This was my maiden visit to this land locked state of central mid-east India. There was not much that I knew about the state and the only thing I had heard about it was Bastar tribal art of Dokra and may be the popular Chhattisgarhi song ‘Sasural Genda Phool’. Carved out of the largest state of India, Madhya Pradesh, this is a relatively young state trying to create a separate identity for itself. It is rich in natural resources, be it forests, rivers, minerals or coal, making it a base for the heavy engineering industry.
Visuals that stand out the most in my mind are that of a 50 km stretch of drive through the Palash or the Forest Flame rich region. Trees stood in the more or less dry land with orange flowers shimmering against the dull background. Trees closer to the road carried an orange shine while those at a distance added a saffron outline to the horizon. On the slants of the hills they played hide and seek with the bright green leaves of the Sal and red, pink and yellow of other trees. This is an image that would stay with me for long.
Spread across the state are, the temples from various eras of history, some dating back to the BCE era. Some temples need better preservation, while others need better documentation. Cave and rock shelters with pre-historic paintings were a revelation for me. I had no idea that they existed in other places in the country other than Bhimbetka. I got to know about the Buddhist viharas in the state, hopefully will get to see them some other time. I had no clue that a 50-year-old Tibetan settlement existed in Chhattisgarh.
I loved the Hindi spoken by the people of Chhattisgarh, with a literary quality to the language. Living in big cities you tend to think that this kind of language probably exists only in the old Hindi books or may be in some sections of Doordarshan or Vividh Bharti. Travel in MP or Chhattisgarh to hear this beautiful language being spoken all around you. In fact these may be the only two states that speak this kind of Shuddh Hindi.
People of Chhattisgarh still come forward to help absolute strangers, even at odd hours of the day without expecting anything in return. That feeling of my house, my village, my region is still there, it is still not ‘Me’ versus the rest of the world for them. These may be short lived till the ghost of consumerism and over commercialization reaches them, but I was humbled by their gestures many times during the trip. It also seems to be thinly populated state compared to the rest of the country. Population outside the cities is very limited, villages are really small and the roads are not full of vehicles except in the industrial corridors.
From tourism perspective the state really did not inherit any celebrated places, as most well known places are located in current day Madhya Pradesh. Bastar in South Chhattisgarh is fast becoming a tourism hot spot with its waterfalls and tribal culture. Within Chhattisgarh too, North Chhattisgarh is probably the least explored region of the state, and may be the country. I am happy I got an opportunity to explore this region first hand. In retrospect, it was fun to find a spot knowing roughly where it is, climbing hills not knowing how high they are, discovering absolutely unknown facets and spending 12+ hours everyday on the tree-lined roads meandering through the forests.