This young tribal State is worth a visit just for its natural splendour and art, says a persuasive GEETA PADMANABHAN
Chhattisgarh, that young tribal State makes for a perfect honeymoon spot. Its warm climate, warmer hospitality, thick forest cover, breathtaking waterfalls and tribal art enthrals. On its smooth and secluded roads, take long rides without trailing paparazzi. Go to Chhattisgarh. Or, check out our travel diary.
The 70-seater Bombardier CRJ-700 deposited us in the small and clean Vishakhapatnam airport. From here, it's a long drive into Chhattisgarh through Orissa, but not without compensation. Within an hour of leaving Vizag, we are on the ghat section. The elevation is sudden and for a hundred km, we travel through a range of mountains — rock formations on one side and the valley views on the other. Then we cross into Orissa. The mountain track simply vanishes to be replaced by boulders, broken tar and deeply uneven surfaces. Trucks loaded with iron ore and tankers filled with gas and acid come rattling down, leaving you cringing with fear. The five-hour journey extends to eight with no food or toilet facilities on the way. (Catch the train to Jagdalpur. It goes through scenic countryside and is safer)
Asna, the government guest house at Jagdalpur is pretty. Our only co-tourists, a doctor couple, has an educated guide in PJ Toppo, who draws a tour map for us. We leave at 8 a.m. for sight-seeing, and when we return around lunch, Chhattisgarh has made us her devotees. Around 35 km from the guest house, well into Kanger Valley, we stop at a road bifurcation to buy tickets to enter Kutumsar Caves, geologically one of the most marvellous in Asia. A guide with solar lamps takes us through 330 metres of this stalactite-stalagmite wonder. We crawl through a three-ft-wide opening and slip down into a rabbit hole to see limestone formations of mind-boggling variety — hanging cones, round tables, full-length pillars, concentric circles, two large eyes, crocodile, and a sivalingam too! The cave waters have blind fish that have evolved to become totally independent of sunlight. From the opposite side, we hear the sound of a cascade. Down thirty steps, and we stand facing the beautiful Tirathgarh Falls, swooshing over layered shale rocks. The place is clean, with a secluded place for a bath. We climb a small hill of temples for the brilliant views. After lunch we take off again covering the 40 km to Chitrakote quickly. At the guest house with rooms on stilts, we come face-to-face with the magnificent Chitrakote waterfalls! The horseshoe-shaped falls formed on Indravati River takes an abrupt 100-ft drop. We walk on top of the falls, and row behind in the pool below. You can apparently snorkel in the dry season; it's a hotspot for fishing. At the Sivarathri Mela I go hunting for the local black-bead necklace. “Ten rupees,” the girl says, daring me to bargain. But need I? Back in the room, we sit gazing at the waterfall now lit by arc lights. The room, not cheap, isn't five-star. But, it does not matter in front of the roaring falls!
Early morning, we take off to Dantewada, 70 km away, with our guide Kushal. We stop at the pretty Narayanpal Vishnu Temple. Ten km through a mahua forest (adivasis make arrack from the flowers!), Kushal stops the car and asks us to follow him. We do, on a mud track, till we step suddenly on crystal clear water. A few metres away, the water falls into a gorge, as the Tambra Falls. I splash around watching beehives on the stone walls. Danteswari, the tooth goddess, blesses devotees from a small, stone temple, 650-odd years old. Behind her are the two rivers — Dangini and Changini — who together have broken down a mountain. On the way back, we checked out two large Ganeshas in a 900-year-old temple in ruins.
On the long drive back to Vizag, we try our hand at making terracotta figures at Kondagaon Centre for Bastar handicraft. At the Jagdalpur Anthropological museum, a well-informed curator gives us an educative tour of the exhibits explaining the highly-evolved life of the adivasis.
The tourist tagline for Chattisgarh is “Full of Surprises”. Go find them.