Chitrakoot, 'the hill of many wonders', nestles peacefully in the northern spurs of the Vindhyas, a place of tranquil forest glades and quiet rivers, and streams where calm and repose are all pervading. This loveliest of Nature's gifts is also hallowed ground, blessed by the gods and sanctified by the faith of pilgrims. For Chitrakoot's spiritual legacy stretches back to legendary ages: it was in these deep forests that Rama and Sita spent eleven of their fourteen years of exile; here that the great sage Atri and Sati Anusuya meditated; and here where the principal trinity of the Hindu pantheon, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, took their incarnations.
Sufferers and seekers, poets and visionaries, princes and noblemen have, through the ages, sought and found solace in Chitrakoot, drawn inspiration from its sublime natural beauty, gained spiritual strength from its serene temples and in turn, become part of the hallowed legend that is Chitrakoot.
The ghats that line the banks of the river Mandakini reveal a constantly moving and changing kaleidoscope of religious activity. Here, amidst the chanting of hymns and the sweet fragrance of incense, holy men in saffron robes sit, in silent meditation or offer the solace of their wisdom to the countless pilgrims who converge here. With the very first rays of dawn that gleam upon the river, Ramghat stirs into life as the devout of all ages take the ritual, purifying dip in the waters and invoke the blessings of the gods. The rippling blue green waters of the Mandakini can be traversed by boats, readily available for hire.
Kamadgiri, the original Chitrakoot, is a place of prime religious significance. A forested hill, it is skirted all along its base by a chain of temples and is venerated, today, as the holy embodiment of Rama.
The Bharat Milap temple is located here, marking the spot where Bharat is said to have met Rama to persuade him to return to the throne of Ayodhya. Many are the faithful who perform the ritual circuit (Parikrama), of the sacred hill, to ask for a boon or a blessing.
Sati Anusuya is located further up-stream, set amidst thick forests that resound to the melody of birdsong all day. It was here that Atri Muni, his wife Anusuya and their three sons (who were the three incarnations of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh) are said to have meditated.
The Mandakini is believed to have been created by Anusuya through her meditation. Sati Anusuya lies about 16 km from the town and can be reached by road - an undulating, curving drive through densely wooded areas.
A few kilometers beyond Janaki Kund is again a densely forested area on the banks of the Mandakini. One can climb up to the boulder which bears the impression of Rama's footprint and where Sita was pecked at by Jayant in the form of a crow. There are large fish in the river here easily visible in the pellucid water, and a few temples.
Upstream from Ramghat is a serenely beautiful stretch of the Mandakini, a symphony of nature in tones of earth-brown and leaf-green, the intense blue of the river waters finding a paler echo in the canopy of the sky. There are two approaches to Janaki Kund, 2 km up from Ramghat by boat, or by road along a foliage-lined drive.
In this idyllic pastoral setting, it is said, Sita would bathe in the crystal clear waters, during the years of her exile with Rama. Certainly, this quite spot seems to have been specially blessed, for an aura of total harmony and quietitude haloes it, setting it apart from the bustle of the everyday world.
Located on a rock-face several hundred feet up a steep hillside is a spring, said to have been created by Rama to assuage Hanuman when the latter returned after setting Lanka afire. A couple of temples commemorate this spot which offers a panoramic view of Chitrakoot. There is an open, paved area here in the shade of a massive peepul tree, a lovely halting place after the long climb-up.
Bharat Koop is where Bharat stored holy water collected from all the places of pilgrimage in India. It is a small, isolated spot a few kilometers from town.
18 km from the town is a natural wonder located some distance up the side of a hill. The wonder here is a pair of caves, one high and wide with an entrance through which one can barely pass, and the other long and narrow with a stream of water running along its base. It is believed that Rama and his brother Laxman held court in the latter cave, which has two, natural throne-like rocks.