We are driving from Bhopal to Bori in Madhya Pradesh on 30th of this October. On the way, my host, a forester friend, Shashi asks me, “would I like to see some caves, rock shelters and ancient rock paintings?’ I say, “Yes, I will love it.” In no case, I want to miss any of these hidden treasures.
And it’s not far. Just a little off our route. The place is called Bhimbetka and lies just 45 km from Bhopal in the adjacent Raisen district. As we get off the highway, I can see area is hilly and forested. Shashi tells me, “These are Vindhyan Hills. Interestingly, we are in Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary.”
Frankly, I knew nothing about Bhimbetka Shashi has been talking about, but the very first look blows me out of my wits. OMG, OMG, OMG… It’s massive, out of the world and unique. It’s ‘World Heritage Site’, and only one of this kind. I read the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Signage – ‘The site remained a centre of human activity right from lower Palaeolithic times up to medieval period’! Unbelievable.
The caves are actually rock shelters. This is not some normal stuff or tit-bit tourist destination. The first line of introductory signage of ASI makes you say ‘wow’. It’s not one, two, three, four, five but ‘750 rock shelters in seven hills in around 10 square kilometre area’. Wow again.
I and Shashi know that our knees are good enough for few of them only. Luckily, about a dozen of them we see, we get good feel and hint of what all is here. I am of course, wonderstruck.
The first one is a massive rock protruding over, and providing shelter to few plane rocks, may be 30 square metre area. There is model displayed under the rock of a family busy in different cores.
Next to this is a massive rock shelter, with large entrance and towering top. This is interestingly called ‘Auditorium’. Hindi word mentions this as ‘Sabha Grah’ i.e. Assembly Hall. As we walk through, we can see ages old nature’s wonder in the naturally carved rocks and man’s wonder in the shape of ‘cup-marks’ made on the rock surface. These cup-marks have been dated to one lakh years old! ‘How many generations would that be’, I wonder. A lay man cannot appreciate the importance of these cup marks. According to ASI, ‘this pushes back the date of the cognitive development of man at Bhimbetka to many thousands of years earlier than that of similar sites in various parts of the world. Making it one the earliest cradles of cognitive human evolution.’
Most of the rock shelters have ancient paintings. There are largely depiction of man and animals and tools. These are, of course, with theme e.g. family life, festive life i.e. music and dancing, forest, hunting, warfare…
At places, we have to step back to avoid disturbing the scene. Here and there, we find young couples, hidden in nukes and corners, real people, sheltering in these rock shelters to live some romantic moments similar to those the stone-age man lived.