Bastar Dushera—Day Two

October 19


I meet Jeffrey and Winslow, who are leading the photography tour I was to be on. They are very friendly in our brief encounter and apparently knew I was there. I was anticipating a more dramatic encounter, but this is probably best for all. (Let’s hear it for my maturity.)

We drive into Jagdalpur to an area where tribal people are selling and, in some cases living, on grounds of office of the Forest Department during the festival. It’s a very interesting collection of people, and it makes for quite a good opportunity for photographs. We stayed only about 20 minutes, which was not really long enough. However, the short stay proved very fortuitous because of what followed.

My itinerary for today called for visits to two different waterfalls. I told Jaspreet that I would rather go to a village instead of waterfalls. At first we changed to just see one waterfall, but eventually eliminated them altogether.

As an aside, the weather here has been much less hot and humid than it was in Kolkata. Because of all the driving, my back has begun to hurt some, so I’ve started wearing thegirdle/brace I brought along. It’s not that bad, though, so I’ll muddle through. I’ve gotten quite a number of mosquito bites, which itch. Jaspreet bought a lotion which helps some.

Jaspreet is an A-plus guide, and, I think, an A-plus person. Two small examples. In arranging a visit with the king, Jaspreet referred to him as an “acquaintance,”. Based on my observations, I think he could legitimately have called him a “friend.” When I commented on that, Jaspreet made it clear that “friend” had a special meaning to him, that one had very few real friends.

The other example is that I discussed a tip with Jaspreet, and told him that Shonali had suggested a contribution to a charity of his choice, rather than a tip to him (he owns the agency). I said that he’d been terrific and that I’d be happy either to tip him, or to make a contribution to a charity of his choice. He said that it had been an honor to guide me and that he did not expect, nor would he accept, a tip. He’d be happy if I wanted to make a contribution to a charity, but that that would be entirely up to me and that I should just pick one, he’d trust me. I said that I’d like to give that some thought and would let him know what I’d decided. He said that I did not have to let him know, that he trusted me.

We drive to a dhurva village, passing through a beautiful national park. Unbeknownst to us, today the village we visit is holding a special puga (festival), done once a year, called Laxmi Jugar, to honor and pray to the goddess Laxmi. Jaspreet had heard and read about it but never seen the puga. It was absolutely incredible. Women praying and playing simple bow instruments while singing their prayers, witch doctors possessed, a huge painting done by members of the community covering a whole wall and containing everything from mythology to political figures to helicopters. We were extremely fortunate to witness this proceeding, which almost certainly will prove to be one of the highlights of the trip. It was authentic, with a capital “A,” maybe ALL CAPS.

Afterwards we drove to a market, which is held one day each week and sells everything from food to household items. This was one of the better markets I’ve seen. We spent half an hour there, walking around. The colors one sees everywhere in India are simply stunning. Makes it seem that we Americans live life in black and white.

After rest and coffee, on our way to festival, we encounter a huge circle of people who are watching cheering and betting on a cock fight. We stop and are escorted into the inner circle. Not exactly my thing, but part of the culture, so I’m glad we stopped, and glad that we did not stay long. On our drive, traffic is heavy, andwe share the road with cows and pass brightly-clad women, dressed finely.

We are really in the middle of two separate and distinct festivals. On the road, there is a procession of goddesses being driven to the water to be immersed in water as the end of the Durga Puga. It is mainly Bengalis who are celebrating this Hindu festival. The same time, people are headed into town for the Bastar Dushera which is what I have come to this area to see.

We walk around town for some time, what people prepare for the festival. We passed the in enormous wooden chariot that has been made to carry the goddess. Workmen are putting the final touches on the chariot and it will be decorated soon, even though the start of this part of the festival is, in theory, only an hour or so away. This huge chariot will be pulled through town by many people buy some very large robes made for the occasion. Watching this happen is one of the highlights of the trip. According to legend, the chariot will then be stolen and hidden by a tribe that has been offended by not having been invited to the festival. The next day the king will come to the rescue by finding the chariot and returning it to its rightful place.

Walking around is fun. The previous two nights, the celebrities I encountered were the king and the chief of police of Bastar. Tonight, I appear to be the sole celebrity, because all of the locals want to have their pictures taken with me. Jaspreet jokes that he is going to start selling the right to take my picture for Rs.10 each. I think he should be asking more than that. I am magnanimous in agreeing to allow people to take pictures with me, probably because I can understand so well why they would want to.

Once again Jaspreet has secured access to a rooftop across from the chariot for us to view the festivities. It is a good vantage point, and we can see all the buzzing going around the chariot and witness the chariot being pulled, when that finally happens. Emphasis on “finally “because we wait on the rooftop for about three hours before it finally does occur. There are fireworks and firecrackers, and an honor guard shoots a salute with their rifles. Pulling the huge chariot is quite a spectacle, and also quite dangerous, as it is very difficult to control and inevitably winds up bumping into and knocking over power poles, and the like. (In fact, the next morning we find several poles that have been knocked over.)

We don’t get back to the hotel until about 11:30, but I am way too tired to have dinner, so I order two cold beers and munch on the cookies and snacks that Jaspreet has purchased during the day.

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