Travel has taught me very many things. One of which is not to judge a place before experiencing it. The first time I visited Chhattisgarh was in January 2006 for a short period of time to Bilaspur. I was dismayed by the roads though it was considered to be a well-developed city, even then. Besides that, I have very limited memories from my few hours’ halt there.
In January 2015, when I visited Raipur and Sirpur, I allowed myself the pleasure of being very pleasantly surprised. Apart from the very awesome roads (yes, I feel strongly about roadways), there were a number of factors that positively influenced my stay there. Would I travel solo to such a state? Yes, I do feel confident. Here are my reasons why you should consider exploring Chhattisgarh soon.
Seeing is believing
Warped in misconceptions, Chhattisgarh is not as unsafe as it is touted to be. Of course I wouldn’t recommend walking by the highway in the dark! But having kept the basic rules of safety in mind, any traveller can happily explore the place. One of my key revelations from here was the politness of the locals. Wherever I travel I take some time to soak in the vibe of the place and people, and then interact or keep my distance. (It is a solo traveller habit that remains with me.) In Raipur and Sirpur, I felt comfortable interacting with the locals who were friendly, courteous and non-repulsive.
Chhattisgarh Tourism Board
The sheer interest and organisational skills of Chhattisgarh Tourism Board surprised me. Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival is a young annual event and only in the third edition they have successfully brought in world-famous personalities like Pandit Birju Maharaj, George Brooks, Pete Lockett. Sure, it requires a good financial support but I cannot overlook the fact that it is an equal matter of interest and reputation built from yesteryear.
Santosh Misra, IAS, Managing Director of CTB is closely involved with all the procedures of the festival. While he is backed with an efficient team (Dr. Sanjay Singh and Soumik Sarkar were very helpful), I was yet again amazed by how hands-on he is in his work and interactions with everyone.
Wi-Fi, the virtual necessity
I suppose the idea of inviting bloggers to any event is that they would help spread the word through their reach while staying connected on social media. My phone did not have connectivity in Sirpur but I was delighted to constantly tweet my updates from the festival, thanks to the good Wi-Fi that was setup. It was a special arrangement and I was happy to see that CTB not only recognised this as a necessity but also facilitated the big task of setting up the wireless zone in the outdoor venue.
Rich in crafts and culture
Travelling though India is like travelling across 29 countries. Each state is diverse and blessed with an individual character and culture. These are often narrated by the local practices and crafts of the region. The tribal jewellery, dokra handicrafts, wall painting, Kosi silk and tribal tattoos from this state are worth time and study. I suppose one lifetime is short to get acquainted with the nuances of each tribe in Chhattisgarh!
Scope for improvement:
The festival was honoured by a number of top government officials, including Chief Minister Chhattisgarh Dr. Raman Singh. I understand that top security was put in place for this and often, these officials take their jobs very seriously. In an unfortunate incident, a colleague was shoved aside by one of these guards at the entrance to the seating area, while trying to make space for eminent guests who were leaving. I strongly believe that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated. I’d suggest separate gates for VIPs and proper training for security personnel, anywhere in the world.
Though I was visiting Chhattisgarh exclusively for the festival, I did not get a chance to use the public transport. However, I was told that Raipur-Sirpur are not well-connected by buses or affordable cabs. Any state is only as good as its public transport (or so I believe) and perhaps, making connections better between villages will only attract more travellers.
Will I travel to Chhattisgarh again? Without a doubt.