Travel journal - Chitrakoot

Chitakoot, a city shared by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is still untouched by touristy crowds. A quiet getaway, with enough happening locally to interest a curious visitor.

Karwi Railway Station

Karwi, the closest railway station to Chitrakoot, at 2.00 a.m. was a sleepy place. After waiting around for a while, we realised that it was possible to commute to Chitakoot from here, even at this predawn hour. Sure enough, tempos plying on the road took us to Chitakoot. At 4.00 a.m., I found myself guarding our family luggage on Ram ghat, which was lit up by nothing more than star-light. There was a power cut in UP's part of Chitrakoot, while MP's Chitakoot was still bright with electric lights.

On the banks of River Mandakini, Chitrakoot

Ram ghat, especially under the clear summer sky was a favoured place by mendicants for sleeping. Much before it was daybreak, most of them were up for a dip in the River Mandakini, and some had settled down for meditation as well!

A little away from where I was sitting, a middle-aged man sang a local song in praise of Mayher Devi. It just seemed insane that someone wanted to sing at the top of their voice at this beautiful hour where night mingled into day-break. Nonetheless, he sang so joyously that it didn't offend. He was completely absorbed alternately in singing, swimming and bathing. He was dressed as a mendicant, I saw later when the lights turned on, flooding the marble-floored Ram ghat. It was a clean place.

It was easy to understand why the mendicant was singing early morning. The waters were not only clean, but a balm for the tired senses. We bathed, laughed, tried a bit of swimming and sang...

With the power restored to UP's Chitrakoot, we checked into Bharat temple's ashram, up a flight of steep steps, right there at Ram ghat itself. The place had been monkey-proofed with overhead netting in the courtyard. The food was delicious. Satwic vegetarian Vaishnav cuisine - cooked especially for the temple deities and their guests - us.

River Mandakini in Chitrakoot gets its name from the Mandakini Ganga in the Himalayas. Mandakini sprang from a hill at Chitakoot in answer to an invocation to River Ganga by Rishi Atri's wife, Anusuya.

Bathing in Mandakini with friends, it was easy to understand why the mendicant was singing early morning. The waters were not only clean, but a balm for the tired senses. We bathed, laughed, tried a bit of swimming and sang to express our joy and gratitude. We sang 'Meethe ras se bhariori Radha Rani laage, mane meetho meetho Yamuna ji no pani lage...' a Rajasthani-Gujarati song favouring Radha and River Yamuna... But of course, we lost track of the number of songs that followed and how long we remained in the water. It was summer, June to be precise; a prolonged dip in the soothing waters of River Mandakini at Chitrakoot was the best thing that happened to us.

Kamadgiri, the sacred hill

A visit to Kamad giri, the hill where Ram, Sita and Laxman spent 11 years, was in tune with the simple, sacred, clean feel of Chitrakoot. Old temples, old buildings, bright flowers, incense, monkeys, birds, cows and dogs - the regulars were there, but the ambience was like that of no other place. Even the city of Ayodhya in UP, which is Ram's place of birth and residence is no match for the sanctity of Kamd giri.

The green jungle on Kamad giri itself is out of reach for people. Temples at the base of the hill, all along the parikrama marg are all open to visitors. Peacocks on the parikrama marg are a special sight! So are little houses made by devotees aspiring for a house of their own. Little houses made of rocks and pebbles that had rolled down from Kamad giri itself.

Home makers

I saw families collect stones, to build knee-high or higher structures, complete with roofing, several rooms, courtyards and more. The primary idea was to gift a house to Sita, Ram and Laxman for their stay here. And the other idea was to be able to build a similar house for one's own family. Sweet thought! It brought a smile to my face watching families sit down together building mini-homes by the roadside at the base of Kamad giri. We tried one too.

Flavours of Chitrakoot

Local sweet shops here sell a local speciality - Lauki halwa, sprinkled with rose petals, rose water and musk melon seeds.

When back to Chitrakoot on a tempo, it was time to loll on the bajra-boats. We noticed at the Bharat temple that all Saligram deities were immersed silver bowls of water and jasmine flowers. Just the thing for a warm afternoon.

We proceeded towards the river to splash a bit, and meditate on the natural surroundings. At Rs. 5 a ride, we stayed on a boat well until it was time for the evening arti.

Riding on river Mandakini, Chitrakoot, India

Travel facts

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Rail: The nearest railway station is Karvi-8 km, from where trains are available for important cities.

Air: The nearest airport is Khajuraho-185 km.

Road: Chitrakoot is well connected by road - Satna-75 km, Kalinjar-88 km, Allahabad-127 km, Mahoba-127 km, Jhansi-274 km, Lucknow-285 km.

Anisha Sharma
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