Madhya Pradesh Trevelogue: Bhedaghat
Bhedaghat takes my memories back to 1978. I was in college then and it was month of June. I was travelling with two of my friends to Satna by Bhagalpur-Janta express from Mumbai for a camp in rural areas of Rewa destrict. We were approaching Jabalpur at around 4:00 pm and one of my friends had a bright idea. He had read about the magnificent marble rocks at Bhedaghat and the boat ride in Narmada. He also knew that Indian railways allow break-journey. So we decided to break our journey in Jabalpur, take a boat ride in Bhedaghat and then take next available train to Satna. We alighted at Jabalpur with dreams of spending a great evening in Bhedaghat watching sunset among the marble rocks. Our dreams were shattered to pieces at the rikshaw/taxi stand at Jabalpur station. We were told that the boat rides close at Sunset and we had reached Jabalpur at least two hours late to catch the last available boat-ride.
It took another 31 years for my desire, of spending an evening in Bhedaghat watching the sunset, to get fulfilled. I feel all those years were worth the wait. Those 31 years of life had given me an eye to appreciate the nature’s artwork. And, equally important is the fact that now I was well equipped with photography equipments to capture the immortal beauty of Bhedaghat.
Let’s begin at Dhuandhar where the romance in marble begins.
I would first like to share a few maps and the topology of Bhedaghat region. I have marked the flow of Narmada river on the Google-map below. The description that follows the map comes from Wikipedia. It is important to note here that Narmada flows first through Dhuandhar falls and then enters the Bhedaghat boating area. I came across some websites that describe the flow of river the other way round which I found counter intuitive after visiting the place.
The river Narmada runs in a narrow loop towards Jabalpur. Close to this city, after a fall of some 29.5 ft, called the Dhuandhar, the fall of mist, it flows for 3 km in a deep narrow channel through the magnesium limestone and basalt rocks called the Marble Rocks. From a width of about 90 m (295.3 ft) at the top it is compressed in this channel of only 18 m (59.1 ft).
The photograph above shows the place where the river begins its journey through the wall of marble rocks immediately after the waterfall.
The boating area begins at the place marked as Start in the map here. The government has fixed the ride fare at Rs 30 per head for about one hour of oar driven boat ride. One boat accommodates about 25 tourists. The oarsmen, by default, collect Re 1 extra as tip. So the fare becomes Rs. 31. The maximum distance that one can row up the river is marked with double lines in the map. However, as soon as the boat reaches the bend marked with a single red line on the map, the oarsmen show a red mark on the marble rocks with words “Turn Back” and inform you that the government fare takes you only up to that point. Then they tell you that for a modest extra charge of Rs.10 per head they will take you till the end point. And, everyone in the boat must agree to pay extra. Typically all agree.
The above photograph shows the end point of boating area. At this point there is a small fall and it is not possible for boats to go beyond.
I also saw some motor boats and smaller 4-6 seater boats in the boating area. I was told that charges for them are not fixed by government and need to be negotiated with the boat owner.
One needs to walk down a flight of stairs towards the river from the Jabalpur-Dhuandhar tar road to reach the starting point of the boat ride. The boats are waiting in the queue and they leave the bank as soon as no space is left on the boat for an extra person to board or the boat owner gets tired of waiting to fill all available space on the boat.
As soon as the boat begins to glide in the waters of Narmada, now quiet and tranquil, one is awestruck by the gigantic, magnificent walls of various shades of marble all around. The marvel is never ending.
The oarsmen also play the role of the tour-guide and provide a running commentary as they row the boats in the river. At one point, after turning a bend, where the river bed widens a bit, we started hearing the echo of the commentary. The funny part being, though the words and sentences were identical, the echo’s pitch and style of delivery was completely different from the original voice. Did the uneven surface and odd shapes of marble rocks make the echo sound so different? Was it another miracle of the nature? But those doubts were dispelled as soon as we saw another boat turning the corner. The tour-guide of that boat was repeating exactly the same dialogues at the same points. And thus the mystery of echo was resolved.
We witnessed the sunset over Bhedaghat on our way back to the jetty from where we started our boat-ride. Though the wrist-watch told us that we have spent a little over an hour in Bhedaghat, we felt the tour has ended too early. We very reluctantly disembarked from our boat.
The previous part of Madhya Pradesh Travelogue at: