Only a few lines in one of the most famous guidebooks. Tribal Chhattisgarh, close to Odisha, seemed liked a paradise for intrepid explorers.
“42 different ethnic groups”, “tribal haats” (markets), “chapura” (alive ants), “Dussehra festival“… My soul of apprentice ethnologist couldn’t resist for long. After checking a few Indian websites, my decision was taken : I would reach Jagdalpur for Dussehra. I couldn’t imagine how much this decision would change my life forever…
It was in October 2012 and the first time I met Bastar Tribal people.
Bastar Tribal people markets and Chitrakoot Falls
Before hearing about Chhattisgarh, my first plan was to discover Tribal Odisha through its markets. Though this state has a lot to offer and maybe better road connections, Chhattisgarh was actually easier to explore for a foreigner, as no permit is required.
I only stayed in Bastar without feeling insecure. Local people always told me where to / not to go and I followed their advice. I shared the three-wheelers with locals to go to the Indian Niagara Falls of Chitrakoot and the nearby Tribal market of Lohandiguda. I had a bath in the middle top of the falls after exploring its Hindu and Tribal temples. I danced in the middle of the road with the guests of a Muslim wedding and hijras. I tried alive ants (chapura) in a Tribal market, with some old women staring and laughing at my grimacing face. At the beginning, the taste was acid as tamarind, then very bitter. I drank the strong mahua (the local alcohol). And, more important, I spent wonderful time with smiling and beautiful people.
My only bad experience was in Dantewada. I spent several hours to find a local bus and go there. But when I was close to the sanctuary of Danteswari temple, people found a bad excuse to refuse the access. I tried several times, doing what they were recommended. But each time a new problem emerged and I was so upset that I left in a very bad mood, without visiting the temple and refusing to talk with other people…
But it was without counting on my incredible and loyal friends from Jagdalpur. For my second trip in Bastar in 2015, they took me for a whole day to Dantewada and I had certainly one of the most blessed time of my life. I could enter the sanctuary and sit at the foot of Danteswari Goddess.
Bastar Dussehra, the World's Longest Festival
Even if I had asked questions on several Indian forums, people couldn’t tell me what I could expect during Bastar Dussehra.
On my first evening, as I was visiting the palace, a procession began. I quickly understood it was the Maharaja of Bastar with his relatives. I decided to follow them. We went around the town, following the sound of the Tribal music and songs, along with the palanquin of the Goddess and mediums. We stopped in a place where a swing of thorns was waiting for us. The palanquin turned around until someone hidden behind a sheet arrived. She was the kumari. This little young tribal girl from the Mirgin-Mahara caste was supposed to be inhabited by Kachan Devi Goddess and in a trance. People put her on the swing and she wasn’t hurt. She blessed some flowers, the Maharaja and his relatives, that symbolises the opening of Dussehra / Navratri (Dussehra began in July and lasts for 75 days. Navratri are the last 10 days / 9 nights of Bastar Dussehra). Then, everybody returned to the palace. This ritual is called “Kaachan Gadi Puja”.
On my second day, I was in another hotel. As I was arrived by train without a map of the city, I had spent the first night in the dirty and noisy hotel close to the station.
My second hotel had another kind of problem: they did everything to convince myself that I could neither go out on evening nor go to other villages to visit the markets or falls. They thought it was too dangerous for a solo woman and I couldn’t count on them to get information on the festivities and transportations… There was no tourism information I could visit. But as always in India, there’s a solution and I could count on the kindness of the local people to help me. I found the famous Hatta Ground where traditional dances were performed every evening by Bastar Tribal people, was invited in the VIP area, received the official Dussehra program… Some of my new guardian angels found me a better location to stay, very close to the palace, and took me each evening to the most traditional festivities. Thanks to them, I could enjoy the arrival of the sister Goddess from Dantewada, sitting on the roof of the palace, and even had an interview there, after my full coloured photo on the first page of a local newspaper on my first evening.
My greatest time was in Kumdakot. On the last evening of the festival, Bastar Tribal people steal the big cart and walk the whole night to reach this place at a few kilometres from the palace. I took a three-wheeler to join them on the day after. When I entered the ground, it was the most amazing and traditional atmosphere I could imagine. Everywhere around me, it was full of Tribal musicians wearing white clothes and red or pink headband, mediums in a trance, men wearing palanquins, Tribal dancers, Muria Tribal people adorned with flowers…
The Maharaja, wearing his most beautiful attire, arrived and shared the rice with the tribes’ officials. After blessing the cart, a long procession began: first the dancing Madhyas, second the Maharaja standing in his open car, then the big cart pulled and pushed by Bastar Tribal people and local men. It took them several hours to return to the town in the most beautiful procession I’ve ever seen.
A new mission for me: spreading love and respect for Tribal people
The people from Bastar really treat me as a part of their community and blessed me with their smiles, kindness, invitations and gifts.
When I left, I cried and already knew I would never be able to forget them. They had given me more love than I would be able to give in my entire life.
They have a proverb there : “if a foreigner comes in Bastar during Dussehra, he will come back”…
I returned to work one day after my trip. My head was full of beautiful images and I was floating in a kind of state close to Nirvana.
But it’s not so easy to be a commercial manager strongly believing in happiness in work and participative management. Reality slapped my face and I brutally came back to earth. Month after month, the situation at work became worse. My only lifeline was to think about my lovely Bastar and its people. Their kindness and simplicity gave me hope in a better future. Slowly, it became clear that I wanted to give them back a few of the love they had given me. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to thank them enough.
I began to dedicate my free time to promote their district, way of life and art. I created a new website and added my previous Travel Blog.
Step by step, I found some new incredible Indian friends teaching me a lot about their life, beliefs, thoughts, art, festivals… I was invited in different Indian Facebook groups, especially one for Indian correspondents and Travel Bloggers. The new articles of my blog became both French and English, just like my website. I was lucky to find and buy a big house in the South West of France, where I could find space for my future projects.
My work was also noticed by the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board (CTB). I participated in their photo contest “Explore Chhattisgarh” and won. I met their wonderful Managing Director in France. CTB is a very dynamic Tourism Board, winning a lot of rewards, and we have collaborated to promote each other.
I proposed my friends from Chhattisgarh to write Travelogues on my Blog to promote their area. The articles are also translated in French. I’m proud and very grateful for their great job.
Finally, Holidify mentioned my Blog in their ultimate List of Best Travel Bloggers in India, in their non-Indians Top 6.
The places I've visited in 2012
I took a flight from Delhi to Vizag and from Bhubaneswar to Delhi.
I spent my last days in Agra.
How my second trip to Bastar helped me in my new mission
There are more than 600 Adivasi tribes in India, and 74 are from what is called the primitive Tribes’ group. Four of these primitive tribes live in Chhattisgarh, mainly in Bastar, in very remote mountainous areas hardly reachable and in precarious conditions: no drinking water, electricity, public transportations (they have to walk several kilometres to reach the closest town), no hospital. They mainly practice shifting agriculture and hunting.
For my second trip to Bastar, I left France to India for 7 weeks. I met my friends again and we became closer. We have celebrated Bastar Dussehra together, they helped me to discover and understand more their culture, to learn more on Bastar Tribal people. They have promoted my work in Chhattisgarh. Each day, I was on the front page of a newspaper, on the TV or radio. I used my influence to spread some messages of respect for Adivasis (Tribal people) and their culture.
Then I left to Telangana. For more than one year, I had searched for information on a tribal festival in Adilabad district: Dandari. An Indian travel blogger finally found a local reporter. I have lived with Sinu and his family for 10 days, I could enjoy this incredible festival with the Gonds of the villages only and continue the work I had begun in Bastar.
Thanks to my friends, the population of Central India is more and more conscious of her chance to have a so strong identity and culture. With their support, I have decided to continue and dedicate my time to the promotion of the tribal culture in India and France.
The places I've visited in 2015
I arrived in Delhi and took a flight to Raipur.
I flew back from Nagpur to Delhi and spent the last days in Jaipur.
A few facts about Bastar
Bastar is a district in the South West of the State of Chhattisgarh.
The town of Jagdalpur is the district headquarter.
The whole Bastar district has a population of about 1,5 million inhabitants (like Swaziland or Hawaii).
The Bastar Tribal people represents about 70% of the population.
Although a lot of people are able to speak English, it’s very basic and Hindi is more common.
The Tribes talk Halbi (the Tribal Lingua Franca), Bhatri, Muria, Madia, Dhurwa.
PS: If you liked this article and want to read more about the tribes of Bastar, you should read my article about Bastar Dussehra, the most important festival for the people of the district and the World’s longest festival.
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Stephanie Langlet is called Indie, the female Indiana Jones by her French readers.
She helps the travellers to feel comfortable outside of their comfort zone and to travel closer to the people and culture (read the testimonials).
She is a Trip Planner, Blogger and a Hospitality and Management Consultant.
Fond of the Tribes and Minorities, she’s specialised since 2012 in the tribes and festivals of Central India and have collaborated with Chhattisgarh Tourism Board to promote it. She’s often interviewed by the Indian medias.
In 2015, with her French Travel Blog Amatu Artea, she was recognised as one of the Top 6 foreign bloggers about India by Holidify, and as an influencer for Chhattisgarh by Chhattisgarh Tourism Board.
She also runs her own guesthouse in the south-west of France, from May to October.
Her mission is to help to the preservation of the traditions of the World, through the promotion of the traditional festivals and customs.