Bewitched by the Marble Rocks
Chandra Kanta Gariyali, IAS During February 1997, the annual ‘All India Conference on Historical Research’, was held in Jabbalpur. I was invited to present a paper on the subject of ‘Women Freedom Fighters and Quit India Movement and Women Freedom Fighters in Madras Presidency’. On this occasion, I happened to visit a rare geographical phenomenon called the Marble Rocks. The experience here could be compared to the ‘Grand Canyon’ in USA or the ‘Great Barrier Reef’ in Australia. The place is located about twenty kilometers from Jabbalpur, and is also known by the name of ‘Bheda Ghat’.
There are several theories about this name. One is that the ravine of rocks through which the river Narmada runs, is so narrow over this stretch that a bheda (sheep) could jump from one bank of the river to another. It is true that the river gets surprisingly narrow at places and passes through these stretches with great force (reminds me of Oxford which is supposed to be called Oxford for similar reasons. The river Thames which is so wide in London becomes so narrow at Oxford that a very small bridge would enable the oxen to cross the river; hence the name ox + ford = Oxford).
The other theory about Bheda Ghat is, that there was a swamiji called ‘Bheda Swamy’ living there, perhaps in the last century who eventually took samadhi in the same place. His samadhi ( place of eternal rest) could be visited even today.
Bheda Ghat is a true marvel of nature and a great geographical wonder. Going for a boat ride through the rocks and ravines is in itself an adventure.
At the boathouse, the river is wide but as soon as you row a little you come to a large and round open space. Here, the river branches into numerous narrow streams passing through different ravines. One does not know how many paths you can take. It is a maze and one is sure to lose his way into one of the many ravines and not able to return.
The local people call this place Bhulbhulian (labyrinth). It is impossible to go across it unless an experienced boatsman accompanies you. After crossing the Bhulbhulian, our boatman took us through a ravine of tall marble rocks where the river gorged out into a narrowing passage. It is very dangerous to row here. Small boats are simply thrown asunder. We had to take a very large and heavy boat, which had to be rowed by eight oarsmen. They were literally playing along the force and at the same time going into circles to avoid the whirlpools to keep moving. If you want to have a close brush with whirlpools this is the place for you.
Even then you are allowed to go only up till a certain point and not permitted to enter the extra-dangerous zone.
As you pass through these ravines, your eyes feast on the enchanting marble rocks of various colours and hues, on both sides of the river. There is the usual white marble and also the pink, green, blue, gray, black and brown marble to be seen. The place becomes even more electrifying on a full moon (Poornima) night. We were there on one such night and saw the magnifying effect of moonlight on the rocks. The glow of the moon enhanced the beauty of the rocks. There were thousand reflections in the water and we thought we were in a dreamland bewitched and charmed.
Rock formations are in different shapes that have been given names. There are formations in the shape of a temple, an elephant, a sadhu, a motor car, three men etc. I suppose there are as many shapes as one can imagine.
A lot of movies are shot in the environs of this lovely place. The well known Hollywood production, ‘The Mackenna’s Gold’ was also shot here. (See it if you want to get an idea about the place). We saw a Hindi film being shot when we arrived on the scene.
Above, but not very far, is the point from where the Narmada falls into a smoky cascade appropriately called ‘Dhuadhar’ (the stream of the mist or smoke). This is a beautiful picnic spot. There are a couple of eating stalls and one can enjoy a cup of tea while watching the waterfall.
From the waterfall, if we walk upstream only a few hundred feet, we come to the plain land where the river becomes wide and serene and changes its character entirely. One can walk along the river for miles or sit on its bank in quiet contemplation leaving behind the picnickers at the waterfall. There are many temples in the vicinity, dedicated to various gods, which are worth seeing.
The only hotel existing, belongs to the MP Tourism Department, and is on the top of the hill, overlooking the river and ravines. It is an ideal place for nature lovers who want to get absorbed in the ‘sound of the river’.
There is plenty to buy in Bheda Ghat. One can see a variety of products made from marble. There are marble idols, icons and toys on sale. There are also carvings and engravings, beads and ornaments, flowerpots and vases, boxes and bowls, and the smooth ‘chaklas’ (chappati rolling platforms). There is so much to choose from and to cater to every budget.
Local artisans also sell bangles made out of lac and decorated with glass pieces and glazed paper. These bangles are lighter and cheaper than those made in Rajasthan. I purchased six sets of eight bangles each, only for a hundred rupees.
Midway between Bheda Ghat and Jabbalpur, you come across a Jain temple complex also in marble. The new temple is a marvelous specimen of the contemporary Jain architecture. It contains hundreds of idols of the Teerthankaras placed in an aesthetic manner. The landscaping, the step gardens and the pathways, leading to the ancient temple on the top of the hill, have been most tastefully created.
The place is vibrant with spirituality and a silent walk through the garden recharges you to face the life and its challenges in a very cool and collected manner.