Chatikona market of the Dunguriya people was in full swing when we arrived. I walked around with Sarat, took in the lovely happy sights, and watched in amazement at the busy barter system of shopping. Hens, vegetables, fruits, handwoven cloth, utensils, knickknacks, etc were sold from sheets spread on the ground, hand-pushed carts, or from rickety makeshift tents and there was a kaleidoscope of colours and sounds.

Dunguriya and Desiya Kondh of Chatikona

Desiya Kondhs and Dunguriya people use the Chatikona market for their shopping needs and it is a chaotic, bustling place. These community people wait the entire week for this event and they often walk for miles to attend the market. Chatikona market not only provides them with shopping solutions but it is also a gathering place where they meet their friends and acquaintances, gossip, drink, dine, and look for mates. Needless to say, both the Desiya Kondh and Dunguriyas dress up for this day, and in my eyes, they looked jaw-droppingly photogenic. The Desiya Kondhs, who are valley dwellers and cultivators pay special attention to their appearance and they walk for miles to reach the weekly market. The Desiya Kondh ladies are simply gorgeous. They like jewellery and adorn their persons with beautiful multiple nose pins and rings. Flowers adorned simple hair knots and they carry themselves with upright confidence. They belong to one of the largest tribal groups and lived with more modern amenities than others. Their villages are surrounded by electricity poles, sunflower and cotton fields, palm groves and they love TV, modern toilets, drinking wine, and smoking. They are also renowned for their weaving skills and the signature Desiya Kondh oversized handwoven reed umbrella hats are a sight to behold. Used during the rainy season, these huge practical hats cover their bodies when they work in the fields in the rain and they line the insides with natural waterproof materials. Their huge hand-rolled cigars are quite photogenic too and the Desiya Kondh ladies always carry a few of them tucked in their hair knots.

The Desiya Kondh woman

The beautiful Dunguriya women

That Chatikona morning, as the sun rose higher and wilted their vegetables, the Desiya ladies took out their cigars from their hair. They puffed heartily by putting the lit-up ends inside their mouths and after a few drags, extinguished them, tucked them back into their hair, and looked down upon the world. The contended Desiya Kondh crowd was a sharp contrast to the boisterous Dunguriya girls who added flirtatious fun to the busy market scene. They went around in groups giggling, whispering, and looking out for amorous boys. The Dunguriya women were stunningly decorated. Resplendent in their signature white saree, the women decorated themselves painstakingly. A beautiful side bun hair updo, multiple hair clips, stunning tattoos, flowers, and a dagger at the nape of their neck completed their attire and they strutted around like proud divas in all their finery. The Dunguriya men, not to be left behind also sported multiple hair clips and elaborate hair bun and bore the reputation of being the most loving of all tribal men.

Red earth countryside of Odisha

Dunguriya courtship shawl

The Dunguriya traditional courtship is one of the most romantic ones in the tribal Odisha culture. Their men present the women of their choice shawls that they weave themselves. They put a lot of love into the shawls; embroider them with naturally dyed red, black, and yellow threads, and place them on the shoulders of their chosen women as a sign of courtship. The Dunguriya woman who has the full right to choose any partner, either accepts or flings away this gift of labour. Needless to say, on that day, there were quite a few women who flaunted that shawl and even I was moved to shop for one as a souvenir.  It was a beautiful day for a market and Sarat and I sat on the busy platform of the Bissamcuttack station for some awe-struck people watching.

A Dunguriya couple

End of the Chatikona market day

The train station was filled with people, weary, happy, and loaded with baskets of shopping. They all headed back to their villages and their constant chattering filled the air. It was a noisy time of the day. Hens struggled underneath the folds of the sarees and small children rolled marbles on the dusty ground. Sarat and I followed them, as they crossed over the railway tracks and a whole new private world existed on the other side of the station. I was in officially the prohibited tribal zone and it was undoubtedly a very reckless travel move.

The gorgeous Niyamgiri Hills

The slow ride up the Niyamgiri Hills

The famed Niyamgiri hills started immediately after crossing a straggling border of railway quarters and tribal families waited in small groups for transportation to go back to their hills. They squatted under a huge neem tree, smoking merrily and my presence caused a ripple of curiosity. They stared at me, just as I peeped at them shyly and this eyeing game continued until the jeeps arrived. Covered with people, baskets, and produce, their arrival caused a lot of action. Entire villages clamoured, as the jeeps got unloaded and loaded with feathers, limbs, and goods and it was with some difficulty, that we climbed onto one. The overloaded jeep puttered off on a broken road and my tattoos helped me bond with the Dunguriya girls immediately. We even got invited for lunch.

The unique Desiya hat

The land of the Dunguriya people

The jeep went painfully slowly up a rocky uphill drive and a beautiful virgin vista unfurled on both sides of the road. Densely forested with flowering trees, mango orchards, and sandalwood clumps, everything seemed to shimmer under a bright afternoon haze. Different shades of green surrounded us, streams gushed down in silvery strands, and tribal families bathed in them lazily. The Dunguriya people are hill dwellers and the lush Niyamgiri hills were riddled with their hamlets. We got off at a village with our hosts and walked deep within alleys of hand-painted huts. Beautiful, basic, and colourful, it was like another planet.

Chatikona and other tribal markets near Rayagada

There are two weekly tribal markets near Rayagada. The Desiya Kondh market is held once a week (every Tuesday) near the Bissamcuttack railway station. It is around 48 kilometers away from Rayagada town. You should reach early to experience the market to the fullest. By road, the journey from Rayagada to Bissamcuttack takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes via Rayagada-Bhawanipatna Road. There are three daily trains between Rayagada and Bissamcuttack. The s08302/Rayagada – Sambalpur Intercity starts from Rayagada at 1325 and reaches Bissamcuttack at 1410. The other two trains are 02097/Bhubaneswar – Junagarh Road SF Special and 08528/Visakhapatnam – Raipur Express Special. The first one starts from Rayagada at 0540 and reaches Bissamcuttack at 0630. The Visakhapatnam – Raipur Express Special starts from Rayagada at 0920 and reaches Bissamcuttack at 1013. The other one is the Chatikona market of the Dunguriya Kondhs. It is held every Wednesday. One usually starts from Rayagada, visits the Chatikona market, and proceeds towards Jaypore for an overnight stay. Chatikona is 1 hour 20 min (38.9 km) via Rayagada-Bhawanipatna Road. The nearest train station is Bissamcuttack.

The Chatikona market visit took me into

Quaint tribal villages,

Photogenic moments,

Full of unhurried lifestyle,

Quiet domesticity, and

And happy shopping ladies.

Primal, beautiful, and less explored,

This is the beautiful

Land of the Dunguriya people.

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