Photographs by: Dr. Ruchi Mital
Edited by: Ms. Sharmila Nasarpuri
Years ago, I attended a presentation by Mr. K.K Mohammad from The Archeological survey of India, who was working on the restoration of the Bateshwar group of Temples, near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. It was fascinating to hear of his travails, dedication and challenges on the project, and I promised myself a visit. It is actually ironic that I could visit the place only in September 2019 as Gwalior is a yearly pilgrimage because of immediate family there.
These group of sandstone temples lie in the Chambal valley and work was started in 2005. According to Mr. Mohammad, they were probably demolished by an earthquake and preserved by the presence of dreaded dacoits in the area. He was able to find almost all the broken pieces to resurrect the temples. The dacoit Nirbhay Singh Gujjar offered his protection and support. On his death the powerful sand mafia moved in and it took all sorts of efforts to stop the mining.
Today the Complex is protected and the temples boast their former glory, resting in verdant green and pristine surroundings. There is still a lot more work to be done as it is believed there are about 365 temples, 200 found and 80 restored. Most of the temples are dedicated to lord Siva and some to Lord Vishnu. The carvings and sculptures are not defaced and exquisitely executed.
We left Delhi, and following Google, we figured that if we went to Bateshwar from Agra and then to Gwalior we would save some time as it formed a triangle. Unknown to us our adventure had just begun. We took the Agra Lucknow Expressway, saw a Bateshwar sign and got off the main highway. Interestingly the road was narrow, with fields on both sides. The topography resembled the ravines of Chambal letting us believe we were on the right path. We drove through serene surroundings with lush greenery on both sides. On travelling a distance of about 36 km we reached a river bank with a group of white washed temples which were in use. There was also a fort structure nearby. On enquiring the people there confirmed that yes these are the said Bateshwar group of temples also known as ‘Bah Bateshwar’. Uh Oh!!! …but we are looking for broken down sandstone temples in the process of restoration from around 9th Century? We decided to go across the fort wall and reached a dead end. It had a huge Nemichand Jain temple plus a Dharmarshala (guest house). The guard, was unaware of any place resembling the pictures I was showing him on my phone. When asked how far we are from Gwalior, he looked perplexed and said that we were in the state of Uttar Pradesh and not Madhya Pradesh. Ok, mystery solved. Right name wrong state, approximately 150 km off course and 5.30 in the evening. So, the only thing left to do was travel 133 km to Gwalior and catch up with our hotel booking.
In spite of knowing about them, we managed to reach another group of ancient temples in the State of Uttar Pradesh by the same name. These temples are very much in use and definitely were not our destination. Even Google did not throw up that there are two group of temples one in Uttar Pradesh and the other in Madhya Pradesh. Interestingly there is a Bateshwara temple in Odhisha and one in Bangla Desh which I came to know about after returning to Delhi and searching Google.
Our first day was wasted and we reached Gwalior late night to start our journey again the next day. My sister, myself and my husband left for Bateshwar the next day stocked with food and water as the location is indeed remote.
This time Bateshwar was definitely our destination and after taking directions at the hotel we left for our trip. Unfortunately, there were no signages for Bateshwar and most of the local people were unaware. After the day before, we were unwilling to trust google. After a number of false starts we took the Airport road and drove for approximately 13 km before reaching a flyover crossing. Turned left, drove 5 km and turned right on a dirt track hard to identify as a road. We reached a temple complex of Lord Shani popularly known as Shanishchariya. The entire way we travelled on a mud road under construction, full of ruts made by tractors and heavy-duty machinery used for construction. In fact, one of the truck drivers asked us to follow him to show part of the way. Asking at every point and every villager we saw on the way, and driving for100 km we finally reached the Temple complex. Ahh!!! BLISS! Mission accomplished!!! This is a really beautiful, serene and well maintained complex and as soon as we entered a peacock walked in, in all its glory and danced for us. What a welcome!!! It could not be better. It was really well worth a visit and we forgot our detour in the face of such sheer beauty of the place.
On the way back to Gwalior we travelled a distance of only 33km via Malanpur, Gwalior’s Industrial Area.