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Travel Postcard by Dr Madeleine Florin from Chhattisgarh – On the ground with Ground Report India

by Dr Madeleine Florin, PhD

 

In the second week of the month of April 2012 I was lucky enough to catch a brief glimpse of life in Chhattisgarh, mostly of Dantewada district. For transport, I hurtled around in the back seat of the well driven and well stocked car labelled “Press”. Again, I have to say I was lucky because the mission was for me to learn by seeing; to ignore the preconceived hype about violence and; to experience the heartening and beautiful parts of Dantewada.

This is a retrospective postcard. After a week in Rajasthan and Delhi, I spent three days in Chhattisgarh and have since returned to the Netherlands via Delhi. Raipur to Dantewada and back again. Quite some kilometres on some hairy roads with plenty of impressions! I will share some with you now.

The glossy picture on the front of this travel postcard would no doubt be of the Indrawati Waterfalls at Chitrakoot, Jagdalpur. About eight hours drive from Raipur, these waterfalls are simply stunning. Although not with full flow as it was still the dry season, the sheer drop, the blocky rocks, the sound, the motion and smell of the flowing water was truly spectacular. Perhaps heightened by the contrasting images of the sandy Thar Dessert from the week before, the sight and smell of so much water was glorious. We didn’t linger for too long as we didn’t opt for the new cliff edge tourist cabins with water views. This was a decision based on safety as, nearby in the forest there is potentially dangerous Maoist activity. Judging by the empty cabins we were not the only people to keep moving.

Instead of waking up to waterfall views I woke up to the warm welcome of household activity in the city of Dantewada. My own interest in vegetable gardening made for an impressive stroll around the kitchen garden. How could a backyard with six varieties of mango, pomegranate, guava and lychees not be impressive!? Not to mention the okra, beans, eggplant, tomatoes, coriander, pumpkin and more.

I definitely can’t get enough of strolling through vegetable gardens. During our morning drive through villages the kitchen gardens we found are an example of some of the work of Ramnarendra, Vivek Umrao and others. Areas of about 1 to 2 acres have been fenced off and bores for irrigation installed. This was done on an individual household basis and provides healthy food and an opportunity for a little bit more income. We also harvested a few goodies for our lunch. Other works of theirs that we visited were a larger, potentially more commercial area cultivated with bananas, maize and vegetables; a dairy in construction; a sewing training centre and; a bustling fish pond. It was market day so plenty of fish were being bought and sold. I felt like we were in the middle of nowhere but under the tree next to the pond was happening. Finger- to thigh-size fish were being fished.

I also joined the inauguration of a new carpentry training centre. I have to say the purpose of the event was eclipsed by the tribal music, dance and dress. The rhythmic procession of drumming and cast iron percussion sticks and the head dresses adorned with cow horns and shells was a vivid impression of a proud culture.

The other side of Dantewada culture that I peeped into was the local government and some of their works. We visited a school where the enthusiasm of the kids and the ease to which they welcomed us put a smile on my face. I was also impressed to see a meal being prepared in the school yard. I think education and food makes a good combination. The other open welcome from the government side was meeting with Neeraj K Bansod IAS, the Chief Executive Officer Dantewada district and the district collector Om Prakash Chaudhary IAS. Interesting to meet local decision makers and get an impression of who is motivating and enabling some of the local government funded projects.

The village landscape of the valley bottom struck me as beautiful. Probably because it is still with lots of trees. Although cleared with evidence of wet-season paddy fields, the lack of monoculture is always a beautiful thing.

The importance of native trees and shrubs was clear. It was Mahua harvesting time. Apparently a common tree! All over the place, men and women both young and old were bending over and collecting the fruits. In front of every house and also scattered throughout the landscape within fenced off patches were circles of Mahua in various stages of drying. Today (yellow), tomorrow (light brown) and the day after (darker brown). A popular end use is country wine. Apparently next month is the season for collecting and drying the leaves from Tendu which are used to wrap tobacco (the outside of a beedi).

For most of the journey we stuck to the valley bottom and I admired the forested hills on the horizon. A little trip up to a Hindu temple in an ashram nestled at the foot of some hills provided a small taste of what lies beyond. We had a tasty lunch (presented on gorgeous leaves stitched together) and shared some of the self-contained and calm vibes of the place. Perhaps next time and with less risk of violence in the forested hills I will venture further up. I hear there are even more impressive waterfalls to be seen.

Three days is nothing but is also a lot. Nothing because I can barely begin to grasp and understand the complexities of many lives in the villages, town and forests of Dantewada. Three days is a lot because I saw and shared in beautiful parts of Dantewada – people working, people making music and people living within their landscape. For this I can say that my mission to learn by seeing was accomplished.
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About Author:

Dr Madeleine Florin PhD

  • Postdoctoral researcher at the Wageningen University, Netherlands within the Plant Production Systems chair group
  • Researching within a programme titled, “Biomass for fuel: opportunity or threat to food and feed security? Case studies for farms in Brazil and Mozambique” 
  • Coordinating programme logistics and communication between partners in the Netherlands, Brazil and Mozambique
  • Conducted PhD research at the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture within the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Sydney

 

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