It is one of only three major rivers in peninsular India that run from east to west (longest west flowing river), along with the Tapti River and the Mahi River. It is one of the rivers in India that flows in a rift valley, flowing west between the Satpura and Vindhya ranges. The other rivers which flow through rift valley include Damodar River in Chota Nagpur Plateau and Tapti. The Tapti River and Mahi River also flow through rift valleys, but between different ranges. It flows through the states of Madhya Pradesh (1,077 km (669.2 mi)), and Maharashtra, (74 km (46.0 mi)),(39 km (24.2 mi)) (actually along the border between Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra (39 km (24.2 mi)) and then the border between Maharastra and Gujarat (74 km (46.0 mi)) and in Gujarat (161 km (100.0 mi)).
The source of the Narmada is a small reservoir, known as the Narmada Kund, located at Amarkantak on the Amarkantak Plateau in the Anuppur District, Shahdol zone of eastern Madhya Pradesh. The river descends from Sonmud, then falls over a cliff as Kapildhara waterfall and meanders in the hills, flowing through a tortuous course crossing the rocks and islands up to the ruined palace of Ramnagar. Between Ramnagar and Mandla, (25 km (15.5 mi)), further southeast, the course is comparatively straight with deep water devoid of rocky obstacles. The Banger joins from the left. The river then runs north–west in a narrow loop towards Jabalpur. Close to this city, after a fall of some (9 m (29.5 ft)), called the Dhuandhara, the fall of mist, it flows for (3 km (1.9 mi)), in a deep narrow channel through the magnesium limestone and basalt rocks called the Marble Rocks; from a width of about 90 m (295.3 ft), above, it is compressed in this channel of (18 m (59.1 ft)), only. Beyond this point up to its meeting the Arabian Sea, the Narmada enters three narrow valleys between the Vindhya scarps in the north and the Satpura range in the South. The southern extension of the valley is wider at most places. These three valley sections are separated by the closely approaching line of the scarps and the Satpura hills.
Emerging from the Marble Rocks the river enters its first fertile basin, which extends about 320 km (198.8 mi), with an average width of 35 km (21.7 mi), in the south. In the north, the valley is limited to the Barna–Bareli plain terminating at Barkhara Hills opposite Hoshangabad. However, the hills again recede in the Kannod plains. The banks are about (12 m (39.4 ft)) high. It is in the first valley of the Narmada that many of its important tributaries from the south join it and bring the waters of the northern slopes of the Satpura Hills. Among them are: the Sher, the Shakkar, the Dudhi, the Tawa (biggest tributary) and the Ganjal. The Hiran, the Barna, the Choral, the Karam and the Lohar are the important tributaries joining from the north.
Below Handia and Nemawar to Hiran fall (the deer's leap), the river is approached by hills from both sides. In this stretch the character of the river is varied. The Omkareshwar island, sacred to the Lord Shiva, is the most important river island in Madhya Pradesh. At first, the descent is rapid and the stream, quickening in pace, rushes over a barrier of rocks. The Sikta and the Kaveri join it below the Khandwa plain. At two points, at Mandhar, about 40 km (24.9 mi) below Nemawar, and Dadrai, 40 km (24.9 mi) further down near Punasa, the river falls over a height of about 12 m (39.4 ft).