Pachmarhi was a popular hill station of the British Raj with a salubrious climate and natural beauty. It still preserves the Cantonment and its links inherited from the British rule. Over the years, the Cantonment evolved into a natural habitat and in 1937, the Army School of Education moved to Pachmarhi from Belgaum. In 1962, the school was renamed as the Army Education Corps Training College and Centre. The Centre conducts a number of in-service, regimental and all-service courses for men and Officers of the Indian Armed Forces and of friendly foreign countries. From the Military Forwarding Agency at Pipariya, a makeshift transit camp close to the railway station, we moved our way to Pachmarhi by road that spanned a ninety minutes drive. Pachmarhi means five huts and derives its name from a set of five caves that date back to the Mahabharata period. Pachmarhi was discovered by a British Captain, James Forsyth in the year 1857.
It had a fateful history. The year Rani of Jhansi and her Maratha soldiers mutinied, a rather mundane British officer of the Bengal Lancers was sent to the dense Satpura ranges to engage the rebellion. After walking for almost seventeen miles, Captain Forsyth ultimately found himself at an altitude of above 2000 feet above sea level. He found a plateau that resembled a saucer. There was dense grass with naked tree stems with thick undergrowth. On the first glimpse of the plateau he had said “…The moist banks of the stream were covered with ferns and mosses, and the clear sparkle of the little brooks appeared singularly refreshing…Immense trees…dotted the plain in fine clumps; and altogether the aspect of the plateau was much more that of a fine English park than of any scene I had before come across in India…”. With nostalgia his troops had rested there. Pachmarhi is in the heart of the Mahadev hills of the famous Satpura range and the reserve tiger forest. Trekking trails, dense Sal forests, cascading waterfalls and religious shrines make the region a trove of natures delight.
As I looked at the stars I felt tranquil with a deep poise amidst the mist. In the hard hillocks of the jutting peaks with lush glades, cascading Angel falls is an oasis of warmth with an aura of quintessential beauty. Surrounded by thick oak and blue pine forests, the Satpura sanctuary and sky-scraping trees, the hill station of Pachmarhi is devoid of the hustle and bustle unlike other hill stations. I had a taste of its eternity and a deep imprint of this brief visit. Satpura Ki Rani, as it is addressed in awe, Pachmarhi is the highest point in Madhya Pradesh. Notwithstanding, the place marks a famed prominence for honeymooners, it was rather but my last trip as a bachelor to get myself infused with its richness and its ravines. It houses some heritage Catholic churches that date back to the English period, all located within the twenty square km area. The place is also famous for Dr Giri gardens with the sun set spot that attracts many tourists to capture the beauty of the place. The roads inter-linked for tourists to traverse freely are with prominent signage that guide without any inconvenience.
The tourists get a number of site-seeing options for safaris with their strapped on to the soft-top convertible Maruti Gypsies with 4WD that form the only source of public transport provided for. The populace in the vicinity and the local market have their own élan with which they carry themselves in their humbleness and warmth. Walk on the roads has its own charm; a view of patriotic turquoise and antique rose in the wilderness, a touch of Buddhism and of Catholicism. Ethnic road side tea joints with the rural touch serve flavored lemon tea. The serenity amidst the banked roads amongst carved hillocks, the idiosyncrasies of the flora that swayed the fauna with its purified air. Pachmarhi carves itself a special repute of being different in its touch of ethnic royal and a historical brass and a number of unique spots for tourists. A glimpse to the local market and you would get your hands on the ancient grandmother recipes and antidotes to ENT problems and minor disorders, wood ware for interiors, garments, paintings, wall hangings, and a number of antique and traditional works for women and folks.
From rural woven wall hangings to carpets, large imprinted hand held Chinese fans to garments, black metal, leather products apart from a variety of restaurants that trace to the origin of Pachmarhi. The place also flaunts a spot for outdoor events for boating, parasailing, camping and trekking for enthusiasts. During the early years, the population of tigers, leopards, bears and other carnivore was fairly large in the dense jungles of Satpura. Even today, one may get an occasional glimpse and sight of the cats. But to many on the roads, hoards of monkeys that still rule and become a non-famous sight for tourists. Forsyth had suggested that Pachmarhi should be used as a sanatorium. Over the years that phenomenon remains and a number of bungalows of English architecture can be seen all round. The place also houses many centres for physical fitness, yoga, schools of confidence including the Police training school, golf courses and clubs with horse racing, polo and other attractions. The Centre of the Military Music within the AEC College provides the spectacle of hymning pipes and drums and bugles to flutes in the military tradition of the three services.
Here recruits get trained to become regimental bandsmen and in a few cases masters of their own craft. The faculty of music infuses an aura of melody along the banks of the lake on hillocks flanking the Centre. It is a treat to listen to the amateur play legendary instrumental military symphonies in syncopation that touches your spine. As you stand still over the bridge close to AEC Centre next to the lake, you get absorbed in intense martial music with the precision tunes of the band rehearsals wafting on to you in impromptu concerts. The echoes reverberate through the day. Pandav Caves attracts everyone who visits Pachmarhi. There is Handi Cove, a 300 feet deep gorge bridged between two vertical cliffs, Bee Falls and Reechgarh that’s unique to caves that traps cold air. Lovers point, a distinct point located on one end of the plateau built in the memory of Lt Humfrey Woodriff who died in active service during 1940s. Rajendra garden , the sun set point , the Churches and the famous lakes are places to put a foot print in. I tried my hands at Para gliding that takes place on a 200 meter stretch along the helipad. The splendor still remains enviable.
—The author is serving in Indian Air Force and is posted at Hyderabad