|Chauragarh, Chhota Mahadev (Pachmarhi, MP)
An ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located on top of Chauragarh, the second highest peak of Satpura ranges in Central India, Pachmarhi (Madhya Pradesh). The shrine is also popularly known as Chhota Mahadeo Mandir. After Mahakal and Omkareshwar shrines in Madhya Pradesh, Chauragarh Chhota Mahadev temple witnesses the largest gathering of devotees during Mahashivratri and Nag Panchami. Mostly the devotees come from the adjoining states of Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Originally built by the King of Gond Dynasty, Sangram Shah (1488-1541 CE).
The shrine of Chhota Mahadev is unique in that there are thousands of Trishuls (Tridents) placed in a cluster inside the temple courtyard. During the festivals, devotees carry these huge tridents along the steep uphill tracks to offer them at the shrine as a mark of obeisance to Lord Shiva.
|Tridents (Trishul) placed at Chauragarh Shrine
Topography & Elevation
Driving further into the forests beyond Bada Mahadev for about fifteen minutes on a forest track is the foothills where one has to park the vehicle and then hike towards the Chauragarh peak.
|Entrance to Chauragarh (Chhota Mahadev) Trek, Foothills
Situated inside the Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve that covers a total area of about 4900 SqKM and three wildlife conservation sanctuaries namely: Bori, Pachmarhi & Satpura National Park. Needless to mention the area is well preserved with densely populated & lush green jungles which at certain valleys is not even penetrated by the sun.
|View of Satpura Forests from Chauragarh Trek
Chauragarh peak is at an altitude of about 4200 feet above sea level, with a steep but comfortable trek of about 1300 steps over a distance of 3.5 KMs, it is considered a moderately challenging hike. The round trip could take about three hours, excluding the time one would like to spend at the shrine and also enjoy the magnificent view of the Satpura Ranges. Any time of the year is a good time to take this hike between 6am to 6pm. Except for the two major festivals of Maha Shivratri and Nag Panchami, it is not a crowded trek and hence very enjoyable, with very few hikers seen around.
|Steps towards Chauragarh
“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.”
~ Mary Davis
Apart from the spiritual significance of Chauragarh being a famous pilgrimage shrine of Chhota Mahadev, it offers a great destination for nature, birding & photography enthusiasts. Known for the breathtaking sunrise view from the top, the quiet and lonely trek to the peak of Chauragarh itself is a tranquil and meditative hike. This serene and visually delightful trek is surrounded by spectacular dense forests and valleys of Satpura Ranges, a non-use conservation area protected under Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve, designated by UNESCO in 2009.
|View of Satpura Forests from Chauragarh Trek
The long winding wide & comfortable tracks are a mix of dirt-trail, natural rocky steps and well placed concrete steps, through a couple of smaller hills, natural water springs, ancient caves and plenty of scenic viewpoints, before the final steep uphill ascent to the Chauragarh peak. Hikers may like to slow down at the several viewpoints along the way, not just to rest but immerse into the never ending lush green valleys of Satpura Forests. Nature photography enthusiasts will find it hard to leave some of these spots, to get just one last shot of the majestic Satpura Forests under ever changing natural light and visuals, before they move ahead.
Although Chauragarh is less than half the elevation, it draws one’s attention more than once and reminds of the hiking trek to the famous Tiger’s Nest, Paro Taktsang Bhutan. Apart from both being spiritual destinations, the sight of the majestic mountains from the foothills and the abundant beauty of untamed nature along the trek is strikingly similar in character to both these hiking treks.
|Another majestic view of Satpura Forests from Chauragarh Trek
The hike is moderately challenging.
Anyone with average health can take this hike.
The trek takes about three hours of round trip, between 6am to 6pm.
There are beautiful spots and viewpoints along the way. Make use of them to take rest and enjoy nature.
Bring along a walking stick / hiking pole / monopod (if carrying photography gear) and water bottle, although there is naturally cooled potable clean drinking water through taps available at the shrine courtyard. In case carrying any bags, they must be lightweight and closed at all times.
Lots of monkeys on the way as we get closer to the peak, but they don’t bother if they are not bothered, therefore avoid any kind of interaction or eye contact with them.
Avoid carrying food items, packaged snacks or drinks. Never open any food packets or fancy packaged snack/drinks, as our ancestors (monkeys) are well aware of these items and will ensure they do not let you enjoy it alone. Plain water bottles instead of the fancy colourful ones are safest and will never attract their attention.
Photography enthusiasts are advised to take an early morning or late afternoon hike to catch ‘Golden Hour’ while in the mountains.
Coconuts offered at the shrine are broken outdoors, at the designated place in the temple courtyard. Be careful of monkeys around as they like to grab the broken coconut even before you know it.
Basic Do’s & Don’ts
The author is not a professionally trained hiker but shares a few helpful tips from personal experiences. Everyone is well aware and exposed to the latest trekking / hiking gear & accessories these days, but there is more to preparing for the hiking activity than just getting decked up with fancy gear.
- Know your trekking route. It is always good practice to do basic research & obtain basic information about the Trek: topography, weather conditions, flora & fauna, difficulty level etc.
- Humint (human-intelligence) is still considered the most dependable source of information in the mountains & wilderness. Casual interactions with returning fellow trekkers, local people, tea shops, vendors and professional guides at base camp, are the best resources.
- Know your physical endurance threshold and respect it.
- Prepare yourself mentally & physically before the trekking event.
- Do not set targets or achievement goals in terms of timeline or milestones during trekking, forget the competing part for once and just enjoy the activity itself.
- Consistency as per one's personal endurance is the key. Consistent speed with consistent intermittent rest at regular intervals, as desired by your body.
- Contrary to common wisdom, trekking downhill is more tricky and dangerous than moving up the elevation. Ofcourse, our body consumes less oxygen, demands lower energy and burns much less calories compared to trekking uphill over the same distance; hence considered easier than trekking upwards. But one has to be very careful balancing the gravitational effect on body-weight and body-roll as may spoil knees, ankles or toes, if body-weight is not distributed well. Although there is no ‘one size fits all’ method for trekking downhill, some of these basic points of caution may be considered:
- Never walk in a straight line down the slope,
- Step ahead with heel first, toe later,
- Shorten your strides / steps,
- Knees must always be relaxed,
- Flow with gravity.
- Balanced posture: Lean forward, never backwards,
- Finally, disposable packing materials & any other wastes are never meant to be left behind in pristine nature, and must always be carried back to the base camp and dumped in the designated bins.
The author is deeply connected to Satpura right from his early childhood, being a boarding student at Pachmarhi, popularly known as ‘Queen of Satpura’. During that era of non-digital lifestyle four decades back, a hiking trip to Chauragarh or any other such places in the mountains & jungles of Satpura used to be a playful weekend trip.
The author, an amateur photographer, has liberally shared a collection of pictures from his personal archives in this blog, for perspective & context. Do feel free to click them to enlarge and view in full resolution.