits we had temporarily abandoned to take this magical trip.
The statue lay in a cool green pond, looking supremely rested and in no mood to rise for the next 1000 years as well. It is said that the Charanganga River originated from this pond, left undisturbed for its sacred genesis. The river incidentally supplies water to all of Badhavagarh and its surrounding villages and wildlife.
We were standing on Bandhavgarh Hill, the only place in the entire park where humans are allowed to walk on foot. Animals have no such restrictions of course. Another rough flight of steps gave me a better view of the statue. I don’t think I was alone in my feeling that I could sit there gazing into the depths of that still lagoon for an eternity. But the sun was speedily making its way over the horizon and many more secrets in the wilderness awaited us. So, we bid goodbye to that ancient architectural marvel and continued on our safari through Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.
About The Author
Ankita Shreeram is a journalist and an avid travel blogger. She spends most weekends travelling in and around Mumbai or reading novels steeped in magic realism. Her dream is to travel the world and make her living writing novels. Visit her blog www.trailstainedfingers.com for more travelogues and to hire her for a writing/editing/travel assignment.