Gongoni – The (Grand) Canyon of Bengal

Wide angle View of Gongoni
Wide angle View of Gongoni

Whenever the word “Canyon” is used about a destination in India, the first name which pops into mind is that of the hill station of Mahabaleswar. Yet, in the most unusual place in India lies a full-fledged gorge which at first look resembles a miniature version of Grand Canyon of Arizona, USA.

Welcome to the “Grand Canyon” of West Bengal – Gongoni. Located in the small town of Garbeta, this fascinating wide gorge of red soil stands on the banks of river Silabati. Locally known as “Gongoni Danga” or “Gongoni Khola”, the gorge is a handiwork of Mother Nature through years of soil erosion coupled with some assistance from the river. The water body flows through the gorge during monsoon.

Close Shot of Interiors of Gongoni
Close Shot of Interiors of Gongoni

In the plain lands of Bengal such a landscape is uncommon and exceptional, which is why this gorge is often referred to as Grand Canyon of Bengal. Recently a Stair case has been built by the West Bengal Government, so that one can easily walk down into the Canyon.

The usual way of reaching Garbeta is to board the Rupasi Bangla Express from Santragachi Station at 06:25 and reach Garhbeta Railway Station at around 09:20. Cycle Vans are available at the station, which is the common way of transportation to the Gorge. The station is located at Amlagora area. The Town of Garhbeta is around 5 km from the Station.

Driving through the main road from Amlagora
Driving through the main road from Amlagora

Just after crossing the Garhbeta College on you right, the Cycle van takes a left turn and enters a village road of red soil. Driving through this road with several trees in the vicinity, you reach a crossing where a sign board gives you the rate for parking vehicles for picnic in the area. You turn right and soon you reach atop the Gongoni Canyon.

I visited Gongoni first in 2005. I had reached the Gorge on a January Sunday morning and was much irritated to find a picnic party occupying the area, littering around and playing loud music. Worse thing was the light. There is always a haze in the winter. Plus it was almost 10 when I reached there. The light was dull, and the photographs turned out a tad overexposed and flat. Charmed with the enormous area but disappointed with the cattle class humans around (and not getting desired photographs), I had vowed to return later.

One of my better photographs of Gongoni taken in 2005
One of my better photographs of Gongoni taken in 2005

It took me another 8 years to come back to Gongoni in this month of March, after I discovered that my Trek companion Nishesh Singh has his maternal uncle’s residence at Garhbeta. Without much ado, I immediately booked tickets and boarded the Purulia Express which leaves Howrah at 16:50 and reached Garhbeta at 19:48.

Nishesh was at the station with a bike to receive me. It was since long we have met. The poor fellow had a massive bike accident sometimes back and stitches sign was still visible on his nose.

We rode through a dark road for over 5 kms to reach his relative’s house. The idea was to get up early in the morning and reach the Canyon to get some descent photographs. I also planned to check some of the historical temples of the area. Next morning we left for the Canyon just about 07:00. Despite it beginning of March, nevertheless a chilly wind was blowing. Nishesh’s Maternal Uncle’s families were descendents of the Singha Family of the area. Their locality is known as Singhapara.

The sunlight was just about mellow as we reached at the top of the Gorge. This was my second visit, but the light made a huge difference. I felt I was visiting the gorge for the first time. The top portion of the Gorge was comprised of Red Soil, while it was getting yellow as it sloped down the bottom. The mellow sunlight made it glow like gold. My memories of McKenna’s Gold and similar other Western Movies came back. I would not have been surprised if a cowboy riding on a horse back appeared from somewhere.

Arizona or West Bengal ? Standing at the base of Gongoni
Arizona or West Bengal ? Standing at the base of Gongoni

Down the canyon I could see a band of what looked like small green people crossing the river. On closer look with my zoom lens I saw they were students of schools in green uniform. The water was just ankle deep at this time of the year. As mentioned earlier the river enters the gorge to some extent during Monsoon. At that time fishermen with their fishing net spread out makes a pretty picture.

Students crossing Silabati river
Students crossing Silabati river

We walked down the stairs into the gorge, as the students marched up. For a moment I was mentally carried way to Arizona. At times when you think Gongoni is in actually in the low lands of West Bengal instead of being near a desert, it becomes harder to believe. No character from Wild West appeared. Instead, A local farmer passed by us.

A son of soil venturing into the Gorge
A son of soil venturing into the Gorge

There was an absolute silence in the area like a lull before the storm.Far away I could see the Railway Bridge over the Silabati River. Soon a train chugged over and the silence was broken.

Train chugging over the bridge on Silbati River
Train chugging over the bridge on Silbati River

There is a local folklore that Pandava prince Bheem slayed here the demon Bakasura who lived in this Canyon, during the exile of the Pandavas.

However, the story is debatable. As per Hindu Epic Mahabharata, Pandavas stayed at a place called Ekachakrapura during this incident. The demon Bakasura lived in a nearby hill. There is a place called Ekachakra near Rampurhat which is believed to be the Ekachakrapura of Mahabaharata. It even has a pond surrounded by trees named as Panadav Tala, where Pandavas were supposed to have stayed during their exile.

Only one technical problem is there. There is no nearby hill at Ekchakra. Also Gongoni is around 207 km from Ekachakra. I have no idea about the superhuman capacity of Bheem as to whether he walked over 200 km to meet Bakasura. Also, whether 200 plus kilometre can be considered as “Nearby” as per Mahabharata Standard is difficult to tell.

Is it where Bheema fought with Bakasura ? The  question remains.
Is it where Bheema fought with Bakasura ? The question remains.

Other than the various conical shaped earthen structure of the canyon, one shape looks like huge temple with a small cave at its bottom. Standing in front of this natural mass of earth, it was hard to believe that this is a natural rock formation. Locals say this was the cave where Bakasura stayed and it is where the fight took place. The structure is awesome and I did not find much change in it during the last eight years.

Ancient Stone Temples at Garhbeta

Radhanath Singha Smriti Mandir, SinghaPara, Garhbeta
Radhanath Singha Smriti Mandir, SinghaPara, Garhbeta

In the ancient age, Garhbeta was the kingdom of the Bagdi Kings. Once upon a time there was a huge fort in this area with four huge gates. Sadly , there is no trace of it in the present township.

Garhbeta has a huge number of old temples and ruined ancient structures.  In front of my host’s house at Singhapara is a small Brick Pancha Ratna Structure of around 30 feet besides a pond. Nishesh’s maternal uncle informed me that it is actually a “Smriti Mandir” (Memorial Temple) of one Radhanath Singha, who was a very powerful man in the area during the British Rule. There are statue of Two Dwarpal (Gaurds) on either side of the door. Later I got reference of the same in Pranab Roy’s book on Heritage of Medinipur – “Medinipur Jelar Pratna Sampad”. Locally people call this structure as “MatukGara”.

There was a ruined flat roofed structure near the Memorial Temple; Nishesh informed that once upon a time it used to be the Baithak Khana (Conference Area) of the Singh Family.

Ruined Baithak Khana of Singha Family
Ruined Baithak Khana of Singha Family

Perhaps the most famous old temple is that of Sarbamangala Deul Temple made of Laterite Stone. Designed in style of Orissa Rekh Deul, the temple is divided into four parts. The Vimana alias the Main Temple which contains the Shrine is a 60 feet high Three Ratha Deul. Ratha here means squarish projection from the base of the temple.

Sarbamangala Temple, Garhbeta
Sarbamangala Temple, Garhbeta

The Jagamohan or the adjoining Hall with a pyramid shaped roof (Known as Pidha) is rather attractive with small stucco statues of 64 Yoginis and Snake woman on its walls, just like Orissa Deul Temples. The capping element of the Jagmohan consists of an attractive Ribbed Circular Amlaka and an elongated Kalasha, very much like Orissa Deul. There is along Charchala NatMandir in front of the temple, which historians have said to be a structure developed at later stage.

Charchala Natmandir in front of Sarbamangla Temple
Charchala Natmandir in front of Sarbamangla Temple

Sarbamangala temple is assumed to be of 16th century. It is said that the temple was built by famous Bagri king Nripati Singha. The deity is a ten armed Mahishashur Mardini Durga (Goddess Durga slaying Mahishashur Demon)  idol carved on a basalt stone. Photography inside the temple is strictly prohibited.

Batayanbartini - Woman near Window
Batayanbartini – Woman near Window
Mansion of Agasthi Family
Mansion of Agasthi Family

Near the Sarbamangala Temple is a dilapidated Mansion. On its wall facing the road there was a sculpture of a woman standing against the door. These types of sculptures are pretty common in old Mansions of Bengal, especially in Midnapore area. Other prominent Temples which I visited at Garhbeta include the Kongareshwar Shiva’s Pidha Deul Temple and Aatchala Radhaballabh Temple.

Kongareshwar Shiva Temple has a Swambhu Shivalingam. It means that the Shivalingam was naturally created stone and not manmade. It is locally known as “Bura Shiva Temple”. The temple gate is unique shaped, but I am not sure whether the two elephant heads besides the door is a later addition. Just above the entrance of the temple, there is Ganesh Statue made of stone. The statue has been painted crudely with black paint and is smeared with vermillion. Constant rubbing of vermillion on this statue may soon erode all feature of the idol. In the premises of the temple there is a stone idol. The features have eroded severely. I thought it might be a Vishnu idol.

Kongreshawr Shiva Temple, Garhbeta
Kongreshawr Shiva Temple, Garhbeta
Stone Ganesh Statue at the entrance of Kongreshawr Temple
Stone Ganesh Statue at the entrance of Kongreshawr Temple
Stone Statue outside Kongreshwar Shiva Temple
Stone Statue outside Kongreshwar Shiva Temple

The Aarchala Radhaballabh Temple has a triple entrance, with some decoration on each door. Interestingly the temple still has its Prathisthafalak Intact, which on the top right wall of the temple. Despite being painted in pink, it is clearly legible. The temple was created by Malla King Durjan Singh in 992 Malla Calender ; the year 1686.

Radhaballabh Temple built by Durjan Singh
Radhaballabh Temple built by Durjan Singh
Foundation Stone of RadhBallabh Temple
Foundation Stone of RadhBallabh Temple

The other temple I visited was an Ekratna temple along with twelve Deul Shiva temple inside a complex near a market place. The temple complex has been heavily modified with a huge decorated gate. The ekratna temple has been painted in multi colours and many statues in it seem to be an addition in recent times. I saw later more terracotta temples at Chandrakona which were heavily multicolored in the name of conservation. It made them look like South Indian Temples.

Ekratna Temple with Dwadesh Shiva Temple.
Ekratna Temple with Dwadesh Shiva Temple.

Some Points about restoration of Stone Temples

Sadly, all the stone temples of Garhbeta have been painted in pink to make it attractive to the visitors. This has not only made the sculptures on the temple lose their originality and details, but the painting itself can cause serious damage to the temple.

Stone Deuls are not supposed to be painted in any way – be it plain lime paint or plastic paint. Laterite stone temple is made of porous material, which needs air to pass through them. Painting on the surface results in closing of these pores, resulting in damage to the temple structure.

However, how do I blame villagers for such practice, when recently the Heritage Commission of Bengal did the blunder of painting the huge stone Deul temple of Dharapat at Bankura into a shocking Pink? Also there has been accusation of one of the decorations just at the entrance of this temple which have been totally modified. Imagine if all stone temples of Orissa were painted with multiple colours!

Here is the link to the news of the temple at Dharapat. Though it is Bengali, one can easily see the difference made by coluring the temple.

Thankfully I am one of the fortunate ones to have photograph of the temple at Dharapat in its original shape and colour along with all its intricate designs. That is the only consolation I have.

How to Go

As mentioned, the best way to go is take the Santragachi Purulia Express from Santragachi Station at 06:25 am and reach Garhbeta around 09:20 am. However, if you are interested in visiting the canyon in early morning light there are more options. I get it you may not have a friend’s house at Garhbeta.

One is to drive from Kolkata for 133 km via Santragachi, Arambagh, Goghat and Kamarpur  to reach Garhbeta. You have to cross the second Hooghly bridge, take the Kona Expressway, cross Santragachi and then take a right turn and then again take a left turn into Ahilyabai Holkar Road. Drive straight and you will reach Arambagh. From Arambagh, you have to go left into Arambagh Kamarpukur Road. Driving on this road will eventually take you to Garhbeta Kamarpur Road. Driving through this road you will reach a highway, from which you turn left and you will eventually reach Garhbeta. Gongoni is just after that.

The only problem with this problem of this plan is you have to start real early( say around 04:00) and drive for over four hours. But I said there were other options. If you couple your tour with a visit to Bishnupur, you can easily drive from there to reach Gongoni early morning . It is only 37 kms.

Last, but in my opinion the best option is to stay at Garhbeta itself. You reach Garhbeta around 8 pm by Purulia Express. Check into lodge and stay overnight. Fix a hired car for next day. Reach the gorge early in the morning, around 7 a.m. Check out the gorge for two hours.  Come back by 9:30 a.m. Have breakfast and explore Garhbeta to check out its temples. If you are hungry for more, drive to nearby Chandrakona Town (26 km) to see its temples. Come back for lunch, and after an afternoon siesta, go back to the gorge for sunset. Or , if you love variety check out the jungle nearby which has an elephant corridor. If you are in a hurry to leave, catch Afternoon Purulia Howrah Special  in the  afternoon 17:33 and reach Howrah at 21:15. Or spend the night at Garhbeta and catch the  next Morning Purulia Howrah Special  at 07:28 and reach Howrah at 11:25.

Where to Stay and Eat

Earlier there were only some spartan lodging facilities at Garhbeta.  Now a descent guest house has come within 4 km south of the canyon. Many eateries have come up too. Earlier Bishnupur was the only descent option for staying as it has  many lodging facilities including the West Bengal Government Tourist Lodge.


  • Ayan Das

    That “batayanbartini” window at Agasthi’s place in Garhbeta doesn’t exist anymore, I have been there yesterday and couldn’t find it, I talked to a member of the house of Agasthis and she told me that they had to break down that portion because it was falling apart.
    Searching for more of its history I found out that the king’s family of Garhbeta shifted their home to Manglapota which was their bagan bari, after the British destroyed their “garh” (the name of Garhbeta derives from it).

  • Atanu Mondal

    We, the four friends have planned to visit Gongoni in October. How will it be to visit it at that time ?? Please inform us.

  • Jyoti Taragi

    Thank u for your informative n descriptive article.looking forward to visit the place soon.

  • Saikat Kundu

    Have you seen Gandikota?This is the Grand Canyon of India. I find some resemblance between Gongoni and Gandikota.

  • Shyamal Bose

    We were planning to visit at the end of December. But after reading your excellent travelogue ,I suppose; it would be wiser to avoid Dec-Jan.
    Thank you for your detailed article, which will no doubt help us enormously .

  • Amit

    Wonderful coverage and photographs of Gongoni . Really helpful for other tourists wanting to have a visit.

  • Kajal Kr Sikdar

    Is there any arrangement for trekking? Please give details

  • Shantanu Basu

    Very Informative. Thanks for your travel blogs.

  • Sourjya Banerjee

    Dear Mr Gupta,

    Your travelogue on Gangani is indeed very interesting and informative. Since you have been there twice, could you tell me whether it is possible to camp in Gangani on the banks of Silabati river? I have my own camping equipment. All i need to know is whether i have to take permission from somewhere if i wish to spend a night, camping at this place? I am planning a bike ride to this place from Kolkata. How close to the river bank can i possibly take my bike?

    Eagerly waiting to hear from you.

    • Camping besides Silabati river ? There is a staircase to walk down to the river, but I don’t think you will be able to push the river down to river bed.

      Night camping is not advisable. Garhbeta is a politically disturbed area.

      but I do not think it would be very safe.



  • arpan basu chowdhury

    1st of all thank u sir for ur blog on Jaydev it helped us enormously… n also ur reply guided us..now we were just planning to go to Gongoni and found your blog… sir we are planning to go in mid february… so is there any good hotel available near gongoni

  • Shikharesh Das.

    Where to stay at gongoni?

    • Please read my blog’s last part…. I have given the details there. As such no proper place to stay. You have to stay at Bishnupur.

  • Ashokendu Samadder

    Gongonir opor lekha apnar travelogue ar chhobi gulo darun laglo. I had been at Bankura a decade back and visited Bishnupur a number of times, but no one told me about this great Canyon of Bengal. Okhane jabar prochondo ichchhe roilo. Khub shiggiri ak bar jaoar chesta korbo. Thank you very much,. Charoibeti.

    • Gongoni is not frequently visited by Outsiders, and is still not in the map of tour operators, so it is not surprising that you do not know about it.

  • Dear amitabha gupta,
    I am very inspired to read the article about Gongoni. I was wondering if you would be interested to explore other horizons outside India too ?
    My self Rana roy, I work closely with a Greece based destination. Management Company DMC . Based in the ancient city of Thassaloniki (North greece). Often popularly known as the birth place of Alexander the Great. We would love to discuss further on this subject if you are interested . We are looking for passionate travel columnist and blogger like you who can assist us to promote this amazing destination in Greece.
    Best regards Rana Roy

    • Yes… but chances are that we would not be able to venture deep inside the Canyon as it would be waterlogged….

  • Hello… I am planning to visit this place on 1st week of July.. Does the beauty of place remain same even during monsoon? I hope water does not seeps into the region. It will be great if you can please let me know about this…. This is another great blog. 🙂 Thanks again

    • in Monsoon….the river seeps inside the canyon… which is another beauty….. you get to see fishermen fishing with their huge fishing nets on Shilabati River

      • Thanks for responding. Just another question.. can you give us an estimated time that will be required to see Gongoni and surrounding areas (temples)? We are staying at Bishnupur and have reserved a car to come here. Our train to Howrah is scheduled at 5:30. We can plan accordingly then.

        Thanks again for your prompt reply.

        • Roughly half day… ideally you should reach the canyon by 6:30 ( as it is summer now)…Canyon should take 2 hours…. Sarbamangala temple is famous and easy to locate….but the other temples will take some time as locals know the temples in various names. I think max time would be 4 – 5 hours….

          One good idea is to download photographs from my site to your mobile and show the locals , which will help them to identify…

          if you have energy after that… try to visit Chandrakona town,,, which is 13 km from Garhbeta….

          Recah the main market … and ask for Raghunathbari or Rajbari (most people know by this name)… the temples there are in ruins…. nevertheless … it is must visit.

  • Amit

    sir there are also two great temples near Gargbeta town named as ” Bogri Krishna Rai jeu “

      • S.mukherjee

        Dear mr.gupta, I want to go 1st week of July . I want to stay gongoni one night. Have you any latest information regarding lodging in gongoni.if you have , please sent me the ph.no and name .

  • Nirupam Das

    Nice article and also the place …. I want to visit Gongoni .. If you give me some information about lodge or hotels near the Gorge ; l will be thankful to you . Iwant to visit Gongoni in April.

    • There is no proper lodge at Garhbeta. You better stay at Bishnupur, hire a car in the early morning and reach the canyon by 6:00. April will be very hot at Bishnupur and Garhbeta.

  • Bondhu ami

    I visited “Grand Canyon”in Arizona in 2007. But after reading your Grand canyon of W.B. I am very
    much interested to visit this place right now. Thanks a lot

    • Avoid January, as the whole canyon will be full of picnic parties. Try February middle. Stay at Bishnupur and reach early morning ( Just after Sunrise) to enjoy the beauty.

  • A Aich

    Place is so good….so the pics…You can upload low res pics…but do not spoil the essence of such nice pics putting signature randomly and frequently across it…Nice article…good job…

    • I am sorry if you did not like the watermarks in my photograph, but I cannot help.

      A major part of my hard earned money comes from licensing photographs and I cannot have my photographs in the internet without putting several watermarks. In the past, I have seen my photographs being used without my permission even in hoardings (Low res photographs can be used in hoardings). Getting these people pay you is not easy. It takes lots of toils, effort and time to get your recognition and money for unauthorized use of your photographs.

      Recently one blogger got financial incentive from an ad agency who used his photo without any authorization. But that took enough time, money and networking.

    • Woww… Nighoj kund is such a nice place. I have been to Pune several times , but have not heard of it. Will try visiting it sometimes.

  • Nice but pics are not opening, your site amitabhagupta.wordpress.com is not opening as well. Tamal Dutta

    ________________________________ T$D



    • Try opening the blog at a later time. Today internet is very slow. It is opening fine at my end. I asked other people too. They can view it alright.


      excellent information….about Gongoni

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