Saturday, September 23, 2017

Gangani–Where God is the sculptor



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The first glimpse of Gangani and rivar Shilabati from the top

The grand vista of jagged columns of the canyon and the flowing river beneath opened up before my eyes as I stood on the natural ledge, offering a bird’s eye view of the surroundings.

The River Shilabati took a sharp bend here and stacks of red laterite soil formed deep gorges along the bank. In the distance the river bed turned white with the blooming ‘Kaash’ flower announcing advent of autumn. The sky was overcast, in a shade of drab grey. To my dismay it wasn’t the usual autumn cloudscape against the canvas of a deep blue sky. Nevertheless the sight was breathtaking.

Welcome to  Gangani, the Grand Canyon Of Bengal.

  

Some of you have been fortunate enough to witness the iconic Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. For the less fortunate, Bengal has its own miniature grand canyon near the little town of Garhbeta in the district of West Midnapore. This is only about 175 odd KMs away from Kolkata where river Shilabati has cut through the rocks and laterite soil and created this little wonder.    

I had been to Gangani sometime in the year 2013, but I could not spend much time but I was smitten by the sheer beauty of this place and wanted to do a complete photo documentation of the entire area. I planned to come back here sometime soon but then finally it happened on September 17, 2017 when R.O.A.D (Revv On And Drive) a group of car & travel enthusiasts of which I am a part, organized a one day drive to Gangani.

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The journey begins. The  convoy lined up at Dhulagarh Toll Plaza

It was a usual fun day with friends. Starting early in the morning we met up near Dhulagarh toll plaza on NH-6 (Mumbai Road). Cars lined up and after few ‘Bhars’ of over sweetened tea and cigarettes the convoy headed towards Kolaghat.

Kolaghat, just after crossing the bridge on river Rupnarayan is the usual hotspot for breakfast for travellers on Mumbai Road. Here the road bifurcated towards Haldia and popular beach destinations of Digha & Mandarmani, hence the hordes of eateries and the dhabas on both side of the road are always abuzz with tourist and business travellers alike.

Our stopover was the NewTara Maa Hotel. The puffy white luchi coupled with alu-ghugni curry is fantastic deal for breakfast and people gorged on platefuls. They also make fantastic jumbo sized masala omelettes. However these guys go overboard with the garnishing and sprinkle copious amount of red chili powder and crumbled papads on top. So you need to tell them before hand to go easy and serve you sans these toppings.

From Kolaghat to Kharagpur it’s a clean run through six lane super smooth but rather boring expressway. This stretch of about sixty five odd kilometers was passed without much drama keeping a firm foot on the gas and needle hovering between 100 & 120kmph.

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The blooming Kaash on Rivar Kanshabati or kasai just ahead of Midnapur Town. 

The fun starts after the turn right onto NH-60 from Kharagpur crossing towards Midnapur town, which runs all the way to Ranigunj where it meets the NH-2. From here the road turns into a single lane. Though narrow, but this 50 odd KM stretch of road till Garhbeta is in good shape and runs through some beautiful country. In this season the blooming ‘kaash’ flower is a sight to behold while travelling. Just before Midnapur town we crossed the bridge over river Kanshabati. I could see the abundance of ‘Kaash’ on the sandy bed of the river. It’s like a white sea, the wind creating rippling waves sweeping across the field. As we progressed, the lush green landscape slowly turns arid, the color of soil gradually transforming to red and the road runs through beautiful stretches of forest past quaint little hamlets of Godapiashal and Chandrakona. The black shiny tarmac running through lush green forest is a treat to the eye.

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The stretch of NH 60 running through the forest

We made good time to Garhbeta. The drive was pleasant and we did not encounter heavy traffic on this stretch. We only had to negotiate thru’ some busy intersections near Salboni and Chandrakona.

From Garhbeta a road branches out from NH-60 towards left and leads straight to Gangani past the Garhbeta town. A few kilometers from Garhbeta, the habitation thins out and the landscape opens up. There is a sign on the right showing a gravel path leading to Gangani.

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The sight of the Canyon with river Shilabati in the background

First comes a huge field, and as you move towards the river, the ground suddenly drops off exposing the canyon. I was standing on the rim, on this narrow ledge high up jutting out into the empty space. The scenery hits you the moment you stand atop the rim of the gorge overlooking the flowing river far below. On the left tall stacks of red laterite soil runs along the bank and made strange, almost surreal formations. Thick rows of Kaash lined on both sides of the river. Far out on the opposite bank of the river I could see fishermen casting net.

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Fishing on river Shilabati

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The beautiful river side. 

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Again it was abundance of Kaash on the riverbank

A winding concrete step goes down to the riverbed and then one can set to explore the interiors of the gorges and ravines on foot.

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The concrete staircase leading to the riverbed 

It was almost noon and though the sun did not shine through the layers of grey cloud, the heat was sweltering, hardly an ideal climate to explore the undulating landscape. The light wasn’t perfect for photography. But the beauty is so mesmerizing I decided to ignore the discomfort and do a photo documentation of the whole area.

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The narrow trails going inside the ravine

As I lurched & stumbled my way in through the narrow gravel strewn trails leading inside the gorge, suddenly it was as if I was transported into a different world. All around me, tall columns of hard laterite soil in amazing hue of colors rose high. Their sun baked tops are in deep shade of red and gradually melting into golden yellow towards the base. Over thousands of years, the water of river Shilabati had been cutting through the hard laterite soil creating gorges and the further deepening and widening it. The canyon is almost 70 feet deep. In the rainy months the rush of water flows through the meandering ravines and swirling water makes strange and often bizarre shapes to the Martian landscape through constant erosion. Certain parts looked like giant, craggy faces of some aboriginal demigods, and it wasn’t too hard to imagine few formations resembling some gigantic mythological animal. I could make out nebulous shapes and forms which looked like ancient pillared citadels & temples in ruins. 
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Inside the ravines

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Top view of the area

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The terrain difficult to negotiate but breathtakingly beautiful

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Now I stood before the giant paw

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Some more photos of the God's own sculpture

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Note the intricate textures formed by years of erosion

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The most interesting and one of the centers of attraction is a natural cave in the shape of a temple, with a huge oblong opening. Though practically very shallow, it gives an eerie feeling of dark unknown depths harboring some evil monster inside. To further accentuate the creepy feeling, the soil formation on the sloped pathway leading towards the mouth of the cave looks like as if you are stepping past the giant carcass of a slain monster long buried deep and the remnants of its mighty ribs surfacing out of the graveled ground.

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The approach to the temple like cave of Bakasura. Note the rib-cage like formation which appears like remains of some prehistoric monster.

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Closure view of the cave

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View from the inside of the cave.

This perhaps had given birth to the local folklore that this area was once the home of the feared Bakasura, a character found in the Mahabharata. The legend goes that the second Pandava, the mighty Bhimsen, during exile, had slain Bakasura at this very place. The cave is referred as the home of Bakasura and it is believed that the giant skeleton like formation is actually the petrified remains of the demon.  

However the Mahabharta does have a reference that the Pandavas, during their exile stayed at a place named “Ekachakrapura”. The demon Bakasura lived in a cave on the nearby hill. Every week the villagers had to send one man or woman amongst them on a bullock cart loaded with meat, rice, curds, intoxicating liquors and many other delicacies to the Rakshasha, who would consume all including the humans. Bakasura had conquered their land and went on a rampage to loot and kill indiscriminately. Apparently the villagers came to this settlement with the demon that every week they will sent whatever is needed to his cave and in turn he will refrain from indiscriminate killing.

Pandavas, in their exile took refuge at a Brahmin’s home. It was one night during their stay when it was the turn of one of the family members of the Brahmin to go before the Rakshasa to offer sacrifice. Seeing the family in despair, mother Kunti ordered Bhimsen to go to the cave of Bakasura instead and kill him as a token of gratitude for the hospitality the family offered to the Pandavas. Thus Bhimsen killed Bakasura in a fierce battle near his cave.

The ancient kingdom of ‘Ekachakrapura’ can be traced to present day Ekachakra near Rampurhat in the district of Birbhum in West Bengal. However Ekchakrapur is some 220 kms away from Gangani and thus unclear how it is linked.to Gangani but the story lives on.

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View from the banks of river Shilabati

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Life at the village - Gangani


This is an amazing place even for a short day trip if you have a car or motorcycle. However I would strongly recommend you visit this place early in the morning. The gorges and ravines are east facing and looks best when the first rays of sun bathes the place in golden glow. That is the time for photography enthusiasts. Sadly it was noon when I reached and with overcast sky, I had struggled to make do with available light. I love to shoot on mobile phones. They have their limitations and don’t offer the versatility or the ability of a proper digital camera but then I love the challenge. All the photos here were shot with my new Samsung Galaxy J7 Max and it has given me some satisfactory results even under trying situations.

How to Reach:
The best route is to drive down through Mumbai Road (NH-6) from Kolkata till intersection of Kharagpur and Midnapur town. Then take a right onto NH-60 going past Midnapur, Salboni, Godapiasal, Chandrakona and finally reaching Garhbeta. From Garhbeta you have to take left through Garhbeta town past the police station and few kilometers after that Gangani, which is also known to locals as ‘Ganganir Danga’ will be on your right. Both NH-6 and NH-60 were in fairly good shape and generally well maintained. You will have a pleasant drive.

Another option is to go via Arambag, Kamarpukur road which also connects to NH-60 nearer to Bishnupur. Once on NH-60 you will have to turn right towards Garhbeta. From Garhbeta, it is same route as told above. Once you see the board announcing turn towards Gangani, take the gravel road to cover a short distance wherei t ends at Gangani. There is ample parking space on the open ground. On the right there is a walled section is reserved for picnic. I would presume during the winter holidays this place will be stormed by unruly people coming on buses and mini trucks with gigantic blaring speakers belting out incomprehensible songs with eardrum splitting decibel levels.

If you are going by train, the best option is to board the ‘Rupasi Bangla Express which leaves Santragachi station and 6:25AM and will drop you at Garhbeta Station by 9:20AM.  
  
What to eat:
There is only one eating joint near Gangani called ‘Suruchi’ which is close to Garhbeta college. You can expect basic Bengali cuisine here. Do carry mineral water bottles and some ORS particularly if you are visiting during hotter months. The hike through the ravines will make you very very thirsty.

Where to Stay:
There are no good hotels at Garhbeta barring some lodging facilities which are bare basic. In my mind if you wish to stay, the best bet will be the nearby temple town of Bishnupur which is only 37 kms away. There are multiple staying options there and you can drive down in your own or hired car early in the morning to reach Gangani to catch the beauty in early morning light.

Do avoid peak summer months. This part of Bengal gets really hot during summer. The name Gangani, probably is derived from Bengali adjective ‘Gongone’ which is used to describe the intensity of the heat. The bare red laterite soil heats up like a fiery oven in summer.

The best season for photography will be after the rains. If you are lucky you can shoot the canyon and combine it with some amazing textures of the sky. Winter is comfortable for exploration but the haze may play spoilsport at times.

Do share if you like the travelogue. 

You can reach me at sagar1969m@gmail.com or call or whatsapp at 9830091777

3 comments:

  1. If you want to see how a rill changes to form gully and ravines,please visit Ganganir Danga the typical " Badland " topography of Bengal. The tors,pillars caves and the hard crust of duricast will definitely remind you of the Grand Canyon of Colorado Basin.
    Wonderful writeup with great photographs.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If you want to see how a rill changes to form gully and ravines,please visit Ganganir Danga the typical " Badland " topography of Bengal. The tors,pillars caves and the hard crust of duricast will definitely remind you of the Grand Canyon of Colorado Basin.
    Wonderful writeup with great photographs.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very well written n excellent photographs... Garhbeta is my place, my hometown n m happy that u've come here n liked d place... here r some other places of historical interests... like Sarba Mangala Mandir... it has its own story... do visit... :)

    ReplyDelete