This trip made me think about how much we lie on social media about our lives.
Weeks before college ended, my classmates and I tried planning a “one last time” holiday. A class trip to Manali, soon became a group trip to Goa which dwindled down to a 3-being-company journey to Alibaug. Undoubtedly, till the day we were conferred our degrees, there was no definitive plan.
So I headed home after graduation, and purely on impulse, booked the first flight to Bhopal, scheduled the next morning. Panchmarhi, the only hill station in Madhya Pradesh, had been on my mind for a long time now.
My life summed up in one picture
I left the house at 6 am, cooking up a story for my family – a sudden plan made overnight with a bunch of friends from college. I passed out on the 2-hour flight and woke up to a very chilled Bhopal sunrise in the month of February. Walking out of the airport alone, I was swarmed by rickshawalas volunteering to take me for a ride, quite literally, to the bus stand. Tickets unbooked, I stuck to what looked to me like our local State Transport buses with paan-smeared, overcrowded insides. I had to switch buses over a 6 hour, partially scenic, drive to reach Panchmarhi. For the mid-route halt, instead of McDonald’s and Maganlal Chikki, I was treated to a small dhaba-cum-chai stall. I rushed to use the ladies room which turned out to be a gents room as well. The makeshift door was a loose wooden board coming off its hinges and a thin twig was used as a latch. They say solo trips are a learning experience, and I was surely taking notes.
On arriving at Panchmarhi market, I shared a cab with a cute honeymooning couple; I could hardly see the girl’s face through the ghunghat that covered it. The second lesson I learnt was that PDA is the same in every culture – these two could easily pass off as my friends.
Panchmarhi has several MPTDC hotels and I got off at the first one I saw. It seemed like a beautiful, well-maintained property and luckily they had a room available for the next three nights. Perfect, or so I thought.
The notice board said “Lunch timing 1pm-3pm” so I went to the dining hall expecting the rest of the guests to be finishing their meals. Turned out, the hotel staff had to fire up the kitchen for me. This is when I began to suspect I was the only person in the hotel.
The rest of the day, I slept like a log, wearing off all my journey exhaustion and only left the hotel late evening to get some dinner. The market was about a kilometre away, at the end of the same route I took that afternoon. Somehow at dusk it seemed longer, narrower and deserted.
That night, the central area was bustling with life, as a large ground witnessed a hand-loom exhibition and fair. What caught me by surprise was that I saw many more locals than tourists there. Not finding many restaurant options I ate at one where, not surprisingly, I was their only customer. Now, while I might not be a connoisseur of food, I think I know my flavours and so far, I had tasted none. Even the roast chicken I ordered as a healthy option, turned out to be insipid, deep-fried, crispy chicken.
I headed back to the hotel before it was too late, watched some TV and retired for the night updating my Facebook status to:
“Having the BEST time in Panchmarhi- heaven on earth, guyzz! What a blast!! SOLO trip peopleee! Love my life!!”
Needless to say, it didn’t upload. Because of course, great WiFi.
The breakfast buffet at the hotel the next morning was all of two dishes. By now I was certain I was the only guest there and it began to feel like I was in a horror story where the hotel, its facilities and the staff were one huge set up. Think Hotel California with a fraction of the amenities. I started observing their every move and second guessing their intentions like a cautious freak. They, on the other hand, were extremely courteous and with their help, I planned my day, got a local jeep, a guide, and a visit permit. I continued watching my back though.
The guide took all my pictures during the trail walk. #loner
My itinerary for the day:
Rajat Prapat - Silver Fall
City girl lands up in a forest
Yes, I actually covered all of those sights, except Rajendragiri. Google says it's the best spot to view the setting sun, but at the end of a long tiring day, my guide was fed up and bored and insisted: “Sunset toh Bombay ka hi best hai!”
The secret falls
Since I told him I’d rather walk than ride in the Jeep, we covered as many locations as we could on foot. Yes, just him and me. All the sites were crowded with noisy tourists and their irritating children, and it was then that I had my third revelation – I preferred spooky, uninhabited hotels and desolate points better.
After finishing Pandav Caves in less than fifteen minutes, we set off for a trail walk to see the rest of the locations. The walk was through the dense, evergreen forest – beautiful and isolated – just how I like it. We halted at what he said were “secret ponds” that only he treks to. He left me there by myself for a long while. Until another group of tourists came marching by.
Then there was an apologetic soliloquy about how this used to be virgin territory until some local guides ruined it by taking tourists there.
My attempt at slack-lining
There were points and waterfalls like Apsara Vihar and Rajat Prapat that he showed me from the opposite mountain. At least a 10km distance away.
Although this looks like every, single waterfall, I swear it is Apsara falls
The long and tricky route to Ramya Kund was worth the sweat till it turned out to be a small pond that local kids were taking a dip in.
Kids here do crazy leaps in shallow waters
Reechgarh was another favourite spot. The caves are underground; cool, barren and open up to a sky-high porous rock.
We had lunch at a common tourist restaurant. Soon after I started having stomach cramps and excruciating lower back pain. I wasn’t sure it was the meal but Duchess Falls, Bee Falls and the 400 steps to get and from it were not very enjoyable after this. By now, even the guide was feeling my vibes, and impatient to get back he kept warning me:
“Bee Falls shuts in 45mins, you have to climb down and back up by then. Think it over before going. You don’t want to be trapped there all alone”.
Bathing tourists and washing laundry at the lovely bee-falls
I slept in late the next morning and woke up straight for brunch. I still had a dull back ache so I decided to stay in and watch a movie. That evening I rented a bicycle from the hotel and went out for a ride in order to reach yesterday’s Sunset Point that I had missed. Unfortunately I missed it again, but explored the lonely streets and winding roads.
By now I was beginning to feel a bit queasy. I suspected that it might have been the first class roast chicken that didn’t sit well. The rest of the night and the day after were the longest I have lived. I learnt that the feeling of wanting to throw up but being unable to do so is the worst you can have. I woke up with a mild fever. I was in bad shape, and threw up four times on the 6 hour journey back to the airport.
I can positively say that I have never been so happy to return to civilisation and enter a mall. The sight and smell of Subway sent endorphins and serotonin pumping through my system. My temperature subsided and I was jolted back to life. I dove into my foot-long Sub and updated my Facebook status
“BEST trip ever!! Love Panchmarhi! MUST GO!!! Best experience!! Totally rejuvenated!”
And not a soul knows the truth of this nightmare.
1. Are you sure you want to take this trip?
2. Booking a flight/train to Bhopal is not the end of the journey.
3. Reserve a seat in advance, on a direct bus or cab to Panchmarhi.
4. MPTDC has clean and safe facilities contrary to my assumptions.
5. A permit and a guide are compulsory to visit the popular tourist spots.
6. Don’t eat roast chicken anywhere.
7. If you don’t manage to get sick, enjoy!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Nidah Kaiser
Photographs by Nidah Kaiser