Chatikona market 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, off hand pushed carts or from rickety makeshift tents and there was a kaleidoscope of colours and sounds.
Desiya kondhs and Dunguriya people used the Chatikona market and the gorgeous Desiya women looked disdainfully at us. They were valley dwellers, cultivators and hard working folks who walked for miles to reach the weekly market. The Desiya kondh ladies were a bejeweled lot, in their beautiful multiple nose pins and rings, and flower adorned simple hair knots. They also belonged to one of the largest tribal groups and lived with more modern amenities than others. Their villages were surrounded with electricity poles, sunflower and cotton fields, palm groves and they loved TV, modern toilets, drinking wine and smoking. They are also pretty well known for their weaving skills and the signature Desiya Kondh over sized 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.
That Chatikona morning, as the sun rose higher and wilted their vegetables, the Desiya ladies took out their cigars from their hair, 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 quiet Desiya crowd were a sharp contrast to the boisterous Dunguriya girls and they added flirtatious fun to the busy market scene. They went around in groups giggling, whispering and looking out for amorous boys and the Dunguriya women were stunningly decorated. Resplendent in their signature white saree, the Dunguriya 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 midst of plain Janes. 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.
The Dunguriya traditional courtship is one of the most romantic one and their men weave lovely white cotton shawls for their lady loves. They also embroider them with naturally dyed red, black and yellow threads and these are for placing on the shoulders of their chosen women. The Dunguriya woman has the full right to accept or fling away the gift of labour and moved by this romantic connection, I shopped for one as a souvenir. It was a beautiful day at a lovely market and Sarat and I sat on the busy platform of the Bissamcuttack station for some awe struck people watching.
The train station was filled with people, weary, happy and loaded with baskets of shopping. They were 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.
TRAVEL TIP – Crossing over to the prohibited tribal territory was a very reckless and dangerous decision and is not advisable at all, particularly to the foreign tourists.
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, gossiped and grouped 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 more 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, enough to be invited for lunch.
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 the a bright afternoon haze. Different shades of green surrounded us, streams gushed down in silvery strands and tribal families bathed in them lazily. The Dunguriyas were 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, primitive and colourful, it was like another planet.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE