'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


An hour or so by (rickety) bus from Bhopal is the bustling town of Obaidullagunj. The 'book' told me there are frequent buses from here to Hoshangabad and that Bhimbetka is about 8 kilometers down that way. Over half an hour of waiting, I did see a couple of buses bound for Hoshangabad; when I asked the crew if they went via Bhimbetka, the answer was a loud "No!" followed by a louder signal to the driver to move on.

Puzzled, I asked a shopkeeper how one should proceed.

Shopkeeper: No buses! Flag down a truck going that way (points). After some time, you will see a path branching off to Bhimbetka, marked. Get down there and tramp an hour uphill and that is it.

Self: But I was told, buses to Hoshangabad ...

Shopkeeper: They simply won't take you on if you are going only up to Bhimbetka. You will waste a seat for them.

Self: ... Er...Guess one could buy a ticket all the way to Hoshangabad and get down...

Shopkeeper: But why would you want to waste twenty rupees! Why don't you just catch a truck ... and where are you from?

Self: Just came from Bhopal.

Shopkeeper: Well, you certainly are not Bhopali!

Self: I am visiting Bhopal.

Shopkeeper: From?

Self: Amdavad, Gujarat.

Shopkeeper: Ah, that explains it!

(I thank him and leave, without asking what it is that has just got explained)

I took the advice and soon enough, got onto a truck and a quarter of an hour ride (five bucks) thru flat cropland took me to the 'Bhimbetka junction'. The path to Bhimbetka crosses the main railway line from Bhopal to South and soon starts going uphill - a stiff 2 km climb and one enters a rugged sandstone landscape (a very far cry from the ironed out flats that have just been left behind). To the south stretches rolling hill country, scrubby, with clumps of boulders... Geography tells me this is the beginning of the 'Vindhya Horst', which a few dozen kilometers farther south plunges into the 'Narmada Graben'.

The world heritage site of Bhimbetka, another kilometer ahead, consists primarily of a tight group of huge sandstone formations (clustered within a hundred or so acres). There are no caves as such but the immense rock masses have gotten eroded at their base into vast natural shelters, refreshingly cool even in hot midday. Stone age cave paintings have been found on the walls of many of these shelters. Apart from 'stick figures' engaged in hunts, there are paintings of hordes of animals (especially in one particular shelter named the 'zoo').

There are some battle scenes - for instance, two horsemen battling it out with clubs. There are also a few dance scenes - including one in which several stick-humans form a chain, with each dancer holding the arms of the next dancer but one (just the kind of dance they used to show often on the telly in late 1980's featuring Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi among Central Indian Tribals). I don't remember seeing any bowmen.

The rock formations impressed me more than the art. The largest of the lot looked like a gigantic prehistoric reptile, petrified - its 'head' rises well over 50 feet and its long, winding 'body' is supported by 4-5 'legs'; and one walks along a passage under its 'belly'. At twilight, the color effects of sandstone (I had first witnessed these in far away Badami, a full 3 years ago) were on display all around.

Wikipedia says: "As (archeologist)V. S. Wakankar was traveling by train to Bhopal he saw some rock formations similar to those he had seen in Spain and France. He visited the area along with a team of archaeologists and discovered several prehistoric rock shelters in 1957."

I doubt the comparison there. The famous 'cave artists' of Europe lived in limestone caves which are fundamentally different from the Bhimbetka sandstone shelters. Clearly the better parallel is to the Tassili Plateau in the heart of Sahara desert - immense and spectacularly eroded sandstone pillars and rock shelters brimming with paleolithic art (some of which much more sophisticated than the specimens here in Bhimbetka); and I guess *that* must indeed have been the parallel that guided Wakankar.

Note: Quite recently, well-known Malayalam writer Anand has included a very atmospheric meditation on Bhimbetka (without naming the place) in a short-story titled 'Out of Schedule'.


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