Rendezvous with tribes of Madhya Pradesh


Guest Blog

Collage Tribes of Madhy Pradesh India

by Indrani Ghose


Long before we humans became modern and technologically advanced, this world was home to indigenous and tribal people. In India too, the different tribes of Madhya Pradesh survived, existed and flourished with what they had for several centuries. They were self-sufficient, fostering community spirit and cohesion.

How would it be to meet these tribal people! When I received the media invite for Tribal Trail through Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India, the concept of doing the road trip through its tribal belt took me by thrill and surprise. Rare village visits are the only time when I have been out of modern comforts. The thought of meeting tribal made me eager with curiosity to understand their lifestyle, heritage, art and culture. It was a rare chance to meet up with people who belonged to the roots of present civilisation, in one word 'our ancestors'.

Collage Tribes of Madhya Pradesh India

Collage Tribes of Madhya Pradesh India

Times Passion Trails and Madhya Pradesh tourism had chalked out the SIX DAYS itinerary of the journey through tribal heartland well. Let me take you on a virtual walk of the trip through the tribal heartland of India that I experienced.

Inauguration of Passion Trails & Tribal Food Festival

First day - Today is going to be a long day ahead, an exciting one. Sleep disappeared long before it could settle in my eyes, in short I had a sleepless night! A foggy morning delayed the take off from Bangalore but efficient INDIGO pilots made up for the lost time and we were soon in the cosy comfort of Taj Lakefront Bhopal.

After a sumptuous lunch we visited the Tribal Museum. This is the largest museum with the best collection of artefacts and models representing the tribal art, culture and heritage in India. Here we met Dr. Vasant Nirgune, who would guide us for the rest of the trip.

Read about him here: Faces of India 355 - Dr Vasant Nirgune.

We could spend a little more than a couple of hours here, which definitely wasn't enough. I was on a clicking spree trying to capture the displayed objects and themes. Did you know 8% of the Indian population is tribal? There are 65 distinct tribes in India and 44 recognised scheduled tribes in Madhya Pradesh. So you can imagine how huge the collection is in the Tribal Museum of Bhopal.

Here, in Tribal Museum of Bhopal Madhya Pradesh, while having snacks we were briefed by Mr. Sheo Shekhar Shukla, MD Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board. His words:

  • You are going to see only a fraction of tribal life, people have spent a lifetime studying them. In the end you will be left craving for more.
  • Tribes of Madhya Pradesh have contributed a lot for the freedom struggle of India which is being traced out and documented and brought in records.
  • Tribals are very very simple people. They take time to open up with strangers, so when we approach them we have to be slow and give them time to warm up to conversation.
  • Try to keep scientific temperament aside. (I remembered this line most in Chaugan Temple.)
  • Their traditions and lifestyle is our country's heritage. Spread it all over the world, let them know of our country's treasure using your social media skills.
Rendezvous with Tribes of Madhya Pradesh

1. Governor of Madhya Pradesh lighting lamp, 2. Teejan Bai performance, 3. Our guide for the tour -  Prof. Vasant Nirgune, 4. Managing Dir. MP tourism Board, 5. Shilpa, Sr. Official in Tourism Board.

Inauguration Event 
- Tonight, primed by the sequence of events to unfold, I dressed formally in a patola saree with tribal jewellery, kind of a mismatch. The whole team came out in their best formals.

Baiga tribal dancers welcomed Governor of Madhya Pradesh, His Excellency Shri Ram Naresh Yadav for the inauguration of Tribal Food Festival in Taj Lakefront Bhopal and Times Passion Tribal Trail. It was a matter of immense pride for me that a high dignitary of Madhya Pradesh came to inaugurate this event.

After the inauguration we were treated to the performance by Teejan Bai, an exponent of Pandavani, a traditional performing art form, from Chhattisgarh, in which she enacts tales from the Mahabharata, with musical accompaniments.

Tribal Food Festival
- Unique flavours of different tribes of Madhya Pradesh were served to us on a thaali (earthen plate). The various elements that comprised the dish were Tamatar Badi (Baiga tribe food), Dahi ki Mirchi (bharia Tribe food), Thetra Rabdi (Bharia tribe) and Putu Pihri ( Gond tribe food). I took the vegetarian dish of tribal food and I especially liked the Kathal ki Sabzi, a dish made with raw jack fruit.

Welcome by Taj, below snacks in Tribal Museum, Thaali of Tribal food

Rendezvous with Bharia Tribe of Madhya Pradesh

Second day - All fresh and excited we set off on the bus ride to Tamia from Taj Lakefront Bhopal. Our first halt for tea break was at Vrindavan Palace at 11 AM. 

We drove through winding roads of Satpura National Park. Driven by my never-waning desire to seek the rarely seen wildlife, I scanned the roads ahead that looked like pencil sketches on the map. I was hoping to spot at least a deer, but except for some humans, the road was bare. Around 2 PM we halted at Tamia MPT for our lunch.

Onward to Patalkot
- Our next destination was Kareyam Village of Patalkot. Here our team split into two and we were accommodated in two smaller vans as the approach road to Kareeyam village was a narrow one. Till some years back there was just a footpath leading down to the village. Only recently this narrow motorable road has come up.

It took us one and half hours, to cover the distance of 27 km crossing two villages Chimti and Rathed, to reach Kareyam Village. By now the landscape had changed considerably. We seemed to be on a sloping downward path, the mountains around seemed to grow in size, the surroundings got greener.

Day 2 of meeting Tribes of Madhya Pradesh

Visit to Bharia Tribal Homes
- Patalkot translates to underworld. The dense green hills in the Tamia region of Chhindwara are home to more than 2,000 tribal people. There are 12 villages. We walked through the Kareyam village roads, visited the Bharia tribal homes, got to talk with them and understand their lifestyle.

One glaring aspect of their lifestyle that taught me a lesson was it is not necessary to hoard food or clothing to survive. They live on a daily basis, eating what they collect from forests and agricultural land. They don't have wardrobes full of clothes or granaries full of grains. Yet they seemed content. 

For more information and details of our walk through Kareyam Village,

read on ? Meeting Bharia Tribe and Walk through in Kareyam Village Patalkot

Night in Tents of Lets Camp Tamia
- Durung the night, we stayed in tents in Tamia. There was a dance performance by the Bharia community with such an infectious rhythm, that we were tempted to leave our dinner plates and join them to the beat of their steps.

Day 2, distance logged 212 km.

Sunrise in Patalkot
- Third day - Today we welcomed the sun rising over the edge of the bowl shaped Patalkot. Tried capturing it through the props of Tamia Camp, while having hot chai and biskoot!

Tamia guys had arranged a sumptuous breakfast for us. If food can, kill this would have!

Interacting with Bharia Herbal Healers
- Bharia herbal healers had set up their stalls offering herbal remedies for all stomach ailments, sciatica and diabetic health issues and more. The herbal healers of Bharia are known by the name Bhagats or Bhumkas. They have very willingly shared their knowledge of the herbs and medicinal plants growing within their valley, which proved to be their bane. Very soon private companies swooped on the land and fleeced the valley of the precious plants. But now government has taken steps to prevent further damage.

Refreshed with our night halt and our tummies full, we continued our road trip to Mandla. The road to Mandla was dotted with temples and railway stations of villages and towns. We crossed a few stretches of lush green field and brick kilns that indicated their means of their livelihood. 

- At Chindwara town we halted in Sanju Ka Dhaba for lunch. After that it was a long drive to Mandla. I managed to catch forty winks in this span.

Tamia Tent stay and meeting Herbal healers

Explore Mandla Town

- As we entered Mandla town, our guide pointed out a Banyan tree, in Ambedkar Chowk, saying - 21 freedom fighters were hanged by the British for their revolutionary activities during the 1857 mutiny from that tree. The bus was speeding on I could barely manage to capture a  pic of Ambedkar statue.

Mandla was once ruled by the Gond dynasty and there are many remains which reflect their heritage and lifestyle. We made a quick tour of Mandla Fort, Panchmukhi Mahadev Temple and The Raja Rajeshwari Temple that has an amazing collection of rare idols carved by Gond sculptors. The temple has a history spanning several centuries, and has contributions to its construction from several dynasties. The clothing styles depicted in the idols in this temple indicate that they were made by the Gond tribe. Their faith is similar to Hindus. It was a very enriching experience.

That's all for today in terms of sight seeing and interaction with locals.

Finally we reached our hotel in Mandla, after almost 7 hours in bus including the halts, a distance of 244 km. We retired for the night at Hotel Shikhar Palace.

Mandla to Amarkantak

Fourth day - Off to a new fort today! 

Today is a continuation of yesterday... meaning we got to tour parts of Mandla that we couldn't cover yesterday.

Explore Mandla Madhya Pradesh

Rendezvous with Gond Tribe of Madhya Pradesh in Mandla

Moti Mahal in Ramnagar - We started with a visit to Moti Mahal of Ramnagar where we got a warm reception by the Gond tribal dancers, beating their ethnic tunes on their dhol (drums). They never fail to rub a bit of their exuberance onto us! There was an exhibition of articles, jewellery, and handicrafts made by Gond tribals.

Moti Mahal, the palace was constructed in 1651 on the banks of River Narmada by the Gaur ruler Raja Hriday Shah. The inner courtyard of the palace is stunningly beautiful when the step well is filled with water. Long rooms line this tank which must have been decked in a manner befitting the kings and queens. Now they are just bare walls trying to whisper its history, you just need to pause and listen. Hire a guide here to get all the stories of the palace.

I loved this part of the visit a lot! It was a very good combination of art, culture, heritage and history in one place. As if to make it more memorable the bees decided to sting a few of us. One of us got stung by six bees! The drone had upset them.

Tribes of Madhya Pradesh

Gond Dancer, his instruments and accessories

Chaugan Maadhi, the Temple for Exorcism
- We left for the most intriguing place of the whole trip, the Temple for Exorcism in Chaugaan. Chaugan Maadhi in Mandla district is famous for giving relief to devotees believed to be possessed by evil spirits. The idols here are unusual; in fact there are no idols. Sharp weapons like spears and trishuls are worshipped here. A huge black ladder represents the pathway to heaven. People come here seeking relief from other problems too. The ailing patient is made to climb up with help of one local, while prayers are chanted by the panda (priest) and then the devotee is made to climb down; this is a part of the curing ritual.

After listening to the spine chilling stories of treatments of different devotees we set off on a road trip to Amarkantak, but before that we halted at Hotel Shikhar Palace for lunch. 

Mandla to Amarkantak
- The landscape changed considerably again, Amarkantak region is a unique natural heritage area. It is the meeting point of the Vindhya and the Satpura Ranges, sutured by Maikal Hills. Three prominent rivers Narmada River, the Son River and Johila River (Tributary of Son) emerge here. Being early summers, the rivers and the tributaries hardly had any water. Here and there they reflected the sun's rays resembling thin silver chains.

I strongly believe beautiful roads lead to brilliant journeys! And this stretch of road from Patangarh to Amarkantak with excellent roads lined with tall lush green trees is one such beautiful road. We crossed this stretch 4 times, and each time we were on a clicking spree to capture the breathtaking tunnel effect over the road by the trees.

Day 4, today we covered a distance covered 162 km.

Beautiful roads make beautiful journeys!
in Amarkantak

Rendezvous with Baiga Tribe of Madhya Pradesh

Fifth day - We set off for Silpidi village, located in Dindori Tehsil of Dindori district in Madhya Pradesh, at a distance of 76.8 km from Amarkantak. The place is quite remote, with Google Maps not working well we had our quota of difficulty finding the correct route.

For me this was the goosebump moment of the whole trip.

Silpidi village is home to the Baiga tribe. We walked into warm welcome dances presented by Baiga dancers. This tribe is world famous for its women who have tattoos on their whole body except their abdomen-waist area. They have tattoos on their forehead too. One among them has been featured on Madhya Pradesh tourism bus.

As I was on assignment I kept clicking like I always do, but at one point I stopped to think how girls from the age of twelve are tattooed over the whole body. Of course it is not done all in one day. It is done over the years as they grow, marry and have babies.

Didn't it hurt them? In the last one year I had to take two vaccine shots, for which I had to prepare myself mentally. And here these little girls are taking pricks all over their body! It is said these tattoos keep them free of diseases, gives them immunity from insect bites.

Tribes of Madhya Pradesh

Baiga tattoo and Gond Tribes of Madhya Pradesh

Tribal Food
- We left for Patangarh where we got the taste of tribal food again. The dishes tasted more than perfect, it was a welcome change from the matar paneer and mixed-vegetable curry that we usually have. The rotis (flat bread) were thick, just a quarter of it was filling enough for me.

Gond Art
 - We were then presented with Gond tribal art exhibitions cum sale at Jiyo Gond Kalakriti Sehkari Samiti Maryadit Patangarh. Art is part of the cultural makeup of every society and Madhya Pradesh is home to the vibrant and soulful Gond art of the Gond tribal people. Its unique beauty and contemporary designs captivated my mind instantly. There is something about it which locked my attention. Maybe it was the dots and lines, or the vibrant colours or it could be the stories conveyed through this form.

Read here: Interesting Facts of Gond Art Painting

Live Tattooing
 - There was a live Baiga tattoo demonstration by Mangala Bai, daughter of Padma Shri Shanti Bai. Within half an hour she tattooed an art representing Bhagwan Shiva's Trishul (trident) measuring 1 cm. We got to see and learn about her tools.

The event here was concluded with a mesmerising dance by the Agharia tribal community. Their colourful attire charmed us beyond words.

Yantra Temple
- By evening we reached Amarkantak. Before checking into our tents we did a quick visit to Yantra Temple. The gateway has a 3D projection of the Sri Yantra / Sri Chakra, a mainstay of worship of Sri Vidya in Hinduism. It had a fresh coat of paint and was gleaming in the sunset glow.

Today we logged 141 km.

Tribes of Madhya Pradesh

Gond Painting, Baiga tattoo, Yantra temple

Last Day of Tribal Trail in Jabalpur

Sixth day - Today is the last day of this trip! A faint thought sank in 'there's nothing left to look forward to for a while'. But a memorable activity was planned at the end of the day by the Passion Trail team to give the trip a perfect ending. Read on...

Narmada Devi Temple
- Still raring to explore more, early morning we made a beeline to Narmada Devi Temple, located a couple of hundred metres away from our hotel. This temple was built around the source of River Narmada in the 12th century CE. In later years it was renovated by Devi Ahilyabai Holkar. My mind still reverberates with a calm rhythm thinking of the morning aura of the temple.

Baiga Tribal Textile
- For the rest of the day we were on a road trip to Jabalpur. One small highlight of this part of the road trip was I could lay my hands on a saree with tribal Baiga weave. Thanks to Ms. Mala Dhawan who tied up with a local weaver to see some of his works. She too picked up a beautiful red and white striped Baiga work saree. Both of us wore the Baiga Sarees for the closing event.

(The saree with blouse piece attached cost me 1400 INR, I was so excited with the loot that I forgot to click the pic of the weaver, kicking myself for that.)

It was past 5 in the evening when we checked in to Hotel Shawn Elizey in Jabalpur. We travelled 216 km by road today.

Closing Ceremony of Times Passion Tribal Trail
- Our 6 days of road trip through the tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh culminated with a grand closing ceremony party which went on past midnight. All of us presented our thanksgiving speeches; we were presented with mementos, which included a piece of framed Gond art. The party went well into the next day till 1.30 AM, when we were forced to part with unforgettable memories and our hearts filled with happiness.

The hangover of this trip will continue...


Narmada Devi Temple, Baiga Textile, Mementos from Times!


In all we travelled 775 km by road, met and interacted with three main tribes of Madhya Pradesh, the Bharia, The Gond and the Baiga.

Thanks to Times Passion Trails of Times of India and Madhya Pradesh Tourism for curating such a enriching Rendezvous with Tribes of Madhya Pradesh under the #DekhoApnaDesh and #AzadiKaAmritMahotsav initiative.

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