Patalkot: Notes from the Underworld

Patalkot
Image – Wikimedia

I am always intrigued by our ancient folklores or the great tales from Indian mythology. They might not be true but there is something inviting about them, wanting me to seek the truth. If I could I would visit all these mythological sites mentioned in the ancient tales and experience for myself what they hold. Well, living a 21st-century life, I cannot possibly visit each and every place of such kind but I can definitely try to visit the ones that are within my reach and ability to traverse. 

To Chhindwara

It was one-weekend last monsoon, or post-monsoon when I decided to explore Patalkot. For the ones unaware, this is the entrance to the world below. Or so they say in the tales. And even if you translate the name into English, it literally means “The Underworld”. Mythology also says that this land belongs to the demons and the serpents who rule their world and serve as guards to the underworld. They prevent the mere mortals from treading their territory unless of course, you are destined to hell. Sounds pretty gothic, right? So I had to see this with my own eyes and feel it on my skin to actually experience. Also, I should know if I am destined for hell or the heaven above (not that I believe in the same). 

With millions of thoughts and questions running through my mind, I planned my travel. This mysterious (which I discovered later) is located in the Tamia district of Madhya Pradesh, close to Chhindwara. And as expected, there is no direct access to this place. Ergo, I booked my train till Indore. Thereafter, I booked a cheap taxi from Indore to Chhindwara. Now, Patalkot, of course, has no accommodation options, which I thankfully figured out before I went. So I booked the PWD guesthouse for a couple of days. 

The adventure begins

Patalkot valley was nearly a two-hour drive from my guest house. I had hired a car in Indore from a top-rated vendor, which made my traveling around easier. 

It was just after the monsoon, so the rains had retired and cleaned up the sky, but left a whole lot of greenery behind. This made the journey quite a scenic one. Madhya Pradesh is otherwise quite arid and rugged but the velvety foliage covered it all up. 

Although the driver was experienced, the roads were tricky. There were no road signs or mile markers of any sort. While we treaded the challenging terrain, my driver started giving me a download of the place. These dense hills are home to more than 2000 tribes, all of whom live across 12 villages, all around the hills. The entire valley is spread over 20000 acres of land but without any commercial intervention. For ages, people have been living with the belief that this valley has deep, dark secrets with some zones completely inaccessible. However, people do come here for outdoor adventures like trekking, rock climbing etc. But I had no such agenda. All I wanted to do was to go around the hills and its forests, maybe head onto a less traveled trail and absorb the nature. 

Soon, we were nearing the forested areas. For some strange reason, the road was empty. One more point to the spook quotient! The thick foliage and the surrounding mountains covered the road so much so that it felt like evening even at peak noon. In some places, the winding road narrowed and was still slippery from the rains. We reached the end of the road which was in front of a forest clearing. A faint ray of sunlight fell on the ground, almost like a sign from above. But isn’t it ironic, that the world above shows me a way to the underworld! 

The Moment Between Worlds

I started walking past the large trees. It felt like I had gone back in time, maybe to the prehistoric era, or probably the only survivor after the apocalypse. Either way, it gave me mixed feelings. The musty smell of the damp forest and the excruciatingly loud silence felt menacing. I had probably reached the underworld, I thought. I must have walked for about half an hour or so when I reached a little further, the trail went downwards to a niche-like place surrounded by high rocky cliffs. There was a small pond-like water body in the center, probably caused by the rains. And since there is no way for sunlight to creep it, the pool never dried up. But this is all logical thinking, you see. Because somewhere on the back of my mind, I kept thinking if this actually is the portal to ‘the underworld’ everyone keeps talking about. And probably I had discovered the secret passage, which no one has.

A photographer by hobby, I love to document my experiences. But never before I had been so awestruck that I kept staring at my surrounding, without so much as taking the camera out of the bag. I just couldn’t move. 

It was the blaring horns of my cab that got me out of the reverie. This trip was the ultimate proof of how fact is truly stranger than fiction.