4:16 pm

My family decided it was time for the much needed vacation. The time was also twenty days before my final examination which determines whether I am to be a graduate or not. So, the holiday, it was decided, had t short and the spot, nearby. I was taken aback when I was told we were going to Chitrakoot. Something about their faces told me it’s a religious place. Something in my dim memory also rang a bell. Chitrakoot was the place were Lord Ram, along with Sita and Laxam, resided during his fourteen-year-long exile.

I tried to get myself mentally prepared to visit a place with a million of temples. As I packed, I remembered the time when I was walking in the streets of Haridwar, and I saw random vendors watching ‘Aastha’ and ‘Shraddha’ channels on TV, and the Badrinath & Kedarnath trip where I ended up getting fever. I was apprehensive of the fun factor this trip would bring.

Surprisingly, I have not been inside a train in the last three years. So when I reached at the Nizamuddin station, I was, not so pleasantly, reminded of why I hadn’t stepped in a train for those three years. Here is the thing, you might call me snobbish for all I care, but trains & railway stations in India are dirty. It’s a fact. You can not deny that. Also, trains are slow. This one to Chitrakoot was going to take us twelve hours! To save myself from getting bored to death in the train, out of lack of entertainment (ofcourse1!), I took out my copy of Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents In The Life of a Slave Girl and read on. We passed the Chambal valley on our way and were happy that those dacoits-stopping-trains days were over! All that while, however, I was still wondering who thinks like that? Who thinks ‘holiday’ and think ‘Chitrakoot’ at the same time?

After a sleepless night in the train, we reached Chitrakoot at 5 am. As we drove to our lodge, we saw the orange splash of paint, decorate the sky. But it wasn’t the sky I was interested in, it was the land. Typical town in India. Reminded me of the various places I had lived as a child in Haryana. Chitrakoot is spread across two states: Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. You cross one stream, and you’re in Uttar Pradesh and you didn’t even know it! At around ten that morning, our Chitrakoot tour began.

I was surprised, taken aback for the second time that week. Chitrakoot is amazingly beautiful. It's such a pity not many people know about it. The place does have temples, but not an insane amount of it. And even if you’re an atheist or not interested in visiting temples of reasons of your own, you should go there for the natural beauty.

Our first stop was at Aitri’s Ashram. Hindu mythology has ‘Saptrishi’ (the seven rishis) and Aitri was one of them. His wife, Anusuya was a sati (no, not that sati; back then the word meant a devout wife!) and the ashram is also called ‘Sati Anusuya’. There is nothing over spectacular in the ashram, unless you have no clue about the story of Anusuya. It is what was just outside the ashram that fascinated me. There is a story related to that ashram that Airti used to tell Anusuya to fetch water everyday. Anusuya, of course, used to do it, roam miles, to get water. One day, because of her hard work & tapasya, Ganga appeared in front of her ashram. That is what is right outside the ashram. I don't know whether it really was Anusuya or the river just happened to flowing there all along but its picturesque. The ashram is against the backdrop of one the many hills of Madhya Pradesh. The river runs just in front of it. A beautiful water body, green with algae, and you can see the many fish swimming happily in the water you’ve just touched. I am a big fan of water bodies. I fell in love with that place. Monkeys roamed around, in perfect harmony with nature. I’ve never seen such civilized monkeys before: they don’t scare you, unless you’re determined to be scared! Sitting over there, by the river bank, gave my heart such tranquility; I was vaguely surprised at being apprehensive of this trip at all.

Then we went to Gupt Godavari. As my dad very aptly pointed out, Godavari River does not flow in Madhya Pradesh, it flows down south. I was wondering why on earth it was called ‘gupt’ (meaning ‘hidden’ in the first place. We reached a place where we were made to remove our shoes and climb stairs. Stairs led to a cave which, once you reached, your first reaction is “Where now? There’s a dead end ahead!”. Steps inside the cave lead you downstairs. As I descended in that cave lit by many electric lights, I muttered “If we had to come down in the first place, why made us climb?” without realizing, that we were not as below as where we started from (okay, that sentence is my bit of wrong English!). The cave is a natural cave, made of limestone and I very fascinating. Inside, is a pond where the locals say Sita used to bathe, and it looks like a tiny but deep bath tub. That was the first cave. The second cave was something I had never experienced before! It was another natural cave. The only catch here was that inside that cave, flowed a river! Everyone was supposed to take their shoes off and walk in that river and come back. At the starting and ending point, the water was till ankles, in the middle of cave, it reached upto my knees. But nice, soothing water! And clean. As I walked inside, with a lot of people around you, I knew why it was called Gupt Godavari afterall.

Chitrakoot also has a museum cum temple called Ram Darshan which tells the story of Ram. It has some the most beautiful paintings and sculptures depicting scenes from Ramayan. I was pleased to find masks form countries like Thailand, Singapore and so on of Ram, Ravan and so on. There is also a hill there around which people do parikrama. They say it’s a 5 kilometer walk (barefoot, mind you and I actually did all that walking) around that hill and it spreads across Uttar Pradesh & Madhya Pradesh. So one little morning walk, and you’ve been places. And then there is a boat ride across a river…

I never did expect that place to have so much beauty. I honestly didn’t. It’s so wonderful that I was pleasantly surprised. Everything…especially Gupt Godavari…the picture I have attached is a glimpse of that cave. There is quite a lot to see in that tiny town.

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