Pachmarhi -The Queen of Satpura

Tucked away in the Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh is a peaceful retreat that’s the perfect spot for a dream summer vacation – Pachmarhi. It’s popularly called Satpura ki Rani’ (Queen of Satpura) because of its location – situated 3,500 ft (1,067 m) above sea level in the Satpura range.

The name Pachmarhi originated from the panch (five) madhis (caves) – a description associated with the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. Legend has it that the Pandavas spent a considerable part of their exile in those five caves.

The picture shows a mountain cave
The Pandava Caves. Legend says they once provided shelter to the Pandava princes (image courtesy: mptourism)

Pachmarhi vanished from public memory in the mists of time, until the advent of the colonial era, when a British captain in the Bengal Lancers stumbled upon its pristine beauty.

In 1857, Captain James Forsyth and his troops were headed into battle against the formidable Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. But along the way his army marched into unexpected terrain. Dry yellow grass and bare tree trunks gave way to dense green undergrowth. Ferns and moss covered the damp banks of streams filled with clear, cold mountain water – a refreshing boon to his tired, thirsty soldiers.

“As far as the eye can see lie range upon range of forest-covered hills, tumbled in wild confusion,” wrote Forsyth, about this mountain paradise.

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Sunset at Pachmarhi (photo credit MP Tourism)

The painted canvas of Pachmarhi

Pachmarhi is like a huge canvas painted in dense green forests, punctuated by magnificent rocks emerging through the greenery.

The picture shows a deep gorge in the Satpura hills
Handi Khoh is a deep horseshoe-shaped ravine in the Satpura Range (image courtesy: mptourism)

Rugged hills and plunging ravines dominate the landscape while ancient monoliths resembling colossal primeval beasts scatter across hillsides in deep, eternal slumber. Its ancient cave paintings, lush forests, wildlife, and soothing silence have mesmerized generations since its rediscovery in 1857.

During British rule, Pachmarhi became part of the cantonment area. In the 19th century, they constructed roads to make the forested hills of Pachmarhi accessible to the outside world. Later, in 1904, they built the first railway across the Satpura ranges, a narrow-gauge extension of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway line from Gondia to Jabalpur.

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The Christ Church Gothic church built in 1875 (image courtesy: mptourism)

Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve

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Rajat Prapat Waterfall falls from a height of 107m into the ravine (image courtesy: mptourism)

Today, a large part of this forest cover is protected as the Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve, a botanist’s paradise created in 1999. The UNESCO listed Reserve sits between the sal forests of eastern India and the teak forests further west. It’s an area of long waterfalls fed by endless streams falling into gorges so steep, that sunlight does not penetrate its depths. The scent of mahua flowers fills the air. Mahua is a native tree. Its flowers are dried, then fermented to make liquor.

A glorious uncertainty

In Pachmarhi, a spotless blue sky can suddenly fill up with grey clouds leading to squalls of thunder and lightning. And then, before you know it, the sun comes out again shining brightly on hills and valleys. It is this glorious uncertainty that makes Pachmarhi a delight that captivates visitors.

While shooting for his 1985 film Massey Sahib, filmmaker turned botanist Pradip Kishen was so mesmerized by its beauty, he wrote, “The year was 1982. It was about three in the afternoon when we drove into Pachmarhi. There was less clutter around the bus stand at that time. Just a charming little road that wound into the civil lines, the sweetest entry to any Indian land I’d seen.”

“There she was! Our colonial, mufassil town.”

Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 17 books on different subjects and translated around 160 books from...