Ages ago, during my schooldays, I came across a book called Abhishapta Chambal (The Accursed Chambal) by Tarun Kumar Bhaduri (Yes, you know his daughter). It described the lives and times of the best known Chambal bandits of 50s and 60s such as Raja Maan Singh, sort of a local Robin Hood, Roopa Maharaj who was also an astrologer, Lakhan Singh who came back every Diwali to kill the family members of his sworn enemy, Gabbar Singh (not the reel one) who cut off people’s noses and offered them to his deity, and Putli Bai, a proto-Phulan Devi who continued to terrorize the valley even after losing one hand, and many more! Others may call them bandit but they called themselves “baaghis” (rebels) and enjoyed cult popularity. Maan Singh and Roopa still have temples dedicated to them.
Those tales were violent, fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Two small towns were regularly mentioned in that book, Bhind and Morena, both in MP. Dholpur is just on the other side of the river, barely 30 kms before Morena. I had earlier explored some exciting ruins in Morena last year. But this time I was visiting Dholpur. I’d passed through this region many times before and always wanted to have a closer look at the ravines.
I have already described my short visit to Macchkund in a previous post. The next day, I called the same auto rickshaw to Shergarh. He was trying to push me to go for a Chambal boat ride. This is something that I did want to do but I felt that March is too late for the birds and also the temperature was already soaring. So, I choose not to go for the boat safari. I also felt that these rides were somewhat exorbitantly priced at 900 for the shortest ride and much more for bigger trips.
I asked my friend to take me to the Fort area, which is located right at the middle of the notorious ravines on the banks of the river. The entry point towards the Fort is located on the east side of the highway that goes towards Morena. There is a signboard that cannot be missed. However, what I experienced inside was mostly different from my expectations.
The fort is named after Sher Shah Suri. But the fort existed even before him as Dholpur occupies a very strategic position and acted as the entry point to Gwalior and Malwa. He fortified it and made the fort stronger in 1532 AD. While barely a bit of the walls and some bastions of the fort, I found that the uneven interior of the fort houses several live temples and even a dargah. I am not really sure when these temples came up inside the fort and my driver turned guide did not have much clue either.
Coming back to the ravines (or the beehads, as called by locals) of Chambal, I must say that they are hard to describe in words and even the images do not fully capture the feeling. For the lack of a better metaphor, the entire valley seemed to be covered with termite mounds. Although situated just by the side of the river, big trees are sparse (but the small trees and bushes attract peacocks for some reasons). The entire ravines can also be seen as series of small hillocks with scores of secret passageways around them. This is where most of the aforementioned bandits used to hide, as they knew these secrets paths unlike the cops chasing them.
Now, it is unfair on the region to associate it only with dacoits but it is hard to ignore this part of the history with such heady concoction of individual valour, adventure, violence and eventual tragedy. Thankfully those days are now more or less over. Most of the dreaded names eventually got eliminated in the encounters or surrendered. Due to its geography and reputation, the region remained free of industrialization and this is why Chambal remains one of the cleanest rivers in the Indian plains. This situation will probably change gradually. So, I think anyone who is remotely interested in these parts should visit them pretty soon.