Bastar is the first place to think about when we speak of tourism in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh is well known for its hidden natural treasures and meticulously preserved culture, but Bastar takes this notion to extremes. The Kanger Valley natural reserve is known to embrace some of the most rare species of birds, animals and insects. Some of the most jaw dropping landscapes like Chitrakote and Kutumbsar has their abode in this region. Bastar is best known for tribes which are well preserved by numerous initiatives from local, national and international bodies. Also it is known across the world for bell metal work that originates from here. So there were enough reasons for us to be excited about this trip.
We’ve been here once in 2012 so this Feb 2020 was our second trip. Both these journeys were totally different in experience however at the core, they’re still the same. Raipur to Bastar is usually about 6 hours journey but we experienced slight delays, thanks to the ongoing patch work on the valley areas. Rest assured, you can take a hatchback without any trouble though we were driving Ecosports.
We started from Raipur to Dhamtari, Keshkal and via Kondagaon to finally reach Bastar. In 2012, we took a halt in Makadi Dabha as it was quite happening. By this time there’s something new. Just a little further away is Red Chilli near Kanker which is a new option to try. Red Chilli is suited for family, fine on menu, looks more hygienic and organized. Doesn’t mean that Makadi lost its charm. Now it really depends if the mood is set for a dhaba or restaurant. Dil to bachha hai ji.
From Kanker onwards, our journey was be a bit slow for next 1:30 hours owing to the road repairs. Once through, we received a warm welcome from the Keshkal Ghati that we’re sure you’ve heard about. Right, driving on this valley is a lifetime experience. It’s very curvy to start with and some curves are dangerously steep that we could feel the lift as we drove. The view of the valley is simply splendid. There are 10 such curves of a total to keep a count on your thrill.
Once on the valley, everything changes. The weather, the climate, trees and horizon – everything seems different. Driving here is an amazing pleasure that you don’t want to miss. We crossed Kondagaon at around 2:00 pm and then from here we’ll crossing Bastar and then Jagdalpur. Travelers might kick start the journey detouring to Chitrakote if time permits. It’s right after Bhanpuri crossing taking the right turn which is few meters away from Bhanpuri Police Station. But please check with the locals if the way is open. Jagdalpur is around 74km from Kondagaon. The distance between Jagdalpur city to Chitrakote is about 38km. That we touched the Bhanpuri road at 2:30 pm, we decided to go Chitrakote falls first and then the hotel, but in the sweet ol’ style like we did in 2012 – i.e. via Jagdalpur.
A Detour to Chitrakote Waterfalls
Once on the Kondagaon road, we wanted to drive here for some more time and there’s a good reason why. It’s in the air, may be. The empty roads stretches to horizon and it’s a rare sight in India, let alone Chhattisgarh, we really wanted to enjoy that. So this detour added about 50 mins on our itinerary but also, it ensured a hiccup free highway ride. We were in Jagdalpur at 3:20 pm, crossing roads and trying to recollect our memories from 2012. Lot more organized, settled and renewed but with same landmarks on crossings, some very familiar stores and shops and looking at people again still a good 70% tribe population here. Happy that we are here again, happy that we’re going Chitrakote and happy because there are no hiccups on the road.
It’s nothing like we witnessed last time! This was our first reaction looking at Chitrakote falls. We reached here on a mud road during November 2012, as it was soon after rain so we could hear the water fall at 500mt distance. It was a barren ground with grasses and that’s about it.
Chitrakote 2020 is a well resolved space – concrete roads, Chhattisgarh tourism properties near and around it. Amidst all this, the breathtaking view of widest water fall in India. 29mt straight free falling water flowing from Indravati river. We came during November in 2012, back then the water was muddy and the quantum was more horrific than pleasant. Fall was so hard that there formed a separate view made entirely out of water droplets bouncing back from the bottom.
Our 2020 visit was in February when the fall is much pleasant. Two streams of milky white water falling to same 29mt depth on a mesmerizing sunset. The view of boat from the top which is almost a pixel size and the brilliant reflection of sun on the water, thanks to extended golden hours.
We can walk very close to the stream, a feat almost impossible to imagine near rainy days. Getting closer to the stream of course from behind the barricades and gauging the distance, it’s out of the world feeling. We spent some time on all possible places we can stand. Towards the entrance, close up view of the two streams, closer view of the stream and the depth defining fall. It was a different feeling all the time, and we could’ve gone lost in all those moments. Now was the time to go back. We came across wooden work made by the tribesmen and women. Few stalk of trees with gum used during pooja and a beautiful bamboo flute, it functions a bit different though.
After that soul satisfying confirmation that we’ve finally reached Bastar, we drove back to Jagdalpur. We reached around 6:30, took some snacks at the hotel and relaxed a bit. Then we went out for a soft evening walk in the city.
Tirathgarh Waterfall in Kanger Valley Natural Reserve
In 2020 owing to the time constrains we had to leave back Kanger Valley National Park. However, we did made it during 2012. The Trip to Kanger Valley was for yet another mesmerizing falls of Tirathgarh. So Chitrakote is a straight 29mt drop but Tirathgarh water falls from 91mt high rocks. The difference between the two falls being, water in Tirathgarh trickles on rocks for almost 3 times before it finally hits the ground. It’s really not about the math but feelings. To take a clear look at Tirathgarh, one needs to step down on a narrow stairway. We did run short of breath, owing to altitude effect or tiredness. When we caught up our breath again, there was a breathtaking view in front of us again. One – the quantum of water was way above Chitrakote and two – we were not looking at it from the top this time but from the front. We were horribly happy! Only this time, literally. On one side of the stairway, there was a Shivalinga adorned with fresh flowers and on other side the fall. Almost felt like a heavenly sign to decipher, but we left it for the moment back then.
On our way back from Tirathgarh, we came across some really poisonous spiders, some rare red mushrooms (guessing by color, might not be the actual red mushroom variety) and wide variety of flora. Jungles of Kanger valley are quite dense and coming out of it, one’s good for a month long oxygen booster dosage.
We did not get a chance to go Kutumbsar as it remains closed during this season, best time to visit is around January when there’s sufficient moisture inside but no rains. Summer is also a no go as most of the oxygen runs out of the cave owing to heat and one may feel suffocated. The spots are under Kanger Valley conservation area have not changed much keeping the natural feel of the place intact.
Kanger Valley is blessed with rich biodiversity. It is right from this jungles comes Pahadi Maina, the bird which is of a very rare site now categorized under highly endangered species and recognized by Chhattisgarh as it’s state’s bird. Likewise, the blind fishes here shows some unbelievable adaption hence confirming Charles Darwin Theory of origin of species through the process of natural selection. These fishes are found in the caves of Kutumbsar and owing to the absence of light, they do not develop eye although the eye lobes are there in place. Kanger Valley also boast a butterfly park (reminds of butterfly park at Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad) which is an amazing place to know and learn about these insects.
Visit to Danteshwari Mata Temple in Dantewada
Back to 2020, our Day 2 itinerary was a bit compressed and involved a bit of a risk owing to the roads we selected to make up the time. Route was Jagdalpur > Dantewada > Barsur > Chitrakote > Bhanpuri Road > Keshkal > Raipur. The connection that made it look risky is Barsur to Chitrakote which is extremely twisted snake road. Also, this patch is extremely silent and hence not a preferred path by locals or tourists. We would recommend you to take about two days for this route although it sure is possible, like we did it, to make it in a day.
We started from Jagdalpur to Dantewada for the famous Danteshwari temple, one among the 52 Shakti Peethas of India. According to the mythological beliefs, goddess Sati’s tooth fell over this region hence the name of the city Dantewada and shrine Danteshwari Mandir. It was built in 1008 AD and has a unique importance for the people in Bastar as well as across India. The temple is in its full glory during Bastar Dusshera. Bastar Dusshera is a festival celebrated over 72 days, it is one of the longest festivals in the world. And the reason to celebrate this festival is not like the others that we celebrate in rest of India. From the main entrance to temple’s door is about 500mt and it is usually house-full during the onset of this festival.
Danteshwari mata’s temple has a strange ritual needs to be followed strictly. One can only enter with amber dhoti, trousers are not allowed here. So near to the entrance, there’s ample number of dhotis kept in the changing room. We changed and walked in. The re-novation of the temple is over the ancient stones and there are many gods and goddesses to be worshiped here. In the main Sanctum resides Danteshwari Goddess. We prayed, took the blessing and slowly walked out of the arena.
Thing to try – right outside the door of Danteshwari temple is a stone pillar. Now you need to be able to face away from it and try to wrap your hands around it. If you’re the chosen one, you’ll be able to hold both of your hands together, else, better luck next time.
From Danteshwari temple, we made a move for food hunt and came across a hotel called Bastar Coffee House. It’s not one of those ICH chain but serves decent food. Took some advice from the reception and then continued our journey to a place which had hundreds of temples in ancient times but now only a few remains.
Hidden Treasures in Barsur Bastar
Barsur is around 40 mins drive from Danteshwari Temple but there’s a very dense patch of jungle all through the way. There was absolute silence in this area, on the right or on the left its just few layers of trees. But then we reached the village where we were stopped by a local. He asked us few basic questions like who are we, what are we here for and then guided us the way to the temple. It was around 2 pm and the sun was right on head, well that didn’t matter much.
Battisa Temple in Barsur
We first came across Battisa Temple, name given owing to 32 poles on this building. The unique feature of this temple is its two Sanctums in the temple. One was meant for the king and the other one was for the queen. In both the sanctums resides Lord Shiva. This village must be a hardcore Shiva followers and therefore almost every story we hear from this region connects back to Shiva. The temple is really old, said to be built in 11th – 12th centaury AD by the Nagvanshi king Chhindak. The remains of the temple gives a unique glimpse of rich history here.
Ganesha Temple in Barsur
Ganesha Temple is just a little further down the road. There’s one blurred signage that points towards Ganesha temple on one side and on the other side it points to Mama Bhanja temple. So there were a few people in Ganesha temple, kids playing around. While in the center resides what’s said to be world’s 3rd largest monolithic Ganesha sculpture. Monolithic means one single piece of stone. This sculpture was completely made out of one large stone sculpted into Ganesha. But there’s not just one, this temple has twin Ganesha sculptures. Lying very close to the Sanctum is a hint of the presence of Shiva Linga, and a careful look will indicate that there’s a lot destroyed at this place. In and around there must’ve been several structures almost filling the whole compound. Only if one can go back in time.
Mama Bhanja Temple Barsur
Right in front of Ganesha temple is Mama Bhanja temple. The most intact remains of all temples here in Barsur. Structurally it looks similar to the Lakshman temple in Sirpur and Bhand Deval in Arang. But what disconnects it are the sculptures, which are mostly of floral and geometric patterns. Everything on this temple’s wall from bottom to top are design and patterns similar to the one in Mahamaya temple Bilaspur. So that’s a disconnects from almost every other ancient temple we’ve been in Chhattisgarh. Although, there are hollow columns suggesting figurines of gods and goddess might have resided here in the past but let’s say it’s a theory for now. Now the time travel is much needed because the story is not even half way through and ignites enough curiosity to unfold the rest.
There’s is Chandraditya temple nearby that might go un-noticed. It’s almost ruined completely and only some minor traces remain on the one side of the view. There are few more spots on this way like saath dhara waterfall and many more temples’ remain but it was time for us to catch up on the highway. So from here, we started our way back to Raipur. There was just one situation.
From Barsur, we continued on a very strange road. It has snake curves all the way and the roads slightly climbs up the hill and descend. The silence of this road grows over the beauty of it, makes it a bit spooky and uncertain. But we were on the way anyways, so we decide to complete it. After about 45 mins of drive through this curvy lanes, we reached back to where we started Bastar 2020. Bidding good bye to Chitrakote we to the other direction towards the place where road divides to Bhanpuri. It was just short distance away. This path is comfortable it goes through many villages and finally connecting the highway on time. Dramatically, the weather changed all of a sudden and like an old Bollywood movie’s climax, the sun hid behind clouds, slight bit of thunder and then it rained a bit. Then with a very loud thunder strike, I woke up from the 2020 Bastar dream…………………………
Just kidding. Actually it was a very pleasant drizzling and it stopped before we reached Keshkal Ghati. We were descending the Keshkal Ghati by 5:30 before the dawn. Next one hour, we almost cleared the under construction patches. Reached Red Chilii at 7:30 pm and relaxed there a bit, recalling the moments of this ride. Started at 8:15 to Raipur in a very easy 60-65 km/hr drive we crossed Dhamtari, ABhanpuri and the very last halt – Ashoka Biryani, Raipur… That’s it about this drive, a wonderful weekend.