Chambal has been infamous since generations due to its dacoits Phoolan Devi, Mohar Singh, Madho Singh and many others but for wild lifers it is a wildlife hub with unique array of flora and fauna. In the North Indian plains, Chambal has been considered the cleanest and fastest flowing river. There is an amazing wildlife and a colourful community living there too. This river, which itself is a wildlife sanctuary, also flows through various wildlife sanctuaries making it a rich place for the animal kingdom!
If one has to understand the health of any river, the banks have to be assessed first. The Chambal banks have an amazing character – the ravines. These ravines are due to the heavy erosion of clay and loamy soil from riverbanks. The formations of these are undulating landscapes and natures maze which the bandits and wildlife use beautifully.
Since the echo of the bandits’ guns has silenced the work on the riverbank, alteration has pulsated. When the fear of bandits passed out thousands of acres of ravines rapidly started being converted into agricultural fields. This was in favour of the community living around Chambal but the wildlife of the area soon became refugees out of their own homes. If seen through a wild lifer’s view the fauna of Chambal can be divided into two — the species of the river, the wildlife on the banks of Chambal.
In the river, there exists the rare fish eating crocodile ‘Gharial’, the smooth coated otter, and Gangetic River Dolphin, which has the status of National Aquatic Animal. The Chambal holds 67% population of the critically endangered Gharial.
On the banks, one can see soft shell turtles basking, the recently discovered fresh water ray lives in the bottom of this river. On the banks, one sees many birds like Indian Skimmer, group of small Pretincole, common cranes, and Osprey and many others during the winters the Bar-Headed goose and Brahminy duck visit as winter migratory. The ravines are the home of the lesser fauna like the wolf, jackals, foxes, jungle cat and hyena. As for hyena this is heaven for them and hence they are seen in umpteen numbers.
The Chambal River is a tributary of the Yamuna River in central India and originates at Manpura, south of Mhow town, near Indore, on the south slope of the Vindhya Range in Madhya Pradesh. Chambal has two landscapes one where the river flows through hilly terrains and other where it passes through plains.
The most interesting patch of a hilly terrain is Kota-barrage, which is a water reservoir. It was a valley through which Chambal used to flow and now made into a dam. This is a 17-kilometre stretch of valley, which allows boating facility. People call it the ‘Raptor Valley’ — as it is home to several avian species; it has more than 150 Indian vulture nests. Other residents include Brown Fish Owl, Scoops Owl, Dusky Eagle Owl, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Crested Serpent eagle, changeable hawk eagle and Bonelli’s eagle. On the banks, we see crocodiles and turtles basking in the sun.
The Chambal below this becomes more and more beautiful but the local people here get equally tough and unpredictable making it difficult to explore. Total length of the Chambal River is 938 kilometres; it initially flows in Madhya Pradesh then goes through Rajasthan making the boundary between Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and finally meets with the River Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh. Some significant rivers such as the River Banas, Kalisindh, Parbati and Kuno are its tributaries.
There was a time when the Chambal was considered the fastest flowing river of north India but it is slower now. One big reason is that there are over 370 irrigation projects on Chambal as per the 2007 WII report. Now on this stagnant water there is weed everywhere, the problem will occur when the big irrigation projects begin on River Kalisidh and Parbati. The requirements of water and land for agriculture will probably finish off this river eventually.
The legendary wild lifers called it the Bandit River but in today’s times, it should be called the Bonded River.