Travel Bucket List: India – Chattisgarh Part 1

A landlocked state in Central India, Chattisgarh is the ninth largest state by area, and the seventeenth most populous. It borders seven states – Uttar Pradesh to the north, Madhya Pradesh to the northwest, Maharashtra to the southwest, Jharkhand to the northeast, Odisha to the east, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to the south. Formerly a part of Madhya Pradesh, it was granted statehood on 1 November 2000 with Raipur as the designated state capital.

One of India’s fastest-growing states, Chattisgarh is known for its scenic beauty and its cultural and traditional history. A resource-rich state, it has the third largest coal reserves in the country and provides electricity, coal, and steel to the rest of the nation. It also has the third largest forest cover in the country with over 40% of the state covered by forests.

There are several theories as to the origin of the name Chhattisgarh, which in ancient times was known as Dakshina or South Kosala. This was said to be Lord Rama’s maternal home. The name Chhattisgarh was popularised later during the time of the Maratha Empire and was first used in an official document in 1795. The most popular theory claims that Chhattisgarh takes its name from the 36 ancient forts, from chhattis meaning thirty-six and garh meaning fort in the area. However, most historians disagree with this theory as 36 forts have not been found and identified.

Another view, more popular with experts and historians, is that Chhattisgarh is the corrupted form of Chedisgarh meaning Raj or the empire of the Chedis. In ancient times, the Chhattisgarh region had been part of the Chedi dynasty of Kalinga, in modern-day Odisha. In the medieval period up to 1803, a major portion of present eastern Chhattisgarh was part of the Sambalpur Kingdom of Odisha.

In ancient times, this region was known as Dakshina Kosala and has also been mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. One of the earliest statues of Vishnu has been excavated from the Shunga period site at Malhar. Between the sixth and twelfth centuries, the Sharabhpurias, the Panduvanshis of Mekala and Dakshina Kosala, the Somavanshi, the Kalachuri and the Nagavanshi rulers dominated this region. The Bastar region of Chhattisgarh was invaded by Rajendra Chola I and Kulothunga Chola I of the Chola dynasty in the 11th century.

Chhattisgarh has a significant role in the life of Lord Rama, who, along with his wife Sita and his younger brother Lakshmana started his vanvas or exile in the forest in the Bastar area, then known as Dandakarayna and they lived more than 10 of their 14 years of exile in different places in Chhattisgarh.

Chhattisgarh was under Maratha rule from 1741 to 1845 and then came under British rule from 1845 to 1947 as the Chhattisgarh Division of the Central Provinces. Raipur gained prominence over the capital Ratanpur with the advent of the British in 1845. In 1905, the Sambalpur district was transferred to Odisha and the estates of Surguja were transferred from Bengal to Chhattisgarh.

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The area constituting the new state merged into Madhya Pradesh on 1 November 1956, under the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 and remained a part of that state for 44 yearsSome areas constituting the Chhattisgarh state were princely states under British rule but were later on merged into Madhya Pradesh. The demand for Chhattisgarh to be a separate state first arose in the 1920s, with similar demands appearing at regular intervals; however, a well-organised movement was never initiated. In 1954, when the State Reorganisation Commission was set up, the demand was put forward but was rejected. In 1955, the demand was raised in the Nagpur assembly of Madhya Bharat. In the 1990s, the demand became more prominent, resulting in the formation of a statewide political forum known as the Chhattisgarh Rajya Nirman Manch and several successful region-wide strikes and rallies were organised under it, all of which were supported by major political parties. The new National Democratic Alliance government sent the Separate Chhattisgarh Bill for approval by the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, where it was unanimously approved and then submitted to the Lok Sabha. The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, which allowed the creation of the state of Chhattisgarh which happened on 1 November 2000.

The outline of Chhattisgarh is like a sea horse. The northern and southern parts of the state are hilly, while the central part is a fertile plain. Deciduous forests of the Eastern Highlands Forests cover roughly 44% of the state and the edge of the great Indo-Gangetic plain lies to the north. The eastern end of the Satpura Range and the western edge of the Chota Nagpur Plateau form an east-west belt of hills that divide the Mahanadi River basin from the Indo-Gangetic plain. The central part of the state lies in the fertile upper basin of the Mahanadi River and its tributaries and has extensive rice cultivation. The state has 3rd largest forests by area with the wild Asian Buffalo the state animal and the hill myna the state bird and the state tree the Sal. There are multiple National Parks, Tiger Reserves across the state with the Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve a UNESCO recognised Biosphere with a total area of 3835.51 sq km. India’s oldest tribes dwell here, some of them for almost 10,000 years. About 80% of the population of the state is rural and the main livelihood is agriculture and agriculture-based small industries. The Odia culture is prominent in the eastern parts of Chhattisgarh bordering Odisha. Chhattisgarh is known for its Kosa Silk and Dhokra or Bell metal art.

We shall be exploring the state starting from its capital, Raipur.

Raipur
Chattisgarh’s largest city and state capital, Raipur is a major commercial hub for trade and commerce in the region. It has seen exponential industrial growth and has become a major business hub in Central India. Regarded as one of the best cities to do business in, Raipur is abundantly rich in mineral resources and is among the biggest producers of steel and iron in the country with about 200 steel rolling mills, 195 sponge iron plants, at least 6 steel plants, 60 plywood factories, 35 ferroalloy plants and 500 agro-industries in the city. In addition, Raipur also has over 800 rice milling plants.

Archaeological evidence indicates the existence of Raipur since the 9th century. However, there is enough literary evidence that defines the history of Raipur since the time of the Maurya Empire. Raipur was once part of Southern Kosal and considered to be under the Maurya Empire and had later been the capital of the Haihaya Kings, controlling the traditional forts of Chhattisgarh for a long time. The Satawahana kings ruled this part till the second and third centuries. Emperor Samudragupta conquered this region in the fourth century, but the region came under the sway of the Sarabhpuri kings and then Nala Kings in the 5th and 6th centuries. Later on, the Somavanshi kings and then the Kalchuri kings of Tumman ruled this part making Ratanpur as capital. It is believed that the King Ramachandra of this dynasty established the city of Raipur and subsequently made it the capital of his kingdom.

Another story about Raipur is that King Ramachandra’s son Brahmdeo Rai established the city. His capital was Khalwatika, now Khallari and the newly constructed city was named after Brahmdeo Rai as Raipur. It was during this time, in 1402 that the temple of Hatkeshwar Mahadev was constructed on the banks of the river Kharun which remains one of the oldest landmarks in Raipur. After the death of king Amarsingh Deo, this region became the domain of the Bhonsle kings of Nagpur. With the death of Raghuji the III, the territory was taken over by the British and Chhattisgarh was declared a separate Commission with its headquarters at Raipur in 1854. After independence, Raipur district was included in the Central Provinces and Berar and became a part of Madhya Pradesh on 1 November 1956. After the formation of Chhattisgarh on 1 November 2000, Raipur became the capital of the new state.

Raipur is located near the centre of a large plain, sometimes referred to as the rice bowl of India, where hundreds of varieties of rice are grown. The Mahanadi River flows to the east of the city and the southern side has dense forests. The Maikal Hills rise on the north-west of Raipur while on the north, the land rises and merges with the Chota Nagpur Plateau and on Raipur’s south lies the Deccan Plateau.

The Banjari Mata Mandir is dedicated to the Goddess Banjari Mata and is thronged by devotees during the Navratri and Dusshera festival. Many devotees from neighbouring states and across the country flock to breathe in the sacred aura.

Located in Gariaband, about 85 km from Raipur, the Jatmai Temple is situated amidst lush greenery. The temple, devoted to Mata Jatmai is constructed with granite and has beautiful murals at its entrance. The temple is lit up and decorated during the festival of Navratri. The temple is open from 5:30 am to 8 pm daily. One of the few temples dedicated to Goddess Jatmai in India, the Jatmai Temple is also known as the Jatmai Ghatarani and is believed to be very powerful. The Shivalinga within the temple premises has a fascinating and mythological story behind it. It is believed that the fishermen of the city wanted to take the Shivalinga with them and so began digging deep to pull the idol out, but the Shivalinga kept going in deeper into the hole. Eventually, they gave up trying to move the idol. Located inside a forest, the architecture of the temple is astounding with one massive tower and many smaller ones featuring as its Shikhara or its spire. The temple is carved in granite, with many murals at the entrance of the temple with the Goddess inside a sanctum. On the way up the pathway, there is a beautiful Shivalinga in another small sanctum with water flowing down a huge rocky hill that gets collected in a reservoir. The temple is open all days of the week and can be visited between 5 am and 7 pm.

The Kevalya Dham Jain Temple is spread over a large area on the outskirts of the city with several temples within the premise dedicated to Jainism. Entirely made of marble, it is a quiet pause from the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced life.

Popular for its magnificent architecture and rich heritage, the Rajiv Lochan Mandir is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Located in Rajim, a one-hour car ride away from Raipur, the temple’s edifice rests on 12 columns with stone carvings around them. The best time to visit this temple is between 16 February and 1 March, when the sacred Rajim Lochan Mahotsav is hosted.

The 900-year-old Mahamaya Temple, with its rich history and architecture, attracts not just devotees, but also historians and archaeologists. Home to several gods and goddesses including Mahakali, Bhadrakali, Lord Shiva, Lord Hanuman, Lord Bhairav, and more, this temple has 18-inch walls surrounding the temple, and 16-inch stone columns supporting the temple’s structure. According to historians, the temple was built by King Ratnadev in the 11th century.

Located about 9 km from Raipur, Shadani Darbar is a massive pilgrimage space spread over 12 acres. Named after Sri Shadaramji Saheb, the place has a massive hall with Dhuni Saheb’s idol, and many other gods and goddesses are engraved all over the place where devotees perform Dukh Bhanjan Dhuni every day. Other attractions at Shadani Darbar include beautiful musical fountains and statues of religious idols.

The Ghatarani Waterfalls are located about 75 km southeast of Raipur and are the largest waterfalls in the state. Surrounded by lush greenery, the falls are a popular picnic spot. A small trek through a forest would lead one to the falls, at the bottom of which lies a naturally formed pool. Although the waterfall’s beauty is at its peak in the rainy season when the water is in full flow, it is best to avoid going during this time because of slippery terrains and mudslides.

The Kankali Talab is an ancient pond where it is believed that legendary sages, including the Goswami Naga sages belonging to the Dashnami Sanyasi sect, spent time near here. They meditated and prayed to the divine deity and so also decided to build a small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the middle of the pond. There are stones arranged on the sides of the pond. Even today, medicants can be seen meditating near the pond.

Swami Vivekanand Sarovar is also known as the Burha Talab which means an old lake. Fenced by many trees, especially palm trees, it is a tranquil place to visit. There are several food stalls just outside the park that provide cheap and good-quality street food. Apart from that, the lake is a popular picnic spot and a joggers’ paradise. The best time to visit the lake is in the evening, just before sunset. At a height of 37 feet, the statue of Swami Vivekananda in the lake has been added to the Limca Book of Records as the largest statue of Vivekananda. In the evenings, the fountain is brightly lit and the colourful light illuminates the place. Also, boating can be enjoyed on the lake with a minimal charge. During his time in Raipur, Swami Vivekananda was believed to have visited the lake for a bath every morning and hence the lake has been named after him. Having no entry fee, the lake is open between 6 and 9 am and then again between 3 and 8 pm.

Located in the heart of Raipur, the Gandhi Udhyan Park extends to the famous Bhagat Singh Chowk. With a lot of natural vegetation spread over the park, the walking area is neatly tiled. There is also a playground where yoga classes are held early in the morning. With a walking area of about 400 meters, it is an excellent place for a morning or evening walk. Located close to the Chief Minister’s residence, it is well-maintained and attracts a lot of people from the neighbourhood. The park is more pleasant during sunrise and sunset when the place is airy with many visiting the park at this time. The park is open between 5 and 9 am and then from 4 to 7 pm.

Also known as the Urja Park, the Solar Energy Park is an energy education park whose primary objective is to create awareness about energy savings. It is a fun-based theme park where children can learn while they play. Set up by the Chattisgarh Renewable Development Agency, CRDA, the park uses renewable sources of energy, especially solar energy, to run most of the rides. The park has lush greenery accompanied by exciting science puzzles, boating and musical fountains. In the artificial lake within the park, children can paddle solar boats and play in solar toy cars.

Purkhauti Muktangan is a delightful garden reflecting the rich culture of Chhattisgarh with folk art, life-like tribal figures, and vibrant sceneries that add to the beautiful experience. Located in Naya Raipur, about 19 km from Raipur, the gallery in the garden also has miniature models of Chhattisgarh State tourism sites like Karwadha, Bhoram Dev, Mata Danteshwari Temple in Dantewada, Chitrakote of Bastar, the Jagdalpur Forest and several folk dance models. One can see the entire state under one roof here. There is a restaurant available outside the park and several other places for snacks. Purkhauti Muktangan is a popular film and television shooting spot and one may run into local actors filming here. The garden is open between 8 am to 6 pm daily and is open on all days except Mondays when it is closed. The entry fee for children below 12 years is INR 2 and for those above 12 is INR 5.

Nandan Van Zoo & Safari is located at Naya Raipur and its primary objective is to protect and conserve animals. There is a jungle safari and boating and is a perfect spot to spend the day with kids. The zoo offers safari rides through the jungle lasting for about two hours which is very exciting. There are also boating rides in the zoo on a lake which is quite broad and spread over 130 acres known as the Khandwa Reservoir. The safari rates are INR 100 for adults and INR 50 for children between the ages of 7 and 12. No charges are applicable for children below the age of 6. It is up to the visitors to choose their safari vehicle the charges of which are in addition to the basic safari charges. There are two options, the first is an air-conditioned vehicle which will be charged INR 300 and the other is a non-airconditioned vehicle that will be charged INR 200. It is to be noted that separate charges have to be paid for taking photographs and videography and foreigners pay separate rates. There are four major safaris offered by the zoo. The herbivores safari is in an area of about 30 hectares where many species such as Blackbucks, also known as the Indian Antelope, Nilgai or Blue Bull and more especially the Sambar deers and spotted deers, all of which are widely spread. There is also a Tiger safari that is home to many Bengal tigers spread over an area of 20 hectares. There is also a Lion safari, spread over 20 hectares where Indian Lions can be spotted. Apart from these, there are also other carnivores and omnivores such as Mongoose, Leopards, four-horned Antelopes, and Jackals which roam freely around the forest area. The zoo also has a Bear safari with a collection of Himalayan Black Bears and Albino Bears spread over 20 hectares. The zoo also has a waiting area with an iMax theatre, museum, canteen, and food courts.

The Raipur Town Hall is a government office as well as a tourist site that is brimming with history. It houses information about the different dynasties that once ruled Raipur. Constructed in 1889 and inaugurated in 1890, the town hall has been renovated once. Earlier known as the Victoria Jubilee Hall, the Town Hall was constructed from stones transported from Raipur Fort in 1887. The Town Hall stands on several pillars and is painted red and white. Its construction took three years and comprises modern manufactured materials after renovation, including bricks used from Raipur Fort used in the original construction.

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The Mahant Ghasi Memorial Museum is small but packed with the rich history of Raipur. This well-maintained museum boasts an impressive collection of tribal artefacts, inscriptions, coins, carvings, models, and other things related to anthropology and natural history. There are five galleries spread across two floors and a vast library. The open-air restaurant located on the ground floor has cheap but good tribal food. The entry fee to the museum is INR 5.

Champaran
Formerly known as Champajhar, Champaran or Champaranya’s name is derived from the Champa flower. There is a myth that in the past Champaran was a forest of Champa Flowers and so the place came to be named initially Champajhar where Jhar means a house and the place means a house of Champa flowers. Located about 46 km southeast of Raipur, Champaran is famous because it is the birthplace of Jagadguru Shrimad Vallabhacharya Mahaprabhu, the reformer and founder of the Vallabh sect also known as Pushtimarg. It is thus, a popular Vaishnava Peeth. Champaran is home to two temples that are dedicated to Shri Mahaprabhuji – the Prakatya Baithakji Mandir and the Mool Prakatya or more commonly known as Chatti Baithak and also holds an annual festival.

There are two temples dedicated to Shri Mahaprabhuji in Champaran. The first one is known as Prakatya Baithakji Mandir, while the second Baithakji is Mool Prakatya normally known as Chhatti Baithak. Apart from this, there is a Haveli temple dedicated to Shree Girirajji and Shree Balkrishnalalji. A small stream of the Mahanadi River flows near the temple which is believed to be from the Yamuna river and is worshipped. Mahaprabhuji’s Prakatya Utsav is celebrated every year on the eleventh day of Baisakh and many followers of the sect gather at the temple to pay homage. The annual fair of Champaran is held with great festivities in the month of Magh, which corresponds to January or February every year. The Champeswar Madadev Temple has a rare idol of Lord Shiva dedicated to Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesh. The temple is usually open from 7 am to 7 pm daily, though it may be closed during the afternoon hours. The best time to visit Champaran would be during the winter months between October and March as weather conditions are suitable to explore the temples and their architecture. Visitors can also plan a trip during the Annual Festival of Champaran to witness the wide array of colours and festivities. It is recommended to avoid travelling to these parts during the summer as the sweltering temperatures make for an extremely uncomfortable trip.

In My Hands Today…

The Ribbons Are for Fearlessness: My Journey from Norway to Portugal beneath the Midnight Sun – Catrina Davies

Fuzzy-haired, neurotic, cello-playing Catrina is devastated when her lover, Jack, leaves her to go surfing on the other side of the world. Trapped in a dead-end job and torn by his departure, Catrina dreams of running away. But how do you run away when you’re flat broke?

Luckily, her friend Andrew comes up with a plan: they’ll get an old van, turn it into a camper, and busk their way from Norway to Portugal, via the midnight sun. Andrew is one of her oldest friends and they share many of the same passions and interests, including music.

When Andrew is killed in a tragic accident, Catrina decides to go it alone, encountering one disaster after another. She sleeps in her van, gets lost, and struggles to find the confidence to play her cello in front of her growing audience, but meets complete strangers who offer her advice, encouragement, and support along the way. Her experiences on the road gradually teach her the real meaning of love, courage, and above all else, the importance of following her dreams.

In My Hands Today…

In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson

In A Sunburned Country is his report on what he found in an entirely different place: Australia, the country that doubles as a continent, and a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet. The result is a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiousity.

Despite the fact that Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging, and these beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide.

In My Hands Today…

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson’s first travel book, The Lost Continent, was unanimously acclaimed as one of the funniest books in years. In Neither Here nor There he brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hammerfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to Istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before.

Whether braving the homicidal motorist of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.

In My Hands Today…

Round Ireland with a Fridge – Tony Hawks

Have you ever made a drunken bet? Worse still, have you ever tried to win one?

In attempting to hitchhike round Ireland with a fridge, Tony Hawks did both, and his foolhardiness led him to one of the best experiences of his life.

Joined by his trusty traveling companion-cum-domestic appliance, he made his way from Dublin to Donegal, from Sligo through Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry, Cork, Wexford, Wicklow–and back again to Dublin. In their month of madness, Tony and his fridge met a real prince, a bogus king, and the fridge got christened. They surfed together, entered a bachelor festival, and one of them had sex without the other knowing. And unexpectedly, the fridge itself became a momentary focus for the people of Ireland.