The charming Chambal river
About 1000km long, the Chambal River travels through some of the badlands of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in north India. That area has long been famous for sheltered violent gangs of criminals and dacoits, who find solace in its many hidden ravines that are indeed intriguing. Chambal has always been regarded as an unholy river and is the only big river in India that has NO temple constructed on its river banks. In fact, this is a blessing in disguise as temples have always been instrumental in polluting rivers across the country with unruly pilgrims throwing trash. The Chambal is the chief tributary of the mighty Yamuna River and takes birth in the Vindhya Range just south of Mhow village, near Indore in Madhya Pradesh. The main tributaries of Chambal River include the Banas and Mej rivers on the left and the Parbati, Kali Sindh and Shipra rivers on the right which forms a formidable river particularly during the monsoons.
On Chambal River are two wildlife sanctuaries in Rajasthan known as Jawahar Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kota and National Chambal Sanctuary in Dholpur. Chambal River has a total of four moderate dams and all are in Rajasthan to harvest the rich waters for agricultural and industrial uses. In 1979 the National Chambal Sanctuary was set up and created along the riversides. The sanctuary is 425 km long, and 2-6 km wide. It is a place where eco-tourism is generally practiced, and the site is excellent for bird watching in winters when migratory birds arrive or crocodile watching as they bask in the sun. However, in recent years the human pollution has made its way into the river, threatening the eco system that thrived with little human interaction. Unfortunately, factory and farming runoff as well as garbage are starting to affect the region which needs to be stopped to keep the river waters pristine. Sand mining on a large scale is also a major issue as the banks are dug up ruthlessly deforming the riversides.
What are Ravines and badlands of Chambal region? Badland topography is a unique feature of the Chambal valley is characterized by an undulating floodplain, gullies and ravines. Ravines are a type of fluvial erosional feature and are formed as a result of constant vertical erosion by streams and rivers flowing over arid regions. Chambal River is home to unique wildlife such as the two species of crocodiles, under National Chambal Sanctuary, which is a protected zone. The Chambal River is regarded most pollution free, and is home to a remarkable variety of riverine fauna, which includes two types of crocodiles – the gharial and mugger, even the smooth-coated otters are found, eight (8) varieties of freshwater turtles, the endangered skimmers birds, Gangetic river dolphins, Sarus cranes, black-bellied terns, and black-necked storks etc.
The Chambal River was called Charmanvati in ancient times and runs according to a north to northeasterly route through Madhya Pradesh, flowing for a considerable distance through Rajasthan, subsequently creates the border between Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan prior to twisting to the southeast to meet the Yamuna in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Having visited the Chambal River at Morena and Dholpur thrice in the last three years I found the location as very unique because of its lavish dry landscape.
Part of the river was declared National Chambal Sanctuary which was founded in 1978 and is part of a large area of 5,400 km and effectively co-administered by three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh collectively. Approximately 400 km of the river is within the reserve's area. This area lies in District Dholpur and has a large arc described by the Chambal between Jawahar Sagar Dam in Rajasthan and the Chambal-Yamuna confluence in Uttar Pradesh Over this arc, two stretches of the Chambal are protected as the National Chambal Sanctuary. The sanctuary was gazette 'in order to facilitate the restoration to "ecological health" of a major north Indian River system and provide full protection for the gravely endangered Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) and the Skimmers.
The steep Chambal River itself offers a pretty natural panorama and making you feel as if history is flowing past you. Your imagination runs wild as such a topography does not occur in any other part of the country. You can feel the presence of fierce warriors, daring dacoits and hardened people who ruled the roost without heeding to the law of the land. However, in spite of all its ruggedness, the Chambal valley has ever been inviting to mankind since time immemorial. While at one end the labyrinths of the valley have been providing shelter to the rebels, on the other hand the pure icy cold water of Chambal River has instilled enthusiasm and exuberance in the natives of these regions. Bordering with the states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the Chambal belt of Northern Madhya Pradesh is full of zigzagged ravines. A journey through this valley reveals great secrets of this old civilization but unknown to many in our country. The entire Chambal valley abounds in archeological legacies and only in Morena district there are no less than sixty (60) significant sites that seeps with history. All these archeological sites lie in the range of 40 Km from Gwalior and about 55km from Agra.
Geologically ravines are formed when the upper layer of vegetative cover is not strong enough and the roots of plants and trees are unable to hold and bind the soil together. Constant rainfall erodes the soil and washes away the top crust of the earth. Consequentially, the water flow turns into drains into rutted grounds creating fissures. In due course of time, these fissures are further eroded, and become small and large ravines. Particularly in Bhind and Morena districts are high grounds where rainfall, the Chambal River and its tributaries have eroded the land to great extent, resulting in huge fissures and gorges. These deep valleys are the Chambal Ravines which have a beauty of their own for those who can appreciate their formations.
The area can be covered by a JEEP safari through the ravines by visiting the Shergarh fort. Through the small muddy tracks among the ravines and along the banks of the river, one explores village life through small villages hidden deep into the ravines along the Chambal River. Another way of exploring the locale is by early morning walks to beat the heat. But the best bet is to hire a boat and surf the waters of Chambal to watch history pass by. Life is full of hardships as the land available for agriculture is scare with very little rain farming is not an easy job. One can avail tours conducted in vehicles for five hours under safari programme which cover Shergarh fort, Talab-e-shahi, Nadi-Ka-tal, Van Vihar and a glimpse into Chambal ravines and village life by visiting Gama village and banks of Chambal. Boat safaris, however, are the most popular both with nature lovers and pleasure seekers.