The Ankadeli market arrived soon and we could hear it long before we reached there. Blaring horns, gaggle of voices and excited shrill laughter rose above the din of hens, scampering feet and clashing of metals. The Bondas saw me before I saw them and I quickly got surrounded by nearly bare naked ladies offering their tribal jewelry and handmade lemongrass beaded chains for sale. A few had hens struggled under their arms and they were really very short statured.

I am a very petite person myself and the Bonda women had to look up to meet my eyes. Though a bit pushy, they were a gregarious bunch and I bought a few strings and hoop earrings to make gestures of friendship. That worked very well and soon, we were walking with them all the way to the nearest village. The nearest village was not near at any cost and after quite some time of crossing streams, pineapple fields, cashew forests and tequila cactus groves, we reached the outskirts of a small clean hamlet. Marijuana clumps grew in thickly around it and dried lemon grass thatched the basic mud huts. Several large trees held pots of ancestral bone piles within their hollows and army presence could be keenly felt everywhere.

The Bonda village, though equipped with most amenities was not as clean as the Dunguriya homes and the most prominent structure featured their main deity, Pathakanda. A three sword, which is highly revered by the Bondas, the Pathakanda festival held in February or March is one of the most important events in that region. The Bondas seemed to be extremely industrious folks and in that village, their women were busy weaving their loin cloths, sorting their gathered medicinal plants, making sargi (bowls from green leaves) and keeping watchful eyes on their young husbands. The Bonda ladies traditionally married Bonda men who were of half their age and they took care of them till their husbands attained adulthood. This tradition is in hope that in their old age, the still young husbands would take care of them.

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The Ankadeli market

The Bonda men, however did not usually live upto the expectations and they drank, flirted, slept around and fought till they died. Fighting is a constant feature in every Bonda village and the biggest reason is stealing of salpi, their favourite home made wine. Very few things mattered much in a Bonda‘s life and salpi ranked at the top. Still being an extremely vulnerable group, the Bondas being till today shunned modern medicine, preferred to give birth in flowing streams and bartered jungle fowl in exchange of poultry chicken on market days. The Ankadeli market clamoured with Bonda shoppers bargaining hard to barter jungle products for modern ones and they traded much with the Gadaba and Mali people.

Also, frequent visitors to the Ankadeli market, the Gadaba and Mali tribal communities waned in brilliance in comparison to the Bondas. The Malis are strict vegetarians, who sported basil bead necklaces and decorated themselves with tattoos and sandalwood paste designs. The Gadabas were more photogenic with their multiple neck rings, beaded hairbands and large  copper earrings. They too were heavy drinkers like the Bondas and on market days made bee line to the alcohol shops, after work. In fact, the sight of tribal ladies with babies on their hips drinking wine from bowls or hollow gourds is a very common one in that area and sometimes, entire villages passed out on market days.

As interesting as Ankadeli was, the return journey to Jaypore was even more beautiful and the pristine countryside held hills, ravines and forests in its depths. Uncountable mythological stories were based on that area and we stopped at Dumduma waterfalls to walk all the way down to an ancient Shiva temple. Footsteps of Lord Rama, a Hindu mythological hero is supposedly embedded on stone there and he had stayed on that spot with his family during his exile. Incidentally, it is locally believed that Sita, Rama‘s beautiful wife had put a curse on the Bondas and had stopped them from evolving with modernity. Mythology seeped from every part of that strange wild land and it was as beautiful as freedom.

On our way back to Jaypore, we stopped briefly at the bustling Kunduli market the next day  and this was bigger, more modern and crowded. Patronized mostly by the Parajas, Malis and other modern tribes, Kunduli was more of a rural bazaar than a tribal market and it was full of colours, easy laughter and busy wholesale commerce. That was my last day at the Odisha tribal belt and the next morning I was leaving the lost world of Koraput behind. It had been an enchanting journey which took me to another space and time and introduced me to the remote interiors of a very beautiful,  uncrowded  India.

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The elusive Bonda tribe

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And their beautifully unique culture

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made Ankadeli market come alive along with the Gadaba people.

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A busy, colourful weekly market

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It was filled with excited shoppers

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And wine lovers.

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A real celebration of

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Of tribal life

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Ankadeli was as interesting

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As its surrounding landscape.

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A remote and pastoral

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Hinterland followed us

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All the way to

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The Kunduli market.

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An extremely busy

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And much popular,

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Kunduli market was

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very photogenic too.

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It was my last stop

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Before I left

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The beautiful and rich

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Tribal heart of India behind.

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