Often overlooked by travelers, Chhattisgarh has been a treasure trove, yet to be explored and discovered. This jewel in the heart of India promises compelling experiences once you decide to wade around the land of mysteries. Chhattisgarh is a gold mine of fascinating tribal culture in India. It thrives on the cultural magnitudes and the myriads of age-old traditions and rituals that are yet to be told. Whether it is the exclusive handicrafts, wild rivers, quaint villages, ancestral temples, rich tribal cultures, ancient monuments, historical cities, unique festivals, the saga of the Royal Palace, the wilderness of the natural parks, or forgotten tales of dense forest in Bastar, Chhattisgarh is a land full of surprises and many possibilities. It is a potpourri of countless attractions. Seeing everything with your own naked eyes will be endlessly rewarding.
I had visited Chhattisgarh in the year 2015 on the invitation from Chhattisgarh Tourism Board. Completely unaware of the social fabric and mosaic of cultural background of this amazing state, I was overwhelmed by everything I saw and experienced there. More than anything, the tribal culture of Bastar just made me fascinated. Infamous for the Naxalite activities, Bastar is more than that. The other side of Bastar is the treasure of the myriad of wonders.
Bastar is a well kept secret of Chhattisgarh. Bastar flaunts dense forests, Kanger valley national park, hidden caves, gushing waterfalls, unique festivals, exquisite handicrafts and incredibly simple tribal people with their rich cultural heritage. Home to almost 40 tribal communities, Bastar is popularly known for Bison Horn Maria, Abhuj Maria, Muria, Bhatra, Dhurva, Halba, Dorla, and Gond tribal communities. The Bastar region starts from the Kanker district, though the tribal settlement starts beyond Keshkal valley which leads to Kondagaon and Narayanpur.
Bastar-The Tribal Planet of India
One of the main attractions of Bastar in Chhattisgarh is the tribal communities, their lifestyle and culture. Bastar invites you to a land that flaunts thousand shades of green, lush paddy fields spread across miles, and chirping birds complimenting the surroundings. The earthy smell of the wet soil adds to the charm of this vibrant dream. Time slows down here. Untouched by the modernity, Bastar thrives on its ancient traditions till date. The icing on the cake is the simple, humble and hospitable tribal people of this part of the state. Remotely located Bastar takes you on an expedition like never before. The best way to explore this part of the state is to surrender completely to the rural rhythm and soak into their culture.
It was a rare opportunity for me to experience the exclusive takeaway from Bastar when I learnt that I was visiting a village called Mawlipadar in Bastar to experience the unique lifestyle of Dhurvaa tribe. This is the closest you can get to a tribal community in Bastar. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was about to experience the mystified world of the tribal communities to know closely about their way of life, customs, traditions and rich rituals in the midst of the forest.
With folded hands and a smile on the face, an elderly woman welcomed me into her household. The curious tribal family gathered in their courtyard to receive us. The mud hut surrounded by paddy fields and forest makes it picture perfect for your travel postcard. The head of family and the other members were getting inquisitive about our whereabouts. With the help of our guide we exchanged dialogues with them. Though we failed to understand the language of each other, but the warmth in their behavior and the hospitality of the family were strongly felt.
Food in Bastar has a very distinctive flavor. They have a variety of cuisines, mostly made out of ingredients found in the wild. Some of their wild cuisines are from their tribal kitchen and they are not for the faint-hearted. Only the explorer who is open to new experiences and courageous enough to taste the wild food can relish a few delicacies. One of the famous from the list is the Chapura-The Red Ant Chutney. Believe or not, it is one of the most popular delicacies from the land of Bastar. Apart from that, the locally brewed drink Mahua, made of the wild flower, is a must try.
The surprises started unfolding slowly when I was asked to accompany the head of the family to the jungle. It can’t get better that this when you are guided by the locals in the forest. As we proceeded with him, I was completely unaware about the real reason to follow him. Everything fell into place when he started climbing a tall tree to break a nest with a stick to collect the red ants. Another brave villager joined him and stood under the tree to catch it and quickly put it in a leaf bowl, which he made then and there. They were quite resourceful.
The women back home make a fine paste of the red ants adding ginger, garlic, chili and served it at lunch. Not just that, we were served authentic tribal cuisines that included Bhat (Rice), Daal and Amath from Bastar in the most traditional way. We relished the food on leaf plates, freshly stitched, just for us.
When in Bastar, do try a snack made of rice and lentil fried called Bobo. Don’t miss the dessert called Soju, made of jaggery-sweetened dessert that looks like a Barfi.
You will get a variety of alcoholic beverages in Bastar. They are part of their lifestyle. Don’t be surprised if you witness women selling the beverages in the weekly haat (market) and equally enjoying the drinks, as this is essential to their tribal menu. Some of the prominent drinks are Mahua, Salphi, Landa and Rasum.
The Ghotul Culture
Do you know that the young women and men from Muria tribe can choose their life partners and are allowed to spend a few days at a place called Ghotul to know each other before giving a thumps up for their wedding?
Do you know about a fascinating culture named Ghotul that exists in the deep forest of Bastar?
The Ghotul culture is an integral part of Muria tribal life. It is often misunderstood by the outsiders, considering it as a place of debauchery. In reality, Ghotul is social arrangement for the Cheliks (unmarried boys) and Motiaris (unmarried girls) who are encouraged to go to the exclusive living space where they meet, greet, dance, sing and spend nights together in an earthen and wooden hut at the outskirt of the village. The purpose of the Ghotul culture is not just to find the potential life partner, but they are given an exclusive time to know each other before the big commitment. In Ghotul, they learn about various tribal customs, rituals, social responsibilities, various life-saving skills and are also taught about sexuality.
The young women and men, after finishing their household work, go to Ghotul. Everyone wears their best attires. Women adorn the beautiful traditional sari, decorated bun with Mahua flower, traditional jewelry and headgear which enhances the beauty. The Ghotul culture is an indispensable part of the Muria way of life. They believe that the Lingo, their supreme deity, created the first Ghotul.
According to Dr. Verrier Elwin, “The ghotul was not just a club, but a place where freedom and happiness were treasured. Sympathy, friendliness, unity and hospitality were of primary importance. Love was beautiful, clean and precious and sex was a part of life. Today, ghotuls are fast disappearing”.
On deciding upon the prospective groom and bride, the respective parents are informed about the decision. Eventually, it leads to marriage. At weddings in Bastar, there is “Reverse Dowry” system where the groom family has to offer dowry to the bride’s family before marriage. However, the dowry doesn’t follow the traditional Indian footsteps; rather they offer Mahua drinks, rice, goats and sometimes Mahua flowers as dowry.
The Ghotul culture celebrates a great sense of liberation. It is almost unlikely to believe that a community living in the middle of dense forest, far away from the spell of modernity, is practicing a system which is way forward in comparison to the so-called modern folks who are living in the metro cities with closed minds.
Tattoo is one of the most important parts of Cultural Identity of Tribal Communities in Bastar. The tribal communities can be identified by their tattoo art on their body. Each tribal community has a distinctive way of making a tattoo. It is a part of their lifestyle and considered very important. They believe that the bride needs to have tattoos on her body before the marriage. Traditionally, if a woman does not have tattoos, her parents have to pay a huge dowry to the groom’s family.
The tattoos are not just considered as body art here, but it has a way deeper meaning to it. They believe that tattoo art enhances the beauty of the bride and it is better than any jewelry. The tattoo art on the body is considered as permanent jewelry which one takes along in the journey of the afterlife. According to their tradition, tattoos are essential for woman to gain entry into the heaven. They have a separate ceremony where women participate to draw tattoos on the bride’s body before the wedding. The tribal women look stunning with the striking body art.
Haat (Market Place)
You would not mind the delightful chaos in the weekly haats in Bastar. It has a very lively vibe and quite vibrant with tribal people. It is a great place to meet and interact with the local tribal communities and observe their life. People come from far off places with their local produce to sell and do business. These weekly Haats are places of recreations and social interactions. You will find all kinds of things in the weekly Haats, from fresh vegetables, Mahua drinks, fruits, variety of fried snacks, etc. Women clad in bright saris, Mahua flower sitting aptly on the bun and coyness in their face add beauty to the crowed affair. I met a few women who were brave enough to give their nod for a photograph;the other just turned their faces away when asked for permission.
Well, I couldn’t forget the moment when one of the women offered me their local Mahua drink to taste. To my surprise, I ended up finishing half of the glass, without knowing the after effect of the alcoholic drink. It hit me within a few minutes. The distinctive flavor of that drink still lingers in my mouth. It was quite a day.
Art & Craft of Bastar
Bastar’s villages are also known for their finest craftsmen and their excellent work of art. Paintings inspired by the tattoo arts, bell metal sculptures, wrought iron figurines, weaving, terracotta & clay work, Gonda art, this region is rich with art and craft. Their products have reached far away countries as it is being exported internationally as well.
The signature craft of Bastar is Dhokra. It is an ancient method of metal casting which have been passed down through generations. It is said that this art dates back to more than 4000 years.This unique piece of art has become the recognized identity for Bastar. They are also known for slim iron figurines which are crafted with a wrought iron. Using this technique, they create mirror frames, iron wall hanging, candle stand and many more. Terracotta or Clay work is another craft that Bastar is known for. Weaving, tribal paintings, Kosha silk, stone sculptors are remarkable from this part of the region as well.
Festivals of Bastar
The Bastar Dussehra is the most prominent festival of this part of the state of Chhattisgarh. It is the longest festival of the world which goes on for 75 days. Bastar Dusshera is celebrated in honor of the local deity “Shri Danteshwari Mai” and was started almost 800 years back.The whole Jagdalpur comes to life with vibrant colors and various festivities during 75 days of grand celebration. The festival starts from July and continues till October. Thousands of Adivasis from all across Chhattisgarh participate in the festival rituals, especially in the last ten days.
In the 17th Century , under the reign of King Dalpat Dev, Dusshera started being celebrated in Jagdalpur and since then it is also known as Jagdalpur Dusshera. The king encouraged the tribal communities to participate in the festival and since then all the tribal communities in Bastar actively participate in the festival. Even today, the king of Bastar is considered to be the high priest of the Danteshwari Maa temple, where he performs all the rituals during Dusshera.
The highlight of the festival is the “Rath Yatra” wherein 8 and 4 wheels chariots are decked with flowers and the chariot is pulled around the town along with the procession. It’s a sheer visual treat. The last day of the Dusshera is called “Bahar-Rainy” in their local language. Interestingly, the chariot is made by local tribal craftsmen who are based in the two main villages called Jhar-umad and Beda-umad. Almost 140 tribal craftsmen from these two villages have been making the chariot every year for the Bastar Dusshera from over 600 years.
Places to See in Bastar
Far away from the chaos, Bastar is like a hidden treasure in the lap of nature. Whether its rich flora and fauna in the mystical forest, hidden natural caves, gushing waterfalls, ancient temples, national park, vibrant festivals or warm tribal people, Bastar never fails to surprise you in the most delightful way. Find out below, the top places to visit in Bastar:
Chitrakoot Waterfalls is one of the main attractions of Bastar. The sheer view of the magnificent waterfall is a visual delight. Chitrakoot Waterfalls is like poetry in motion. Located in Jagdalpur, this spectacular waterfall changes color from season to season. The milk like water cascading from the flat surface in the hot summer season while turning to brown color when the monsoon is in its full glory. The splashing sound of the Chitrakoot Waterfalls dominates the surroundings. This massive waterfall is also called as “Mini Niagara Falls” of India. The name Chitrakoot is derived from the word Chitra meaning “Deer” and Kote meaning “Jhund”. This horseshoe shaped waterfall is the broadest waterfall in India.
Kanger Valley National Park
The Kanger Valley National park is one of the popular tourist attractions in Bastar. Just 27 km away from Jagdalpur, this virgin land has been a haven for nature lovers, environmentalists, and adventurers. The Kanger Valley National park is considered as one of the most picturesque national parks in India. Spread over 200sq km, the Kanger Valley National park is rich in flora and fauna and a huge variety of wildlife can be seen here. Under the umbrella of moist deciduous sal, teak and bamboo trees, the forest flaunts the most gorgeous sight. The lush green and thick forest of the national park is quite enchanting. Wild animals like barking deer, sambar, cheetal, langur, macaque monkey, leopard, and Solth beer are commonly found here.Be attentive to the sound of Bastar hill myna, an endangered bird with yellow plumage on the back of its head. Besides wildlife, there are many tourist attractions inside the park such as the Kutamsar Caves, Kailash Caves, Dandak Caves and magnificent Tirathgarh waterfalls.
Dandak, Kutumsar and Kailash caves
The Kanger Valley National park houses Dandak, Kutumsar and Kailash caves inside the park, which were founded by a forest official named Bhatiram Taram in 1995. Out of these three caves, only Kutumsar cave is open for tourists. The narrow pathway leads you to the open wide hall, 300 m in length. You would be amazed to see the limestone stalagmites dripping from above once you throw light on it. Dandak and Kailash caves are not open for tourists. You may need special permission from the District Forest Officer to enter these caves along with a certified guide.
To have a royal taste in the land of Tribal communities in the lush green forests, a visit to Kanker Palace is a must. The Kanker Palace is the residence of the erstwhile ruling family of the princely state of kanker. The Palace was known as Radhanivas Bagicha. The colonial styled architecture, the elegant décor and antique pieces and furniture inside the living room shouts highly about the royal lifestyle. I was fortunate enough to meet the king and his family who hosted a royal lunch for us at the palace. The vintage car in front of the palace, manicured lawn and the white washed colonial building exudes an old world charm and gives you a glimpse of the bygone era. The royal palace is also equipped to host guests.
After Chitrakoot Waterfalls, I was mesmerized by the very first look of the massive Tirathgarh Waterfalls. It was nothing less than a visual delight. The sound of the gushing waterfalls, cascading through the giant rocks gives you Goosebumps.Located at a distance of 35 kms from Jagdalpur, the height of the waterfalls is approximately 30 ft in stages. One can walk down the steps to the base of the waterfalls. It is one of the most popular sites in Bastar and you will always find tourists there.
At the heart of Bastar, Jagdalpur is the excellent base for the travelers, wishing to explore the tribal planet of India. One can travel to the deep inside the forests, tribal villages, national parks, waterfalls, and weekly tribal haats from Jagdalpur easily. Jagdalpur provides a variety of accommodation options for the travelers as well. Don’t forget to visit the famous Anthropological Musuem, Bastar Palace, Danteshwar Temple and Forest Training School in Jagdalpur. Jagdalpur comes alive during Bastar Dussehra since it is the hub of the riotous festival of this region.
One of the main attractions of Jagdalpur is the popular Danteshwari Temple. A visit to this temple is a must if you are visiting Bastar. The temple is one of the Shaktipeeths in India. Located at the confluence of the holy rivers Shankini and Dhankini, the temple’s architecture resembles the south Indian style. Devotees from far off places visit this place. Danteshwari Temple is dedicated to the Kuldevi (family Goddess) of Bastar. Once you enter the main temple, you will see the statue of the Goddess, adorned with bright clothes, jewelry,flowers and offerings. There is a small Mahakali Shrine on the right and a Ganapati Statue installed on the left as you enter the area. Danteshwari Temple is an important site as most of the events are initiated and concluded at the temple during Bastar Dasshera.
Around 75 km from Jagdalpur, towards Dantewada, there is a small town named Geedam. About 24 km away from this village lies the Barsur on the bank of river Indrawati. This place is famously known as the city of temples and ponds. It is believed that there used to be 147 temples and equal number of ponds earlier. You will find ruins of those temples presently, but there are four temples worth visiting even today, namely, Maama Bhanjaa temple, Ganesh Temple, Chandraditya temple, Solah Khamba Temple, and Battisa Temple. Don’t forget to visit the large pond of prehistoric days there.
Another ancient temple in Bastar region is Semlur. This temple is dedicated to lord Shiva dating back to the early Kalachuri period. Semlur Temple is quite popular among locals. The temple houses a linga which is worshiped by the local people even today. The height of Shivalinga is 2 ft. approx. The temple is beautifully guarded by the well sculpted Nandi and the garbhagriha.
Another fascinating site in Bastar region is Dholkal. This place is famous for the mystical Ganesha idol. Located on the hilltop at a height of 3000 feet, the mystery of the Ganesha idol in Dholkal is unsolved till date. It is said that during the time of Naga dynasty, the idol was established on the hilltop. The idol is said to last from the 11th century. Interestingly, it remained unknown for many centuries until September 2012 when an archaeologist found the idol in the dense forest ranges of Bailadila in Dantewada. The attractive feature of the giant Ganesha is the beautiful carvings.
- Wears moderate attire while visiting remote tribal areas like Bastar. Remember that you are entering into traditional tribal villages. So you need to be dressed accordingly.
- Whenever you meet villagers don’t forget to fold your hand and greet them by saying “Johaar”. It covers everything like Thank You, Goodbye, How are you, etc.
- Please carry insect repellent, water bottles, hat, sunglasses and snacks with you.
- Use bathroom/restroom beforehand as you are likely to find restrooms outside the towns.
- Don’t forget to wear your sports shoes while visiting forested areas in Bastar.
- Don’t judge their primitive lifestyle. Refrain from commenting on their way of living and food habits.
- Always ask for permission before taking photos of Adivasis in the village.
- Don’t venture around unknown territories there. Always be with your guide to avoid any kind of unwanted occurrences.
- Always be respectful towards the tribal people and be kind.
- Don’t litter. If you don’t find bins, bring back the trash to the city.
- Don’t forget to sample some authentic food in Bastar if you get an opportunity.
How to Reach
The Swami Vivekananda Airport, Raipur is the main airport of Chhattisgarh. It is well connected to major cities like Bhopal, Indore, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. Jagdalpur is around 300 km from the airport. You can opt for a road trip from Raipur to Jagdalpur and then make your way to Bastar.
Jagdalpur has its own railway station named Jagdalpur Railway Station. It is well connected with the cities such as Raipur, Bilaspur, Delhi, Puri, and Visakhapatnam.
Jagdalpur is around 300 km from Raipur. You can choose to travel by private cars or otherwise Chhattisgargh State Transport Corporation buses. There are also private bus services available. It takes more than 5 hours to reach Jagdalpur from Raipur.
Where to stay
You will get accommodations ranging from Heritage, Luxury to Budget in Jagdalpur, depending on your choice. However, if you wish to stay in Chitrakoote, I highly recommend Dandami Luxury Resort (Operated by Chhattisgarh Tourism Board) for its excellent location. I personally experienced stay-cation there during my visit and I must admit that this is the best property around the famous Chitrakoote waterfalls.
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