As expected, when we informed our friends that we are visiting Chhattisgarh (also referred to as the rice bowl of India), their first volley of questions were concerning the Maoist issue, that it is not a safe place to visit blah blah blah. We don’t know about you, but when everyone around us says – don’t do this, don’t do that, we feel compelled to do it even more.
View from Dholkal Ganesh in Dantewada
So in November 2018, we booked our tickets and visited Chhattisgarh for nine days, which was least to say – a big eye-opener. A part of India that we had never expected to be so rich in nature and culture and a part of of us hopes that it stays that way. Below are a few reasons why we believe the experiential traveler should definitely visit Chhattisgarh.
Maoists do not harm tourists
Agreed, there is Maoist unrest in the State but when was the last time you heard that Maoists blew up a bus full of tourists or kidnapped them? The answer is – Never! Maoists have a problem with the administration but leave tourists to do touristy things in the State. So do not get convinced otherwise that the Maoist unrest is a reason why you shouldn’t visit Chhattisgarh. There is more than adequate security all over the State and at times the presence of so many cops made me feel more safe in Chhattisgarh than we do in Delhi.
Jeep safari in Barnawpara Wildlife Sanctuary
Unexplored forests of Chhattisgarh
Unexplored Forests & Natural beauty
We spoke to some people from Raipur and other parts of Chhattisgarh about which forests and national parks to visit and what we should expect to see there but unfortunately they had not visited and explored these places for various reasons. However, during our visit we found the forests to be dense with flora and safe to venture in to once we checked in with the local authorities. What can be further improved in some places, is the training of naturalists and guides to know the flora and fauna of the forests and upgrading the facilities to make them more tourist friendly. Also during the jungle safaris that we took in Barnawpara and Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, ours was the only vehicle in the forests. Less disturbance to wildlife and no dust in your face from speeding vehicles ahead of us are two things that we really enjoyed during the jeep safaris.
Brilliant for Bird-watchers
We documented over 120 species of birds during the nine day tour of Chhattisgarh. We hear that species who’s presence was previously uncertain in the State are now being identified and documented especially in Kanger Valley National Park in Bastar district. Bird-count and identification is being carried out more rigorously but by a handful of dedicated bird watchers. Some of these discoveries are updated in the eBird database. You can download the app and see what species have been spotted and where.
Green billed Malkoha
Birds of significance (according to us) were Green billed Malkoha, Malabar Trogon and Bastar Myna (which we didn’t see but Ravi, an ornithologist claims are in the area), Black Crested Bulbul, Crested Tree Swift, Collared Pratincole, Indian Scimitar Babbler and many more.
Mammals are shy as hunting is still widely practiced in the State. During our safaris in the national parks we didn’t see a tiger which was never our focus in the first place but we came across herds of Indian Bison or Gaur, two species of civet cats, giant squirrel, deer and antelope species. The more time you spend in the wild the more the chances are of spotting wildlife in these largely explored forests.
Indian Bison or Gaur
Dhurwa tribal hunters with bow and arrow
Rich tribal culture
It won’t be long before modernization infiltrates the lifestyle of Chhattisgarh’s 30+ tribes, notably the Gond, Maria (also known as the bison horn tribe), Baiga, Dhurwa and Bhil. So if you want to visit these friendly tribals many of whom still practice bow and arrow hunting, learn more on the barter system the follow, their reliance on the forest for their daily needs and handmade beaded jewellery and other handicrafts, then you must visit Chhattisgarh now.
The Waterfall State
Chhattisgarh has several waterfalls and natural caves but you can’t see them all in one visit. From the widest waterfall in India – Chitrakote Waterfall near Jagdalpur to the mystic Tirathgarh waterfall, the State has many such natural wonders that are a must visit if you’re in Chhattisgarh. Kutumsar Caves is also a must visit if you’re in the vicinity of Tirathgarh.
Kadaknath Chicken (Source: Unnamed from the Internet)
Food, Festivals and Markets
Have you ever had a kadaknath murga? Probably not. So this is chicken curry but not from any ordinary chicken. This species of chicken is all black. Not only are it’s feathers and face black but so is it’s blood! Kadaknath murga curry is a delicacy in Chhattisgarh and is fast becoming popular across India. Besides the chicken curry, Chhattisgarh’s local food is mostly rice based including the chapatis. We sampled some street food in Raipur and it was delicious. One thing we did leave for our next visit is Chapda or the red ant chutney which is literally made up of red ants and is a delicacy amongst the tribals!
Chhattisgarh is also known to celebrate it’s festivals in a grandeur manner, especially Dusshera which is apparently the longest celebrated Dusshera in India. Although we didn’t witness any festivals while we were there, we sure hope to do so in our next visit to Chhattisgarh. Another interesting attraction in Chhattisgarh is the local markets organized by the tribal communities. Different regions have these large open air markets on different days of the week. They draw people from all parts of the State. Besides fruits, vegetables, and daily household items, tribals sell locally made concoctions, medicines and herbs and other produce sourced directly from the forests. On occasion, in these markets men engage in a very competitive form of cock fighting. These cocks have a sharp blade attached to their talons and in most fights one or both succumb to the wounds. We believe these cock fights are no longer permissible because when we tried to record them on our phones, we were not so politely asked not to.
Women selling fresh produce in a market in Chhattisgarh
Our gratitude and sincere appreciation to Mr. Himshikar Gupta, District Magistrate of Mahasamund and his entire team and colleagues in Dantewada and Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh Forest Department and the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board for their guidance and help in arranging the logistics and stay while in their State. Without them, this trip would not have been possible and enjoyable.
Brown fish owls