Many tourists say that you have not seen the vibrant culture of India if you have not been to the pious city of Chitrakoot. I could not agree with them more. For people, it is a soul-stirring land that transports them to a different era. Located on the banks of the pious Mandakini River in Madhya Pradesh, the sacred city is a potpourri of devotion, legend and traditions. It is a place of purification and spiritual enlightenment. Natural lush-green forests, cascading streams, beautiful waterfalls, aesthetically carved temples and calls of ‘Jai Sri Ram’, lend the region a heavenly feel, which penetrates the whole atmosphere and makes one feel closer to the Lord. For me, it is a city, possessing a divine magnetic pull that calms the senses and soul.
I was blessed to visit this holy place in the month of May this year and trust me, it does not matter how much you had Googled, watched videos or read books, for when I arrived in Chitrakoot for the first time, it was like being born all over again. You are no longer watching or reading about it, you are right there feeling enamored by the rich cultural heritage and tranquil surroundings. Well, for many people who are not aware of Chitrakoot’s significance, I would feel fortuned to tell that it is a prominent place cited in the great Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’. Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman spent eleven of their 14 years of ‘Vanvaas’ (exile) in this holy city. The enchanting and peaceful environment acted as a source of inspiration for the renowned poet Goswami Tulsidas to write Ramcharitmanas, a poem in Awadhi depicting the life of Lord Rama. The place is dotted with many temples and sacred attractions that help to retrace the footprints of Lord Rama.
Perched on the banks of Mandakini River, Ramghat is an important center of many ritual activities. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Madhya Pradesh. Legend has it that Lord Ram along with Sita Ji and Laxman, took bath here after arriving in Chitrakoot. I was told by the local saints that it also happens to be the place where Tulsidas met Lord Rama and Laxman. There is a very interesting story behind the meeting of the Lord and his ardent devotee. Let me share it with you. Tulsidas was making a sandal paste when Lord Ram and Laxman disguised as two kids asked him to put a tilak on their forehead. Tulsidas happily marked the tilak without knowing that the kids were God. Lord Hanuman made Tulsidas recognize the Lord by reciting the famous verse, which is still engraved in my heart:
Chitrakoot ke ghaat pai bhai santan ki bheer,
Tulsidas chandan ghise tilak det Raghubeer.
The above verse means that on the ghats of Chitrakoot, Tulsidas used to rub chandan (sandalwood) and put a tilak on the forehead of Lord Rama. The aarti performed here every evening proved to be an ultimate delight to the eyes and helped me to experience the holy bliss. The main highlight of Ramghat is the unforgettable boat ride across the Mandakini River. Morning time is the perfect time to enjoy boating and seeing the first golden rays of the sun. I was simply astonished by the tranquility of the place with sounds of mantras and slokas. I sat on the stairs of the Ghat and cherished the spiritual environment of the place.
My next stopover after Ramghat was Kamadgiri. It is a verdant hill that is considered to be the heart of Chitrakoot. The place is swarmed by tourists all around the year as they perform a ritual parikrama (circumambulation) of the hill. One of the major temples of Shri Kamatanath is nestled on the parikrama path. The sounds of devotees chanting ‘Sita Ram‘ with the tinkle of bells, coupled with the smell of incense sticks make the ambience of the place extremely peaceful and holy. Hundreds of devotees, sages and tourists like me visit Chitrakoot to discover the place of considerable religious importance. I decided to carry out parikarma early in the morning, and was greeted by plenty of monkeys all the way. The whole area is replete with dense forests and lush-green surroundings tendering a sense of calm to every visitor. There are several shrines located on the way dedicated to Lord Rama. After sometime, I felt extremely hungry and it began to feel like rats jumping inside my stomach. To my respite, there wre many shops along the way that sell various lip-smacking local snacks like samosas, pakoras, jalebies, cold drinks and other items. I immediately quenched my hunger by munching a plate full of delectable samosas. I have to admit that the food offered by the street-side dhabas or shops can give a tough competition to some of the best hotels in Chitrakoot. Finally, after two hours, I completed my circumambulation and felt enlightened.
After the memorable drive through the woods, I reached Sati Anusuya Ashram, which is around 17 km from Ramghat. It is a popular Chitrakoot tourist place and the backdrops of the mountains, chirping of the birds, make the whole environment serene. There is a temple situated in the Ashram, which is dedicated to Devi Anusuya. The architecture of the three storied Ashram depicting many scenes of the Ramayana captivated my attention. My guide informed me that Sati Anusuya brought down the Mandakini River to quench the thirst of her husband Maharishi Atri (one of the first Saptha Rishis). That is why the place is known as the birthplace of Mandakini River. Be CAREFUL with the monkeys wandering around the ashram. They are many in numbers and if you try to offer them eatables, then make sure you hold the packet tightly, otherwise you are inviting trouble.
I came back from the Sati Anusuya Ashram to my hotel and rested for the night. The next morning, I went to Janaki Kund. It is a place where Goddess Sita used to take bath during the period of exile from Ayodhya. It is a unique cave and one has to climb the steps to reach the pristine pool, located on the left bank of the Mandakini River. The footprints of Sita can still be seen here and are worshipped by the devotees. There is a temple nearby the pool dedicated to Lord Rama and Sita. People throng this place in large numbers to bathe in the crystal-clear waters. It is one of the most recommended places to see in Chitrakoot. Reaching this place is not a big hassle as you can quite easily reach it by road or by taking a boat ride from Ramghat.
The overnight rain had made the climate salubrious for my trip to Hanuman Dhara. I got off from my car to trek up to the hill to reach Hanuman Dhara temple. Along the way Jasmine oil bottles and sindoor (vermillion) packs were being sold as an offering for Lord Hanuman. A baoli (Stepwell) captured my attention, but I resisted the temptation to walk down to it and continued with the trek. Many black faced monkeys can be seen climbing from tree to another. After I reached the top of the hill, I was surprised to see a stream of water falling upon the Idol of Lord Hanuman. The pujaris told me that this stream of water was created by Lord Ram to cool off the body of Lord Hanuman after burning Lanka, the kingdom of demon king Ravana. The water that falls on the idol eventually fills the nearby kund, which makes the environment delightful. I was simply enthralled by the lovely ambience of this Hindu pilgrimage site and returned with unforgettable memories.
The magnificent Bharat Milap Temple is a place where Bharat (one of the younger brothers of Lord Rama) came to meet Lord Ram and offered him the kingdom of Ayodhya. According to mythological stories, the meeting between the two brothers was so overwhelming that even the stones melted. Their footprints can still be seen engraved in the stones. I was told by my guide that in the months of October and November, a fair is organized every year. The fair is known by the name ‘Bharat Milap Mela’, which is celebrated with great pomp and enthusiasm. Thousands of devotees and visitors come here to participate in the fair and see the vivid cultural heritage of the sacred city.
Next, I visited Gupt Godavari, which is primarily a cave temple. It is around 18 km away from Ramghat. My car broke down mid way, and I was running out of time, so, I didn’t have much option, but to catch a bus to Gupt Godavari. The bus was filled with devotees going to Gupt Godavari. Their sweet bhajans still reverberate in my ears. Finally, after some 15-20 minutes, I reached my desired destination. As I entered the cave, I suddenly felt very warm and the rocky walls were quite remarkable and seemed like they have been cut from the huge eclectic saws. The caves are filled with crystal-clear spring water and it is believed that the water is connected to the Godavari River underground. That is why the place got the name Gupt Godavari. Walking barefoot on the cold water was certainly a very delightful experience. The Panchmukhi Shiva located outside the caves also attracts the visitors.
I reached Sphatik Shila in the middle of light rain, which enhanced the beauty of the lush-green place. There is a large boulder in the place that contains the footprints of Lord Rama and Goddess Sita. According to the priests there, the place is blessed by Lord Ram and Devi Sita. This is because, Rama and Sita used to sit on this boulder and adorn the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. There is a translucent lake flowing beside the Shila and one can see different kinds of fishes in it. It also has a number of temples and interesting places to see in Chitrakoot.
In my view, it is one of the best places to visit in Chitrakoot. The museum is surrounded by a lush garden and a large idol of Lord Hanuman which just fascinated me. The museum contains the sculptural depiction of Ramayana and the life of Lord Rama. There were ducks all around the museum that further exemplified the beauty of the place. I offered some food to the ducks and clicked some pictures for my memories album.
Another attraction that my guide took me was Bharat Koop, one of the famous pilgrimage destinations in Madhya Pradesh. Here, I was quite intrigued to see the well and people worshipping it. When I inquired about the same from the nearby priest, he told me that Bharat collected the water from several divine rivers and places to anoint Lord Rama when he was made the king of Ayodhya. After the anointment ceremony was over, the water was then poured into a deep well. It is believed that the putting of drops of water on the heads purifies an individual and cleanses his or her sins. There is also a temple of Lord Rama beside the well where the devotees offer prayers.
Sita Rasoi (Kitchen) is perched at an altitude of about 100 feet above Hanuman Dhara temple. It is considered to be the place where Devi Sita cooked food. The place is extremely alluring and peaceful. The place is enveloped by several trees. What captivated my attention was the small rolling pin (chakla belan) that was built on the rock. From this place, one can have an excellent view of the whole Chitrakoot village.
My last day of the trip to Chitrakoot was reserved for a travel to Sharbhanga Ashram, which is around 30 kms away from the city. The pleasant drive took us through some of the dense forests of Madhya Pradesh. It is essentially a place where several sages meditated for hundreds of years to get salvation and spiritual knowledge. The place contains ruins of many temples that were demolished by the Mughal king, Aurangzeb. The interesting part of the place is that the language, carved on the walls of the temples, still remains a mystery for the historians, archaeologists and scholars. Well, after spending some wonderful time in the ashram, I got ready to explore the nearby excursion places and cities of Chitrakoot, taking back with me some pleasurable memories and a rich dose of spiritualism.
After paying obeisance to the Lord and visiting many prominent attractions, I felt the desire to explore other famous gems, historical places and picnic spots of Madhya Pradesh. So I formulated a travel plan for picnic to visit some sightseeing places around Chitrakoot.
These are the majestic waterfalls with the water falling from a height of about 128 mts. It is nestled 45 km from Rewa city in the north-eastern part of Madhya Pradesh. A visit to this spellbinding place fills you with great joy and happiness. If you are planning a sightseeing tour in Madhya Pradesh, then it is a must visit place. It is like you are spending a peaceful time in the lap of the Mother Nature.
Famous as the summer capital of Maharaja Rewa, Govindgarh is located on National Highway number 7, about 19 kms away from Rewa. The place is popular for verdant landscapes, juicy mangoes and white tigers. It is arguably one of the best tourist destinations in Madhya Pradesh. I did not miss the chance to visit the great Govindgarh Palace that serves as the personal museum of the Maharaja. A very interesting thing friends that I would like to share with you all is that the first white tiger, named Mohan, which was captured in the year 1951 by the Maharaj Martand Singh, was kept in this palace.
The magnificent caves are situated in the Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh. It is one of the major historical places in Madhya Pradesh. The location of the ancient caves is very fascinating as they are nestled in the middle of the jungle. The sculptures of the caves exhibit the history, tradition and culture of the place. I would definitely like to compare the caves with the Ajanta and Ellora caves.
Situated in Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh, Sohagpur contains the amazing Hayahaya temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Here, Lord Shiva is known as Virateswara. The temple, one the most revered religious sites in Madhya Pradesh, has a very large hall and a square-shaped sanctum that attracts devotees and visitors from various parts of India. The temple has a very close similarity to the Khajuraho temple.
I still had 2-3 days left with me and I decided to utilize the leisure time to explore the nearby cities of Chitrakoot. So, I asked my guide to take me to the prominent cities where I can spend some unforgettable time.
The place is considered as the heart of ‘Hinduism’. It was earlier known by the name of Prayag. The Kumbh Mela that is held every 12 years sees millions of people thronging the place to get a dip in the Ganga River. I visited some of the major attractions of the place like Sangam, Allahabad Fort, Bade Hanumanji Mandir, Chandra Shekhar Azad Park and Anand Bhavan.
Kanpur, renowned as the industrial capital of Uttar Pradesh is a hub of many industries such as leather, plastic, electronics, automobiles, chemicals and so on. The name of the city is believed to have originated from Kanhiyapur, which is one of the names of Lord Krishna. I relished the opportunity to visit some of the well-known attractions of the city like Allen Forest Zoo, Jain Glass Temple, Moti Jheel, Kanpur Memorial Church and Phool Bagh. These destinations are also ideal for planning joyful family vacations.
Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh is a beautiful city and guarantees plenty of merriment. The Nawabi city as it is popularly known, offers mouthwatering cuisines and beautiful tourist attractions. The famous Tunde ke Kabab delighted my taste buds and they were so delicious that I ordered one more plate of the Kababs. On my return from the city, I did not forget to take the famous Mungfali (Groundnut) ki Chikki for my kids.
Now, after going through the blog, many of you may be planning a trip to Chitrakoot and if that is a case, then I would definitely help you to reach the place in a hassle-free manner. There is no best time to visit this holy place as you can plan a journey any season. The holy city of Chitrakoot can be conveniently reached through three different modes:
One thing I want to say about my sacred holidays in Chitrakoot that it is a voyage towards finding everlasting happiness of mind, body and soul. This tour gave me a wonderful chance to get more insight about Ramayana. The entire city is so divine that you can actually feel the blessings of the God everywhere. Get the marvel of lush forests of Incredible Madhya Pradesh, relish the mesmerizing beauty of the Vindhya mountains, meet the friendly village people and experience their culture. The city is truly a great representative of all we speak about classical India. I would be definitely visiting the city again, what about you?