Chambal Valley as the name suggests is located on the banks of the Chambal River. The River creates a natural divide between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh almost making you feel that it is this river that is dividing northern and central India.
Chambal Ghati & its Ravines
You hear the word Beehad all the time in reference to Chambal Valley which is notorious for its Dakus or Bandits. In fact, most of us remember the word from the phrase ‘Chambal Ke Daku’, the most famous of them being Phoolan Devi. Come to think of it women could be bandits in this Beehad.
These ravines provide enough contours on its landscape for the bandits to live happily. Chambal bandits have had a long history of surviving multiple governments since ancient, medieval, and modern times. I remember many tales of my parents traveling through this area as a young couple when my father was posted in Bharatpur and they would come to watch films in Agra.
As I walked on these ravines as part of a large travel writers’ group and with UP tourism taking care of us, I wondered how it would be to walk alone on these ravines. Would the ghosts of well-known bandits who call themselves Rebels instead of Bandits speak to me? Would I be able to hear stories of their hay days from the villagers? Those questions remain but it was an experience to walk on those uneven surfaces and go down the ravines to meet the river.
Walking to the river we saw it flowing as silently as possible. It was like a band of blue in the middle of muddy ravines. Boats plied between the two shores taking villagers from one end to another. With no road or bridge connecting the two shores, a mid-sized boat made rounds between the two shores.
Legends Of Chambal River
Chambal region was originally called Charmanyavati or Charmavati. Its references come in various Puranas as well as Mahabharata. In Devi Bhagwat Purana, they say that the river was formed by the blood of all the animals sacrificed for different Yagnas. So, from the word Charma or the skin of the animals, that was dried on its banks, comes the word Charmavati. It later transformed to Chambal.
It is said that during the epic period, the land around the river belonged to Shakuni – the maternal uncle of Kauravas. It was somewhere here that Pandavas first lost to Kauravas in the dice game and the disrobing of their queen Draupadi took place. Draupadi, it seems cursed anyone who would drink the water of Charmanyavati or the Chambal River. Since then the river is considered cursed.
It is one of the rare rivers that are not really worshipped.
However, it seems today the very curse has become its blessing. Chambal River is the most pristine of rivers in India today. If you want to see the riverine eco-system of an unpolluted river you need to take a ride down this river.
Geographically, the Chambal River originates from Vindhyas near Indore or the Malwa region in Madhya Pradesh. It travels about 1000 km carving boundaries between MP and Rajasthan and then MP and UP before merging with the Yamuna.
When you take a boat ride on the river, you get to see birds on its banks. There are various species of Storks, Falcons, Babblers, etc. In the river, be prepared to meet Ghariyals – many of them would be swimming or taking a siesta on the banks of the river.
If you are lucky you can meet the freshwater turtles. There are about eight varieties of them that live in this region. In the 45 minutes or so that I spent on the boat, I saw birds flying all around.
Gharials made an occasional appearance and they almost played hide and seek with our cameras. Their uneven body surface was their marker both inside the water and on the adjoining mud. I am told that this river is also home to River Dolphins that have become more or less extinct in River Ganga.
It is one of the best places to watch birds and river crocodiles in India perhaps.
The sunset at the river was as beautiful as the sunset I am used to watching on the Arabian sea. Sun was retiring for the day as we said bye to the river and started walking to our cars.
I felt I have just visited a mysterious corner of the country. It was a corner that I always knew about but probably never thought I would be able to visit one day. It was a bit of romance slipping away from the stories of Chambal.
Chambal is a unique river that is not only cursed as per the traditional beliefs in a land that worships its rivers. It is a river on whose banks, outlaws ruled for the longest of time.
Stay – Chambal Safari Lodge
We stayed at Chambal Safari Lodge – some distance away, but in a place where you can see lots of birds. I got up in the morning to see hundreds of flying foxes hanging on the tree outside my room. Check out their website for a history that is woven around animal fairs when it was called Mela Kothi. Today, of course, it is an eco-lodge that lets to enjoy the yet unspoiled beauty of the place and they have a team to assist you.
On my morning walk through the fields around the Safari Lodge, I came across a whole lot of peacocks also taking a walk.
Overall, after visiting I was damn happy to see a living river, a clean river, and a river that had humans, birds, and aquatic life all in it – a complete ecosystem of its own, that is so rare to see now. However, how long will it remain clean is another question.
It is also easily accessible from Delhi and Jaipur which are a part of India’s golden triangle.
You can also visit Kampilya – birthplace of Draupadi from Chambal.
Take a guided tour so that you can enjoy the area as well as get acqauinted to the flora and fauna.
Boat ride on Chambal in highly recommended.