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Road trip to Chhattisgarh

Tirathgarh Falls are best visited after monsoons
Image courtesy: Kavita Majumdar

It’s every passionate traveller’s sole purpose to explore the offbeat. And for those yearning for such an experience, Chhattisgarh is a must-see. This terribly misunderstood state has an extraordinary range of experiences to offer.

Since three days is enough time to witness the best this state has to offer – tribal dances, waterfalls, ancient architectural marvels, and nature at its very best – here’s what we did in order to cover top sites in Chhattisgarh.

Chitrakote Falls is India's broadest waterfall
Image courtesy: Kavita Majumdar

Day 1: Raipur to Chitrakote

We headed out from Raipur at 8am and guess what, the roads were not in ruins as we city brutes usually expect. Not even close. What made the drive even more pleasant were the lush paddy fields that lined the roads on both sides. Ladies need not fret, since reasonably clean (albeit squat) facilities can be found at the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board rest stops en route from Raipur, like the Bassi Titra Resort we stopped at. About 6-7 kms before Kanker, Makri dhaba makes for a good place to stop for a quick snack.

We then stopped briefly at the Kanker Palace Heritage home, which is the perfect place for those who want to experience life, as it was, for the royals when they lived in this tribal wonderland.

Next, we visited Kondagaon, a charming little village known particularly for the tribal handicrafts created here. We also visited a NGO called Saathi who have their hands full with training artisans and educating children. Saathi also sells authentic Bastar craftwork here at extremely reasonable rates.

We then headed to Jagdalpur, capital of Bastar District in Chhattisgarh. This is the place to be if you really want to explore tribal Chhattisgarh. The town hosts a haat every Sunday where you’ll see adivasis (tribespeople) buying, selling and bartering alongside town traders, but it’s really in the surrounding villages where adivasi life can be fully appreciated. Do visit the Anthropological Museum here that holds a fascinating collection of artefacts collected from tribal villages during the 1970s and 1980s. This is where we also met Awesh Ali, a passionate guide with in-depth knowledge of the tribes.

At around 6pm, we finally reached Chitrakote Falls, just in time to soak in the view at sunset. And what a sight it was. It’s the broadest waterfall in India (300m) and is at its roaring best just after the rains, but beautiful all year round. We spent the night at the Chitrakote Log Huts, a peaceful place to stay with fancy tents as well as modern cabins (some with fantastic views of the falls).

Day 2: Chitrakote to Gangrel

Next morning we headed to Dantewada to see the ancient Danteshwari Temple, which is said to be one of the Shakti Peeths where Sati’s tooth fell. The presiding deity Danteshwari is the Kuldevi (family goddess) of Bastar state. The famous Bastar Dussehra takes place here every year, and thousands of tribals from surrounding villages and jungles gather to pay homage to the goddess. Her idol is taken out of the Danteshwari temple and then taken around the city in an elaborate procession.

On our way back Awesh Ali took us to a little tribal village where we met and interacted with the delightful Bison-Horn Maria tribespeople. They happily performed their traditional tribal dance for us in their traditional gear.

Our next stop was Tirathgarh Falls – right next to the Kanger Valley National Park entrance – where water drops 100m through three sets of cascades. Open all year, they’re best visited after the monsoon. There are three caves with stunning, pristine formations worth a visit too. Sadly, they were closed when we went there, but Tirathgarh falls more than made up for it.

Our last stop, here was the Gangrel Dam. We made it here after dark, so there was not much to do but to call it a night.

Day 3: Gangrel-Rajim-Sirpur-Raipur

We visit Gangrel Dam, Chattisgarh’s largest dam, which although crucial for the state’s economic sustenance, is not much of a tourist spot unless you are looking for a quick getaway from Raipur.

Forty five kilometers from Raipur, Rajim, was our next stop. It harbours some beautiful ancient temples particularly the Rajiv Lochan Mandir a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This is where we meet A. K. Sharma, the man behind all the excavation at Sirpur and now Rajim. This delightful retiree from ASI is full of information and anecdotes. He has singlehandedly managed to convert Sirpur, a inconspicuous little town once, into an internationally recognized tourist spot. In fact, the Dalai Lama visits Sirpur annually to visit the spot where Buddha himself is thought to have meditated. We also visited the famous Laxman Temple (dedicated to lord Vishnu) at Sirpur but had to cut short our visit due to rains. After a quick cup of tea at the government rest house, we headed back to Raipur.

This trip was undoubtedly an eye-opener for me. I highly recommend Chhattisgarh to all those seeking a unique experience.

Getting there: Most primary airlines (Air India, Indigo, Jet Airways and JetKonnect) have regular flights connecting most major cities (Delhi, Mumbai Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata) to Raipur’s Swami Vivekananda Airport. There are two flights a day (indigo and Air India) to and from Delhi to Raipur. The airport not only has the conventional car rental service booth but also a Shoppers Stop outlet and a souvenir shop.

Getting around: Connectivity within the state is, more or less, limited to the roads and you can easily take an AC Volvo bus from Raipur to any destination of your choice. Better yet, hire a cab (Rs. 14 per km or 2000 for 100 km for a small car; approximately). The roads are in a great condition and the view, scenic.