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"Explore the unexplored destination" - Shivpuri, abode of Shiva

Although I was born and brought up in Gwalior, I had never had the occasion to visit Shivpuri. But I had heard a lot about it – about how, despite its location bang on the famous Agra-Bombay Road, the Scindias laid a toy train-line, narrow gauge line, since upgraded to broad gauge, through picturesque country to travel to the town in style in their extravagantly appointed 'saloons'. I had heard of the blue lakes, with a boat-club on the biggest one, and the forests teeming tigers which the then Maharaja, Jiwaji Rao Scindia would visit for shikar. About 112 kilometres away from Gwalior it used to be the summer capital of the princely state of Gwalior during the days of maharajas. The ruling Scindia family would move lock, stock and barrel from Gwalior to this tiny town to avoid the scorching summers of their capital

A few years ago I had the occasion to visit Shivpuri, the abode of Shiva, as the name suggests. An old friend from my college days, who is now settled in Shivpuri, prodded me to make the trip. My wife, Bandana, and I set out from Bhopal one winter morning on a privately owned mini-bus. It took us a torturous nine hours to cover a distance of 300 odd km from Bhopal, halting almost every kilometre to pick up whoever cared to wave at the bus to stop. Mercifully, the seats were well cushioned or else it would have been hell for a progressively ageing old man and his wife. The highway, including a stretch of the famous Bombay-Agra Road, was horribly potholed. Worse, toilet facilities being non-existent, passengers were left to their own devices. Perhaps I should have taken the train – after all there is now one which takes you there via Gwalior

My friend had booked a room for us in the Tourist Village, owned and run by the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. A large complex, the village had hut-like structures with well-appointed rooms providing reasonable facilities. It was dark and cold when we reached, and our bones ached. However, a good night's sleep and the gorgeous morning view melted away the previous day’s fatigue.

Shivpuri is mostly the creation of the late Maharaja Madhav Rao Scindia (Sr) (1880-1925), great grandfather of Jyotiraditya Scindia who is MP from the neighbouring constituency of Guna. Scindia (Sr) built palaces and hunting lodges close to the town. Fittingly, after his death in Paris in 1925, his ashes were brought to Shivpuri where they found their resting place in an exquisite marble memorial, just a kilometre's walk away from the Tourist Village. Set in an extensive garden, his mausoleum, or chhatri, built in front of that of his mother, is marvellously inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones, with engraved pure silver doors. With its inlay and trellis works it is a remarkable piece of architecture conceived and executed in marble in the 20th Century. And, nothing of this kind was probably ever attempted after Taj Mahal was built by Mogul Emperor Shahjehan. Surprisingly, the mausoleum has remained largely unknown outside Shivpuri and unacknowledged despite its extraordinarily beautiful intricate and arty work on marble. Somebody somewhere has failed to promote it for the world to see it The chhatri of the Maharani, meanwhile, is traditional radiating peace and piety.

Our room in the village overlooked the large, beautiful Chandpatha Lake. The best view of the lake, though, was from Madhav National Park, just a kilometre and a half away from the Tourist Village. The tracts of protected and “reserved” forests that the Scindias would visit regularly for shikar have shrunk over time and the game, too, has dwindled. Its remnants - about 350 sq km - have since been converted into the Park. This includes the lovely Sakhya Sagar boat club, complete with a wooden dance floor projecting over the lake, which can be hired out for occasions, and green hills in the background. The park also has a golf course, apparently in disuse, and a dilapidated observation tower. There's also the never-lived-in George Castle, a copy of an English castle, built for the King Emperor as a hunting lodge in anticipation of his visit, which never took place, after the Delhi Durbar of 1911. Still retaining some of its stained glass, the castle offers a stunning view of the surrounding forests and the lake.

Inside the Park its all-weather roads make it the only national park in the country accessible during the rains. It is said that these roads were constructed under the personal supervision of Scindia (Sr). You can still see a variety of animals, especially antelopes like chinkara, chital, sambar, chausinga, blackbucks, etc. A large herd of chital within our view scampered away after hearing a noisy group of visitors. You also find wild boars, sloth bears and blue-bulls. As for the predators, there were none. But occasionally a tiger or two wander out of the adjoining Ranthambor National Park of Rajasthan and venture into it.
Avian life, however, thrives on the Chandpatha, particularly in the winters when migratory birds home in. We spied white ibis, cormorants and geese, and watched in fascination kingfishers dive and then emerge from the water with their catch. A keener bird-watcher may even be able to spot a golden oriole, a falcon, even a paradise flycatcher.

Peace, in fact, is what you get all around you at Shivpuri; it's a tranquil spell that sweeps away all the cares of the rough and tumble of modern life. Green forests, placid waters and bells tolling from numerous Shiva temples, all make for a soothing interlude, the perfect weekend getaway.

But of course, the lack of infrastructure, a perennial problem across India, rears its head here too. The state tourism authorities make no arrangements for visits to the Madhav National Park or other sites. We had to fall back on auto-rickshaws and Ambassador taxies that run on diesel and pollute the forests of the National Park. Perhaps they could hire battery operated vehicles. About the highway, less said the better.

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Photos: 1. The Maharaja's mausoleum, 2. An inside view, 3. Chandpatha Lake, 4. The MSTDC Tourist Village

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Proloy Kumar Bagchi

Media/Journalist/Author

Madhya Pradesh ,  INDIA

Once a civil servant, now a freelance columnist, blogger and a citizen journalist

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