Bastar district in Chhattisgarh is home to some of the most unique tribal culture in India. However, the Naxalite activity around the borders of the state makes people wary of travelling there. Jinendra Parakh narrates his own experiences travelling to Bastar and how they changed his perception of the region and its people.
I clearly remember a conversation some time ago among friends, “Let’s plan Bastar this weekend. I have heard a lot about Chitrakoot falls and the unique tribal culture.” Unfortunately, as I listened curiously, the early excitement soon gave way to the obvious hesitation of visiting a place gripped by armed rebel parties.
Having visited Bastar more than a couple of times, I can affirm that it has always been safe for travellers.
Chhattisgarh is a traveller’s dream. The state boasts numerous waterfalls and plateaus, a variety of flora and fauna, national parks, temples, and rich tribal arts. However, the Naxalite activities—mostly limited to the border areas of the state—often deter travellers from visiting areas like Bastar. Yet, once tourists arrive in Naya Raipur, the state capital, they begin to realise that Chhattisgarh is no different from other states.
With the exception of a few incidents, Bastar is no more perilous than other places. Raipur and Jagdalpur are as safe as any other Indian city. You see the hustle-bustle of a regular small town city in Jagdalpur, the heart and capital of Bastar district. During festivals like the Bastar Dussehra season, you will also find members of the tribal communities taking to the streets.
Some of the notable places to visit include Chitradhara Jagdalpur, Tamra Ghoomar waterfalls, Barsur village, Chitrakoot waterfalls, Danteshwari temple, Bastar Palace, Kailash and Kotumsar caves, and Tirathgarh waterfalls, among others.
The main tribes of Bastar include the Gond, Abujmaria, Bisonhorn, Maria, Muria, Halba, Bhatra, Parja, and Dhurvaa communities.
The tribals are a bit shy, but friendly. They are as curious to see visitors as the latter themselves! They will extend a warm welcome to you only if they realize that they are not treated as objects of exhibition. Each tribe has its own history, social, and religious customs, and distinct cultures of music, food, and dress worth learning about.
Dance is an important part of the tribal culture in Bastar. There are various forms of tribal dances, which include the Saila, Suwa, and Karma forms. All these forms of folk dances involve complex footwork, and are characterised by their robustness and earthiness.
The region still hasn’t caught the fancy of many people, but if you are looking for a secluded as well as adventurous holiday, then Bastar is the ideal place for you. One safety tip—have a local guide with you at all times, as the region is surrounded by dense forests, which are perfect places to be lost in.
The best part of our Bastar trip was a visit to the weekly haat (market), where I got to interact with tribal communities and understand their cultures.
These weekly markets are places of recreation, social interactions, and business. In one of the interactions, I was told about the local communities’ love for nature and environment. Everyone in the haat (market) was cooperative and helpful while offering us vegetables, local drinks (like the famous mahua made from the flowers of a tree that goes by the same name), and Bastar art and crafts.
The next thing I witnessed near the haat was a cockfight. A distinctive mark of Bastar tribal cultural identity, one such cockfight, in fact, shaped the historical fortunes of the neighbouring erstwhile princely state of Vijayanagaram.
From the haat, I made my way to Bakel, a village with 523 families. I was warmly welcomed by one of the families, who owned a small kirana store. The owner informed me that they serve chutney famously called ‘chapura’, made of red ants. I was amused and thrilled at the same time to have the exclusive privilege to experience the richest culture of Bastar.
Bastar proudly upholds a deep-rooted ancient way of tribal life that can’t be found anywhere else in India.
Our driver Bhisam, who belongs to Bastar, told us that these tribal communities still practice their ancient traditions and rituals. I was amazed to learn about their wedding rituals and social practices. For instance, the Muria tribe has a place called Ghotul, which is an exclusive living space for men and women to find their partners. I spent three days in Bastar, where I learnt several new things about the tribes and their traditions. With all these learnings, my Bastar trip came to an end with lots of memories and an understanding of rich tradition and culture.
Prior to this awesome trip, I too had a misconception about Bastar. But I came back with a different attitude, much of it positive, and I can’t wait to go back there. If you are willing to put up with some of the strenuous aspects of the place, your reward will be the most memorable travel experience of your life. Bon Voyage!
Find out more about Bastar and its tribals and their culture on the district’s official website.