Hidden away in teak and sal forest in the craggy hills south of Bhopal, the Bhimbetka rock shelters comprise more than 600 caves and hollows that were in continuous use from the early Stone Age to medieval times. Over 400 of these World Heritage–listed shelters contain thousands of rock paintings, and thanks to the intensity of the natural red and white pigments, the colours are remarkably well preserved.
A circus of human and animal figures dances across the rocks: gaurs (Indian bison), rhinoceroses, elephants and tigers share space with scenes of hunting and battle and snapshots of daily life: initiation ceremonies, childbirth, dancing, drinking, religious rites and burials. The oldest paintings, in red, often of huge animals, are thought to be 12,000 years old. In some shelters paintings of different eras are superimposed on each other (making decipherment tricky).