“बार बार देखो, हज़ार बार देखो
के देखने की चीज़ है, हमारा दिलरुबा, टाली हो
टाली हो, टाली हो…..”
My life in Jabalpur had revolved around Narmada. I had first seen her class at the spiritual Gwari Ghat. Then, I met her adventurous self at Bargi Dam, followed by being enamored by her sensuous flow at Dhuandhar Falls. The more I saw her, the more was the desire to see her again and again. From her side, she always beckoned me, having put me under her charm, knowing with conviction that I would come to her again and again. Spellbound, helpless and filled with overwhelming sense of gratitude towards her, my feet turned once again towards the river Goddess Narmada, whose beauty remains unparalleled and whose magical powers are unbound. I always wanted to see her again and again.
It was situated at a distance of about 25 kilometers from the Jabalpur Sports Club, which we covered by car in about a little less than one hour and reached at the premises of the Panchvati Rest House maintained by the Madhya Pradesh PWD. It was very strategically situated just adjacent to the entry gate towards the ghat and looked like an English Bungalow with a very spacious forecourt. It also boasts of a small garden at the backside, which overlooked the river and was a very good place to relax with the mild musical sound of the river-flow. Standing at the garden, I had my first glimpse of the greenish-blue Narmada River flowing through dolomite rocks in a zig-zag manner. The atmosphere was so serene that it seemed that the time had stood still in silence.
After relaxing in the serenity for a while, we came out of the Guest House and started walking towards the Ghat thorough a narrow cemented lane, which was flanked on both sides by colourful shops selling their wares to the tourists. A small tea-stall was situated in the corner from where the aroma of freshly brewed tea-leaves was emanating. Pulled by that aroma, we went to that stall and standing by its side, sipped our tea from the small glasses in which it was served. Some of the tea vendors are nowadays serving hot tea in plastic cups that is most inconvenient to use. Some serve in paper or thermocoal cups that are better. Somewhere we may also get it in earthenware. However, if it is served in glassware, then its design and pattern will always be unique all over the country. Except for the variety in their respective sizes, all look same with plain rim and sides striped upto the bottom. Overall it was a refreshingly fresh and hot tea, which energized us and we proceeded ahead.
Visitors, who throng to these sites, create the demand chain due to their innate desire to take some memorabilia back to their respective places. The shop-owners provide for the supply chain to meet the ever-growing and every-changing demands of the tourists by displaying their products in the best manner possible. The interplay of these demand and the supply often create an interesting market at the tourist sites, which has always fascinated me.
I felt that initially such shops would be selling the local produce only. There were many shops selling faux-marble or fake marble toys made from the mix of marble powder and cement. The visitors are advised not to fall in the trap of any seller selling fake marble products as they tend to get broken under slightest of stress.
Moreover, due to tough competition and with the increased ease of transporting goods from other parts of the country, many shops often display products that do not belong to the place being visited. One such example was the presence of numerous shops selling artefacts and utensils made of “Karachi Marbles”. I do not know the genesis of its name which was told to me by the shop-keeper. All I know that it was not from the basins of the Narmada. The accurate and proper identification of the marble stone is an art. It is better to take the assistance of someone, who knows about the marbles, to be your guide, if one ever gets tempted to purchase from such shops.
From here, we had to take a boat to see the world famous sight of river Narmada flowing through the marble rocks.
While I was standing at the jetty and waiting for the boatmen to be ready with their boat, Narmada was beckoning me to ride on her basin to a certain distance upstream. The silhouette on the water was a treat to watch. It seemed that the water has stood still and awaiting our arrival.
Our Boat was not a power boat. It was rowed manually with the help of four men. In addition there was a guide, named as Santosh, who started his running commentary once the boat floated towards the marble rock formations. There is something unique about the commentaries at Bheda Ghat. They will keep you occupied with the slang and tone of their voices, back stage dialogues of films shot there and stories of imaginary shapes formed by the rocks. The first sight that came across to the right of the boat was the grandeur of the marble rocks in sky-blue and greyish colour jotting out of the beautiful Narmada, whose blueish water was already matching with the colour of the sky.
We were told that a few decades ago, there were plenty of crocodiles in the water. Later, Santosh tried to calm down saying that all had already left the ghat and went somewhere downstream. But, one of the boatmen still believed that a few crocs were there in the bottom of the river and they occasionally come ashore for an afternoon nap. The word “Crocodiles” stiffened the few amongst us. In the meantime, the boatmen rowed the boat towards a gorge which was once inhabited by so-called crocs. I smiled at the powers of the maiden river Goddess, who keeps Crocodiles as her pet and as transport.
Soon, we were crossing past a square block of marble that was flat at its two sides and the bulged in the middle which gave it a shape of a car. The commentator was quick to compare it with the “Ambassador” model. All the visitors start looking at it as if it were a real ambassador in the water. While it amused us and took us away from the fearful thoughts of crocodiles in the Narmada river, the boatmen quickly rowed away further.
The visuals were quickly changing over as the boat moved past the marble rocks of various heights and colours. Each of the sight was different and photogenic and it becomes difficult to choose the most appropriate frame. However, as soon as, we sailed past the Ambassador model, there was a big milky white marble rock. The change in colour was quite striking. The commentator quoted the advertisement of Nirma, which exclaimed as “दूध की सफेदी निरमा से आये”, quipping further that even Nirma can not produce such whiteness that the nature has created in the marble rock formations at Bheda Ghat.
After crossing the white marble, we came across the Pink marbles where the commentator had another story to tell. He described that once, while shooting a film, the Indian heroine of yesteryears, Vaijayantimala wearing a pink wet saree had sat on the slab of white marble. Stains of the pink colours dropping from her wet saree had turned the white colour of the marble into pink. It was the most wonderful definition of a geological event ever heard by me! I wished every Indian heroine to come over to the Bheda Ghat and sit on white marble in a wet saree of varied colour to turn it into any colour you desire. I thought that my maiden river Narmada must be jealous of the heroine who can change the colour of her stones. His saucy description brought the entire scene of a heroine partially hiding against one of the marble rocks and changing her wet saree into vivid imagination of the tourists.
Minutes thereafter, we were crossing the massive rock formation, made of brown marbles. It was standing in the middle of the water in the shape of an abandoned wreckage of a medium size ship. Suddenly, the tone of the commentator, who was regaling the male visitors with the titillating story of the heroine, changed from saucy to one with remorse and sorrow. He was now describing the imaginary parts of the wreckage. Some of the rocks were his mast and some were its hull. At the base of that formation, he also found a slab of slate stone, informing us that the marble metamorphosed into granite which in turn changes into the slates. If we go by the normal time required for such metamorphoses, those slates were as old as the earth itself. According to our guide, the mining of those slate stones and the marble stones had been stopped very recently. It is a good initiative for a nice cause.
After the wrecked ship, we reached at the spot called “भूलभुलैया”. It is named as such because the river forms a shallow basin surrounded by the rocks in three directions. For a casual eye, it becomes difficult to guess the actual course of the river. At first it seems that one has to row towards left, but in reality the river is flowing from the right. It was the time when the commentator challenged the visitors for guessing the right route. The stakes for not guessing was very high. As per the challenge, those who could not guess right should be jumping from the boat into the 450 feet deep water basin. The natural labyrinth was so real that at least seven out of ten people guessing incorrectly. Fortunately, I had a prior experience of such natural phenomena. In 2003, while rafting in scale 4+ rapids in Ganga water, we had seen the “return to sender” wall hitting the water directly on the flow. In nine out of ten situations, the water flows in the direction which falls just opposite to the deep waters. So, I guessed correctly and saved myself from imminent embarrassment. Later, we did not allow the visitors who had lost the challenge to jump into the water. They were relieved as well.
After the boat turned right, the guide indicated towards some rocks of white marble that were having small pores/holes on their outer surface. He narrated the story of the shooting of the scene of gun-battle between two Bollywood heroes of yesteryears. The heroes were shooting at each other from opposite sides of the rivers and the bullets had dented the marble. Everybody was convinced by the story and hummed as a token of their acceptance of that theory. When the guide understood that he had floored everybody with his fake story, he further amused himself by telling the real reason of such holes or marks on the marble. He informed us that those holes were caused when the granite particles struck between the marble are washed away by the floods. Those granite particles or stones are subsequently fished out and used as “Narmadeshwar” or “Shaligram”. This one had floored me completely and then I started taking the guide with seriousness.
Impressed by the ingenuous way of informing the details, we proceeded ahead and saw a combination of marble rock in the shape of a tiger. It looked as if the tiger was sitting on its front paws with its head held high.
After crossing the tiger rock, we proceeded towards the “Monkey point”, where the gorge is the deepest. It is said that once upon a time, the distance between the two sides of the gorge was so narrow that a monkey could jump across it without any difficulty. However, before we could reach there, the guide indicated towards another set of rocks, which carried the shape of triumvirate. The commentator aptly named it “Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh”.
At Monkey point, the river was flowing between two massive walls made of marble that looked pale yellow in colour. The depth of the water was unknown. By the time, we were impressed by the magical rocks and the flowing Narmada, the commentator started his next story informing us that the song “Raat ka Nasha” from the film Ashoka was shot at the monkey point. The floating platform, on which Kareena Kapoor and other actresses were dancing, was supported in the water with the help of about ten divers. Such divers can withhold the breath for a period upto two minutes under the water. So, the shot was taken with difficulty and got completed in many rounds. Really, it was a new information to me and I had no option but to appreciate the efforts of the divers.
The monkey point was also the last spot upto which we were going. On our return journey to the jetty, suddenly we were greeted by a group of boys from the top of the cliff. They were seeking our permission for jumping into the flowing river. Initially, I could not understand the reasons behind such madness. But the guide told us that those boys would be taking some money in return of their show of jumping into the water. My heart sank to hear that. But there were people who happily allowed it so that they could take pictures of those jumping boys. It was a risky business for a paltry sum of ten rupees per boy per jump. However, with the nod of the guide on the boat, two boys jumped in succession. Though I also clicked their pictures, but in heart I was praying to Narmada to spare their lives. This is what poverty can do to someone. Anyway, the boys after reaching to the surface of the water swam to the boat and demanded money and took it. They had hardly entered teen age and were wasting their priceless childhood for the sake of money. The story would be repeated over and over again. Again they would climb up to the cliff, wait for the new boat to come and jump again. After ten such jumps, they will bag a meager hundred rupees! Anyway, peeved and perturbed, I just wanted to go away from that sight.
In the meanwhile, Narmada was also watching me. Her hypnotherapy was at work all the time. She wanted me to see something out of her treasure. It is said that a serpent’s eyes are the most hypnotic instrument in the world. The snake can hypnotize anyone with its direct gaze. It had so happened that one of the boatmen suddenly sighted a snake on the marble walls enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun. Its slimy body gleaming under the rays was looking terrific. The boat had passed it by the time he saw. So, we requested him to turn around so that we could also see it. The boatmen obliged and made a complete circle and steadied the boat in front of the snake. It looked lovely and also terrifying. When I was taking long to click its picture, one of the visitors chided me to be quick. She said what if it swam and climbed up on the boat. Immediately, I realized, quickly took the picture and quietly we set off. Later on, the guide informed us that it was a water snake and not poisonous. Anyway, we loved its sighting.
Slowly and slowly, after about hour or so with Narmada and her marble collections, we returned back to the jetty. In one of the rock enroute, a big “Narmadeswar” has been consecrated. Somehow, when the boat went past it, I could not take its photograph.
When we reached at the jetty, in one corner shop, someone was distributing the round “Narmadeshwar” stones retrieved from the river. It was not for sale. One can give some money if he pleases else he can take away the stone for using it for the personal religious purposes. It is a saying that the stone grows in size if properly worshiped by the devout and with the growth of the stone, the person also grows in life.
I also took one such stone from that place as a parting gift from my beloved river Goddess Narmada. Hope she will always be with me and nurture me throughout my life. Amen!