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Hey guys 🙂 Welcome to the fourth part of my East India Travel series 🙂

For those of you who may have missed my previous posts, the East India travel series is about my exciting nine-day journey through three beautiful states in East India: Odisha (formerly Orissa), Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

East India trip map

Here are the links to my previous posts covering the internationally-famous tourist destinations in Odisha:

East India Travel -1: Bhubaneswar

The Heritage Crafts Village of Raghurajpur in Odisha

The Sun Temple of Konark

The World-Famous Jagannath Temple of Puri

East India Travel -2: Puri

East India Travel – 3: Gopalpur-On-Sea & Visakhapatnam

Today I’m going to introduce you to one of the most amazing regions in the country…the colourful tribal district of Bastar in the state of Chhattisgarh 🙂

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A bit about Chhattisgarh and Bastar…

Chhattisgarh was carved out of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh on 1st November, 2000. It is the 10th largest state, 16th most populated state and one of the fastest-developing states in the country. It is famed as one of the electricity and steel producing states of India and accounts for 15% of the total steel produced in the country.

Chhattisgarh is endowed with a rich cultural heritage and attractive natural diversity. Waterfalls, hot springs, caves, temples, National parks, wildlife sanctuaries and so on… Check this video: Charming Chhattisgarh 

Chhattisgarh’s pride is Bastar, which was once an independent kingdom founded in the early 14th century. It is an amazing treasure house of age old tribal culture and history. The administrative headquarters of Bastar is Jagdalpur, which was the capital city of the ancient kingdom.

Bastar is well-known for greenery and lush green mountains. There are quite a number of waterfalls: Chitrakoot Falls, Tirathgarh Waterfalls, Chitradhara Waterfalls, Tamra Ghoomar Waterfalls, Mandwa Waterfalls and Kanger Dhara. Tourist attractions include Kangar Valley National Park- one of the most beautiful and densest National Parks, Kailash and Kotumsar Caves – the oldest and biggest cave formations in Asia discovered only recently, the ancient Bastar Palace built by Kaktiya Dynasty Rulers, the Anthropological museum which has conserved ancient idols and statues showing rich architecture and sculpture of Nagwanshi rulers of early 11 century, lakes like Ganga Munda and the 300-acre Dalpat Sagar. There are plenty of old temples in this region including Danteshwari Temple and a huge Ganesha Temple in Barsoor. Jagdalpur is also well-known for the 75-day Bastar Dussehra unique festival celebrated in August. Popular handicrafts include the world-famous Dhokra or bell metal art, wooden and terracotta items. Check this video: Beauty of Bastar 

And now, enjoy my travels through Bastar 🙂 Please excuse the poor quality of some of the pictures as at times my camera failed me. Happy reading 🙂

Saturday, 23 May 2015

 

Stranded at Koraput station, I look into the crowd and see three city faces… two guys and a girl. They are siblings returning home for a holiday. Their destination is Kotpat, 48 kms beyond Jeypore. They are going to take a shared taxi to Jeypore which is four stations away by rail and 22 km by road. Thinking safe, I decide to accompany them. But first, I need to confirm whether the train is really returning to Visakhapatnam. I enquire at the stationmaster’s office. The information is true. The shared taxi stand is just outside the station.

After a short while, I’m on my way to Jeypore crammed in a taxi with the three siblings and four other people. The fare for the 30-minute drive is 50 rupees per person. We reach Jeypore at around 2:30pm. From here, Jagdalpur is seven stations away by rail and 85 km by road. The road journey takes two hours or so. We spend an hour waiting for the bus to Kotpat. And when it arrives, I find small creepy crawlies roaming inside. I shoo away a small cockroach trying to climb my shoe. But I can’t do a thing about the biting ants. Damn!!! I wish I had taken a shared taxi directly from Koraput to Jagdalpur. The bus ticket costs 70 rupees. The bus leaves only after it is totally packed with passengers, most of them Adivasis (tribals), who account for the majority of population in this beautiful Koraput district.

There’s a thin guy standing close to my aisle seat. Being an observant person, I notice a small cockroach crawling up his thigh and point it out to him. What if the cockroach were to land on me, ugh… I quickly push his butt away from me with my thumb and forefinger. Somehow he has been unable to get the insect off him. I’m left with my fingers on his bun, holding it away from me. That’s till a few minutes later when the realization hits me. Sheesh…!!! Good thing he’s wearing jeans… I can’t believe that I actually bottom-pinched a stranger!

After an hour-long journey, the bus reaches Kotpat at around 4:45pm. I bid goodbye to the siblings and proceed on my way to Jagdalpur. A shared autorickshaw is waiting nearby. The rickshaw ride turns out to be a harrowing experience. Two males are seated next to the driver, seven females with me in two facing backseats, and three males hanging on to the vehicle’s backside. The airflow is blocked. I’m unable to breathe in the small, dark, confined space, with the tattooed bare arms of my ‘tribal neighbours’ pressed against mine. I gasp for breath like a fish out of water. A while later, to my intense relief, the female seated next to the driver side gets off. I quickly move into her seat and turn my face to the open side. As soon as the fresh air hits my face, I feel alright. The passing scenery is soothing.

I reach Jagdalpur at around 5:45pm. The roads are deserted with only a few people in sight. It looks like a small, sleepy town. The rickshaw stops at some place from where I take another rickshaw to the hotel. To my surprise, the rickshaw fare is only ten rupees. And it’s not even a short distance, so I can say that the rickshaw drivers here are quite honest. On the way, I stop for a mineral water bottle.  I hear a loud, plaintive cry of a beggar and turn around to see a grey-haired man dressed in black standing outside the shop. The shopkeeper has run out of change so he gives me two candies instead. On my way out I place them in the outstretched hand of the beggar. “Yeh kya hain? (What’s this?)” He asks in a soft voice. “Chocolate khao (Have a chocolate),” I tell him. The soft laugh that reaches my ear as I rush back to the waiting rickshaw makes me wonder. Was he really a beggar? His voice was so soft and soothing. And I did notice that his hand looked quite strong with traces of dried cement like that of a mason or construction worker. So why was he begging? Ooh, was he a Naxalite keeping watch on the neighbourhood? Hmm, maybe not…

Hotel Suri International on Geedam Road, is one or two kilometres away from the town centre. Otherwise it looks good. The hotel manager is at the front desk. The AC room tariff is 1550 rupees plus taxes. The room shown to me is okay. I’m famished. I haven’t had anything throughout the day, other than peanuts and a few ice-apples. The vegetable pakoras that I order are greasy, but I have them anyway.

It’s 7pm. With no streetlights, wandering outside the hotel is out of question. Besides, there’s nothing to see around. The hotel lounge is quiet too. There are just one or two guests staying in the hotel.

I have planned to visit Chitrakoot Falls tomorrow and I need a tourist car. The hotel manager calls up a few travel agents to enquire about the cost. Chitrakoot is just 30 kms away so I’m shocked when they quote a high figure for the trip. It’s a small place and the hotel is away from the city centre. I’m left with no other choice but to take the lowest offer. The hotel manager asks for a part of the payment as advance. The hotel’s commission, I guess. I ask for the vehicle at 8am so that I can return by 12 noon. As for the return journey, all the Volvo buses to Visakhapatnam are full. I’m in a fix. The manager tells me that I can take a bus to Jeypore from New Bus Stand or Kumharpara Chowk and from Jeypore, another bus to Visakhapatnam. According to him, the frequency of ordinary buses along this route is good.

Around 8:30pm, I have dinner in my room. Vegetable hakka noodles and ice-cream. A spoonful of noodles leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t stomach another spoonful. Butter-scotch is the only flavour in stock, so I have no choice. Shortly after the room boy leaves with the dinner tray, the phone rings. It’s from the restaurant, to check about the noodles.  The guy apologizes when I tell him that I didn’t like it. He is not going to charge me for the noodles and offers to prepare it again or maybe some other dish. More than hungry, I’m sleepy. I politely refuse the offer. The guy actually pleads in a tearful voice that I have something to eat. He’s feeling very bad about my going to bed on an empty stomach even though I remind him about the ice-cream. He gives up when I tell him that I’ll have something in the morning. He’s pleased and tells me that he will rustle up some parathas for breakfast. Breakfast starts at 8am, the time when I have to leave. The guy offers to prepare them a bit early. I can’t have parathas early in the morning but I can certainly carry packed toasted butter and jam sandwiches. The guy agrees to keep the packed breakfast ready before 8am.

Satisfied, I go off to bed a short while later.

 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

 

At 8am, I’m in the hotel lobby cooling my heels, waiting for the tourist car. It arrives at 8:45am! The car owner has accompanied the driver. Instead of a small car, he has got a Mahindra Scorpio for me. But I’m not impressed because he has wasted my precious time. I could have visited Sanjay Market in the town centre if I had known about the delay. I read about this market on an online travel forum. A traveller had written about the variety of exotic vegetables sold here by Adivasi women who pluck them from the forest and sell them fresh early in the morning. They also sell live red ants, a favourite tribal snack. Today being Sunday, it’s market day.

I start for Chitrakoot Falls without any further delay. It’s a beautiful Sunday morning drive. Like last evening, today too there are very few people in sight. The smooth road is lined by flowering trees…

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Watch my video: Beautiful tree-lined roads in Bastar – I

Watch my video: Beautiful tree-lined roads in Bastar – II

Watch my video: Beautiful tree-lined roads in Bastar – III 

In this hot month of May there is so much greenery around that I can imagine how awesome it would be in the monsoon season.

Chitrakoot Falls, the widest waterfall in India, is at an hours’ drive from Jagdalpur on the way to Barsoor. I reach there around 10am. A few vehicles are parked nearby. From far, I catch this beautiful sight of vast quantities of water cascading down the rocky cliff face…

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Created by the Indravati River, the falls are probably half a kilometre wide and 20-30 metres high. During the monsoon season, tremendous volumes of water rush in and flood the entire area before plunging down the entire length of the rocky wall. Check this video: Chitrakoot waterfalls 

These horseshoe-shaped falls are popularly known as the Niagara Falls of India.

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Watch my video: Chitrakoot Falls – I

I didn’t expect many visitors so I’m surprised to see a large group of revellers around. Some of them walk over the destroyed wired fence to take photographs and selfies dangerously close to the falls. I’m tempted to do so too.

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Yours truly…

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Watch my video: Chitrakoot Falls – II

The waterfall generates a cool mist and sunshine crowns a rainbow above it…

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A bit hungry, I open my packed breakfast to have the toasted jam sandwiches. Even a light meal in scenic surroundings is a delightful experience.  Energized, I decide to go to the top of the falls. There are many selfie-crazy tourists this side.

Being summer, the Indravati River is slightly dry…

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I’m now at the top edge of the falls…

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The rainbow is clearly visible in this photo…

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Watch my video : View from atop Chitrakoot Falls – I

Watch my video : View from atop the Chitrakoot Falls – II

The Chhattisgarh Tourism Resort is right across the falls. You can see it to the left, the building in white and blue…

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These falls are accessible from the top as well as bottom. There is a walkway going past the Chhattisgarh Tourism Resort which leads to the place from where boats can be hired to take a ride close to the base of the falls.

I admire the surrounding beauty for a while. The driver of the tourist car, an 18 or 19-year old boy, has told me that Naxalites move around in the surrounding forests. They don’t remain in one place for long because security forces are constantly looking for them. Now I see the boy running towards me. He is scared that I might slip down the edge since it’s quite breezy and I have a bulky tote bag on my shoulder. Hmm, I guess it does appear a bit scary.

On the way out, a tribal woman is selling traditional wooden handicrafts….

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Following the walkway, I reach the opposite side of the falls. The view is fabulous…

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Watch my video : Chitrakoot Falls – III 

Watch my video : Chitrakoot Falls – IV  

It’s very peaceful. I’m tempted to take a boat ride but the heat is becoming unbearable. And it’s only 10:30am! Back in the car, the driver tells me that most tourists enjoy Tirathgarh Falls as they can enter the waterfalls there. The falls are inside the Kangar Valley National Park. This is the most densely-forested region and hence a hotbed of Naxalites. I have to reach Visakhapatnam tonight, so I can’t afford to miss the 3pm bus to Jeypore. But I want to visit Tirathgarh Falls and I still have four hours to spare. The driver’s cell phone has been out of network coverage for a long time. He tells me that outside Jagdalpur network coverage is either poor or non-existent. A bit ahead, he gets to speak to the car owner who tells him that there are no buses from Jagdalpur to Jeypore. He is a local so he must know best. The hotel manager wasn’t even aware of the tribal food sold at Sanjay Market. He told me that it was just an ordinary daily market that opens at 10am-11am, and was closed on Sunday.

The best thing to do is go to Tirathgarh Falls, return to my hotel, check out Sanjay Market and then take the car to Jeypore. After a bit of haggling, the car hire charges comes to 3800 rupees, including the trip to Chitrakoot.

So, we drive towards Tirathgarh Falls. It’s at an hours’ drive. Being my usual chatty self, I get information about everyday life in this region and of course, the dreaded Naxalites. Their fight is against the government, security forces… and informers. They brutally kill informers. They don’t harm tourists. Still, I wonder if we might bump into some of them. They live in dense forests. But there are well-educated ones too, armed with latest technology.

Kangar Valley National Park is well-known for its biodiversity with picturesque landscape, magnificent waterfalls, very famous subterranean geomorphologic limestone caves, and home for the Bastar Hill myna, the state bird of Chhattisgarh. The Kailash and Kotumsar Caves are located near Tirathgarh Waterfalls. The Kotumsar Caves which are about 1327 meters long are the darkest of their sort and are 35 meters below the ground level. These are possibly the world’s second largest caves formed naturally and attract plenty of tourists. But I have neither time, nor interest in caves.

We reach the entrance of the National Park. The entry fee with vehicle is 100 rupees.

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The drive through the park is absolutely fabulous…

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There are many vehicles in the parking area. This place is really very popular. The driver tells me that most of the tourists come from Raipur (capital of Chhattisgarh) and Kolkata.

I cover my face with a stole before getting out of the vehicle. It is 12 noon and blazing hot. Local men in this region cover their heads with white-and-red chequered cotton cloth to counter the intense heat. The falls are a short distance away. A long flight of steps leads down to it. The falls look fabulous, nestled in the stunningly beautiful surroundings.

The 90-metre Tirathgarh Falls…

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A closer view…

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Watch my video : Tirathgarh Falls in Kangar Valley – I         

Watch my video : Tirathgarh Falls in Kangar Valley – II

Watch my video : Tirathgarh Falls in Kangar Valley – III

The water drops off the cliff creating this fall…

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Watch my video : Tirathgarh Falls in Kangar Valley – IV  

Behind Nature’s shower…

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Watch my video : Nature’s shower at Tirathgarh Falls 

The number of new arrivals steadily increases.

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I finish off the toasted butter sandwiches while admiring the scenic views. Around 1pm, it’s time to return to Jagdalpur. On the way, I stop to get a faraway view of the Tirathgarh Falls. It’s tiny whitish patch close to the horizon…

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Watch my video : Beautiful drive through the Kanger Valley in Bastar

On the road to Jagdalpur, I give lift to some stranded bus passengers. Their bus has broken down and there are many of them. There is room only for six in the Scorpio. I can guess that the driver has pocketed some money out of this. After all, it’s an air-conditioned SUV, and there are hardly any vehicles on the road at this hour. I don’t know if I have done good or bad because my head begins to spin with the continuous loud chatter and the stink of their clothes or bags. Finally, I tell the driver to warn them to keep their mouths shut. It works, but only for a while. The chatter starts again.  This time I tell the driver to give them a stern warning. He raises his voice, “Be quiet or else you will be out.” It works great, and peace reigns.

One of the main features of this region are the weekly village markets. I see one alongside the road and climb out for a look around. It’s a cattle market.

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Watch my video : A village haat (market) in Bastar 

I’m back in my hotel room at around 1:45pm, just in time for lunch. I decide to have parathas. As expected, I receive a call from the restaurant to check if I liked the parathas.

Chhattisgarh is one of the few states where the power sector is efficiently developed. It provides electricity to several other states because of surplus production. So I’m surprised by the frequent power cuts happening in the hotel. Whatever, I have discovered that Bastar is a perfect place for an adventurous holiday. A pity, then, that I have spent just a brief time here. I haven’t done any sightseeing in Jagdalpur even though there are just a few places to be seen like Bastar Palace, Anthropological museum, Dalpat Sagar Lake and the craft centre called Saathi Samaj Sewi Sanstha at Kumharpara. The craft village of Kondagaon, known for bell-metal, terracotta and wrought-iron crafts is 60-70 kms away. The best way to interact with tribals and discover their art and culture is by visiting the haats or weekly markets. Perhaps, I can find something interesting at Sanjay Market.

I leave the hotel at 2:20pm. The driver tells me that I won’t find anything interesting at Sanjay Market at this hour. The food stuff from the forest gets over early in the morning itself. Wild onions are very popular here. Still, I climb out for a look around. It’s so very hot outside!

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Taking a few steps, I find two tribal women selling live red ants. Other than that, there’s nothing interesting to see. So I turn back.

Watch my video : Sanjay Market in Jagdalpur  

It’s time to say goodbye to the city as the car starts for Jeypore. Ten minutes later, just outside of Jagdalpur, at Nagarnar, the driver points out the under-construction Nagarnar Steel Plant which will be operational in 2017.

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The scenic beauty on the road continues…

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The SUV zooms along the road and we soon leave Chhattisgarh behind. At 3:15pm, we pass Kotpat. The driver is in a hurry to reach Jeypore because buses to Visakhapatnam are fewer. Forty minutes later, we reach Jeypore bus stand. The Visakhapatnam bus is to arrive in 30-40 minutes. It reaches the city at 10pm. There’s a bus about to leave for Vizianagaram (or Vijayanagaram), which lies on the way to Visakhapatnam. It reaches Vizianagaram at 9:30pm. From there, I will have to take another bus and travel 60 kms to reach Visakhapatnam. Instead of waiting for the direct bus, I board the one that’s about to leave. The ticket costs 160 rupees for the 169 km journey.

It’s a miserable bus ride right from the word go…

 

Coming next: East India Travel – 5: Visakhapatnam  

 

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