Okay…

So you may have read about what I think of Tourist Attractions 

Bhopal has a short list of touristy places and a whole bunch of local secrets. On one particular day, I had a treat that few are privileged to have. A Buddhist monk, Guruji, who is a family friend of my hosts at Ratapani Range Retreat showed me some little-known places that I’d otherwise never have known.

That’s probably a major advantage of living in a local homestay/guesthouse as compared to a hotel, isn’t it? You get to meet some amazing people (*waves at Aunty Rajani*), eat some delicious food (hey Badri!) and have a local tour by someone who’s lived in the area for years!

Once you’re done visiting the Sanchi Stupa and Bhimbekta rock shelters, here are some interesting places to explore:

The Bodhi Tree

Way up on a little hillock a few kilometers from Sanchi grows a Peepal tree with a complicated history. It is common knowledge that Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment under a Peepul Tree (or Bodhi Tree) in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. A sapling from this that tree was carried to Sri Lanka by Emperor Ashok’s son and daughter more than 2000 years ago. Centuries later, a sapling from the tree grown in Sri Lanka was bought back and planted by Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapaksa in Sanchi to complete the cycle. Guards posted there never leave the tree unattended, day or night (what a job!)

Apart from the tree, there’s nothing else of importance in the area. So if you’re passing through, spend a few minutes admiring the idyllic scenery from up on the hill. You’ll see fields and forests for miles.

Satdhara Stupas

Satdhara was my favourite place in Bhopal, and to be honest, I don’t even know where exactly it is. Located an hour away or roughly 10-12 kms from Sanchi, this stunning place is located on the banks of a tree-covered hill, overlooking a river. To get there, you have to drive through HORRENDOUS roads that test your eyesight and driving skills.

Literally translating to “seven rivers,” the site has several small stupas and one large one that holds the relics of Buddha and his disciples.  A little path leads from one stone stupa to another and the entire place is silent and calm thanks to the dearth of tourists. Two millennia ago, Satdhara must have been so far from civilization that it offered monks the perfect place to go to when they wanted to give up worldly pleasure.

I visited in the evening and had a beautiful experience of walking from one stupa to the other whole watching the setting sun. The brick walls around each stupa gleamed as brightly as if the monument had just been erected yesterday.

Couldn’t resist clicking a picture or twenty with a background like this

As the sun set and I made my way back to the car, the area took on an almost eerie personality. The golden grass appeared drier than ever and I couldn’t help but notice a lot of spooky dead trees everywhere. The best of all, was one particularly large tree that was green on one side and completely withered on the other. Fun!

To the off-beat traveler who takes the pain of reaching this treasured spot, you definitely won’t regret it.

Udayagiri Rock Shelters 

The Udaygiri Rock Shelters are known to the best examples of classic Gupta art. Various caves cut into a sandstone hill dates back to before 600 AD. The most impressive one is the carving of Lord Vishnu in his boar avatar, rescuing the Goddess Prithvi by holding her up on one of his tusks.  You won’t need to spend more than 15-20 minutes here if you aren’t a history lover. If you are, you can easily spend an hour wandering around at leisure.

All these intricate rock-cutting reminded me a lot about the architecture in Hampi

Ever discovered an unknown place that should be in a travel guide-book but isn’t? Or met someone who gave you some great inside tip while travelling? I want to know!!

Comment below and as always, keep in touch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Toodles!

 

Whenever I come face to face with a monument that dates back to a ridiculously long time ago, I always wonder the same thing:

How is it that men with hammers, chisels and horses/elephants for transport manage to create world heritage sites that have stood the test of time? Building them in today’s day and age alone would itself be considered an impressive feat (more so since we haven’t figured out a way to make newly tarred roads last through a single monsoon.)

It was a sunny afternoon when we drove up to the sleepy little village of Sanchi, located 48 kms from Ratapani Range Retreat. In case you haven’t read my last post, it has all the deets on the beautiful guest-house in Sultanpur. Sanchi Stupa is one of the places that the hosts can take you to on a day trip.

Even before visiting Sanchi Stupa, I knew more or less what to expect. Like most Buddhist monasteries and monuments, it was an example of brilliant craftsmanship, supreme maintenance and it had the familiar sense of tranquility in the air.

As I crossed the manicured lawns, the massive monument loomed in the distance. Three spherical domes called Stupas – the first in the region, hold the relics of Buddha. It was built in the 3rd century BC by King Ashoka and was a mere brick structure that was gradually expanded to more than double its size.

As Hinduism slowly began to spread in the area, this Buddhist site began to decay until it was rediscovered in 1818 by a British Army officer who restored to its former glory.

I’m not going to get into much about the history of the Stupas (I was in too much pain from my sprained ankle to be listening to the guide) If you love history though, you can get a guide to give you a tour. However, walking around and admiring the detailed stonework is something that’s much better when done at leisure.

The four gateways depict scenes from the life of Lord Buddha, the Jatakas tales and the stories associated with Buddha in his earlier births. From him teaching his disciples to the famous Queen Maya’s dream with the descending elephant, every portion has been carved and maintained perfectly, giving more than just glimpses into life in that era. The thematic essence differs from pillar to pillar, but the style, attention to detail and creativity remains unanimous.

I think I’ll let the pi

m the Stupa. It used to be a place where monks making a pilgrimage to the Stupa used to live.

P.S. The squirrels here are bold!! They just scurry up to visitors and sniff around for food! Cheeky fellows!

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to know what you think about this post so comment below!

Catch ya later!

The driver made a sharp right as our jeep swerved to the left in calf-high mud. My mind jumps back to reality and I remember that I’m not caught up in traffic on Western Express Highway anymore.

I’m in a Mahindra Major Jeep, off-roading in slushy mud in the middle of a forest in Bhopal. The air smells like an earthy perfume – fresh from the rain, with floral, wooden tones that’s instantly calming.

Within the last two hours, I’d been picked up at Raja Bhoj Airport by Marvyn Paul, the second generation owner of Ratapani Range Retreat and have had a delicious breakfast with his wonderful aunt at her residence close to the airport. The family-run homestay I’ll be staying at is located about an hour and a half away from her home in the main city of Bhopal.

In fact, it’s located in the middle of a forest in an area called Sultanpur, not a place well known for tourism – yet astoundingly beautiful.

As Lakhan, the driver pulls up to the resort, we’re greeted by Badri, the cook and Neeraj, the hotel manager and as my bags are sent to my room, I’m taken on a tour of the quaint little homestay.

AMENITIES

Ratapani Range Retreat is, in every sense of the word, a hideaway! Being in the buffer zone of the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary, it is rich in both flora and fauna and low on mobile network. Within minutes of reaching the property, I was already mesmerized by a purple polka dotted butterfly and the sounds of a peacocks loud calls.

The heart of the property is a large Mediterranean-styled courtyard that’s simple and summery. Flanked on both sides by white-washed cement arched windows and doors, this acts as a place for guests to mingle and dine out, if they wish to. Occasionally, a tribal dance troupe is called from the village to entertain and dance with guests to spice up an evening.

One of my favourite spots in the retreat was the restaurant beside the courtyard. Since I visited in the monsoons, I immensely enjoyed watching the rain pour down while being protected behind the restaurant’s glass façade. A large cooler kept the temperature comfortable, but with frequent power cuts, its life was cut short, time and again, making me feel a little too hot for comfort.  However, the restaurant’s comfy interiors, with sofas, bookshelves and a music system makes for a soothing “chill-zone,” in Marvyn’s words.

I later learn a little about how the little homestay operates. Being so far away from the airport and railway station, adventurous guests can drive their way to the resort or choose to be picked up. Guests can also choose from a list of activities they’d like to perform – from visiting the nearby world heritage sites of Sanchi and Bhimbetka to kayaking in a nearby lake.

Ratapani Range Retreat believe in using local produce, grown in their property or bought within a 10 km radius and have plans to go entirely solar powered in the future. And I have to say…their staff is the most trustworthy bunch I’ve ever seen, who go out of their way to make guests feel at home.

THE ROOMS

RRR consists of 5 rooms – each the size of a little cottage. In the large balcony is a picnic table and pastel orange couch overlooking the forest. It was from this very spot that I blogged, read magazines and generally daydreamed from whenever I was in the property.

As you walk into the bedroom, you’re greeted by a fireplace and wood on one end, and a massive double bed on the other. The room has ample storage space, a large cooler that would come handy in the sweltering summer and a charming little wooden desk.

A door leads in towards a small powder room with a large mirror and further on into an enormous bathroom. The best part is a glass door that leads outside, revealing an open-to-the-sky shower! Not something you see every day!

Since it’s in the middle of the jungle, you can expect to find a bug, lizard or both in your room on any given day. However, if you keep your door closed in the evening, you’ll successfully keep mosquitos out.

The bedroom (and bed, in particular) was so comfortable and I loved being woken up by the sunlight streaming through the window! While the bathroom wasn’t anything special, it could have done with better lighting. Basic amenities like towels and soap is provided.

THE FOOD

The type of cuisine served at Ratapani Resort is lovingly called “Badri-style.” Badri, with his ever-smiling countenance would happily ask me what I’d like to eat every day, offering countless delicious sounding options. From the usual daal, rice, and vegetables to snacks like pakoras, fried fish and chicken, he churns out fantastic, homely food in the open kitchen behind the restaurant. His meals are complete with dessert at the end – rasgullas, halwa, and countless varieties of kheer when he got to know I had a soft spot for it!

The folks at RRR offer tours in an SUV to famous sights around the homestay and pack lunches for the day (complete with soft drinks and drinking water) so one doesn’t have to hunt for places to eat at. On one of the days, we stopped to relish some chicken kheema, parathas and… ahem, kheer… at the side of a river. If you’ve gone on a picnic before, you’ll agree that food tastes so much better out in the wilderness.

Badri didn’t spare the chance to overfeed us at breakfast, either. Simple fare like bread/toast and jam, poha and omletes always tasted like they were made with love. If you ever go there, do try out their filter coffee!

Ratapani Range Retreat doesn’t serve alcohol, but aren’t against the concept of BYOB. Yes, you can “bring your own booze” to sip with your meal at the restaurant or at the picnic table outside your room.

TGG TIPS

Carry bug spray/mosquito repellent. While you won’t need them in your room, you may need to spray some on if you want to sit outdoors in the evening.

It isn’t wheelchair accessible or very suitable for the elderly. Also, you may not want to take your pets along (in case they wander off into the sanctuary full of wild cats)

Visit in the monsoons when the jungle is thriving, streams are flowing and animals + birds come out to play. The area is extremely hot and arid in the summer and with the power cuts in the area, it wouldn’t make for a pleasant holiday.

THINGS THAT CAN BE IMPROVED

It’s easy to trip over stairs and rocks, especially in the dark. Some white paint or glow-in-the dark marks on stairs and edges would help make the resort safer.

I looooved my stay here – the warm people, the much needed break from honking cars and annoying phone calls, the call of nature… bliss!

I highly recommend you guys try it out for a weekend! You can book your stay at Ratapani Range Retreat here.

Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures in Bhopal! In the meanwhile, check out one of my latest posts on Phoebe’s Farm, Mumbai

Bye for now!

Disclaimer – My stay was sponsored, however, views, as always, are my own.