A GOND FORT, A BRANCH OF TETHYS SEA & OLD JAIN TEMPLES AROUND JABALPUR
Jabalpur, the third-largest urban agglomeration in Madhya Pradesh, has some unusual gems around it apart from the famous Madan Mahal Fort, Dhuandhar Falls and Marble Rocks at Bhedaghat and Rani Durgawati Museum. V2 take you on a trip to explore the unexplored
When a journey takes almost 10 hours more than the time you had expected, it certainly can take its toll, mentally and physically. So, it happened with me and my photographer friend, Pradeep, during our road trip to Jabalpur, the heart of Mahakaushal region a few years back. The 850-odd km journey, winding through the states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, touching the religious city of Mathura; the city of love, Agra; the sandstone city of Dholpur (used in the construction of Rashtrapati Bhawan and Secretariat Building in New Delhi); the once dacoit-infested region of Morena; traversing the Scindia bastion of Gwalior and the city of Rani Laxmibai, Jhansi, took us almost 26 hours, contrary to the 16-odd shared by our tour guide.
But then, we too, like our guide, were unware of the plethora of interesting and unknown places, (about which I will share separate posts) on way which took a lot of time exploring and getting to know more about. These included the Datia Palace, also known as Bir Singh Dev Palace, around 75 km from Gwalior and the serai (resting place) in Jajau, famous for the battle fought between the two sons of Aurangzeb on June 20, 1707. The town is around 30 km from Agra.
Jabalpur gets its name from jabal meaning mountain and pur meaning place. Another legend has it that it was derived from a mythological figure called Jabalie. In recent times, it was known as Tripuri and governed by Hayahaya rulers. Even the Mahabharata has references to the city that became a part of the great Mauryan and Gupta empires. Despite numerous efforts by Mughal rulers to overrun it, the city never could be captured. The legendary Gond queen Rani Durgawati died fighting the Mughals led by Akbar. It finally fell to the Marathas in 1789 and was taken over by the Britishers in 1817.
The city and its surrounds are home to number of unknown places. For example, Nohta which is believed to be the capital city of Chandelas in the early 12th century. Located at the confluence of Gorayya and Vyarama rivers, Nohta is famous for its Shiva temple and the Jain temples of Adireshwar. Nohta is around 90 km from Jabalpur, on NH 37. But keep enquiring about the place else there are chances of your getting lost. Nohta is named after nine haats (markets) that bustled in prosperity in ancient times. Most of the temples are over a thousand years old.
We visited the 10th century Shiva temple on the Damoh-Jabalpur road. We were greeted here by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) caretaker who informed us that the credit for constructing the temple goes to Maharani Nohola, wife of King Yuvaraj Deva I of the Kalchuri dynasty. Several Stone Age tools found around this area which was once part of the grand empire of the Guptas of Patliputra around the 5th century. Traces of the kingdoms of Chandragupta, Smudragupta and Skandagupta have aso been found here in the form of coins and plaques excavated from the region.
The main Jain temple has an eight-statue pillar in its complex, the only one of its kind in the world. The temple also has a huge Mahavira statue, exemplifying the best of Jain architecture in its scale and carvings. This clearly indicates that the village was once the seat of Jainism in India.
Two ancient temples at Choupara, around 5 km from here. The main hall of Shanti Digambar Jain Bada Mandir is lined with idols of various saints like Vrishabhnath, Shantinath, Sambhavnath, Adinath and Vimalnath, apparently found here decades ago and restored to their rightful places. Then you come across a 10-ft standing idol of Bhagwan Mahavira in marble with a little platform. Similar monoliths can be seen at the Shri Digamber Jain temple nearby.
Our next destination is Ghughua, around 130 km from Jabalpur. Another non-descript stop but boasts of a one-of-its-kind national fossil park in India. It took us around two-and-a-half hours to reach Shahpur from where we took a right turn to reach Ghughua, around 5 km away. Surprisingly, the road here are some of the best in the region. A piece of advice… Have a fill before you set off for this place as there are no restaurants or dhabas on way else you could work up an appetite for freshly cooked aloo bondas, vegetable pakodas and hot tea at Shahpur.
We are greeted by two life-size dinosaurs at the entry of the National Fossil Park. The park has fossil of plants that existed in India between 40 million and 150 million years back. These fossils could be spread over seven villages of Mandla district (Ghughua, Umaria, Deorakhurd, Barbaspur, Chanti Hills, Chargaon and Deori Kohani).
Covering 274,100 sq m in the villages of Umaria and Ghughua, the park has fossils belonging to 31 genera of 18 plant families. These fossils represent life as it occurred in this area around 65 million years back. Well-preserved fossils of woody plants, climbers, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds have been found here, in fact, discovered by chance by Dr Dharmendra Prasad, the then statistical officer of Mandla district and honorary secretary of the district archaeology union. Later, a systematic study was conducted by Dr SR Ingle from Science College, Jabalpur and Dr MB Bande from Birbal Sahani Institute of Paleobotany, Lucknow.
A big number of these fossil plants have living relatives, from as close as the Western Ghats and northeast India to Africa, Madagascar and Australia. This clearly indicates that at one time in the distant history of earth, Africa, Australia and India formed a single huge land mass with a common vegetation spread. Fossils of eucalyptus trees have been found here which are now native to Australia. Mollusc fossil scattered around indicate the presence of a large water body in these areas. In fact, some scientists have conjectured that a branch of the ancient Tethys Sea extended up to this region. The answer of the same can be found in the theory of the continental drift.
According to this theory, the single large landmass called Gondwana comprising peninsular India, Australia, Madagascar, Antarctica and Africa, gradually split up into these constituents and moved apart to take up their present positions. The Indian peninsula moved north to ram into the belly of Asia which gave rise to the Himalayas. With this movement, the Indian peninsula no longer remained in the equatorial region with abundant sunshine and rain. The seas also receded. Another important development was the rise of the Western Ghats. These changes were initiated by massive geological processes involving frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions of lava which covered the entire regions with siliceous sediments. This contributed to the formation of the fossil.
Inundated by geological history, we renew the chase of manmade ones. We choose to find Mandla Fort, around 80 km from here. In just over an hour, we reach Mandla. The fort was built in the late 17th century by the Gond kings. It is constructed in a loop of the Narmada river. The main feature of the fort is its three-storey strategic construction. It was built on the banks of the river so that the water body formed its defence from three sides. This fort, also known as Moti Mahal, is situated 24 km from the city.
Tired after a draining trip, we stop over at Madhya Pradesh’s motel at Mandla for a late afternoon lunch before proceeding back home…