Bhimbetka, a collection of more than 600 rock shelters with prehistoric paintings, was one of the main reasons why we came to Bhopal. The name “Bhopal” and its connotations couldn’t keep us away from such a unique World Heritage Site.
A one hour bus ride away from the city buzz, Bhimbetka’s rock shelters are hidden away in a patch of sal and teak forest. Walking through the place on the shadowy paths and away from the scorching sun, the first thing we noticed was how quiet it was. Hardly any tourists and no hassle at all. As we were winding our way from shelter to shelter and our eyes were adjusting to the darker surroundings, we noticed more and more paintings. Some way up on the ceiling of a massive cavern, others just inches away from the ground along the side of the path, yet others hidden away in dark caves accessible only through a crawl space.
It is quite incredible how well preserved these paintings are and even more incredible how accessible they are. We saw only two guards hanging out under the trees, but they were very low-key and kept to themselves. Other sites of that caliber would probably be strictly guarded or not accessible at all. We did notice a couple of barriers around the more important shelters though, like the so-called Zoo Rock Shelter known for its variety of animal paintings.
Depictions of animals probably made up the majority of the cave paintings but there were plenty of other scenes around the site including hunting, childbirth and what looked like people dancing.
What was most interesting to me was to see how the artistry had changed over time. Contrary to what I would’ve guessed, some of the older paintings, which are estimated to be 12,000 years old, are so much more detailed and life-like than the newer paintings dated to the Middle Ages. It’s amazing how artistic skills can be unlearnt and completely forgotten over time.