Monday, March 16, 2009

Train Diaries : Hemalkasa and Anandwan

Plan : To travel 2500 Kms in 5 days.

Objective : Explore Gadchiroli district and visit sacred places like Hemalkasa and Anandwan in Vidarbha region, that we only know by books!!

Equipments : 150 years old yet - The Powerful IR (Indian Railways) and MSRTC.

Departure date 6th March 2009

The Route : From Pune to Wardha and then Chandrapur, then to Hemalkasa, Bhamragad - southern most point of Gadchiroli district, on the border of Chattisgad and Andra Pradesh. From there, to the lepers home of Anandwan in Warora.

Pune Station, Pune
17.40, March 6th, 2009
KM 0

We were assigned leaves for 3 days, an hour before our train's departure!! We rushed to the station as the train was just waiting for us before leaving Pune. Pune was behind us, behind us was the miserable life that makes you sleepy but don't let you sleep!!  

Sewagram station, Wardha
08.50, March 7th, 2009
KM 790

Sewagram station.............. More Snaps

We had to wait here for another hour or two before boarding our next train which would take us to Chandrapur. Sewagram station is the most beautiful and cleanliest station I have ever seen. The waiting room was also not an exception, so we just unpacked our books. We boarded Jammu Tawi - Kanyakumari express at 10 in the morning, train that runs through almost whole part of North to South and surprisingly was empty at all. This was my second visit here, in an year, after visiting Tadoba last year and the train experience was far far better than last year's. It took 2 hours to reach Chandrapur where train journey ended and State Transport buses came into the action.

12.00 March 7th, 2009
KM 912

Now the real Journey was to begin. We boarded a bus which would take us to Allapalli (Half of the total distance from Chandrapur to Bhamragad) It was two and half hours journey through the densest forests of Chandrapur and Gadchiroli. We were at Allapalli by 3.30 in the afternoon and waiting for a bus, which was probably last bus of day, at 5.30 in the evening. One local boy came to us and was inquiring about out destination, he asked us "Are going to meet Bhau ? (Dr. Prakash Amte is known as Bhau (elder brother) here) we said yes and asked him would we get any facilities like place to stay or food over there? he just said "Bhaunna bhetayla alay ani kasli Takalif zaliy ase kadhich hot nahi!" (You will be provided best possible facilities and will get treated like guests at Hemalkasa) So once again our respect towards Dr. Shri Prakash bhau was multiplied and we just couldn't wait to meet him.

15.30 March 7th, 2009
KM 1042

Bus left Allapalli at 5.45 in the evening. There was no space to stand at all, forget about the seats. We came to know that it was weekly Bazaar day at nearby Taluka place and the crowd was just heading back to their homes. The road was getting more and more narrow and jungle was getting more and more dense. We were very glad to have left behind civilization and were getting closer to the earth. I had read about the Madia Gond tribal - leaving without food and medicines, here I could clearly experience that from the faces of people, darkened by hunger and diseases. Finally we reached Hemalkasa LBP (Lok Biradari Prakalp) at 7.30 in the evening and that was end of our Travel full day (27 hours!!)

19.30, March 7th, 2009
KM 1117

Day 2

The day starts very early here so we woke up at 5.30 in the morning (without any alarm!!). All the guests, doctors and sevaks go for a walk at the time of Sunrise and Sunset. Its 3 kms distance towards the confluence of 3 rivers Indravati, Parlkota and Pamulgautami. We decided to join the group without hesitation for this nature walk. The area is full of various floras and rarest bird species. The sky was full of twilight and suddenly ball of fire came out of horizon. This was one of the best Sunrises I have ever experienced.

Sunrise at Hemalkasa......... More Snaps

We came back by 7.30. We had our breakfast and cup of tea then. Food cooked here is testier as the cooking staff adds lot of love in it. They won't let you go before your stomach is full to its capacity !! We were accompanied by Sachin sir, a young teacher at LBP School who assists all guest exploring LBP, Hemalkasa. He is very enthusing and care taking kind of person so we did not have any kind of difficulty in whole stay here.

Leopard at Hemalkasa......... More Snaps

It was time to visit Animal Orphanage (which is also a part of this project) better known as Amte's Animal Ark. Dr. Shri. Prakash Amte himself came with us just to show how these animals love you if you love them. We were stunned looking at the way Dr. Shri. Prakash Amte was putting his hand in the jaws of Hyena, Leopard and Sloth Bear.

Dr. Prakash with his grandson Arnav.......More Snaps

Next generation is also not behind as Dr. Prakash's Grandson Arnav was thoroughly enjoying the company of all these wild friends. He was handling some poisonous snakes like toys!!! The orphanage is a large family of leopards, bears, deers, birds, snakes and a pair of Jackal having names George and Bush resp. :-)

Dr. Prakash, counting teeth of sloth bear!! ..... More Snaps

Dr. Prakash with Owl

It was already 10.30 in the morning and time for Dr. Mandatai Amte to treat her OPD patients. We saw one shelf consisting huge no of patient cards and came to know that the record of every patient treated here (from 1973) is kept with doctors themselves. "As these Madia Gond don't have cloths to wear; how can you expect them to keep card with them?", asks Dr Mandatai. Every year, almost 40,000 patients get treated here and more importantly - free of cost. Total expenses made on medicines are beyond 10 Lakhs !! Sometimes, these Madia Gond tribal had to walk more than 200 kms to avail these medicine and health facilities. It was necessary to have residential hospital and there is one. One operation theater with X-Ray facilities is also built. (Initially there was no electricity for first 20 years, till 1995 :-)) Some of the patients are kept for more than 4 months to make sure that they are treated well. Obviously, Amte couple is been treated like god here and these Madia people worship them!! Now Dr. Digant, son of Dr. Prakash, has also joined the project.

An emergency case.....Reached after covering hundreds of kms like this

Third and final part of this project is Residential School run for these Madia Gond tribal. Our government, full of educationalists, still fails to provide grant to this school, which was started 32 years ago!! There are more than 600 Madia students, having taste of education. Formerly, it was waste of time and most useless thing according to Madia but the project has certainly changed their mind-set and awareness towards education. All students are housed, clothed, fed and taught here. Many of these students have qualified as doctors, lawyers, teachers and forest guards!! It is mandatory for every student to do one hour of Shram-daan before start of the school. No surprise to see a computer lab with more than 10 computers.

Ashramshala (Res. School) at LBP, Hemalkasa ....... More Snaps

One must visit the project to realize how selfish and small we are, running behind money and all sorts of pleasures for whole life. We always forget about our responsibilities towards our society and country. This work started 35 years ago and is still unknown to many of our countrymen or even to the people of Maharashtra. I have read a lot about teamwork, how Chatrapati Shivaji maharaj got many brave and dedicated people in his troop. Here I could actually see those dedicated people to whom Late Baba Amte brought at Hemalakasa. Many of them like Dada Panchal, just came to visit the place in 1973 and still have not turned back to their homes for these 35 years!! out of imagination, hats off to them !!

We had lunch at sharp 12 in the noon before having a chat with Dr. Prakash and Dr. Mandatai. This area of Bhamragad is total Naxal prone zone and nothing can happen without the concerns of Naxals. With less population density and more forest density, this Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra is obviously not a vote-bank. Neither the politicians nor the government stand behind these people's needs and progress. One must understand how Amte family is working here without any rest for last 35 years. 
We had some reading in the afternoon and left for evening walk towards the rivers. On the opposite bank of the rivers is a village 'Bhamragad' so we cruised through the shops and market area of Bhamragad and updated ourselves about the cricket match held earlier today!!

Sunset at Hemalkasa.........More Snaps

It was time for sun to set; twilight gave place to darkness and everything turned silent on the route. We had a dinner and then saw a movie shot in this area - Laal Salaam. This concluded our second day without any kind of traveling.

Day 3

The day started same as yesterday with a walk towards Rivers. This area of Bhamragad is scenic and most beautiful with confluence of 3 rivers, surrounded by deep forests and hardly any vehicle passes through  -  everything that we read in the books or see in postcards/wallpaper.

River Indravati..........Chattisgad on the opposite bank

The silence here makes you think a lot and one interesting experience we both had here - our mind was always on positive mood; maybe just because of the atmosphere and presence of such people around. We had early Brunch at 10.30 and boarded bus for Allapalli.

We finished with our 2 days stay here at Hemalkasa and started our journey towards Anandwan - the parent concern of all projects! We reached Allapalli by 1.30 in the afternoon and had lemon juice here . A tractor was blown away by Naxalists somewhere around Allapalli so lots of CRPF javans were patrolling on the way.

13.30 March 9th, 2009
KM 1192

We boarded our next bus for Warora at 2.30 in the afternoon and reached Anandwan at around 6 in the evening

Anandwan, Warora
18.00 March 9th, 2009
KM 1390

We had a special room with some reasonable rates (almost NIL). Anandwan ( 500 Acres) is larger in area than Hemalkasa (50 Acres) and one needs complete day to explore it. Anandwan has various projects that are run by the Leprosy patients - Wheel-chair assembling; TV, Refrigerator repairing; even farming is also part of project. We had some reading before calling it a 'day'.

Day 4

Our day started at 7.30 and Shri Prabhu Kaka accompanied us to explore and explain the project. Anandwan was established in 1951 and is up-to its name, has everything for everyone - Uttarayan (Vrudha Ashram), Community living, health care, education, Environmental experiments, Leprosy hospital, rehabilitation of patients. Its hard to explain everything here, one must visit this Heaven on the earth.

Leprosy hospital at Anandwan

Made up of Gutkha packets, in one of the Environmental projects at Anandwan

After visiting all the projects for whole morning, we had a lunch of Puran Poli and hence had to have some rest in the afternoon. It was a day of Holi and everyone in Anandwan was busy in preparations. In the late afternoon, we had chance to meet one more great personality - Smt. Sadhana tai Amte. We were amazed by the enthusiastic Smt. Sadhana Tai. It was great to listen everything from her own - all best and worst experiences she had during the course of life at Anandwan.

Late Shri. Baba Amte's room ......... More Snaps

Sadhana tai then took us to their residence where we had chance to see Baba Amte's room, now turned into a sort of museum. It was not less than a temple or any other holy place on the earth. We had Holi celebrations in the evening and explained our Holy 'Holi' festival to foreign guests. Had a dinner and concluded the Day.

Day 5

We woke up comparatively late, than last 4 days : at 7.30. It was a day of Dhulivandan - festival of colors. We could just manage to escape as everyone was busy in spreading colors! Boarded a bus for Nagpur at 10 in the morning and reached Nagpur station at 12.30. We Had our lunch at Nagpur station and were waiting for our Azad Hind Express!!

12.30 March 11th, 2009
KM 1510

Train was 15 minutes late and we left Nagpur at 16.00. Our books came out of bags but thoughts never let us read and that's the way our return journey started.

Some questions I tried to answer during the Journey - Is our vision too narrow? too Partial? too Rushed? Are our conclusions too Rigid? Maybe.......but this aimless roaming through enormous Hemalkasa and Anadwan has changed me more than I thought!! I am not myself anymore!! At least I am not the same inside!!

Pune Station
7.50 March 12th, 2009
KM 2410

Amey Jambhekar



  2. Wonderful...Thank you for 2 reasons.
    First, for visiting such places with an open & curious mind.
    Second, generously sharing your adventurous experience with us via this blog...


  3. Surely one of the best travelogues I've read so far!

    No fuss, no rush, but just a smooth narration with snaps pegged at right places!

  4. Thoroughly professional writeup with showers of personal touch.

    A very good experience.


  5. This is really a wonderful creation while reading I was feeling like I am there.


  6. very nice you need appointment to visit these places?

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. nice one. just like a professional documentary unbiased & still with a personal touch.

  9. Amey, nice write up of Anandwan and Hemalkasa! I had visited the same in Jan 2009 and you can read my articles on my blog. I was lucky enough to have a long chat with Dr. Vikas Amte at Anandwan.

  10. Nice to read everythig about ur journey to Anandwan and hemalkasa

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Nice Read..
    Will be very helpful for people planning to travel to Hemalkasa from Pune.
    Many Thanks :)

  13. Thanks a lot! We've planned the trip to Hemalkasa in the same month, your writing provided all the information we wanted. Thanks a ton!!! :)

  14. Thanks a lot for sharing valuable information . This will be really helpful for those who wish to visit Hemalkasa at least once befor die....

  15. Dear Amey,
    Can I have email address please? I am planning to visit the same with an addition of Sewagram Ashram. I wish to share my itinerary with you. Need some inputs/suggestions. I could not find in your profile here.