All about BASTAR
‘You are planning an all India journey on bike?’
‘It has its dangers too.’
‘That’s true. I am especially concerned about the route that passes from Vishakhapatnam to Jagdalpur in Bastar district. It is a sensitive area.’
Even for a seasoned traveler like me, the region of Bastar had an impression of a dense jungle, with tribals, extremists and backwardness. This was reinforced by the talk I had with my friends from Chattisgarh, though none of them had themselves been to Bastar.
With all these notions, I took a train from Vishakhapatnam, to Jagdalpur, not during the bike journey that I had planned, but another journey that just happened.
The train departs from Vishakhapatnam by 7 am, and passes through the highest broad gauge station on the Indian Railways. The route is among the scenic rail routes in India, and has many attractions on the way- The Limestone caves of Bora, The Araku Valley with its rolling hills, and the Bastar tableland. From Araku, the train entered Orissa, to pass via Jeypore and Koraput- the areas infamous for all wrong reasons. While in the train, I interacted with a few locals. Finally, by evening, I was in Jagdalpur, my destination.
On coming out, I found the town similar to any other town in India, with shops, autos, and I passed by the Chandni Chowk- A city square in the main market. My accommodation was arranged in the circuit house by a friend. I also met another friend of mine who is a Lecturer in the Medical College there.
I by now understood that my perception of this place being out of this world and inaccessible was a myth, a myth that sustains itself from hearsay, and my three say stay in this land made me much richer, in experience. This is my journey, for you all.
Here I Go
Getting up early had by now become easy, but 5 is that way too early, that too if you slept at 1. The previous day in Vizag was better than I expected, specially as it ended with a cultural extravaganza by South Central Zone Cultural Centre, Nagpur, at RK Beach. The performances made me happy, and the thought came- 'Any planned visit could not be this good.'
COming back to day 1, though my alarm rang at 5, I turned it off, to wake up at 6:20.
One thought said, leave the train, go by bus. But then, I would miss the train route. Without wasting time, I packed up, and rushed to the station. While cheking out, the man at the counter by himself took a Rs 50 tip, and though I was annoyed, I just left. Getting a ticket from the line was another issue, but somehow, calmness had dawned on me, and I boarded the 6:50 train, for Koraput, and later took the same train to Jagdalpur.
The first major attraction was when the hills started after Vizainagaram. The train went up, crossing the tunnels. The Eastern Ghats are not as high as their Western Sibling, but they are broader. Gradually, the train ascended, reaching the famous Borra Caves station, where half of it emptied. I was going ahead, so, decided to give these caves a skip. Then, we ascended further to cross the highest broad gauge station- Simaliguda, at 996 metres (nothing much to see here)
Thus, we had reached the table land- a flat plateau which is vast, and has rolling hills, valleys somewhere, but most of it is a flat plateau. The train stopped at Araku for sometime, and the beautiful rail route is actually after Araku, as that is the true Araku Valley.
Araku to Jagdalpur
The train moved over this flat table, and I saw few people around. In the train, we were comfortable, though in general class. I got down at Koraput, as I was told that the train was running till there only, but on inquiry, I realised that it was till Jagdalpur, and beyond. A mad rush to the ticket counter, and I got a ticket in time. Meanwhile, I also saw the First Class Non AC coach- avialable in very few trains now.
The sun was also ending his journey across the skies here, as our train moved to Jagdalpur. I got down, and went out. I was new here, but my sir, who is posted here, had book a room for me. I also met another friend, who I knew via Facebook, a doctor working in the medical college here.
The town was decent, much better than what I was expecting it to be. Our dinner was in a posh restaurant, I forgot the name now. On the whole, I tried to find the bastar that I was searching, but for it, I have to explore deeper.
the folk dances organised by SCZCC at RK beach, Vizag
The evening at RK Beach
The Borra Caves can be approached from this station
all the fuss is about this- 996 metres
Light in the middle of the tunnel
The First Class.
Ask people about the last Maharaja of Bastar who was gunned down on his palace steps in Jagdalpur by Madhya Pradesh police in 1966. That was quite a cause célèbre in its time.
Thanks for mentioning. Yes, Jagdalpur also has a palace, which has a temple dedicated to Danteshwari mata- The form of Durga worshippe here. Bastar Dusshera is very famous and different. Tribals from across the region participate in it, and each village is assigned a specific task, prefixed. Some get the wood for the chariot, some make the rope to pull it, some pull it, some make the chariot- etc. I have to return there for Dusshera.Lets see.
Oh, what a great beginning! Please take us to unknown, take out ignorant mindset from us, guide us to one of the most beautiful place in our country! Provide all the details and also (if possible) deliberate on the route from Raipur side. Thanks a ton, drk!
'One cannot claim to have visited Bastar if he comes to Jagdalpur', my friend told as we were having our dinner at a restaurant in Jagdalpur.
Yeah, it seems true. Lets see, I have a few days. Also, God has been kind in this trip till now.
With these thoughts, I returned, and retired to bed.
The next morning, I took a 9:30 am bus to Chitrakoot falls. For those who wish to go there, buses are after 1 hour interval. One can book a taxi from Jagdalpur. The bus was filled with teachers departing to their schools, and by the time we reached Chitrakoot, after about an hour, there were only 4 people remaining. The bus driver said, I will depart in 15 minutes, you can come now or wait till 12.
Who had a hurry?
I went to check out the falls, and the view from up was Okay. nothing much significant. Also, I have stopped getting much excited, maybe. I removed my trousers, to cross the river to the other side. The water level was just about a feet, but since it was slippery, and I was carrying the camera, it took me 10 minutes to cross the 10 metre span. Also, I started singing to overcome the fear of slipping, and it did work. :) From the other side, I went near the falls to capture them in detail, and then, roamed around the place, looking at various rock formations. The thought of catching the departing bus had vanished long before. At last, when I had roamed aroud a lot, I searched for the ssteps to go down, and came across the area which consisted of many shiva 'lingams', being worshipped by the locals. Okay, so this was the place of local significance. I also later lerned that Sri Ram had spent few months here, at Chitrakoot, and the temples which looked ordinary, had ancient significance. I went at the base, to have a better look at the falls. From here, one could take a boat which takes you to the falls, where one can have water coming over. On reaching the river bank, I called the boatman from other side, he came, and took me to the other bank, and charged Rs 10. Pretty decent.
I tried to lift a collected bunch of firewood for a lady, but gave up after few metres. It was indeed heavy for me, and I do lift all my heavy luggage. She carried it easily up the stairs, as I followed.
A last look of the falls from the guest house near the road, and then, I left for Jagdalpur. Luckily, the bus was found waiting.
On my journey back, many school children weere returning to their homes. I was told that there was no ticket needed for them, and I loved this. Girls were cycling their way back to home, and I got down at the Anthropological Museum, just outside Jagdalpur.
The museum is among the few where you do not need ticket, and I got in happily. It is a small museum, with two galleries, one on the left, and other in the right. There is a collection of tools, fishing nets, utensils, ornaments and dresses of tribals. The museum takes less than an hour to see, and is worth a visit for someone coming to Jagdalpur. After moving around, I asked the guard to visit the office, and meet the official there. I was taken to Mr Sinarao, who is among the most memorable person I met in Bastar. We talked for long about his stay with the Jarawas. His thoughts touched me, and he was happily narrating me his valuable experiences, with the tribes of India. This person is among the two Indians who can speak Jarawa language fluently, and who stayed with them for 6 months. He also visited Sentinel Island, and Shompens. We chatted for along time, and then, my friend came to receive me.
He is a government official in Bastar, and I moved in with him. We talked about the place, about ourselves, and then, slept.
The next morning, I went to the collector's office at Jagdalpur. The previous collector had transformed this office into a Gandhi Ashram, where the gates were called- Satya, Ahinsa, Aparigraha. The next day, my friend called me to say; 'main satya par hu aur ahinsa ke marg par aa raha hu' - 'I am on Truth (gate) and moving towards Ahinsa- Non violence (gate)'. Inside the office also, the three monkeys of Gandhi adorn the building, and the office has a pleasant vibration of its own.
From here, my destination today was Dantewada- The town infamous enough ot skip, but I was accompanied by a local who was my friend's home-guard. We went on a boke, though there are regular buses available. Till a town called Geedam, the road is good, but the last 10 km stretch is in poor condition. Dantewada is famous for the temple of Ma Danteshwari- The local deity of Bastar. It is said that 'Sati's' tooth fell here, and hence it derives the name. while returning, we went to a salva Judum camp. HEre the judum members were staying for the past 5 years. This is all that I can say here for now. The next destination was Barsur- the place famous for many ancient temples.
While returning, the petrol got over, but we managed to get some nearby, Also, the bike was still not starting. Finally, we reached Jagdalpur, and then, I went to a party organised at an officer's place.
Thus, another day ended in Bastar.
The third day was my final day in Bastar. It was 25th January, the day when a boat race was to be held here. I reached there in time, and captured some good images of the rowers. It was an experiment to promote local sports and tourism. Jagdalpur has a lake named Dalpat Sagar, and this was the venue of the race. The lake was being cleaned every week at a huge cost, my friend told me.
I also bought brass metal souvenirs from 'Shabari' the Chattisgarh emporium, and then, departed for Tirathgarh Falls, another famed waterfalls in Chattisgarh.
Tirathgarh lies on Sukma road, and buses ply for this route also. After 15 kms, the Kanger Valley national park begins, and as a result, the road narrows down. On reaching Tirathgarh, I moved down the stairs to reach the falls, and then went further down to reach the second part, as this fall drops in two successive phases. Tirathgarh must be more beautiful during monsoons, but otherwise too, the flow remains years round.
I had to skip Kutumsar as it was getting late, but these limestone caves are also in vicinity.
During this trip, I observed that the state government was trying hard to promote tourism, in this yet untouched place. The tourist arrivals are few, and hence, developing a tourism infrastructure here is financially taxing. Yet, the charm to explore this less explored paradise has its own bliss. How would it feel to boat around a mighty waterfall like Chitrakoot, alone. Feeling it up at close quarters. Looking at it, crossing the river to the other end, listening the boatman talk to a woodcutter in the local language, and hearing those words in the video you have captured at that moment. Watching children play in the water, and waatching them again, in your laptop. Bastar is a personal experience, and by now, I have stopped categorising things as good and bad, Things exist, for the sake of existance. At these places, one can be closer to existance. Bastar exists. Now, it exists in my mind too.
After returning from Tirathgarh, I went to the Circuit House to meet my friend. THe Chief Minister was in Jagdalpur for the Republic day Function the next day. I also went to see the stadium, decorated for Republic Day parade. I had to take a bus now, and after dinner, we returned to Bastar town- which is a town 20 km from Jagdalpur, on Raipur road. My bus arrived at 12, and I slept well, to be woken up at 6 am, near Raipur Railway station. I missed the Keshkal valley views as it was night, but lets keep them for the next time.
Returning to Delhi
So, now, my journey was coming to an end, though the last leg was still remaining. I entered Raippur Railway station at 6 am. It was still dark, but not very cold. God was kind and my ticket in Sampark kranti, booked 4 days back, got confirmed. Hail Indian Railways.
I had nothing much to do at the Raipur station. I roamed around, thought of taking a dormitory bed at the station, as my train was at 12 30, but decided against it, and went to the waiting room, to spend some time on the internet, writing trip reports, uploading pics, searching places in Raipur. As far as I realised, There is nothing much inside the city to see, and the places worth visitng are about 70 kilometres. I could have thought of going somewhere in Bilaspur side, and boarding the train from Bilaspur, but, I have turned calmer, and thus, stayed back. I did venture out, to catch a bus for Ghadi Chowk, a famous clock tower nearby, but since the bus was taking too long to move, I returned. There was a 5 storied temple at the station, but I didn't go in.
Raipur station is vey clean, truly. I was astonished to find it in this way, particularly because it is located on north India. Continuous cleaning work was going on and I wanted to congratulate the station master for his good work, but then, moved to my platform. The train arrived in time, and I got seated with a Chattisgarhi family going to Delhi.
The day was spent sleeping, till Bilaspur. Later, I got up in time, to catch the beautiful scenery; crossing the central uplands is always a nice experience, and this was my first trip on this particular route- Bilaspur Katni Rail Route. I crossed Pendra Road, where one gets down for Amarkantak. As the sun set, I read a book, actually I tied to read, but was not feeling like doing anything. The next morning, I was to be in Delhi, and I woke up between Agra and Delhi.
Oh, I missed an important thing. The night. I froze in the night, and somehow, managed to exist till morning. Till Raipur, I could manage with my bedsheet. Before that, I was in South India, and hence, nowhere did I encounter cold. While going, I had taken a morning train towards Trichy, so, I felt a bit of cold between Bhopal and Nagpur, which is tolerable.
This time, I was exposed to the real cold, and I had my bedsheet, and not many clothes, but as the night passed, it became the past; in short, I was lucky all through my journey to move around with a bedsheet, but the final day, I met Ms Cold Weather, and she treated me well.
Climbing down the steps of Nizamuddin Railway station, I remembered the day when I had been here the last time, and taken a general class ticket for Trichy, to depart on an unplanned, memorable trip, and in retrospect, all by the grace of Almighty, I was taken care of, everywhere I went. SO, this was my serendipitous journey, and I hope you enjoyed it too.
Thankyou DrK, I really enjoyed reading your report :). I'd like to go to this area and your report will be useful.
I've been on that rail line as far as Koraput but I'd like to go further, and I didn't realise it had First Class non-AC - I'm getting ideas now! [happy]
There's a thread here in IM somewhere on trains which still have First Class non-AC, if this one isn't on it already it should be added.
Do you remember how long the train journey was from the Borra caves station to Araku, or Borra to Jagdalpur please?
Some years ago we had planned this trip by the same train from Vizag to Jagdalpur but cancelled due to the then Naxal problem. I would love to do it sometime.
@ Synonymous - I've started writing a bit about my own bastar travel (completed this December).
I went from the Raipur side. I met two groups of tourists (one a bengali family) at my hotel in Jagdalpur on 24th December and they clearly told me the discomfort associated with this train, i.e. it gets canceled (partially or fully) at a moment's notice if the railways sense any trouble. Reading 3 local newspapers confirmed my doubts about this train. (there was the usual naxal issue but additionally the Bhartiya Junta Party Yuva Morcha had planned a protest as well!!)
The 2VK was running ex-Koraput (the balance needed to be covered by bus / taxi) and the 1VK was running till there. Sensing that it was peak tourist season, taxi operators charged 1200-1500/ for a drop from Koraput to Jagdalpur.
So whenever you plan, do check on the ground what the situation is and be prepared that you may end up doing a part of the journey by road.
Thanks for the info Vaibhav. I will certainly check with locals whenever that trip is up. The journey was initially planned as flt to Raipur then taxi but the train journey to Dantewada sounded so interesting that we decided to do it from Vizag.
I must give credit to a tour operator in Chhattisgarh who was honest and decent enough to advise us to cancel due to the Naxal problem then, this after we were about to pay him an advance.
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