Viewpoints and waterfalls are standard tourist fodder in any hill station, and Pachmarhi offers visitors a series of these. As a part of the Satpura Tiger Reserve, however, there are several deeply forested hideaways tucked into the folds of these mountains, accessible only by long, guided treks.
I heard about one such magical place from those clued in to Pachmarhi’s most secret and beautiful spots. A place where mountain streams converge and rare ferns cloak the hillside. A place known by many names – Sangam, Triveni, Tridhara, Fuller’s Pond. I could not, however, find any information online on Sangam or how to visit it.
The agenda for the Pachmarhi visit was to veer off the tourist trail, strengthening my resolve to visit this mysterious spot. We contacted a local guide, decided to leave the ‘view points’ for another day, and instead descend into the depths of the earth on a four-hour hike to Sangam.
At 6am, when we started our journey, the mountain mist still clung to the ground and dew carpeted the meadows. The teak and sal forests of the Satpura Tiger Reserve were ghostly in that mild morning light. Our party of five was the only human presence along the route that day. The trek to Sangam is around five kilometres one way and descends about 600 feet.
These are the highlands of Central India, first discovered by British Captain James Forsyth in 1857, as he pursed Tatya Tope during the Indian Rebellion. Soon after, Pachmarhi developed into a British cantonment town, and today it is popular with holidaymakers looking for a mountain getaway. But routes like this one are rarely traversed and take you through the most primordial landscapes.
When we start our trek through forested tracts, we have sweeping views over the sandstone Satpuras. Gradually, the earth opens up and dips in great folds, revealing yawning canyons and deep ravines. As the mountains begin to rise around us in sheer walls, ferns burst forth from the very rock. My guide Kishore Kavat presses a tiny fern onto the back of my hand. “Natural tattoo,” he says, revealing the silver imprint the leaf left on my skin.
The Pachmarhi Sanctuary is a botanist’s dream, with over 48 species of rare ferns and medicinal plants. Indian Giant Squirrels dart in the branches above us. The air is filled with bird calls, but they are hidden from view in the dense canopy. Moss and algae carpets the rock face, an indicator of the forest’s good health. We wind our way past trees of mahua and sal, acacia and teak, rare orchids and clumps of bamboo, the vegetation growing thicker as we descend into the belly of the earth. Very soon, we are slipping and sliding along non-existent trails, mushrooms the size of my palm sprouting on fallen logs, the ferns forming a low canopy above our heads. As we skip across a shallow stream, we spot a large monitor lizard concealed in the foliage.
The trek is tough, but the gains far outweigh the efforts. The forest is thriving, primeval, and untouched. When we finally arrive at our destination, the landscape is the stuff of postcards. Three wide streams flowing down the mountains converge in one crystal clear, boulder-strewn pool. Sheer walls of weathered rock rise around us. In this silent and undisturbed cradle of the wild Satpuras, we are truly dwarfed by the enormity of nature.
Wading across the icy water, I follow my guide into a natural rock gallery. The stream flows through a narrow gorge, where a neat slice in the mountain allows a sliver of light to pass through and reach us. The roots of an ancient ficus tree run all the way down the length of the mountain. Tiny fish nip at the skin of my feet. Only veering off the well-trodden tourist path could offer rewards like this.
For the Sangam trek, it is essential to obtain permission from the Forest Department and go with a guide. The trek is in the heart of the Satpura Tiger Reserve, and it is mandatory that you are supervised at all times.
Exercise caution at all times and listen to your guide. The terrain is tricky, and this is the habitat of wild animals.
Carry back all your snacks, bottles, and trash.
The trek is not suitable for children under 15.
Organise your permit and guide from the Bison Lodge. The Forest Department permit costs INR1100, and guide charges are around INR400.