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The Wild Heart of Chhattisgarh.

Byline: AB

Start from Jagdalpur and drive right into the centre, to experience the essence of this wildly beautiful state

How different do you want your travel experience? What about tasting a chutney made of red ants? Well, that is what a drive through the wild heart of Chhattisgarh can entail--an experience that's truly offbeat. Ever since the state was created out of the tribal ends of Madhya Pradesh, it's been astonishing travellers with a host of wild adventures. Chhattisgarh, they say, is where the gods come to let their hair down.

The starting point is Jagdalpur, the district capital that was once the capital of the Heiheya kings. There's a quaint mud hut eco resort just outside in one of the villages. Half a century ago, say the old hands, the Maharajah would stand on top of his palace and take pot shots at the animals, the forests were so close.

Now however you'll have to take a morning drive out to the Kanger valley, an hour away from Jagdalpur. The dusty road winds up and up between the trees which occasionally arch overhead. Branches brush the car roof, leaves peek in the windows. Kanger's a wildlife sanctuary where tigers have been known to stalk, though everyone around admits that your chances of seeing one are slim. Even without tigers there's quite enough to distract you, as the road behind vanishes in grey dust clouds.

Tirathgarh's amazing waterfall draws people from miles around. The great wave of water cascades over the rocks in seven gigantic leaps, falling into the crystal clear pools below. It comes to life with a colourful noisy village fair round Shivratri. In the rocks you'll discover the three ancient caves that the water has hollowed out of the solid rock, Kailash, Kutumsar and Dandak. Limestone formations drip from ceiling to floor, creating strange shapes and pillars like some Lord of the Rings fantasy castle. Turn a corner and you'll find a shrine in front of an elephant or snake deity that seems to have been frozen in mid writhe. Kutumsar, 55 ft underground, houses the rare blind cave fish that inhabit the deeper pools. Kailash has a statue of Shiva carved by wind and weather.

An hour away again is Chitrakoot, where the Indravati river tumbles down a 100 ft gorge to join the Godavari in two spectacular cascades. In the monsoons this looks like a miniature Niagara. If you've got your swimming gear with you, try the pools at the foot of the falls. The water is so transparent you can see right down to the bottom. Local boats will take you out close to the falls and the State Tourism Department runs a small guest house nearby.

The whole feeling is wild and primeval. You'll find the Gonds who give the region its name all around, singing, dancing, praying. Liberated Gond women sell sulfi, a local brew which they tap from one of the trees. By evening everyone's swaying to a sulfi beat, while the stars multiply to amazingly infinite numbers. You can swap red ant chutney recipes with them if you like--the trick is to collect the ants in leaf cups and put them into the hot embers of a fire for a few minutes. You then take them out and grind them into paste with salt and green chillies. Chindi chutney goes very well with sulfi, they say.

The highway thins into a ribbon road that winds between wild hill tracts. The roadside is dotted with tall menhirs, or what the Gonds call 'hero stones' where village elders are buried. It goes towards Sirpur crossing the upper reaches of the Mahanadi at Arang, a tiny roadside village where you can stop to stretch your legs and drink a hot pot of chai. There's a giant gate past Tumgaon that looks like the open jaws of a spotted lion complete with deadly white teeth and blood red gums, which seems an appropriate entry to Barnawapara. The rough ochre dust road takes you past curious gaur who follow you with their eyes. The jungle is so thick in places that it seems like driving through an endless tunnel, rich with the smell of wild tulsi plants. Occasionally giant spiders spin their shining webs across the road and lie in wait for their prey.

They call Chhattisgarh the secret heart of India. As an experience it's very different from the usual kind of holiday, a sort of stepping back into a simple and yet far more complex world. A world as sharp and clean as the taste of the unforgettable chindi chutney!

Good to know

Raipur, the capital, is the only airport in the state. Indian connect the city with Delhi and Nagpur by daily flights. Raipur and Bilaspur are the two major railway stations, which connect it to all major cities and towns.

--AB

TOP 5 MUST-DOs

In Chhattisgarh

Go bungee jumping between October and March. Chhattisgarh Tourism along with various tour operators organise adventure sports off the cliffs around the Jagdalpur Area.

Try for a Pandwani performance--Tejan Bai is the state's treasure and she's known worldwide for her variations on this folk form. If you're staying at the Kanker Palace they'll be able to keep you updated on schedules.

Shop for bell metal artefacts in Bastar and visit the potter's enclave in Kondagaon.

Visit a weekly market in the Koitor region of North Bastar.

Wait for the bull race that celebrates the Pola Festival, in July-August. People worship Lord Shiva's mount Nandi and races are held in Raipur District.

TOP 5 MUST-SEEs

In Chhattisgarh

Lafagarh Fort, one of the strongest natural forts in India. Located on the highest peak of the Mekaal Mountains, it has unique uneven walls.

Explore the ruins of 147 ancient temples at Barsoor, 75 km from the city of Jagadalpur. The Ganesh Temple is the most popular.

Visit the Bhoramdeo Wildlife Sanctuary a relatively young Wildlife Sanctuary near Sahaspur-Lohara in the Chhattisgarh District of Kawardha.

Ratanpur, which was one of the royal capitals of the area. There's an interesting old fort and the 9 ft statue of bhairavnath in the just before the palace.

The hillstation of Mainpat which is often known as the Shimla of Sarguja. It has a large resident Tibetan population.

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Article Details
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Publication:India Today Travel Plus
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jul 1, 2009
Words:1054
Previous Article:Pitching a Camp in History.
Next Article:Gasping in Awe in Tiger Land.


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