Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chitrakote Waterfall

Journeying from Raipur in the morning and driving past beautiful country, we reached Chitrakote in Bastar district around four thirty in the evening. We drove on a metallic road in the direction of an imposing state government guest house barricaded by a powerful iron gate.

A thin man guarding the gate tells us that the guest house is not open to lay visitors. To enter the compound the permission of the collector is required. The Collector's office is  easily two hundred kilometres away.  Rooms were available, but since we did not know the collector and had not known that we needed his sanction to stay in the guest house, our luck had finally run out.

When we pleaded that we needed  a place to stay on for the night in Chitrakote, we were directed to the premium resort down the road, where accommodation was available  at a price for citizens  unacquainted with Collectors. We drove the kilometre to the resort  alongside the  guesthouse, further down the road and discovered a reception centre and dining hall at the extreme end.  The  breakfast at New Delhi  airport early in the morning had lived out its utility and our need for both food and shelter were by now, dire.

The young man at the desk offered to cook us some food  and we gratefully placed an order. Accommodation  was  however proving difficult to access. Apparently, the resort only accepted online bookings.We had none. They had one room free, but they couldn't give it to us because we didn't have a booking. The shelter debate was postponed till we finished our meal, then we begged and pleaded with the chef cum receptionist for accommodation. He relented after a few phone calls and after putting in our bags in a deluxe villa room, we walked out of the room to see the waterfall in the evening.

 The Chitrakote waterfall is sepia tinted in real life and in pictures. It is a stunning sight and  the  magnificent expanse of falling water travelling across  deep channel and a wide gully is  breathtaking. Near the waterfall are two large trees, inhabited by bats that swirl and fly around the tree tops, in the manner of bees around homing hives. Several bats hang down from the branches,  looking pretty much like shreds of black fabric.

The access to the waterfall is a tacky compound A woman sits selling knives with bamboo handles and other odds and ends. A tea shanty  faces her.  No information can be gathered about this  site, which is ostensibly  our national heritage. Possibly, this is  reclaimed and rediscovered country. Across the road,  where the state owned guest house blocks off the general view of the waterfall,  we order tea  at a tea shanty, next to a new outlet selling ice cream and chips.   A little down the road, adjacent to the guest house is a  makeshift stall where food  can be cooked on order, manned by a thin woman.
As we sit in an open courtyard,  lined  with  multi-coloured  left over tiles, a red  mallard, who is possibly a recent  immigrant, performs for passers by.  We throw him some roasted kala channa, but he ignores our overtures of friendship and continues with his  solo act.. We drink our tea, and watch him.  A prancing  red headed mallard  is an extraordinary visitor  in our everyday life.

 A Shiva  temple with a shiny white bull,   possibly desirous of  gazing at the waterfall but constrained by the guest house,  sprawls  on the other end of the road. Beyond the ramshackle marketplace,  fertile fields, green with the labour of their owners, stretch out  to the end and are  ranged against the sky, The walk back to the  premium resort, firmly cordoned off and gated is delightful. We gaze at the deep gorge, running  a long way  down  the mountain. The resort has built a sturdy wall at the edge of the mountain but  is dissatisfied with this. Now . large  iron girders  are being put up at intervals. These will hold up some variant of a mesh with square metal netting through which  visitors who can pay for it, will get to view the  Indravati river  as it weaves its way, expansively accepting  abundant bounty from the waterfall.

 From our room at the resort, we view the waterfall, which is lit up at night. It continues to look ethereal, and  the privilege of   a private view of gorgeous cascades of water from  our own balcony is not lost upon us. The next day, early in the morning,  troops of sparrows  wheel around the  trees at the resort, reminding  us to hurry and make the most  of the day. We trudge back to the waterfall and  it is time to  say goodbye.

The Chitrakote falls is located in the  vicinity of  the Kanger Valley National Park,  and includes  another waterfall, caves and  gorgeous stretches of  dense jungle,  now under  state jurisdiction.  This waterfall and  the  gorge surrounding it represent national wealth. Surely , as a nation  we must  be  mature enough to ensure that  this spell-binding beauty is  accessible to every visitor who comes by?  How can  the  collector's bungalow  occupy  a prime stretch of the view? Why is  the view of the  gorge and falls  uptil the last viewable stretch cordoned off and presided over  by  a luxury resort?

 In keeping with the  plan  of the national park, all this should  have been unfettered territory, available to the ordinary citizen, to stroll, view and revel at will,  Why should administrative offices and guest houses and  luxury resorts   indulge in  such blatant  land grab? The state guest house obstructs the view and is an encroachment  that has neither aesthetics nor national interest at heart. When places of extraordinary beauty in our country remain  the  elite  playing grounds of the  bureaucracy and the well heeled private citizen, we are forced to demur because this is not the heaven of  freedom that our founding fathers dreamt of.

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