Only 45 km from Bhopal, amongst the Vindhyachals, there is a relatively unknown shred from a very distant past. A past which has preserved itself from at least 30,000 years, perhaps even more.
On this trip to Bhopal, on someone’s recommendation, we decided to have a look. It rarely happens these days that I travel with parents, so this trip, even though short was different and enjoyable from the start. After a 45 minute drive on a very quiet and green highway (monsoons are such a delight!), we reached at the foothills of the Vindhyas, and came up to this World heritage site enveloped in a scenic cover. Miraculously, the place has countable visitors, something which is very rare for India, where crowds never stay behind, especially on a glorious afternoon.
Bhimbhetka (a shortened version of Bhim Vatika – named so as it is supposed to have provided shelters to the pandavas during their exile) is famous for its historic rock shelters and rock paintings, which range from different eras. The place has almost 750 rock shelters, 500 of them with paintings. Only about 15 of these are open for public viewing, and they are a delight to watch, not only because the paintings bring to face the thousands of years of history, but also because the shelters themselves have been beautifully made – perhaps by the force of nature, perhaps guided a little by man.
The rock paintings mostly depict images from the prehistoric life – animals – horses, elephants, even large animals like bison. They also show scenes from the wars, perhaps even some mythological creatures – though who knows, those creatures might have existed then.
The paintings cover the upper paleolithic era, which show mostly animals, the Mesolithic era, which have birds and musical instruments as well, the Chalcolithic era, which show pottery and hence indicate trade, and the early historic and medieval era. It is interesting that the same caves sheltered so many generations of human beings through the years, and are still there for us to look at and wonder.
The rocks themselves are interestingly shaped – some like mushrooms, others like complete houses replete with doors and rooms and even windows. And since they look out to the valleys, they even offer a pretty vista point.
Slightly uphill from the World heritage sight, there is a small cave temple – equally submerged in the caves and the rocks – a place where the Pandavas were supposed to have lived during exile. After an encounter with a world so distant, it doesn’t seem hard to believe in the epics which still seem to be within the realm of history . And in that surrounding, it is easy to imagine a band of five homeless men with an ageing mother and a common wife taking shelter in caves which had been made by nature and preserved by it.