Secreted in a forest of teak and sal in craggy cliffs, 46km south of Bhopal, are more than 600 rock shelters (Indian/foreigner Rs 2/10, vehicle Rs 10; dawn-dusk); almost half contain prehistoric paintings.
Thanks to their natural red and white pigments, the colours are remarkably well- preserved and, in certain caves, paintings of different eras adorn the same rock surface. A gamut of figures and scenes spill across the rocks: wild buffaloes (gaurs), rhinoceroses, bears and tigers, hunting scenes, initiation ceremonies, childbirth, communal dancing and drinking sessions, religious rites and burials.
The oldest paintings (Upper Palaeolithic) in white, often of huge animals, are probably up to 12, 000 years old. Successive periods depict hunting tools, trade with the agricultural communities on the Malwa plains, and, still later, religious scenes involving tree gods. The latest are crude, geometric figures probably dating from the medieval period, when much of the artistry was lost.
The rock shelters are easy to find; 15 are accessible, signposted with a number (S1 to S15) and linked by a concrete path. A knowledgeable guide (agree on a fee beforehand) will point out the more obscure paintings and explain their significance. Zoo Rock Shelter (S4), famous for its variety of animal paintings, is one of the first you come to; S15 features a huge red bison attacking a helpless stick figure. There are no facilities here, so bring water.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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