A trip to the Sitabani Forest isn’t complete without a visit to the Sitavani Temple, where Sita is said to have lived in exile.
We were going to see the tigers. But when I saw the line of jeeps at the entrance of the Sitabani Forest, I knew I wasn’t going to see even a domestic cat. It looked like a jeep sales mela. Nevertheless, the drive through the bumpy forest surrounded by tall Sal trees with sunlight streaming down to the forest floor was an experience I wouldn’t have missed. At the end of the half-an-hour drive, we reached an ancient site called the Sitavani Temple. It is a protected monument and is under the purview of the Archeological Survey Of India (ASI).
The Sitavani Temple is a heritage site in the Sitabani Forest bordering Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. Sita is said to have lived here with her sons, Luv and Khush, during her exile and disappeared into Mother Earth during the Agnipariksha fiasco.
A flight of stone steps leads to the said temple and a pond below. But before that, you’ll encounter a relatively new temple. Here, you’ll find a man trying to attain nirvana in colourful attire and framed paraphernalia. I don’t know about this spiritual value addition to the place, but he is an excellent photo-op. According to ASI, the site of the temple is said to be the hermitage of the Maharishi Balmiki. The number of Amlaka stones, one headless dancing Ganesha sculpture, door jamb and decorated columns as well as carved slabs scattered near the temple prove the antiquity of the site. The temple is of a very late period.
From the temple, there’s a pathway leading to a pond where Sita is said to have bathed. The emerald green pond is surrounded by trees and the forest. All I can say is that it is beautiful and looks like a scene straight out of Avatar. In this place, it is very easy to close your eyes and imagine a scene of yore — from a time when gods roamed the earth like humans.
But when I closed my eyes, I couldn’t get Deepika Chiklia’s face out of my head. Indeed DD’s Ramayana spoilt it for me!
The writer is a travel writer, columnist, photographer, artist and author