Going off the grid – The Traditional Healers of Jabarra

I get off at Dugli Forest Rest House. Google maps can’t seem to find the exact location. I loose network immediately. Thankfully my guide comes to pick me up on a motorcycle.

Fast forward to the forest…the bark of the tree is bleeding blood…can this be true? I take a closer look and touch it, my fingers are stained red. Im told that this is a very strong natural red dye and does not come off easily from clothes.

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Im given a leaf and asked to rub it on my arms. They tell me that mosquitoes will not bite me if I rub this all over.

The lush forests of Jabarra hold so many secrets. The indigenous Kamar tribes aka the medicine men are keepers of this secret knowledge.

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Plants and trees here have the cure for snake bites, tetanus, malaria and many more. “Why go to the doc?” they say, “everything we need is in the forest.”

They know the medicinal use of each leaf, plant, bark, tree or fruit found in the forest. Unfortunately this knowledge will be lost in time unless it is passed on to the coming generations.

Rewind to Dugli Forest Rest House – Riding into the sunset, I pull the hoodie over my head as the air is getting chilly. We enter the forest with the sun behind us and dusk ahead of us. My guide has a good control over the bike, as he speeds ahead trying to cover ground before darkness takes over.

I am going deep into tribal territory. The Jabbara forest is located in the district of Dhamtari in the state of Chhattisgarh. After riding for around 30 mins we reach the village of Jabbara and I am warmly greeted by the locals.

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Volunteers in the village have come together to setup and run ethno-medicine tourism. This is the first time I will be visiting such a place.

Ethno-medicine is widely practiced by different tribes all over the world. The knowledge of using plants for medicinal purposes is passed down, mostly verbally, through the generations.

Preserving this knowledge is vital and ethno-medicine tourism encourages villagers to keep the valuable knowledge and practices alive.

Im about to spend the night with a local tribal family who are experts in ethno medicine. But before that the volunteers insist that I receive a proper welcome.

Im taken to the forest guesthouse which is there since the British times. It is very well maintained and has all the modern amenities, which takes me by surprise.

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Im made to relax on the spacious verandah and the whole team arrives to greet me. I am overwhelmed by their warmth and sincerity. They offer me a bouquet of flowers and we start talking about the village and its traditions over hot cups of black tea.

The youth are very enthusiastic about showing me around the village and we make plans to explore the area next morning. At 7pm it gets dark and we decide to head to my homestay.

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A typical home in the village

Rajkumar, his wife and her shy sister in law join their hands in Namaste and welcome me to their lovely home. The kids peep shyly from behind the bedroom curtains.

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The spacious and roomy house has multiple rooms with the courtyard in the center. The brightly painted pillars are offset by white washed walls and a grey toned stone floor.

IMG_20191214_102209The house deity is placed at the center of the courtyard. Grains of rice which are skillfully decorated, are placed near the deity as an offering.

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I hand out coloring books and crayons to the kids who investigate them with curiosity and excitement. They plop themselves on the floor and are engrossed into coloring the various shapes.

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At 8pm my hostess announces dinner. She lays down a mat and invites me to sit. In true Indian hospitality the guest eats before the hosts.

Brass dinner ware is used which is probably the best in the house. A hearty meal of rice, dal and veggies is served which I enjoy.

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After the meal is over I go into my room for some much needed sleep as I had a long day.

My alarm wakes me up at 6am. The house is buzzing. All the women are getting ready to go to the fields. One of them is spreading cow dung on the floor. Im told this is a daily practice as it keeps the house free of insects. I decide to explore the village and not interrupt their routine.

Happy kids greet me as I amble around the main street.

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Everyone is busy with their morning chores. I silently observe: water boiling on the firewood, cow dung being spread on the floors in every home I peep into, women sweeping the courtyard, animals being taken out. It felt like mamma saying, “get your ass off the ground and get busy”.

I returned to my home stay feeling satisfied with my explorations. The kids had woken up and once again got busy with the coloring books, they were addicted 🙂

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The house kids all neat and shiny,  before taking off for school

Breakfast was thick rice pancake, cooked over a fire resulting in a crispy outer layer which was soft inside. This was accompanied by some spicy chutney.

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This nutritious and filling breakfast is ideal for those who work the fields

The state of Chattisgarh is known as the ‘Rice Bowl’ of India, so rice is found in all meals including breakfast.

Every house has bags of rice and lentils, grown in their own fields and stored for personal use.  The food is often dal (lentils), a whole lot of rice and veggies and every meal is simple, delicious and nutritious.

Rice is also used as a decorative item and hung on walls 🙂

After i was done stuffing myself, a group of boys and girls came to pick me up. We were to hike up to the highest point in the village.

A short bike ride of 10 mins brought us to the forest. The team started showing me the plants and trees that had medicinal value. It was a fascinating walk as they explained the use of every leaf, flower, fruit, bark and so on.

As we walked deeper into the foliage, we started ascending gradually. Climbing rocks and narrow alleys, we made our way up.

We saw a cave on the way, where we could see fresh prints indicating that a bear had entered the cave sometime ago. Tempting as it was, none of us dared to venture inside 🙂

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The bear cave

We made stops at three different levels to survey the view in front of us. The highest level was breathtaking.

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A vast expanse of forest lay before us. The forest was deep, dark and green. It spread as far as the eye could see. This was the Jabbara forest which the villagers are proud of, as it provides for their every need.

We sat for a while on the flat stone and gazed into the horizon. A morning well spent in learning about the abundant gifts that nature has for us.

Also to add, while there was zero network down below, we received excellent connection up above 🙂

I had to leave for another destination, however my hosts insisted that I have lunch before leaving.  Some more rice again but a yummy way to end my interesting experience.

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How to reach Jabarra village 

  • Take the AC bus from Raipur Airport to Pachpedi Bus Stand
  • From Pachpedi bus stand take a local bus to Dhamtari bus stand
  • From Dhamtari take bus going towards Nagri and get off at Dugli forest rest house
  • There is no network from here onwards
  • Plan an entire day of travel to get to Jabarra
  • Contact unexploredbastar.com for such experiences

Travelling with the local  people in these buses was a great way to experience the rural hinterland of India. I felt like I was in the movie, Swades 🙂

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