B A S T A R.
When I told my friends that I was heading to Bastar for a reconnaissance trip, the only thing they told me is, “Be safe.” No one said, as they’d typically tell me before my trips, “Go enjoy gurl!”… everyone only seemed to be concerned about my safety.
A name that evokes fear.
Indeed, Bastar was in the news for all the wrong reasons in the past few decades. The naxal movement had taken deep root in this district of Chhattisgarh, (previously it came under Madhya Pradesh), and often police, CRPF personnel, members of the district administration, tribals and locals were victims of the violence.
But all that is changing.
From a grand kiosk at the Raipur airport welcoming tourists, to support by the district administration for local cultural and religious events, Chhattisgarh is making a real attempt to becoming tourist friendly.
My first trip to Chhattisgarh was as a travel blogger invited by the district administration to cover a local temple festival in Kabirdham district called the Bohramdeo Mahotsav. It was a whirlwind tour but it was love at first trip! What I loved the most about the places we visited was the stark beauty of the landscape – untouched, virgin and pristine.
But more than that – I am a steadfast lover of people – I fell instantly in love with the tribals (the Baiga tribe is predominant in the Kabirdham region) from my first interaction with the students of a government school. The girls, with tattooed foreheads, were shy at first but began opening up when they realised that I was just like them – a bit nervous and a little out of place.
This was a guided trip and apart from participating in the Bohramdeo Mahotsav, we also visited a few other places. The idea was to showcase Kabirdham as a tourist destination.
The most interesting evening for me was when we visited a local market; not just the goods on display were delightful, it was seeing the tribals in their traditional finery that got me most excited and trigger happy. But the tribals are a very shy lot. They don’t like to be photographed and turn away the moment they see a camera pointed at them. Capturing them was a task and I got a chance to experiment with candid photography!
On this trip I met Jeet, the young and energetic founder of Unexplored Bastar – a venture that works with the tourism department to showcase this district to visitors. It was then that I decided to visit Chhattisgarh again.
My next trip was in the middle of the monsoon, and although a tad inconvenient, given the rain, slush and general discomfort of travelling during rains, I had some intense experiences.
Bastar is beautiful. Lush green fields, dense jungles and waterfalls aplenty – I was left admiring the starkness of nature, in its best, virgin form.
But most of all, as is wont to happen when I travel, I fell in love with Bastar’s people, especially the tribals.
Thanks to my local guide Shakeel bhai, I got to experience the ‘real’ Bastar, that lay in its villages, inside the homes of the tribals who are still deeply connected to the land they feed off of, and inside their lives. I got to travel to a far flung village, sleep in the open, even crap in the open 😀 and enjoy every bit of tribal hospitality. (This merits another post and I shall write about it soon).
We travelled through Jagdalpur, Dantewada and Barsur, and never once did I feel unsafe or threatened. One night, Shakeel bhai and I travelled at 1:30 AM through the most desolate patches of highway and it was safe. I felt no fear, even as we stopped at the lonesome highway dhaba for a cup of steaming hot coffee, after midnight!
On my trip, I saw towns as normal as any Indian town – bustling markets, people heading to work, children going to schools, colleges, temples teeming with devotees, chai shops, dhabas – people living normal, everyday lives with the usual sets of problems. There was nothing alarming, fearful or treacherous about the entire region.
Above all, I got the chance to see a State and its people trying to rise above the dark cloud of naxalism, an era of unprecedented violence, that has left its mark (some uninhabited and desolate villages etc.) but could not manage to rob them of their soul.
After I returned, I was treated like a valiant soldier, who had accomplished a terribly dangerous mission. I tried to explain to everyone that Bastar is SAFE and travelling to this part of the country, need not be considered a perilous trip, but not many would listen. So I decided to write this post.
Bastar’s rich tribal culture remains largely untouched and it is a treasure waiting to be discovered.
Don’t let the fear of a bygone time stop you from exploring this incredibly beautiful region.
Bastar is reviving itself through tourism and I am happy to lend them a hand.