What is life without a little adventure!
We were exploring Chhattisgarh and invariably the conversation veered around the period of violence that engulfed parts of the State for many decades (since the ’60s to be precise). Bastar and Dantewada, the areas that we explored, had been under the dark cloud of naxalism, only a few years ago.
It was quite amazing to see how the districts had managed to regain normalcy. The markets and streets looked like ‘business as usual’, and there were no visible remnants of that violent period in the bustling towns of the district. Of course, as we travelled in the interiors, we did see the scars left behind – abandoned homes, stories by the villagers etc. – but mostly it seemed that the period of destruction was over and the area was on the road to recovery.
J and S bhai who had been driving me around the region began talking about an area that was out of bounds for everyone. This was a place where no para-military force ventured into and civilians were also not allowed to go. The entire region was still under the control of the naxalites, and is known as the “liberated zone”, I was told. The area lay on the other side of the mighty river Indravati and was densely forested. It was believed that the bigwigs of the naxal movement, active in parts of central India, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha lived inside this area.
I was intrigued.
Since we had the time, and J and S bhai were confident that we would be allowed to go up to the bridge on the river beyond which this region lay, we began driving towards it.
We were stopped at a checkpost and J told the personnel that we would just go up to the bridge and return. They assented. Adrenalin was beginning to pump into my body, and I looked out of the window to see the road ahead.
We parked the car on the bridge and got off. 2-3 CRPF personnel were on their phones; it seemed that they got mobile signal on the bridge. We shot a few photos and sat in the car. We had to go till the end of the bridge to turn the car and head back.
When we got off the car again, I saw the board – Welcome to Abhujmaad! The thrill I felt was indescribable!
It was surreal, knowing that on the other side of the mountain and far beyond, lay a part of your country that you’re not allowed to visit!
And, I think it was a combination of every thing – the overcast weather, the desolate landscape and the clouds hanging over the hills – that made the few minutes we spent there, the most thrilling!
The tribals of Abhujmaad (which simply means, Unknown Hills in Gondi language endemic to the region), belong to the Madiya, Abhuj Madiya and Gond tribes and only surface once a week to sell their wares in the local market. I was told that they are spectacularly beautiful and dress very differently from the tribes I’d seen thus far in Bastar.
I’ve decided to explore the region on my next trip and capture the tribals through my lens. Its a trip I am eagerly looking forward to!
PS: I’ve uploaded the video I shot there, which I had intended to show ‘live’ on social media but couldn’t get any network…