Chhattisgarh – Dakshina Kosala full of surprises

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Chhattisgarh – Our Tribal heritage

There are many reasons for us – Indians to feel proud upon our country. Some of them are her natural beauty, her culture and heritage. Our varied cultures were (some are still) sustainable and designed according to the surrounding landscapes and biodiversity.  And when talking about cultures and sustainable lifestyle,  some of our tribal friends are really doing a great job.

The State of Chhattisgarh, India is an excellent combination of tribal, rural and modern lifestyles. We (OikoEssence)  have been planning to visit this state from past several years but, it kept on postponing due to several reasons. Ultimately we got to visit this state in last year. It was a nature camp to Achanakmar Tiger Reserve. But we could not spend more time outside tiger reserve. Hence, we visited Chhattisgarh again in December 2017.  I will slowly take you to the wonderful journey that I had in Chhattisgarh.

We reached Raipur station from Mumbai at 5 pm which was supposed to reach at 4 am. All I can say is that reputation of Indian railways remains unperturbed. Our first stop was at Gariaband. It is at about an hour drive from Raipur. We had dinner on the way at Aman dhaba as per the suggestion of Mr. Javed Memon – owner of The City Regency Hotel, Gariaband. He and his team were very helpful and offered us absolutely comfortable and hassle-free stay at the hotel. The rooms here are clean, big and comfortable. Next day we started at around 7am. Our plan was to reach Jagdalpur via Sitanadi & Udanti wildlife sanctuary. This sanctuary plays a crucial role in saving wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) which is listed in IUCN red data of species as an endangered. This species has fallen prey to the habitat fragmentation and seen in few places in India and less than 4000 buffaloes are surviving throughout the world. That is a real concern because it is a herbivore which are at the bottom of foodchain and hence should be present in large number.

Wild Water Buffalo - Endangered Species
Wild Water Buffalo – Endangered Species (source Wikimedia Commons)

After our ride through their forest but, we continued our journey to the destination – Bastar.

Bastar (the ‘Vastra’ of the state)

Bastar is a very important social, commercial and cultural place in Chhattisgarh. It is considered as an original place of Tribal culture in India. One must visit anthropological museum Bastar to get an idea of how rich their culture is. The way they have been utilizing surrounding flora and fauna for food, shelter, and clothing as well as their fishing nets, agricultural equipment, kitchen utensils and musical instruments is simply amazing. Yet, not disturbing forest on large scale. Their lifestyle is so simple and so close to nature! Another important destination to visit is Kutumsar caves. These are excellent examples of stalactite, stalagmite and column formations of lime stone. Although the column formation of limestone can be seen in various places but it takes hundreds of thousand years to attend a considerable diameter. The columns of Kutumsar caves are very broad. This indicates how old this cave and forest have been.

We saw a crested serpent eagle sitting leisurely on the tree branch and we spent good amount of time in photographing it. While doing that we saw a giant squirrel as well. The guides there were watching us with the curiosity as we were the only group actually looking and admiring these forest components. The guides although trained by forest department don’t come across tourists that are interested in forest. They are used to “general touristy” crowd. All the national parks and sanctuaries are less visited by the ‘wildlifers” as these are almost devoid of their favorite characters – ‘Tigers’. One has to hire an open gypsy for forest department as the road goes through Kangerghati National park. We saw few birds while going to the cave but, couldn’t spend much time in birding as the driver had to take his jeep back to the main gate to collect more visitors. On our way, he mentioned that this was under ‘naxal’ influence few years back but, now completely out of danger due lots of efforts taken by the Government. There is a waterfall nearby which is a famous tourist destination – Tirathgarh waterfall. Another famous fall is Chitrakote falls.

Chitrakote Waterfalls
Chitrakote Waterfalls

Bastar was one of 36 princely state of the state. The name Chhattisgarh itself is derived from 36 garh (kingdoms). Bastar too has an interesting origin. It is believed that when first king was planning establish his kingdom, he worshiped a goddess. The goddess was delighted by his prayers and offered him a piece of cloth which was tied at very high level from the ground. She mentioned that that entire land will be yours from where you will see this ‘Cloth’ – ‘Vastra or Bastra’. Hence name ‘Bastra’ which later became Bastar. Well, this is all what I understood from the guide who accompanied us in Barsur- a heritage place which we covered while travelling to Kanker from ‘Bastar’.

Barsur – city of temples

Battisi Mahadev Temple, Barsur
Battisi Mahadev Temple, Barsur

Barsur is located at 75 kms from Jagdalpur. During our drive towards Barsur, we came across Adivasi bazaar where they sold mahua and indigenously created items. Barsur is a small sleepy village and happened to be thrown off power during the tenure of Gangavanshi rulers in as early as 840 A.D. Barsur is situated on the banks of Indravati River and known as city of temples & ponds. It is believed that it had 147 temples and equal number of ponds in those glorious days. Although Barsur has lost all its glory but, still it four temples – one that has two interesting, huge Ganesh Idols carved in single stone. There are three more temples here Mama-bhanja, Chandraditya & Battisa. Both are less decorative but interesting. Battisa has thirty pillars (battis) and two shivlings inside. These two were established by two queens of King Banasur. All these temples are from 6th century. All these temples are ruined and have simple carvings. Only Mama-bhanja temple looks complete from outside.

We left Barsur at about 6.15 pm and as per our knowledge our night halt at Kanker was about 3 hrs drive from here. But, the road is pretty narrow, under repairs and goes through the nice, dense forest patch in the beginning. All of this made our journey interesting, lengthy and exhaustive. As I am writing, I could relate to indie movie Newton which was shot in Chhattisgarh in nearby Dalli Rajhara. We reached Kanker at midnight! But, we saw our first wild mammal –the Wild Dog followed by a wild cat in forest at beginning. Our Kanker hotel – Bafna lawns was really nice and we had a very comfortable stay. Next day we started late as our next destination – Sirpur was actually 3 hrs drive from here. Our stay was at Hieun Tsang resort – a nice place to stay.

Sirpur – Capital of Dakshin Kaushal and Barnawapara Sanctuary 

Barnawapara National Forest
Barnawapara National Sanctuary

Next day was dedicated to Safaris in Barnawapara sanctuary. This name is a combination of two villages Bar and Nawapara – two villages near sanctuary. The animals here are very shy. We saw spotted deer, sambar deer, Gaur, Neelgai, sloth bear, Langurs and Macaques here along with good number of birds. We saw forest owlet for a very long time. It seemed it quite liked our presence and allowed us to take good number of photographs. Here in this forest I had my very first sighting of a Gaur calf. It was around 3-4 days old! Even the fawn of the spotted deer was the youngest of all that I had seen so far. We enjoyed this day the most as there were very less tourists here. The forests in Chhattisgarh unlike other forests of India attracts less “wildlife lovers”. So, there was no one to run here there in search of tigers and desperately waiting to shoot them with the camera. So, the forest is how it should be – less disturbed. That day we reached the resort late evening but with the beautiful memories of Barnawapara.

7th century Laxman Hindu_temple,Sirpur
7th century Laxman Hindu_temple,Sirpur (source Wikimedia Commons)

Our last day was spent in visiting heritage sites in Sirpur. Sirpur or Shripur as it was known in ancient times, is a small village on the bank of Mahanadi. It was the Capital of Dakshin Kaushal under the Sarabhapuriyas and Panduvanshis. Sirpur has archeological remains associated with Hinduism, Budhha and Jainism. What attracted me more was the construction of walls’ massive thickness with the help of bricks at time! The Laxman temple has carvings on bricks! I was amazed to the creativity shown on stone carvings at Buddha vihara. The stories from Jataka are carved here. A snake is shown entering in a hole from one side and comes from other side of the pillar. The bricks prepared in those times are still algae free whereas at certain places where modern bricks are used by the government to hold the structure properly has got algal attack. Barsur also has remains of bazaar of that time. The Mahanadi was used as trade route and lot of trade used to take place here. Now the Mahanadi flow has reduced and it has gone little away from this bazaar leaving only stories of that golden era that this place has witnessed once.

Oikoessence Group at Sirpur Surang Tila
Oikoessence Group at Sirpur Surang Tila

I really hope that the Land of Chhattisgarh soon gets its glory back and attract more enthusiasts that actually respect her natural beauty and rich heritage. Somewhere in my mind I feel that I will make a visit here again through my venture OikoEssence to quench my thirst of experiencing and learning more places, its culture and admire the heritage.

Gauri Gurav is a botanist and naturalist based out of Mumbai. Having worked at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF India), Gauri has expertise in bio-diversity (birds and plants species) and has extensive field experience in organizing nature camps. Currently, she runs her own venture Oikoessence –

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