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The night in the forest

June 16, 2009 12:50 IST

Image: Madhav National Park, Shivpuri
Archana Masih
Hindustan ka dil dekho Madhya Pradesh has run an exceptionally good campaign to promote tourism in the state. On June 10, MP Tourism launched its new ad -- no doubt created by Piyush Pandey's army of creative whizzos at O&M -- to draw in tourists to its bosom.

I've always found travelling through Madhya Pradesh an immense pleasure. So it was with renewed interest and after a long road journey that we arrived in Shivpuri one evening.

It was almost dusk and the Tourist Village hotel located on the fringes of the Madhav National Park was full up. "Sorry, it is the wedding season and all our 19 rooms are booked," said the manager at the reception. "But you can try the forest guest house on the other side of the lake."

Our team was travelling through the state on election reportage and the staff at the guest house let out a room for Rs 600, making arrangements for journalists at quick notice. The state forest guest house had very basic rooms -- a monkey with a baby wrapped around her belly strolled into the room as we entered -- but its location took our collective breaths away!

Photographs: Seema Pant

Calm serenity by the lake

Image: Sakhya Sagar Dam, Shivpuri
The old hunting lodge was right on the lake. Its large canopied terrace jutting into the water, handsome statues adorning its corners.

The lodge was old, the statues yellowed over time, yet there was a quiet, aristocratic beauty about it. In front lay the still Sakhya Sagar lake bordered by the national park with the setting sun behind the trees.

It was a lovely sight as we sat sipping tea, briefly joined by the forest ranger who told us about its history. We had travelled over 300 kilometres in soaring temperatures, one of us was unwell, and we had a tough schedule covering Jyotiraditya Scindia's campaign the next morning but the serenity on the waterfront brought a soothing calmness.

Bats that looked like birds

Image: The hunting lodge on the waterfront

"What are these birds gliding near the rafters?" asked a colleague who has grown up the hills of the North-east.

"Bats," replied the colleague from Tamil Nadu calmly. The stillness quickly made way for a mad sprint to our rooms -- Tamil Nadu followed us reluctantly, holding forth about how bats could not see, are harmless etc. Of course, we were not listening!

The rest of the evening and night, we did not venture out. The cook prepared a wholesome vegetarian meal which turned out to be our best and most inexpensive meal of the trip.

A jungle walk

Image: Madhav National Park, Shivpuri
We were up at dawn, watching the sun rise over a cup of tea on the statue adorning terrace. Since we had to report at the Bombay Kothi where Jyotiraditya was staying at 8.45 am, we had some time for a short walk in the Madhav National Park -- named after Madho Rao Scindia, the fifth Maharaja of Gwalior.

Steering clear of the red faced monkeys, we went past a stable lane where horses must have once rested. Up ahead stood the very Scottish-styled George castle built by Jivaji Rao Scindia so that King George V could halt there for the night during a tiger hunt while on his India visit in 1911.

Yes, the castle was built just so that the monarch could rest the night! The Emperor of India managed to shoot a tiger on the way and so bypassed George castle. The castle is a beauty, grand in its fading splendour but we did not have time to explore its other mysteries.

A beautiful memorial

Image: Chhatris of the Scindias
It was blisteringly hot at 3 in the afternoon and we had to reach Gwalior by dusk, yet we dashed in to see the beautiful cenotaphs or chhatris of the Scindias in the complex that houses the family's summer palace.

The intricately carved marble tombs are dedicated to the Scinidia royals. Surrounded by foliage and marble benches, it is a beautiful memorial and you can sit on the chabutra (cement platform) under one of its shady trees and marvel at its graceful intricacies.

Mindful of making it to Gwalior on time, we left Shivpuri. Not forgetting to quench our thirst with its famous thick lassi in the main bazaar under giant Congress and BJP posters. So thick was it, that you ate it with a spoon rather than drink it!

With that as our lunch, we sped out to Gwalior, for the next leg of our election reportage and discovered the lovely town that goes back to the 8th century. But more on that later...

How to reach

The nearest airport is at Gwalior (112 km). Indian Airlines connects Delhi (430 km) to Gwalior.
Nearest rail heads are at Jhansi (101 km) and Gwalior.
Regular bus services connect Shivpuri with Gwalior, Bhopal, Jhansi, Agra, Indore and Ujjain. Taxis are also available.