As you follow the long winding staircase that starts at the road level, the scenery begins to change. Tawny rock formations rise up to meet the eye. Down below flows a sleepy river. As you reach the end of the staircase, you are transported to a strange world where roaming dinosaurs would not have surprised you.
Tucked away in the south-western corner of West Bengal is Gangani (or Gongoni), a nearly 70- feet deep natural canyon carved by the River Shilabati. Or, as the local people believe, it was the upheaval resulting from a fight between the demon Bakasura and the Pandava brother Bheem which dented the rocks. Local people also refer to it as Gangani Danga. Although far from the original in look and size, the place is popularly called the Grand Canyon of Bengal.
Weathered by the water channels and the wind, the lateritic surface has eroded over centuries, now exhibiting myriad formations, from sheer cliffs to earth pillars to caves, and others, which will remind you of pictures from school geography books. Depending on the stages of erosion, the colour of the formations vary from red to yellowish brown. At different hours of the day, especially during early morning and late afternoon, the rocks throw up a kaleidoscopic play of colours. During monsoon, snatches of green plants break the monotony of red and brown. In monsoon, some of the channels get filled with water.
You may follow the intricate passages thrown up by channels to explore the area. But yes, do be careful as you clamber over the uneven surface. It is better to avoid the higher areas as there is no way of knowing the extent of erosion and accidents can happen.
The canyon is on the south bank of the Shilabati River. You can also walk up to the river bank. Interestingly, the opposite bank has none of this dramatic landscape. Instead, it is a picture of a typical flat plain countryside of south Bengal.
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The best time to visit the canyon is in winter as the sun can be harsh by day. Do carry sun protective gear and drinking water. Winter holidays is the time when a large number of people arrive for picnics. Although the local administration has earmarked special areas where picnics can be held, noise, especially playing of recorded music, cannot be ruled out.
Gangani is located in Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal. The nearest gateway is Garbeta town, about two km away from the canyon. Garbeta is connected to Kolkata by road (around 180km) and rail (South-eastern Railway). There are some budget hotels in Garbeta. You may also stay in Kharagpur (70km by road) or combine a visit to Gangani during your trip to Bishnupur (the famous terracotta temple town in neighbouring Bankura district, about 26km by road). Although no untoward incidents have been reported from this popular tourist attraction, women travellers may opt to travel in groups.