After the epic arrival from Araku, Jagdalpur proved equally moving. Even in the in the late afternoon, the Sunday market (haat) was still in full swing allowing me to push my sampling of fruit even further.
Jagdalpur is the administrative centre of Bastar District in south Chhattisgarh. It is a medium-sized pleasant city of about 150,000 inhabitants which also serves as the main economic and transportation hub of the area. I was attracted to Bastar by my book’s suggestion that this was a wonderful area, if remote, from where to visit Adivasi (Indian tribal aboriginals) towns and haats. Over twelve tribal Adivasi groups live within Bastar, each with its own set of social customs and cultural practices. Without a guide and time, it is difficult to know how to appreciate the particularities of each tribe. Nevertheless, the haats are a mind-jostling place to appreciate the human diversity that can stem from such a small historically and geographically complex area and the wealth of unique knowledge that these tribal peoples hold.
Everyday there are about eight haats to choose from, which can be selected from based on distance, remoteness and/or proximity to Naxalite rebel strongholds. My new friend Paul from Australia has been traveling in the area for more than a decade — to him the teen-aged government-armed militias represent a much bigger source of risk than the code-following Naxalite forces whose areas of control are well delimited. I visited three haats over the two days in Tokapal, Bastar and Madpal. Two required a bus ride out and a short walk from the main road whilst for the third I needed to hire a rickshaw, although in the future I could just as easily have biked. It was my luck that sticking around one more day to visit Madpal on the Tuesday, I was witness to a personal visit by the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister and all the flag waving, dancing, music playing fanfare that accompanied him.
The diversity of people at the haats is almost matched by the diversity of produce and products which they are selling. Many different varieties of ginger, garlic, legumes, authentic ripple-skinned gherkins are sold everywhere in small pre-weighed piles. You can find crabs, lake and river fish, live chickens and ducks as well as ants and ant eggs for sale too. There is also usually an area of the haat reserved for drinking, typically occupied by men hunkered down in circles and serving themselves from a common jar. The one I joined for a cup or two was consuming Tari, a vinegar-tasting cloudy wine made from palm sap. No ailments ensued.
Pleasant, light weather matched the colourful beauty of these surroundings for all of my stay. A new pair of pants in hand, a shoulder scarf and some other clothes fixed, my health and mind in good spirits and my photographer’s pride up, I had mixed feelings about taking on the projected 20H trip to Bhopal. I felt uniquely positioned and wonderfully privileged. I will surely return to this forested heartland on my next passage with more time in hand.
Once my bus was well on its way to Raipur though, the road and its promise of new lands and itinerary headway took over. I regained the thirst for the frontier. I will meet you one day Bison-Horn Maria!