Travel Tales Part 5

Garbeta Bus Stand 

Garbeta is an old town. Originally the headquarters of the Bagdi rajas, there was a large fort here of which nothing remains. I read in the District Gazetteer of 1911 that there were even then several large ruined gates which do not exist today, at least no one could tell us about them. But the principal attraction now is the Grand Canyon of West Bengal as the Gangani badlands have been christened. It is not really a canyon, the cliffs are only on one side of the River Silai and the other bank opposite is a fertile plain. This is the edge of the laterite plateau which has been eroded in geologically recent times giving rise to a cliff, and many other interesting geographic features including several gullies, runs, pinnacles and others. The soil here is unsuitable for vegetation which is why the erosion has been even more than it may have been otherwise. But regardless of what the geographers may say, It has now become a fairly well-known tourist site in these parts as the Grand Canyon of Bengal. As a scholar has noted * " In the studied region the Shilai River has changed its orientation from the South East to the North East keeping and upland block ( area 0.7 square Km ) showing the distinct marks of lateritisation to its south. With time the faster erosion of the concave portion of the bend has led to migration of the meander to the upland to form an escarpment along  the river's concave side. At places it measures more than 15 meters and acts on the right bank of the Shilai during the flood discharge season. At the middle portion of the belt, numerous gullies have developed incised into the scarp and have caused a fast retreat of this section of the escarpment in an elliptical form. This process has developed a typical badland topography- though considerably localized compared to the Chambal, the Sabarmati and other better-known badland areas. The land above the zone is plain in character and in places smaller gullies are found to dissect the upper indurated surface."
We checked into a (very) basic hotel near the Bus Stand and then set out for the canyon. A toto took us about 2 km before we began to walk down on ochre road towards the Silai River. Here the road was flanked with forest, much degraded, to be sure, but still a forest. There were plenty of cashew trees here too and considering the time of the day ( it was a fairly warm 2.00 PM by now),  plenty of visible birdlife. Signposting was as usual deficient and we had to ask out way to reach the spot where the Forest department has constructed a picnic spot and a parking area for private vehicles.
The Silai River 

We could now appreciate the “canyon”.  I had visited the actual thing barely 5 months ago I can vouch that though much smaller in scale, at least the Gongoni side of the river was indeed reminiscent of the American wonder. We stood high above the Silai River with escarpments running ahead. There were steep gullies and runs, there were overhangs and holes in the ground, no doubt the homes of reptiles. A staircase has been created to allow one to safely descend to the river bank. From here it is easier to appreciate the natural wonder that has been created by nature. The river here is fairly wide and flows slowly, at one end one can see a bridge that locals were using to cross to the other side which as I said before was a flat plain, typical Bengal. There were a couple of picnic parties and with them were the bane of all picnickers in Bengal today: a huge amplifier box playing very loud music indeed. The only saving grace was that they were playing Bengali music rather than the Hindi music which is ubiquitous in North Bengal. But at the volumes that they were playing the music, even my parochial pride could not prevent a feeling of annoyance.
The badlands 

At one side, I noticed what appeared to be a photography session going on. On closer inspection, this proved to be a wedding photoshoot. I have seen this often in Malaysia where it is de rigueur at all weddings but this was the first time that I was seeing it in India, and that too in the boondocks of Gangani. I realized that India had changed beyond all recognition while I was away.  The bride was dressed in not a saree but a gown of sorts and the groom had obviously modeled himself on the typical hero of Hindi or perhaps Bengali movies. I am sounding censorious, I realize, but actually, I am not. I was just a wee bit bemused. Later I reflected, why not? It is obvious that in this globalised world, expectations are globalised as well and why should this young couple not have some marvelous photographs to look over later when responsibilities have chilled the early thrills of marriage. After all, even  Susmita and I, at this age, had no compunction in posing in Korean dress during our visit there.
I was introduced to a new drink at Gangani. When we climbed back to the top of the cliff, there was an ice cream man selling ice cream of a brand I did not recognize. I am very wary of such stuff, but he also has a chill box and he recommended a jeera drink which was very refreshing. Later we had it at Jhargram as well. I am told that these have become very popular nowadays and the big dads like Coca Cola are also scrambling to enter the market, but this was a local brand. I wish I could give it a plug, but unfortunately, I have completely forgotten its name.
Another view of the canyon 

It was now late afternoon and we decided that perhaps we may try to walk back. We decided to walk along the Silai River, it appeared that this walk would be shorter. The sun was beating down and we were not looking forward to a long walk in the now fairly warm weather. IN the event it turned out that we had a longer walk than we would have if we had taken the other route that we had already used. But we did not mind as it took us to more of the “badlands”. This part is less frequented and we were far away from the sounds of the picnic party. We crossed a mini forest where we saw what Swapanda identified as the “ ghetu “ flower. According to him this was commonly seen in his village home as well during the spring and the flower is especially associated with Lord Shiva. Village girls used to and in some parts still do worship the deity by inverting a pot and decorating it with alpana and ghetu flowers. Incidentally, this flower is known in more sophisticated circles as the Hill glory bower (Clerodendrum infortunatum).
The "Ghetu " flower

The landscape was undulating, with an occasional gully and even a lake n the distance. When we reached ot we realized that it was created by a check dam, probably to store water for irrigation. There were several temples, apparently quite recently constructed. Garbeta and its surrounding were apparently inhabited by religious people. It reminds one of the Oriya villages that one finds when wandering around in the Western part of the state where temples proliferate.
We sat for a while under a banyan tree on a seat  roughly fashioned from bamboo and shot the breeze  as we watched locals pass to cross the bridge that we has earlier seen to the other bank of the Silai. There were school girls cycling back, a father and son duo who were walking back with luggage, they had probably coming from the train station, village housewives who were on their way to do some shopping and a sundry dog or two. Eternal India.
A pretty temple 

Later we met up  with  a villager who fell into conversation with us when we stopped to ask for directions. The village which we now entered was apparently just 20 years old. The Left Front Government had given pattas to settlers who had occupied government land and now we noticed that the original mud huts were giving way to buildings made of brick and mortar. Signs of progress no doubt and I brushed away the thought that  the original thatched mud huts were much more picturesque. The village road took us to the main road and then it was easy to reach our hotel.
In Garbeta town 

**9 S Bandopadhaya: Drainage evolution in a badland terrain at Gangani in Medinipur District, West Bengal. Geographical Review of India 1988, 50: 3: 10-20


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