I love places where Nature rules. The less human invasion, the prettier the region. And there are some hidden gems under 100 km drive from Varanasi
Offbeat, next to the oldest living city in the world is unbelievable, but just a few hours’ drive from Varanasi, Nature has been left to flourish and please the human species. Thankfully! We had a lot on our explore list that day, from manmade to Nature-made.
The first stop was Chunar Fort. Looking at the blue waters of the Ganga flowing behind the Chunar Fort, the breeze seemed to sense my joy, for the branches of the trees moved gently, as if in a greeting. The uneasiness of an early morning drive was slowly vanishing under the clear, open sky.
Chunar Fort is located in Mirzapur district; I only knew of Mirzapur from the OTT series. Located on the banks of the Ganga that flows through the Vindhya range, Chunar is approximately 45 km from Varanasi. Legend says that Lord Vishnu placed his foot here as Vamana avatar during the reign of king Bali. It was called Charanadari then.
The fort might have been forgotten by time, but its mysteries and history continue to fascinate tourists. The structure goes back to 56 BC. It is built on a rocky bluff and we crossed a British cemetery on the way up the hilly terrain.
It is widely believed that the king of Ujjain, Maharaja Vikramaditya, built Chunar Fort to honour his elder brother Raja Bhrithari who became an ascetic. Apparently, Raja Bhrithari took Mahasamadhi at this fort. A temple is dedicated to the ascetic here. And a stone plaque with a quote from the Neeti Shatak written by him is installed at the entrance.
Going by the chronology, the king of Nepal also came here to worship the river mother. As per Alha Khand, King Sahadeo made this fort his capital and established the statue of Naina Yogini in a cave of Vindhya hill in1029 AD. The place was then called Nainagarh.
King Sahadeo also built a stone umbrella r mandap which covered the 52 pillars, commemorating the victory over 52 kings. His daughter, Sonwa, was to marry the bravest man, but unfortunately this umbrella or mandap never saw the marriage. She got married to the King of Mahoba and the mandap is preserved as Sonwa Mandap.
The fort attracted the Mughals too–Babar, Sher Shah Suri, Humayun, Akbar all took to the fort. And then later the Britishers’ took control in 1772 AD.
The fort was a main battalion during the independence struggle. State prisoners were held here. In the middle of 19th century, the king of Chunar gained control of the fort and hid his treasures here in the network of tunnels under the fort. Natives says that his spirit now guards the treasures. Well, we didn’t have the time to go on a treasure hunt and we didn’t meet the spirit either.
During the mutiny, Jind Kaur, wife of Maharaja Rnajit Singh of Punjab, was also held prisoner here. But she escaped, disguised as a maid and got political asylum in Nepal.
Much closer to our times, the fort attracted Naxalites, who used it as a training ground. Now, the government has made a police post at the entrance.
Visitors are only allowed in a small part which comprises the Sonwa mandap, jails, tunnel and a temple. There is a guest house, which was once the court of Sher Shah Suri and then housed Warren Hastings, the first governor general of Bengal (1772-1785). An ornate balcony overlooks the guest house, where queen Fateha Begum would sit. The guest house offers a magnificent view of the river. There is also a covered well in this area.
A little away from the main area, is the home of Warren Hastings. There is a magnificent sun dial in the backyard and the house is now used to keep excavated antiquities.
Timings: 9 am-5 pm. No entry after 2 pm. The fort is closed on Fridays.
Entry is free.
Best time to visit is from October to March.
There is a small tea shop and toilets are in the guest house. You have to request the caretaker to open those.
After this deep round of history, it was time to enjoy the magnificent waterfall at Aurwatand. This is a small village with a population of 265 people in Chakia tehsil, Chandauli district, about 40 km from Chunar. It comes under Naugarh S.O.
The raw rocky terrain of Chakia plateau, part of the Vindhya ranges, was magical. Where no man has gone…so it seemed. Two major rivers flow through this part– Chandraprabha and Karamanasha. The are also has Naugarh Dam, constructed after India’s independence.
From where we stood, the river stream flowed through the massive rocks to fall deep into a gorge. The vastness of the sky, the stillness of the rocks and the insignificant us! It could have been a jungle book, as we walked across a narrow ledge to a rock shelter where rock art was painted. We were transported to the prehistoric era. Not all treasures are manmade. One wrong step, and we could be part of the deep gorge. This spot needs more exploration, but maybe on another trip. Our drive continued to Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary.
This sanctuary was established in May 1957. The hunting ground of the rulers of Benares during the 18th century, it is a perfect escape from the humdrum of Varanasi. It is spread over 78 sq km on the Naugarh and Vijaigarh hillocks on the north slope of the Kaimur Range. The Karamnasha and Chandraprabha rivers form two stunning waterfalls here: Rajdari and Devdari, located with 700m.
The dry deciduous forest has mahua, saagun, amaltas, tendu, koraiya, ber trees. There are over 150 species of birds here and is home to leopard, wild boar, nilgai, sambar deer, chinkara, chital, blackbucks, gharials and python. It was also the home of the Asiatic lion once upon a time.
It is about 65km from Varanasi. So, if you would like to follow this itinerary, then its best to begin the day early. And do take packed breakfast, lunch and snacks along with a garbage bag. Carry your power bank and extra batteries too.
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