“Do you see that gigantic face there? We call it India’s very own Mount Rushmore. And that sadhu on the top – he was in samadhi for so long that he turned into stone himself. These cars, which seem to have fallen off the cliff, are most famous by the way, as is Bandar Kudni, a point from where a monkey jump across the gorge. But to see that, we’d have to extend our trip.”
The boatman has been pointing at various abstract stone formations for a while now. Every time he raises his arm, all 30 heads follow him. Some squint to locate the face, the ascetic, the car or some such form, some nod in agreement even before they can turn their heads, and some, like me, do nothing – apart from absorbing the moment that is.
Surrounded by steep peaks, imposing rocks, and azure sky, we are sailing in the waters of the Narmada along a 5-kilometer stretch called Bhedaghat. The stretch marked by marble cliffs, deep gorges, and magnificent views, is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of India. Only this canyon has a river. “This is easily the most beautiful place in India. I come here often just for this boat ride. The towering rocks, the deep river, and the ever evolving meandering path tell me how small I am compared to nature.” Vinay Kumar, who is on the boat with us, tells me looking at the cliffs. Unlike the others he is neither interested in spotting faces in the rocks nor taking pictures, but in the deeper, philosophical experience of the visit.
Twenty-five kilometers away from Jabalpur, Bhedaghat takes hardly an hour to reach. It has taken us much longer though. First the automatic car of our hosts refused to comply, then the GPS sent us in the opposite direction. When we do reach, we miss the place thrice – there are no signs of the rocks, the water, or the tourists on the road.
The beauty of Bhedaghat is in its obscurity. It is also, perhaps, why the place is still clean, quiet, and untouched by trappings of modern day tourism.
A steep flight of stairs from the road has led us to a ghat, another few to the boat station. The boats, decked up in bright colours remind me of the boats of my childhood along the Ganga. The tickets take me back in time too – shared ones come at Rs. 40; a boat to oneself costs Rs. 800. We opt for the shared and are currently being entertained by the running commentary of the boys steering it.
The water in the river is still, the air around is cool, the only sound one hears is the buzz of the engine, and the witty comments of the boatmen. It is impossible to believe that such islands of peace still exist. “Let the stillness of the river not fool you. It is over 600 feet deep, and just a few kilometers down, this docile river turns into a roaring fall.” Shikha, a local, tells me when I compare the calmness of Narmada to the effervescence of Ganga.”
Rows of vendors line the wide cemented path. Some have marble artifacts on display; some are selling faux jewellery, yet others have caps, toys, and cheap sunglasses on offer. There is no sign of water anywhere, but one can hear a constant drone. Dhuandhar defies everything I have experienced at Bhedaghat. Only a few kilometers away from the inconspicuous marble rocks, the place is buzzing with people. There are families and youngsters, tourists and locals, vendors and hawkers, but there is no sign of the river. “You can hear the fall from a distance, but you have to make an effort to see the magic of Narmada at Dhuandhar.” Shikha, who we incidentally meet here too, tells me smiling, even as she leads the way.
We cross puddles and people and walk over tiny bridges and steps to arrive at the ‘viewing spot’. Scores of others are already gathered here, posing for pictures, pouting for selfies, and hanging from the railing. We wait rather impatiently before getting some space on the viewing platform. Even as I step on to the narrow plinth, I see what Shikha meant. The still river that we just experienced has transformed into a raging force. It is white and frothy, rambling and roaring. Brimming over stones, winding about the rocks, bubbling into bays. The speed is heady, the drop is steep, and as the water crashes down the 98-feet cliff, it creates a cloud of droplets, the dhuan, which not only gives the fall its name, but also engulfs everyone in its enchanting mist.
How to Reach: Bhedaghat is about 25 kilometers from the town of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. Taxis, Buses, and Private Autos can be taken to reach there. Dhuandhar falls are located a few kilometers away.
Where to Stay: It is best to do a day trip to the twin attractions of Bhedaghat & Dhuandhar. Should you choose to stay overnight you can book the MPTDC Motel, Motel Marble Rocks.
When to go: Due to massive volume of water, the boating at Bhedaghat is closed between July and October. It is said that the rocks are best witnessed on a moonlit autumn night when the marble rocks gleam and the Narmada glistens. Summer can get too hot and the level of water may go down too.
Trivia: Bhedaghat has been featured in a range of films ranging from the classic Bobby (the climax was filmed here) to more recent ones like recent Mohenjo Daro.
This story first appeared in The Hindu.