India’s cleanest river, hosting critically endangered riparian wildlife

National Chambal Sanctuary

The National Chambal Sanctuary is named after the Chambal river, one of India’s cleanest and longest rivers, and home to the critically endangered gharial and the Ganges River Dolphin, and the red-crowned roof turtle. It was declared a Protected Area in 1979 and is also a proposed Ramsar site.

India’s cleanest river, hosting critically endangered riparian wildlife

These clear waters originate from the Vindhya range in Madhya Pradesh and meander through Rajasthan before draining into the Yamuna to become part of the Gangetic plains in Uttar Pradesh.

The riverine ecosystem hosts a wide variety of aquatic and bird life. They are the only known place on earth for nesting for the threatened Indian skimmers.

Eight of the 26 rare turtle species found in India are found here, including Indian narrow-headed soft shell turtle, three-striped roof turtle and crowned river turtle.

Other wildlife found here are smooth coated otters, striped hyenas, Indian wolves, Nilgai and the Crocodiles.

On either side of the Chambal River, deep ravines formed by millennia of monsoonal soil erosion have created an impenetrable maze of entwining cliffs of mud and dry scrub forest.

Crime pays?

The inaccessible ravines on either side of the Chambal River sheltered many an infamous gang of Indian outlaws in the 1970-90s, giving the region a hostile reputation. Fortunately for nature, this kept any form of business investment away, and the absence of any polluting factories or construction helped preserve the river’s waters as among the cleanest in the sub-continent, and let its wild inhabitants prosper without much human intervention.


Being a river sanctuary, there are multiple entry points. The main mode of exploration is through small motorised boats which expertly navigate the waters to get up close and personal with crocodiles, gharials and turtles basking on the sandbanks.

From the Director's Travel Diary

I grew up listening to tales of outlaws sheltering in the ravines of Chambal, reading news of gangs of ‘dacoits’ fighting gun battles with the police. In those days, the very idea of tourists visiting this region was ludicrous. One only 'saw' Chambal in Bollywood movies telling tales of these outlaws.

Now, every time I sit in a boat gently chugging along the Chambal, I am awestruck at the rugged beauty of the landscape. In other wildlife reserves, Crocodiles and Gharials are often the support cast, lurking in the corners, to be seen from afar. Here, they are the superstars, deservedly taking centre stage.

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