Getting There :
I took the Bilaspur Inter-City Express from Nagpur to Bilaspur. This train was late but so was the connecting train to Pendra Road, so that was okay. The ride from Bilaspur to Pendra Road was by 2nd class. 2nd class trains, in the north, are the modern version of the Pushpaka Vimanam used by Kubera, Ravana and Sri Rama. There is no limit to the number of people who can get into the reserved compartment. I was so lucky to keep my seat for the entire 2 hour journey. The ticket collector was so happy that I had a reservation, that he did not even want to see my ID.
I was blessed in that the 3 other girls who were sharing the two seater with me were all from the Chattisgarh junior kabaddi girls team. The coach was a very interesting and sweet young girl, with a manner that could charm the most apathetic and seasoned bureaucrat. I learned much from her. When I commented on the over-stuffed compartment, she said that people in Central India were nicer and more understanding of the other guy’s need to travel. In the south, in the dead of the night, the passengers had bolted the doors of the compartment and even though the team had reservations they could not get in, because no one would open the window or door. This took me back to my own Chitradurga experience where a fat, obnoxious lady blocked the entrance in a 2 minute train-stop and would not let me through even though I had a reservation, declaring that it was a reserved compartment. I literally had to push her aside and got physically hurt in the process. So I guess there is pain in both ways! These kabaddi girls were going all the way to Jammu for a competition under these random conditions reminding me of the Chak De! movie.
The coach asked me why I was travelling. “Because I am an idiot?” I ventured, “No, because you are adventurous” she said!
I had a taxi waiting for me at Pendra Road, and we deviated to pick up the hotel manager’s wife, do all their shopping and got dropped off at Amarkantak. I had to pay Rs. 500 for this trip, so on my return I just took a shared taxi for Rs 50 which worked just as well.
At the time of writing, the less time spent at Pendra Rd station the better. There are no clean loos, no waiting room and biscuits are what you can get to eat at this station. However, outside the station you can get awesome samosas and jalebis for a total of Rs 10, in one of the tiny hotels.
Staying There :
MP tourism has some nice holiday homes in Amarkantak. I got a family room for about Rs 2000 a night with 3 beds, a balcony, separate bath etc. There are very big bugs in Madhya Pradesh, so I always slept with the lights and tv on, to let them know it was day time and that they should not come crawling.
The hotel was well lit on the first night and the skies were clouded on the second.. so no stars for me.
The next morning, at the hotel manager’s advice I engaged an all day taxi at Rs 1000.
Bathing in the Narmada Udgam :
It took me first for a bath in Narmada Udgam (starting-point), before breakfast. The water is cold but warmer than the Rishikesh Ganga, so it was fine with me. Whereas in Rishikesh and Haridwar, you have ghats where you go down the steps and bathe in the fast flowing river, hanging on to chains for dear life, here you have ‘kunds’ or tanks, which are called pushkarinis or kalyanis in the south. The water was therefore not so clean and the steps slippery with moss, but I was not going back home without the stipulated 3 dips in the Narmada.
Siva Abhishek at Rudra Ganga on Karthika Somavaram :
After bathing again in treated narmada water at the hotel and breakfasting, the taxi driver took me to the place where Kabir had meditated and saw Narmada as white as milk. From there I was taken to this awesome place called Rudra Ganga.
The single most spectacular highlight of my Amarkantak trip was Rudra Ganga. There is a tiny kund around the starting point of a little stream called Rudra Ganga with a bucket to draw water with. After drawing the water and washing, hands, feet and face, I drew so more water for doing an abhisekam of the Shiva Lingam right next to the Kund. This is an awesome feeling. I also drank some of the cleanest sweetest untreated stream water and felt all the healthier for it. I was also taken for a trek to the top of the hill to see a view point and the starting of the Rudra Ganga Waterfall. I loved and lived every minute. So what if I had one hand on my knee and another was held my my beta-samaan taxi driver. After we came back up to relatively more level land the young taxi driver sat down and wiped the tension sweat off his forehead. He had discovered the difference between his own 40+ mom who scaled hills like a mountain goat and a sedentary keyboard tapping banglorean mom. He also told me that he was afraid to let single travellers off on their own near hilly places because of a young girl who had leapt off and ended it all, while he waited endlessly below. I reassured him that women my age were glad of every extra day of life and he need not worry about any such leaps extra-ordinaire on my part.
Damming the Narmada River :
From there I was taken to see a Rama Mandir on the banks of one of the first few dams across the Narmada. Again this is one of the most peaceful places of the world. Thanks to this dam, one of the Siva temples is submerged totally, except for the flag, and the top of the electric pole is a few feet above the water level.
Thanks to Medha Patkar, I have a lot of interest in the dams on the Narmada River. This is what I understand now. Ever since Siva dammed up the Ganga in his matted locks and became the first civil engineer in the world to do so, people have always built dams and made reservoirs of water. The guys upstream love to build dams and use the water. Then they throw their waste and sewage back into the water downstream of their towns or settlements. If they are nice they treat their waste before dumping it. My sister explained that the water becomes pure again by the time it encounters the next human settlement by getting dilute with more tributaries that join it, settling large foreign matter on the river bed and getting aerated with the flow. The next town does the same thing again. Dam, use, pollute and so on. You might think that collecting and drinking rain water is the cleanest but do keep acid rain in mind. You have to remember that there is no “new water”. All the nonsense we add to the rivers and air comes back to us, for our own consumption and stays with us as 70% of our body weight in our blood and our tissues.
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