February 21, 2019

Cheap-packing across South East Asia

“Let’s cheap pack”. I was surprised at the suggestion. Backpacking is a commonly used term, but cheap-packing. Taking backpacking to its extreme by cutting down on all avoidable costs yet manage to fulfill a relatively luxurious international trip. So, I decided to take a chance and move ahead with a no-frills trip spread across three countries and twenty days and in prime tourist season.

We planned a visit to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand in the month of February and March of this year and cover a distance of more than 4000 km through some of the most exciting lands across South East Asia. An unconventional tour yet one that promised loads of experiences worth a lifetime.

The start to our cheap-packing adventure was relatively simple. We planned to largely visit Cambodia and Vietnam. However, air tickets for either of these countries was astronomical and would have ruined our budget before it started. So, we decided to book a bargain flight to Bangkok saving about 20000 rupees as compared to a similar flight to Phnom Penh. We also decided on booking at hostels throughout our journey with the promise not to budge from our decision unless hostels were not available at all.
The idea to land at Bangkok early in the morning proved to be perfectly timed as we spent the entire day looking around the city along the Chao Priya River, largely using the efficient ferry system that connects long stretches of the town. Food was cheap and at 80 rupees per person, we were able to fill our stomach and head to our hostel near the main railway station. Another point to be noted here was that Air Asia flights land at the Don Muang Airport which is connected by a highly efficient local train network, so instead of paying 1000 rupees for the taxi, we managed to pay around 88 rupees to reach our hostel.

Having seen the local sights of Bangkok, we left for Cambodia next morning on a 100 rupees train ride from Bangkok to Aranyaprateth through some beautiful countryside, reaching the border at ease, speeding through the visa counters and entering a visually impoverished nation in a matter of minutes, spending nothing on bribes, without responding to touts and finding ourselves safely in the country of our dreams, Cambodia.

A bit of advice for a traveler while crossing any tourist hotspot, is to always walk ahead, not looking on the left or right and walking past the hordes of tourists as well as accompanying touts. Rates of everything from tickets to hotel rooms falls drastically within 100 metres of crossing over. That is what we did and in the process, we paid 10 dollars for a cab ride to Siam Reap (gateway to Angkor Wat) that would usually cost 25-30 dollars for two people. Cheap-packing in practice it was.
While at Siam Reap, we were among the thousands of people from across the world who converge on Angkor Wat, a symbol as potent for the tourism of Cambodia as the Taj Mahal is for India. For once, paying 20 dollars per person to see the temple complex did not seem to be a pinch on our pockets. It was a dream since childhood to visit these ancient temples and was worth the long wait for we had a glorious day seeing all the sights of the massive complex. As we were unencumbered by the need to attend to a schedule as we had not booked any package, we could see several smaller sites, rest whenever we want under the shade of a giant temple somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Another cheap-packing wisdom shone through for we realized while walking around that there are no free water vendors anywhere in South-East Asia. We had seen mineral water being sold at higher prices everywhere including at Bangkok and felt it wise to carry a lot of water while traveling to avoid being dehydrated.

Moving on from Angkor Wat, we took a bus to Phnom Penh soaking in the sights of the flat landscape filled with innumerable ponds and reached our destination by afternoon. We stayed at a wondrous hostel aptly named Aura thematic, located right behind the Royal Palace that was suited for a long walk through the old city. Phnom Penh has much to offer to a visitor, much of it in the form of a reminder of the cruelty of man. As history books leapt from their pages, we were able to absorb the atrocities committed by the Pol Pot regime during his term in the late seventies. The scars of those days have visually vanished but one can still find remnants of the genocide in the form of the Killing Fields at Choeng Ek. The memorial is about 15 kms from the city and we took a shared motorcycle to the site. It was more surreal than a scene out of the movies for the fields are presently located in a quiet residential neighbourhood and no figment of imagination can lend fodder to the thought that thousands were killed here not long back. We came back sooner than we wanted, not able to stomach the ways of man and his evil and even gave the prison in the main city a miss.

Phnom Penh was tough for the soul and we decided to head out to Sihaounakville, located on the southern coast. It struck me now that our main expense during this trip will be on transport especially while in Cambodia and the reasons were apparent. As a nation recovering from the ills of the Pol Pot regime and subsequent invasion by Vietnam, most Cambodians seem more comfortable with the dollar as they were wary of their own national currency. And as most tourists were westerners, we realized that rates were being randomly quoted in dollars for even the smallest purchase. As Indians, we suffered the fate of getting clubbed alongside westerners and our cheap travel plans badly affected for we had to shell out loads of money on transportation. We dealt with the unexpected cost outage by focusing on cheaper travel to Sihaunoville and managed to reach the coast comfortably. We stayed at the Last Point, a small resort on an island off the coast and had a great two days doing nothing and also to recharge our batteries after intense travels over the last few days.

Our travels in Cambodia were coming to an end and we decided to head out to Vietnam and see for ourselves the mysteries that await us in that ancient land. As we were travelling on land, we had pre-arranged for our visas as Vietnam does not entertain visa on arrival. Somehow, we managed to pack one night at a charming riverside resort lovingly called Samon’s Village paying 6 dollars for a tree house. The stay left us wondering on the quality of well designed stay options back home, where we pay through the nose yet find it difficult to find quality stays. For us, just being there by the riverside was an experience for us and it relaxed us sufficiently to prepare for the long Vietnamese sojourn ahead.

Vietnam, the name evokes images of mysteries, of mist covered slopes, of striking blue oceans, of an independent proud nation and of course, the Vietnam War. Anybody with a slight interest in modern history surely has Vietnam in his views for it was here that one of the greatest wars of the 20th Century took place. Personally for me, it was a childhood fascination with an overdose of Hollywood movies and enough books that always attracted me towards that beautiful country. And being a backpacker’s paradise, travel in this beautiful country was bound to be exciting as well as cheap.

For starters, we took a long bus ride to the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City and settled in the Saigon Charming Hostel in the main backpacker’s district. Most South East Asian cities have prominent backpacking areas that are usually located close to the main sights and sounds and Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City was no exception. I could just take a walk in any direction and treat myself to the well kept boulevards, the parks and of course the history. Like a schoolboy eager for his next field trip, I was at the gates of the world famous War Remnants Museum that documents that crisis of the Vietnam War before it opened and spent a good part of the morning there. Also on the list was the legendary Presidential Palace which was witness to North Vietnamese tanks gate crashing the Southern Vietnamese party and ultimately unifying the country. Having to see these sights and also a famous statue of the leader, Ho Chi Minh himself was an immensely satisfying experience.

The day passed and we longingly said good bye to this amazing cauldron of humanity where millions scurried around in their mopeds and made road crossing in Bangalore appear a cakewalk as compared to this crazily vibrant city. We proceeded to take the train to Hoi An in the central part of Vietnam.

We had saved enough money in Vietnam so far as the food was cheap and entry fees to local sites were much cheaper as compared to Cambodia. We also decided to take the train for the simple reason that the Vietnamese Railway is considered to be a legend in international long distance train travel and at more than 1800 km from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, we were prepared to travel the entire distance. The train itself was simple enough, only slightly cleaner than our Indian ones but the stations enroute seemed to leap out of some dickensian novel, small, idyllic and non-descript. Were we walking into an earlier era. The train journey till Hoi An took us past the central highlands with mist floating across most valleys and the trademark Vietnamese scene of a small boy riding a buffalo omnipresent. Food was cheap on the train and we always had the option of ordering amongst a choice of noodles that were ferried around by smartly dressed executives of the train system. The train journey, albeit tough for our spines, was still the perfect way seeing the country by mingling with the locals. By the time we landed at Danang, we were given a handsome good-bye by the remaining passengers who were happy perhaps at seeing tourists willing to travel in the local style and not stay in some cocoon of their imagination where interacting with locals was forbidden.

Here, at Danang, we were again witness to one of the tricks of cheap-packing. The taxi rates to Hoi An were astronomical at the railway station and we followed the Lonely Planet guide to the main junction and found ourselves a bus to Hoi An. We had to walk merely an extra hundred metres and were able to save about 10 dollars cumulatively. Joys of cheap-packing.

Hoi An is an ancient quarter, which appears to be stylishly redesigned to cater to the crowds of tourists thronging every lane.
The tourists’s curiosity is insatiable and Hoi An with its centuries old mansions, incessant sales pitching by locals and inventively hung lamps at every door lures visitors from every country. The town is so intensely aligned to meet the needs of the tourist that at certain junctures, appeared unreal, almost as if the Disney World has imported itself to the these lands.
We moved to the imperial city of Hue on the following day and treated ourselves to some fine Indian dining. After almost 15 days on the roads, we found a couple of these Ganesh chain of restaurants at Hue, which unsurprisingly was filled with old British couples and hardly any Indians. We were hungry for desi food and did not mind splurging a bit for Indian restaurants which tend to be more expensive than the rest. But the taste of home food, though slightly europeanized was manna for the soul.

Hue can be covered in less than a day for the Imperial City is located close to the town with various palaces and temples situated within the complex. We took a cycle from downtown Hue and spent a good part of the morning seeing other sites in the town and finally entering the Imperial Palace around mid-morning. As cheap-packers, we realize the need of spending our mid-mornings in shade as roaming in the sun can be a surly experience. Spending time in shaded areas saves money, the need to buy additional drinking water and food and of course, avoiding tiring oneself unnecessarily. Hue with its scores of palaces and derelict residential quarters was perfect setting for us as we found a 200 year old wooden building with sparrows for company and treated ourselves to some well-deserved book reading.

The 3 hour break enthused us and we managed to see the rest of the city in a jiffy, head over to the Indian restaurant for a quick early dinner and head out to the railway station for the second and final part of our train odyssey to Hanoi.
Hanoi was cold, chaotic, and chilly and had an Indian hostel, aptly called Zostel right in the middle of the back-packing district, we tucked ourselves into this thoughtfully designed place and met several solo Indian backpackers from various parts of the country. At Hanoi, we had to wrap ourselves in our meager winter clothing and brace for the cold walks across the town. Street food was cheap and everywhere we went, the festive crowd was entertaining to watch, mopeds ran wild, thousands seated silently gobbling down food, beer cheaper than water and street shows at every corner. Hanoi presented a picture that was colorful and stuck to our minds as a city worth revisiting preferably on our next trip to Laos.

It was cold on the next morning as well and we had almost reached the end of our 20 day tour. It called for a celebration and what better cause than a visit to the famous UNESCO world heritage site at Halong Bay. That is what we did and managed to fit in an entire day of floating on a wooden tub through the ancient waters overlooked by huge limestone formations. Words ceased to come as the beauty of this site, see only in movies or in some exotic sounding website, came alive that morning. We were enthralled and at 18 dollars per person, this was the cheapest one could attempt at seeing these wondrous sites.

Our trip had almost come to an end and we were prepared to take a flight back home. It was time to count our dollars, dongs and rupees and amazingly found that we had spent hardly 45000 Indian rupees on stay and travel and an additional 35000Indian rupees for tickets and visas, thereby spending in total an amount of Rs. 80,000 for a 20 day trip. As a back-packing trip, this is as cheap as it could get for two people traveling over 20 days and at the same time, not compromising on the basic requirement of clean stay and safe travel. We could manage this largely due to careful and lengthy planning, including scouring websites for discounted rates, booking at dormitories, eating hygienic yet cheap street food, carefully selecting which historical site to visit and which to avoid, walking an extra mile to see less famous but equally enchanting sites, storing water for emergencies with a zeal that could match a castaway in the Saharas and finally, reducing costs on transportation by opting for the cheapest option available instead of choosing the easiest as that would be the obvious choice for any travel wary tourist. Finally, every rupee saved means a new trip is just down the road.

The Dance of the Gods

The Indian aboriginal is all too ready to respond to the slightest hint that he should abandon his old culture an interest. Tribal life is an integrated whole, it makes sense, there are no gaps in it, no insulated spots, and everything is related and functions in its proper place.

Till then, the dance of the Baiga goes on
1. Karma is the central Baiga dance. Men, women and children all take part. There are many variations of it and they are danced in all the major festivals.

2. JHARPAT dance- development of karma.

3. Tapadi – it is a dance for women only

4. Bilma- is the marriage dance

5. Dassera is the dance for men only but gonds do it better.

6.DADARIYA are banbhajans or forest songs. Sung by all the tribes.short verses, mostly love song. The other songs include bilma songs, jharpat songs, and karma songs.

February 19, 2019

Baigas and their interrelationship with Diseases

The Baigas have a world's worth of interpretations with regard to the simplest things in life. Even their understanding of diseases is comparatively different from how we observe them.

A man first catches thanki (gonorrhea); if untreated it becomes garmi (syphilis).

Other manifestations are parmi, sujag, or dhat. Final stage is pathari or stricture.

They fear most from the venereal diseases. They also believe that supernatural beings give them disease such as witches etc. They also believe in the concept of mata or mothers of diseases.

Cure - The Baiga mostly uses supernatural charms that are reinforced by jungle herbs. Most of the herbs are not used directly to cure but are first made into a charm.

1. Bach is worn around the neck in a little bundle to stop fever.
2. Black pepper- for syphilis(garmi)
3. SYPHLIS- roots of ban semar(galactia tenuiflora), hasiyadaphar (baliospermum axillare). Grind the two and eat the pills with gur.
4. Bel (Aegle marmelos), bark of dudhia (holsrrhena antidysenterica), seeds of ghol (portuculata oleracea), black pepper. Grind , drink in milk.
5. Gums of dikamali (gardeni lucida) on wounds.
6. Root of kachnar (bauhinia purpurea), black pepper.
7. Rhizome of kurkoti
8. Root of bhawarsal and fruit of dhanbakler( cassia fistula)
9. Seed of chandarjot (jatrpha curcas)
10. Other plants include ramdatan (smilax macrosphylla), khamer (gmelina arborea), bahera, tendu,
11. ITCH- sarai (boswellia serrata)
12. DIARRHOEA- bark of saj (terminalia tomentosa), tinsa (ougeinia dalbergioides), kachnar, chew bark of karikorai.
13. SLEEPINESS- twig of pipal.
14. IMPOTENCE- kali musri, fruit of aoonla.
15. COUGH- juice of harra fruit.
16. HEADACHE—leaves of amli, and of jhunjhunia (phoenix malabrica),

February 17, 2019

Livelihood of Baigas

The main sources of livelihood of the baiga are -
1. Agriculture
2. Village pujariship, exorcism and herbalist.
3. Bamboo matting and baskets
4. By collecting and selling honey and other MFP.
5. Labour.
6. Collecting jungle fruits and roots.
7. Small game by way of wild animals and fish. - Fish traps such as Kumiai, Bissau, jhumar, using hooks and lines, gira or net strung from a wooden frame. As labour, the main source is from the forest department. They also work in the fields of neighbouring gonds and other well to do villagers. Very few of them actually work in the forest department as guards or in any other post.

February 14, 2019

Kansasur mata lives in the lota. Lohasur mata in the axe - And the Baiga lives in my heart

Ahh the Baigas... Never before did I feel so enamored by a tribal group that I did by the Baigas. And the Gods are truly vivid, when it comes to the Baigas

Bhagawana Acknowledged as creator, maker of the baiga, concerned with life and death, Not involved in mantra
Bada Deo Chief deity of Baigas, involved with bewar. Jeth, liquor of new mahua is offered to him
Narayan deo Identified with bada deo.
Thakur deo Lord of the village and headman,
Marra deo
Dharti mata Mother of the Baiga
bhimsen Falstaff of Baiga mythology, giver of rain, bidri ceremony, red cock and red chick
Gansam deo Drives away tigers
Rat mai Goddess of night, offered a black cock
Paniharin Lives by water pots and protects women. Offered pulses and new rice.
Maswasi Lord of the chase. Also suttibhavani, raktipuri, alopurbi, kolin sutti bhavani. Lives in the bow.

And of course, the gunia who is not so much the priest as he is a warrior as he is considered to be a noble and heroic figure.

February 13, 2019

Baiga Facts - Food Habits

1. A fine pure arrowroot(tikur) made from the roots of Curcuma angustifolia
2. A small grain called siker, which is produce of the old plants of kutki.
3. Pej is made either of kodon, kutki, rice, siker or macca.
4. Leaves of Chinch(Corchorus olitorious), Munga (Moringa pterygosperma), Chakoara(cassia tora), Pipal(ficus religiosa), Phang(Rivea hypocrateriformis), Kawa keni( Combretum nanum), Pakhri( Ficus infectoria), Amara(Spondias mangifera), tender leaves of Amli(Bauhinia malabarica)
5. FLOWERS- Birhol( Indigofera pulchella)
6. SHOOTS- Bamboo, Kachnar(Bauhinia purpurea)
7. ROOTS- Kaniyakand Kirchikanda, Kundrukanda, jaliakanda, jarungakanda, suakanda, saidukanda.
8. FRUITS- Mango, Jamun( Eugenia jambolana), Char(Buchania latifolia), Khamer(Gmelina arborea), Tendu( Diospyros tomentosa), Gular(Ficus glomerata), Bar( Ficus bengalensis), Bel(Aegle marmelos), Bohar( Cordya myxa),
9. USES OF MAHUA- Its sweet flowers are dried and made into a chutney, Seeds yield oil used for cooking, Corolla is made into liquor.

February 12, 2019

The moment I saw her, a part of me walked out of my body and wrapped itself around her. And there it still remains - The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Small animals and the Household

Tribal communities have for long held themselves to be part of the nature they live with, not a competitor to it. They have practices in which scarcely harms the environment in detrimental ways. In the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve live numerable tribal groups, many of which are still living in the pristine state as one would have found them before the advent of the British. Most of theses groups fall in the primitive category and have hardly much material advancement. Usually, few items of physical capital adorn their homes, most have a permanent katti or knife hanging by their sides and little else. Their traditional source of livelihood such as hunting are now banned, many find subsistence agriculture to be highly punishing as income is negligible and the comparative effort is tremendous.

Though many have now started opting for much more remunerative form of occupation such as growing tea which is a permanent crop with an assured income or wage labour tea gardens or construction activities that progress nearby. It is a complex cycle which sucks in the person into a long standing trap of debt and destitution.

However, in the midst of food insecurity, and while roaming around in these and other hill areas, I observed that their daily consumption need is usually met. It was only when we consciously approached some people living in a remote village on some slopes that we realized the tremendous importance of small animals in providing the much needed food security for the people.

Hamlet after hamlet which we visited with a purpose to get details on the role of small animals showered us with a plethora of options of small animals, ranging from chicken for meat and eggs, to goats for milk and meat.

Since agriculture using draught cattle is hardly possible, cows were kept for physical purposes only. Bees are another group of animals that are inextricably linked with the cultural, economic and social lives of the people. Bess pollinate tree species and provide much desired honey which in turn is highly nutritional.

One major advantage of these animals was that compared to larger animals or crops, they required no care as such. As entire villages could be empty on certain days, they could be seen peacefully browsing upon trees or lazing around. They consumed most of the waste produced in homes .

From my field notes example -
Hens and chickens - sold at 75-125 rs/kg, upto 200 rs per year in a good year. There are usually 5-7 chicken per family. Eggs are seldom eaten and usually hatched to be reared. They eat chicken occasionally, mostly during dome festivals. Some used their cocks for cock fights also in nearby places. The chicken raising thing is mostly a side business. If business is good, then they can sell upto 15 of them in 6 months and upto 30 in a year. Chicken waste is buried, its dung is of not much use.

Goat milk - 1 litre at 8 Rs/litre, they give milk for about 3 months, sold a piece at 1000-1500-2000-upto 3000 rupees per goat, not on basis of weight but appearance. Used as manure. Income is less, usually kept outside as during the rains, if they are kept inside then they bring in mosquitoes.

Cows - Usually 2-4 cows per family. Gives milk for 6 months a year, usually .5 to 2 litres per day. They do not eat cow, not allowed, sold at 2000-4000-8000 rupees. Dead and decaying cows sent to Kerala for slaughter and leather. They worship cows during festivals such as pongal. If somebody kills cows, then he has to pay reimbursement. Used as manure - as flooring, compost sold at 5-20 rupees per basket upto 2 times a year. They collect manure and sell it. Per load of basket, they sell at around 5000 rupees and they can sell upto 2 bulks in a year.

February 7, 2019

THE BAIGA (The Medicine Man of the Central Highlands)

Of the few remaining tribes in the central highlands that still hold own to their ancient ways and exhibit primitiveness in the anthropological sense, the Baiga are among the last remaining inhabitants. Their culture, the association with the forest, low levels of literacy and close bonding with nature make them a special people. Though no longer associated with the term ‘hunting savage’ nevertheless they still follow many ancient traditions. The characteristics which made the Baiga special, namely the cult of magic, bewar or shifting cultivation, ancient customs of medicine, their formidable hunting prowess, their famed story telling abilities may have lessened in the new centuries but against all odds, the Baigas have still managed to retain all these characteristics even if to a little extent. The Baigas I came across were so simple, so frank, and so decent that I was transported to another time, another period when the world might have been a simpler place to stay in.

Most of the information we have on the Baigas come down from the Englishmen when in 1867, Captain Thomson briefly described them as a wild tribe. Then came Forsyth’s ‘Highlands of Central India’ who was also greatly influenced by the Baigas. But it was left to one of the greatest anthropologists of all times, Verrier Elwin to document in detail all facets of the Baiga life in his seminal contribution, ‘The Baiga’.

The Baigas are spread all over the central highlands though their main concentration lies in the Mandla, Dindori and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh. These districts encompass the impenetrable Maikal extension of the Satpura ranges and cover the watershed of many an important river like the famed Narmada. Though they are known by different names by many people such as the Bhumia, Bhuiya, Narotia, Binjwar, Bharotia, Narotia, Raibhaina, Kathbhaina, Kondwan and Gonwaina, essentially they share similar characteristics.

Their appearance is what differentiates them from the other tribal groups in the area. Their wild and unkempt looks, tattoos among the women, piece of cloth covering the head that serves as a turban and similar dressing pattern all help in making them easily recognizable to even the most unobservant outsider. They are of a delicate and fine physique not generally associated with the other tribal groups in the area. Long face, elegant features, small hands and rarely a trace of body hair, the Baigas are an object of envy for the other tribals in the area. Above all, it is their hair that sets them apart. They have magnificent, wavy hair that they so painstakingly take care of. The Baiga allows his hair to grow very long and ties it in a bum or a jura. Though they have normally very dark skin albeit a few have been known to possess light and golden brown appearances.

In the earlier days, they did not wear many clothes but partly due to coaxing from government officials and partly due to the tribal tendency to adopt new things, they started wearing clothes that cover most of their body. However, there are still to be found many such members who show an utter disdain for clothes and prefer just a langoti or a lugra (women’s garment). The Baigas never wear any nose ornament which was surprising because tribal groups are known to adorn ornaments. The Baigan women use tattoos for ornamental significance and many an elaborate design can be found on the baigan that they feel make them look beautiful.

They live in simple houses not much decorated and surrounded by the meager collection of livestock and poultry that they own. Their house tough small is however kept clean with regular mud dressings and constant brooming.

In having discussed the assets that these people own, it was found that they hardly have any assets. The hut may have a simple bed made usually of bamboo, some utensils, a pharsa ”battle axes”, tangia ”axe for normal usage”, hassia or the sickle and not much.

But it is a matter of pride for these people that they keep and make several bamboo-based objects. Infact they make innumerable objects out of bamboo that serve a lot of purpose. Baskets are often made of varying sizes. I could find almost ten pieces of bamboo based articles. They rear livestock but only for subsistence reasons. Pigs are a favourite, while cows and goats are also found. Poultry are also reared.

They are avid smokers. Often while speaking with them, one of them would start rolling a sal patta and fill tobacco from his pouch and begin smoking. Of mahua, they are legendary drinkers. They have strong religious and cultural affinities with mahua and use it to drown their sorrow or enjoy a feast. Whatever the reason, whatever the occasion mahua is an utmost necessity. In Dindori region, it is bought from across the border in Bilaspur district and the people pay around Rs. 10-15 for a litre of the intoxicant. There are also evidences of usage of ganja, though hardly widespread. In choosing between food and drink, the baiga might invariably go for the drink.

The baiga takes coarse food and shows no extravagance in this aspect. They eat coarse grain, kodo, and kutki, drink pej, eat little flour and are normally content with what little that they get. One of the prime foods is pej that can be made from grounding macca or from the water left from boiling rice. Local people gave testimony that this food is much more better and healthier than many other food that they eat. Also, beyond doubt they eat several items from the forest that includes primarily Chirota Bhaji, Gular leaves such as Chirota, chinch, chakora, sarroota, peepal etc. They also eat BirarKand, Kadukand and other rhizomes. Mushroom is also a delicacy. Numerous fruits such as mango, char, jamun, tendu are also eaten. They hunt as well, primarily fish and small mammals

The baigas are not strict adherents of religion. From what was obvious during the festive season, it appears that the tribe has now been almost completely assimilated into the Hindu religion. There is no visible influence of Christianity. Yet the old timers and a few of the youngsters rattled off names of local deities such as bura deo, thakur deo, nanga baiga and baigin, dharti mata, bhimsen and a few other local deities. They celebrate Hindu festivals with as much vigour as their Hindu neighbours do and the researcher had an opportunity of being treated to their way of celebrating deepawali. For days preceding the festival, the people started bursting crackers. On the night of the festival however, it was a completely different spectacle. Beginning at around ten in the night, a large number of villagers gathered at the Village Square in the village ‘chadha’ and started playing the dholaks. All night long they played the dholaks at intervals and sang in the chattisgarhi dialect. All the time the members of the various troupes drank whatever mahua that came along their way. They went from house to house and the various householders gave some little mahua or some other gift to the troupes. All night long these events went on. It was only around six in the morning that the festivities gave way to silence but not before a final outburst of dance and song.

The baiga religion is simple and does not appear to be too highly affected by Hinduism though major structural changes have indeed occurred that seems to have distanced the average baiga from his traditional leanings.

The baigas were earlier excellent hunters but have been forced by the administration to reject this practice. When asked, a great many of them seemed embarrassed by the questioning and professed no knowledge of hunting or any incidence of hunting in the area. It was another matter that I found bows in a number of houses still occupying a place of pride amongst the meager households assets that they have.

The baigas residing in the forest villages practice subsistence agriculture on the small pattas that they have received. There is no evidence of bewar or shifting cultivation that was the normal practice till not very long ago. In reality there are a few baigas who now solely depend on the forest. Most practice agriculture or are employed as labour. However the forest still continues to be the major source of livelihood for the people as they sell a number of forest based products in the local markets and to the government.

Bamboo based handicraft is also practiced but hardly are these products sold. Thus the baiga has very limited sources of livelihood and most of them, if existing are often at the subsistence level.

The baiga is a strong believer in magic and pointed out numerous herbs that they use to eliminate the use of magic and its ill-effects. The old timers informed that in the earlier days they were regarded as the best magicians in the whole of the land. They used their magic for a number of occasions such as growth of crops, marriage, death, and injury from wild animals, venereal diseases and protection from ill omens. The gunia or the medicine man is one of the most respected people in the village. He is adept in the knowledge of wild herbs and many medicinal plants. In these remote mountainous tracts the gunia and the vaidha are the first succour for the poor tribals who have otherwise few other means to cure themselves of diseases. The area is highly prone and endemic to malaria, venereal diseases and diseases arising from poor water quality. This vulnerability and almost fatal acceptance to the annual ravages of malaria makes the population prone to death very monsoon.

The Baiga is among the last remaining tribes that dot the central highland which are still not entirely a part of the mainstream. Today, after years of deforestation and explosive growth of population it is difficult to imagine the beauty of the place, as it must have been not long ago. The great forests that still exist are a reminder of what was once paradise and what could soon be lost. According to the locals, The 1998 sal borer attack led to the loss of millions of huge and beautiful sal tress that has changed the landscape to an extent that it has become unrecognizable to the old timers. The people in this region are simple and honest to a fault, such that they are perhaps not properly understood by their neighbours in small towns or in places like Dindori. They are often the symbol of mockery and treated with disdain when interacting with townwallas. Under heavy debt and constant penury, many of these poor tribals seem to have lost their lust for life and take recourse in addiction. Incidences of crime, a word nonexistent in the dictionary of people here, have now slowly begun to raise its ugly head.

Though there have been efforts to raise the standards of living, yet the general feeling is the government policy of ‘disadvantaged locations and top-down interventions’ have pushed further into penury. Today however, the powers to be seems to have realised the faults of this exclusionist policy and the winds of participatory approaches appears to have arrived in these backward places too. Today, what these people want is respect and some very basic amenities of life such as freedom from disease and food stability. They do not ask for so many hi tech stuff that the city brethren are so obsessed with. For them, it is still the basic desire for roti, kapada and makaan, enough to live one’s life out.

February 5, 2019

Elphants must die

Take the issue of men and elephant coming into conflict quite often. News filtering through newspapers has become so monotonous that it warrants little attention from a lay reader, so much so that most people often skip these snippets on human wildlife conflict. And in the process, almost miss the entire gist of the story.

To delve into one particular aspect, it becomes necessary to try and figure out the unique relation man has with the giant pachyderm and that is a small step that we are unwilling to take

Cheap-packing across South East Asia

“Let’s cheap pack”. I was surprised at the suggestion. Backpacking is a commonly used term, but cheap-packing. Taking backpacking to its ext...