For an outsider, The words “Bastar” evokes a mental picture of dense forests, violence and bloodshed due to LWE and a backward area with large tribal population. I am no exemption to it, till I visited that place during Bharat Darshan. Visiting Bastar is an immersive experience to me into both the nature and culture of Bastar, which I would be cherishing for a long time.
Chitrakoot: The Niagara of India
Our first destination to Bastar is the famous Chitrakoot Waterfalls near Jagdalpur. Chitrakoot waterfalls are situated on Indravati river, that is a tributary of Godavari. The falls offered a picturesque view, despite having less water than usual. The boat ride is the best part, where we were taken close to the falls. We were all soaked by the water droplets that emerged from the large mass of water bombarding the rocks. The falls being called “Niagara Falls of India” is not an exaggeration.
Wherever I go, be it Jammu or Koraput or Andaman, Sunsets just brings inner peace. And sunset at Chitrakoot is no exception Watching that Red evening sun going down the horizon admist the waterfall is a memorable experience.
Kanger Valley National park
The next day we started from Chitrakoot waterfalls towards Kangerghati national park. We reached Jagdalpur , where we saw an operating airport. I couldn’t but appreciate the government UDAAN scheme, that enabled air connectivity to small and remote towns. This part of the country which we are covering is less densely populated and very calm. People are generally friendly. These are very backward areas, which is evident from the type of housing, presence of mobile network. (Airtel doesn’t work ). The terrain is parched , as the cultivation is mostly rain fed and only one crop per season is grown. I kept wondering these vast lands can be used for appropriate crops than paddy, which is a water guzzling crop.
Road connectivity is quiet good, as Chitrakoot is a major tourist destination. We entered the kangerghati which is characterised by red soil, the dust which is settled on tree line bordering the roads. Forest department has arranged for gypsies to promote tourism in that area. This area is characterised by several lime stone caves of which the Kotamsar caves are most famous. The geologist explained that these are live caves , where stalactite and stigmatite structures are in various stages. These formations are often referred by tribals as God(ex: shivling), attracting a lot of footfall. The caves are very natural, there are no lightings , unlike borra. There is less oxygen level which causes a bit dizziness. I was searching for any presence of petroglyphs or cave paintings but found none. There are some species adapted for the darkness like blind fish etc. The cave reminded me of 2018 Thailand incident where few kids got stuck in cave for 10 days and rescued. We left from there to Tirathgarh waterfall.
Thebuffer area of National park have few cultivated fields and villages. I asked the local driver, about wildlife. He said bears, deers etc are present, but all I can see is monkeys and local livestock animals. Tirathgarh waterfalls are very beautiful. The rocky terrain is an added attraction. We reached back to kotamsar forest rest house , where forest department made arrangements for Jungle camping. Evening we went out for a walk in the jungles. There are few tribal hamlets, in the forest. I’m glad and surprised to see government schools and Ayushmann Bharat health & Wellness centre in such remote areas. It’s an amazing feeling to immerse myself in the chirping of birds, the sounds of lush green trees and guzzling waters of waterfalls. There is a calmness within me and I’m savouring every single moment. Later in the evening we had performance by Dhurwa tribals of their cultural dance.
We joined them and they are gracious enough to bear us .There is call in by project director , DM Chandan Kumar sir, IG and other top officials. They explained the significance of the area, the national park and LWE in this region. It’s an area traversed by Lord Ram during exile and CG govt is planning to promote tourism based on Ramayan circuit. Region also known as “ Dandakaranya”. Nearly 1200 police officials and 1700 local people lost their lives in fight against Naxals. The place is slowly coming out of LWE trauma and local administration is determined to bring development. They are viewing tourism as catalyst to development, especially the eco tourism through jungle camping. Bastar has diverse tribal groups , diverse linguistic dialects, influence of all border states i.e Maharashtra, AP, Odisha. I’m surprised to know that the entire area of Bastar region is greater than state of Kerala, which is neglected and underdeveloped. Hopefully this area can retain the peace, cultural diversity , ecological diversity and prosper alongside.
The jungle camping at night is an amazing experience. We woke up to the chirping of birds, the rooster call.It reminded me of my childhood days in village. I took a walk into the jungle, along with my friends. The site of morning sunlight, through the dense forests is serene. I couldn’t but appreciate the arrangements by the project director. Bastar really has scope for off beat tourism. Refresh , relax and rejuvenate from the routine.
Later We headed towards Dhantewada. This is one such place we hear in news for wrong reasons. But its a sleepy little town, well connected from Jagdalpur. Dhantewada name came from Dhanteswari temple , which we visited. It’s one of the 108 Shakti Peethas. Our nodal officer explained the history of this temple, the rulers who are connected to Warangal\Kaakatiyas.
We were donning dhotis to the temple. Being a South Indian my friends had high expectations that ill teach them donning dhoti, but me myself had to rely on YouTube to learn it. Afternoon we got to experience the authentic local cuisine which is completely millet based. Chhapra ka chutney( Red ant chutney), Madia pej, Khodho ka pulav, Khosra , Faraa, Saigoda Ka Subji, kulthi dal are few of them which we savoured.
Bastar is cradle of tribal cultures. I got some spare time today morning and made a visit to zonal anthropological centre at Jagdalpur. The head of the centre is a career anthropologist, who also worked in Andaman. He is more than happy that I visited and tagged me with a research assistant, who explained me about various exhibits of the museum. Anthropology being my optional , I’m excited to see many concepts I studied such as Ghotul( Youth Dormitory), tribal paintings, distribution of tribal population in Bastar, their hunting weapons, agricultural implements, cutlery and crockery, their Gods\Dieties, totemism, Housing patterns , megaliths\tomb stones, ornaments, marriage rituals, their way of brewing Mahua(local drink), Dhokla art etc. The place is a true treasure house.
It is a great injustice to the place, if I say that we covered Bastar in 3 days. What we have seen or experienced about the place is very small compared to what it can offer. From a place that is slowly recovering from LWE, Bastar is focusing on using its strengths in tourism and natural beauty to drive development. We, as IAS trainees, felt the development mechanisms should come from the local people, meeting their needs, their aspirations without threatening their cultural diversity