Finding Shiva in the caves of Pachmarhi

It was my second day in Pachmarhi.

The scenic roads of Pachmarhi

At 9.30 in the morning, I was all set to visit the famous Jatta Shankar caves. As Saeeb, our guide led the way, I feared it might be one of those Shiva pilgrimages where oodles of milk overflows into drains and mosquitos hover over these drains. Seeing the line of shops selling offerings further confirmed my fears.

However, the curiosity of experiencing caves with the natural formation of Shiva’s matted locks got me going.

We walked through a rocky path with boulders on either side.

The pursuit of Shiva


Boulder clad mountains

There were saffron-coloured Trishuls standing at every corner and air was filled with the ringing of bells in the many tiny temples on the way.

The rock-cut mountains and the sound of water were constant company till I saw an old lady with matted hair.

She sat on a rock, in rags, with unkempt hair and a wrinkled face selling oils to cure joint pain.

As I moved ahead, she began to sing. I stopped. Her voice had nothing to do with age or frame.

She sang and the robust voice reverberated across the ridge.

Here’s a video:

Words could give goosebumps and here was proof. Her “Om Namah Shivay” cut through the boulders and resonated straight back while a crowd assembled to listen to her. 

She continued singing as I walked towards the cave, her chanting kept ringing in my ears.

The magical rays

I take the final staircase to go down to the caves and the scene is nothing short of dramatic.

Sun rays filtered through the trees falling perfectly on the perpendicular stack of Trishuls outside the cave. The fumes of smoke from the Havan swirled  higher and higher creating a surreal atmosphere. And when this smoke met the morning rays, magic was created. For a moment, everything around me dissolved. The people, the murmurs, even the ringing of bells seemed distant.

The Trishuls stood against the backdrop of an enormous mountain. As devotees bend down and entered a small horizontal opening, I ventured around to absorb the aura of the place.

The cluster of Trishuls

It was mystic and the place reeked of positive, powerful vibes. On one had were two sides of the mountains trying to meet each other , on the other hand were huge boulders hanging precariously as if stuck between the mountains.

Inside the cave, the lights were dim and I could see many natural rock formations (shivlings). These are actually stalagmites, round in shape revered as natural lingams.

It is said that every Shivratri, a snake visits these and leaves the cave. The ceiling of the cave has a formation of snakes which resemble the matted locks of Lord Shiva, hence the name Jatta Shankar. There was water on the floor of the cave as well as water dripping from the ceiling. No-one knows the source of water, which is popularly known as Gupt Ganga.

Once out of the cave, you can see two small ponds (Not so clean), fed by springs.

The unique surroundings of Jatta Shankar, coupled with the aura of the place, draws so many pilgrims/tourists to this place.

I left with the echo of the lady’s voice and the chirping of birds ringing in my ears, still in awe of the enormity of the boulders.

Story of Jattashankar temple: It is believed that Bhasmasur, a devotee of Lord Siva wanted a special power to turn anyone to ashes with his touch on their head. When he was granted this by Shiva, Bhasmasur misused the power by trying to test it on Shiva himself. Shiva had to flee and take refuge in this cave.

Temple timings: 7am to 7 P.M

Do not forget to munch on the local mulberries sold in tiny packets on the pathway to the temple.

My pursuit of Shiva continues. It was now time to head to Bada Mahadev, a shrine located at a distance of 10 kms from Pachmarhi. The journey to the cave was scenic but the place is infested with monkeys waiting for pilgrims to get their food packets out. This cave isn’t as dramatic as Jatta Shankar but is definitely bigger and longer. Water droplets ooze out of the rocks constantly and collect in a pool (kund). A cluster of Trishuls is present here as well. There aren’t any natural Shivlings here, but Saeeb brings attention to one very unique Shivling, which he claims, dates back to the 7th century.

There is also a Parvati cave nearby, dedicated to Shiva’s wife, Parvati.

Story of Bada Mahadev temple: 

It is believed that Lord vishnu killed Bhasmasur here by tricking him, looking like a beautiful woman, taking the avatar of Mohini.

At a walking distance from Bada Mahadev is the Gupt Mahadev temple. If it weren’t for the sign and the saffron flags, you’d probably miss the opening of the cave. The cave is so narrow, that I wondered how I’d ever enter it. The priest instructed that only two people can slide in and walk sideways to see the shrine inside.

When these two come out, another pair will be let in( there wasn’t any scope of traffic jams of course).This was fascinating. Your body is pressed between the two walls of the caves and you inch towards a small ray of light. The cave is so well camouflaged that the name Gupt (secret)  Mahadev is apt.

The path ahead of Gupt Mahadev leads to Chauragarh, one of the holiest shrines for Shiva devotees, a steep 4 km climb with 1300 steps.

You can see the shrine from Forsyth’s point and I make a mental note to return someday, to see devotees carrying Trishuls on their shoulders to offer at the temple.

Chauragdh as seen from Forsyth’s point

Saeeb tells me there are lakhs of trishaws up there, of all metals, even Gold and silver. They are auctioned later. It is said that if his wish is fulfilled, the devotee offers a Trishul at the temple.

Other caves in Pachmarhi: 

Reechgadh caves

The Reechgadh caves

In my cave hopping, I came across another extremely intriguing cave: The Reechgadh caves are a geological wonder. The route to the caves is extremely picturesque and the caves themselves are beyond gorgeous. It is a 15 minute climb but absolutely worth it. Kusum trees add colour to the rocky terrain as I walked on twisted tree roots.

Reaching the entrance, my jaw dropped in awe. I hadn’t seen such a magnificent cave ever.

Suddenly feeling like an explorer, I crawled inside the catacomb corridors only to find bats inside!

The place is called Reechgadh as it was once the favourite haunt of bears. I adored it too. The huge cave, the solitude, peeping out of dark tunnels, and of course climbing a tree as well.

Pandav caves:  another famous tourist spot in Pachmarhi are the Pandav caves( it is believed that the Pandavas stayed here for a while during their exile).

The caves overlook a beautiful and well-maintained garden and as they are perched on a small hill they offer panoramic views of Pachmarhi.

No one can enter them as all of them are sealed and yes, they do lack the magnificence of the other caves, but the climb is worth the view you get.

Pachmarhi is a beautiful, highly underrated place. From mysterious caves, to fragrant jungles, gorgeous waterfalls and ofcourse, to find Shiva!

The magical sunset at Pachmarhi


94 thoughts on “Finding Shiva in the caves of Pachmarhi

  1. This place really packs a ‘panch’ I say!! So many places to explore and so many stories behind all of them. Really amazing! Jaw-dropping rock formations and light-play in the caves. Loved the vivid narration of your entire journey. The old woman’s chanting sure does reverberate….har har mahadev!!

    1. Indeed Kala, our country has so many places with stories waiting to be explored. The rock formations are beyond gorgeous 🙂 Thanks so much for reading! 🙂

  2. Hey, love your pictures, those sun rays are amazing, almost surreal! And love that video as well, one can really imagine the atmosphere of the lady singing among the rocks. Lovely post! 🙂

  3. Wow! The cave is so stunning! All your pictures are incredibly amazing. Even I just look at them from the computer, “my jaw dropped in awe” as well.

  4. Oh snap such a great post here. Your pictures are phenomenal! That sounds like such an epic experience. Your an amazing storyteller, I felt like I was there the whole time. Crazy cool!

  5. What an interesting adventure! This would something that our family would really enjoy – so different from anything we have ever done before! I”ll have to do some research on Shiva as I’m not as familiar as I would like to be before I try to explain to the kids. Great post! 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot Natalie. Shiva is an Indian deity, worshipped widely in India 🙂 Google will help or you can hit me up anytime!

  6. As I have been to Bhopal several times but missed Panchmarhi. Temples in Panchmarhi look antique n beautiful. According to you how many days are enough to be spent here?

  7. I’ve always been fascinated by caves and can see why they could be tied to religious significance. The photos in this are stunning. This region may now have to be added to my to do list.

  8. This looks like an amazing adventure. Such fascinating stories we have in our country. Loved the stories that you have mentioned about the boon Lord Shiva granted. Such interesting stories. Also I love the pictures you have in this post, so beautiful. I love visiting temples only because of the stories that are associated and the architecture that we get to see. Truly beautiful!

  9. I watched the video. The woman looks like a protector of the caves. The narrow paths look daunting. I like the mountain views. There are so many different layers and colors of the rock formations. Overall, this was a good adventure.

    Iza c/o Kathy James (Walk About Wanderer)

  10. Visiting the Jatta Shankar caves sounds like a mystical experience. The sound of the woman’s voice, the sun slanting through the rocks and legendary snakes … I would love to visit and experience these unique caves for myself.

  11. So glad to have got a chance to read this post. Your narration is beautiful and the photos have truly captured the essence of the place. I felt like I was there while listening to that lady’s voice and then seeing your video with Uma Mohan’s voice in the background. Pachmarhi seems like a beautiful and adventurous place which we should plan to visit soon.

  12. I had a lovely time at Pachmarhi. I loved it because there are not much crowds (I went in October) and because of its easy access to Bhopal. I stayed at the heritage bunglow which was another memorable experience. I found the mountains similar as the Sahyadris of Maharashtra.

  13. Your quest to find Shiva makes me realize how limited my knowledge is of all of the wonders of India. I think I’d need a year of traveling in the country to really get a grasp of all of the corners worth exploring!

    1. Trust me Julie, I have been traveling inside the country since the kid and I feel there is just so much to discover. One lifetime isn’t enough!

  14. The caves are so stunning. They really are geological wonders. And I love the bright blue on that Shiva icon. I really wish I could have gone here myself to hear the magic of the old lady singing in person!

  15. The old lady singing really adds to experience! I’d love to visit India and learn more about Shiva. The caves look like a true adventure with all the climbing and squeezing into tight places. Thanks for highlighting another fascinating sight to see in India!

  16. I love your photos of the rays of light through the rock – it looks magical! The caves themselves are stunning. I could spend a whole day just wandering round admiring the different rock formations – and of course taking lots of pictures!

  17. What an interesting experience! I love your writing which makes me feel as if I was there with you. It must be quite an adventure to walk through the Gupt Mahadev cave!

  18. Lady with the matted hair lady chanting mantras…sounds so eerie! The pictures are fabulous and bring out the mysterious vibe of the caves very well. I guess its very secluded.

    1. I found her chanting powerful than eerie:) looks can be misleading:) thank you Punita! They are not crowded but not secluded.

  19. Wow! I actually got goose bumps. There is for sure something in that ladies voice and the way she is chanting those Mantras, OMG! I watched the video twice, its too good. I could sense the aura of the place in your writing as well as pictures and now thinking what the real place would be like.

  20. The video was a great addition to this post. The caves really come to life when you see it like that. I wonder if that lady stays out there all the time.

  21. Ohh I just love places like mystical and facinating. I love how rooted the religion is these places. It nearly turns me as a non-believer to start believing that there is more to it =) Stunning pictures too…so where excatclty is pachmarhi? I’ll go to India next winter and I’d love to check this place out if it is close to some of the places I plan to visit =)

    1. Pachmarhi is in Central India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is a 5 hour drive from Bhopal. Which places are you planning to visit in India? Would be happy to help with any info:)

  22. What a wonderful expedition. The spiritual aura surrounding the caves is mystical and contemplating at the same time. The secret cave looks very fascinating we wonder what would be its story of discovery. So many interesting mysterious stories to learn.

  23. Wow! What an experience!!! 7th C Shivling? That’s interesting! The voice of the lady is just so echoing! To be able to experience her singing in that place, in that environment, you’re incredibly gifted I must say! When I meet people like them, I feel they are the Gods themselves in human forms (no, not talking about Godmen, talking about people who look so poor but are so incredibly gifted with great helping tendency, but don’t expect money from us)!!! The place looks so surreal! I’d love to explore this!!!

  24. The caves offer stunning natural beauty. I’m sure you pictures as surreal as they are, don’t do them justice in real life. I’ve just added this location to my list!

  25. Believe it or not Divsi, I have this post open on my laptop since friday evening. Read it during my lecture and I was sent back to a similar place near Deoghar.
    Dont you feel caves and sudden religious forms in the lap of nature have some power in them?

  26. This looks like a really amazing and spiritual place to visit. The rays of sunshine looks beautiful as it penetrates through the rocks. Thanks for sharing this amazing experience!

  27. Wow so many incredible cave experiences – the pilgrimage to find Shiva led you through some really mystical places – I can imagine the aura and atmosphere throughout many of these would have been quite powerful and intense!

  28. Yes the shivling was an offering to the temple by Chandra gupta Maurya ( acc to the guide). Did not verify this fact so really can’t state it with conviction.
    The lady one of the highlights of Jatta Shankar.
    I know what you mean 🙂 and such people are so very rare.

  29. Pretty incredible, could hear the water flowing then the old lady singing and that sight where light mixes with smoke quite mystic and awesome. Great photos.

  30. I can imagine the powerful vibes there, your description adds so much power to the place.

    I’ve never been to such a site, though I am a follower of Lord Shiva. I often wanted to do Amarnath Yatra, but haven’t done it either.
    Maybe some day I’ll visit this wonder too.

  31. Such a mystic and mysterious post Divyakshi…loved reading it all! And your pictures are fascinating too…especially the one with sunrays falling on the Trishul – divine light 🙂

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