Carved out from the state of Madhya Pradesh, about two decades ago, Chhattisgarh, though a new state, has one of the oldest enclaves, thriving with ancient traditions and customs. Though the state has innumerable options for everyone – adventure, food, culture, heritage, and so on, but here’s a list of top 10 things to do in Chhattisgarh. The list is simply indicative and not exhaustive.
Go wild in the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries
Chhattisgarh has dark dense forests, green paddy fields, and an endless cloak of green all around. Some of the top national parks and sanctuaries are located in Chhattisgarh – Kanger Valley National Park, Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Achanakmar. The forests are inhabited by the wildlife, especially wild buffaloes, tigers, wild boars, nimble deers, etc. These national parks and wildlife sactuaries are still relatively offbeat and haven’t popularized much, to the delight of offbeat travelers and explorers.
Get drenched in stunning waterfalls
Some of the most beautiful waterfalls in India, are located in the state of Chhatisgarh. Of these, the three most popular and most beautiful waterfalls are Chitrakote, Mandawa and Tamara Ghoomar. My favorite from these is undoubtedly the U-shaped Chitrakote waterfall, which will give you postcard-perfect pictures for sure. You can get on small boats and go all the way into the river close to the waterfall to have an experience of a lifetime.
Connect with spirituality and religion
Be it the abode of the Danteshwati Devi in Dantewada, or Jatmai temple, the religious town of Champaran or the Rajiv Lochan temple, the Bhand Deval temple or the Nar Narayan Temple at Sheorinarayan, the Kawardha Temple Complex or the sleepy temple town of Sirpur, Chhattisgarh offers ample options for everyone to connect with their spiritual side. The temples are historic and dedicated to different Gods, Goddesses as well as known personalities like the Saint Vallabhacharya of the Vallabh Sect, or Shabari from Ramayan.
Meet the tribals of Bastar
Chhattisgarh forms an integral part of the ‘Tribal belt of Gond’, along with neighboring states – Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Bastar, in south central Chhattisgarh is the main region of tribal inhabitation in the state, inhabited by seven main tribes – Bison Horn Marias, Abhuj Murias, Bhatras, Dhurvas, Halbas, Dorlas and Gadbas. One can visit during the ‘madhai’ – a traditional fair or festival, when the mood is fully charged and hospitality is at its best in the region. One can also visit the local weekly market of the tribes.
Shop at the haats of Chhattisgarh
Weekly haats in Chhattisgarh are a quick crash course in local life, cuisines, crafts, and understanding different tribes for the ignorant traveler. One can find just about everything in these haats – fruits and vegetables, toiletries, fish, clothes, local liquor. The haats are not just a place for people to shop, but also a weekly avenue to socialize, drink, exchange news and be merry. One can also encounter male-dominated rinks hosting cock fights and some low-stake gambling at these haats.
Attend a traditional Lakshmi Jagaar
The Lakshmi Jagaar is an oral tradition of performing a ritually enacted myth, eaturing the Goddess Lakshmi and her consort, Lord Vishnu or Narayana. Widely seen in the Halbi-speaking regions of Bastar, especially in the villages Jagdalpur, Narayanpur, Kondagaon, Dantewada and Bijapur. The Lakshmi Jagaar is generally performed in local temples, and is rooted in themes of harvest, love and protection. The Jagaars are held in winter months – October to February. The Jagaar can begin on any day, but it must end on a Thursday only. Elder women called Gurmayees sing devotional songs during Jagaars and Gods are invoked, praying for a better harvest a prosperous year.
Explore the arts and crafts of Chhattisgarh
The local population of Chhattisgarh excels in creating beautiful art and craft goods from wood, clay, metal and other natural materials. The designs are generally focused on local Gods and Goddesses as well as the agricultural themes. There are clusters of handicrafts specializing in ball metal work (dhokra), wrought iron crafts, terra cotta, cowrie shell work, sisal and bamboo products, weaving, stone carving, wood crafts, Kosa silk production, Tumba art, Godna painting as well as tribal painting. For assistance in exploring these arts and crafts, one can reach out to the NGO – Saathi, based in Kondagaon, which helps one access the villages around.
Participate in the celebrations of Bastar Dussehra
Chhattisgarh has a unique 75 day Dussehra celebration from July to October, to commemorate the Goddess Danteshwari. For 10 days during these celebrations, the town of Jagdalpur transforms into a happening hotpot of cultural activity, with thousands of people coming in to participate in the ancient traditional rituals. The main highlight of the Bastar Dussehra is a large indigenous wooden rath that is made by the local people of Bedaumar and Jharumar villages. This rath is pulled by the Bison Horn Marias. The chariot moves along the beats of Munda Bajas, which is played by the people of a specific community in the village of Potanar. The entire torn of Jagdalpur is alive with action. One can even encounter people carrying Anga Devas or idols of local Gods on heavy ladders and breaking into trance-induced runs, making the atmosphere really mystical.
Relish the unique brews of Chhattisgarh
For the tribals, alcohol is an essential part of their daily lives. It is believed that the local potent brews give these tribals the bravado to survive in extremely elemental circumstances. Even women and children regularly consume alcohol. Most of the brews come from the shady mahua tree that is abundant in the region. The flowers of the mahua tree are dried, and are a common sight in the weekly haats. For the urban palate, the frothy, white Salphi brew might be better idea. Salphi is a beer-like beverage comsumed straight from the tumba (gourd) container. As tradition goes, the tribals would plant a Salphi (fish tail sago palm) tree when a child was born in the house. The child and the tree would then grow together. When the child turns 18, the tree would begin giving the sap, which the person would sell to earn a living, while the other products of the tree can be used by the family for other purposes. Tribals believe that Salphi cures diabetes and makes for a good antiseptic. Another popular local brew is Chhind, also made from a palm tree. Similarly, there’s Landa, which is made from fermented rice, and Rusum, which is made from jaggery. A weekly haat should be the best place to try these local brews.
Explore the Tibetan settlements in the hill town of Mainpat
Formerly known as the Phende Ling Tibetan Settlement, Mainpat has seven camps on a plateau, and is Chhattisgarh’s designated hill station. There are beautiful monasteries here, and it is a great peaceful place to explore.
Well, that’s my list. Here are a few quick reference tips for you, if you’re planning a trip there –
Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh is well connected by air, rail and road to major cities of India. The airport in Raipur is about 15km from the city, and most major airlines fly here. The Raipur railway station is situated on the Howrah-Nagpur-Mumbai line, and is connected to all major cities of the country via this line.
Best time to visit Chhattisgarh
The best time to visit Chhattisgarh is October to March. People wanting to experience the madhais, can visit during January to March as that’s when most madhais happen. The Jagdalpur Tribal Dussehra festival begins as early as July and goes all the way to October. All these festivals are based on the local calendar, so careful planning is essential. If you’re aiming for the waterfall circuit in Chhattisgarh, then visiting just after monsoon would be best.
On ground assistance
If you plan to visit the tribal villages, hiring a local guide is highly recommended. Local knowledge can help facilitate visits, local meals, house visits, etc.