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Diving deep: The hidden world of Patalkot

Patalkot, or the hidden world is a mystical valley located in Tamia block of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh.

patalkot-main Patalkot, or the hidden world is a mystical valley located in Tamia block of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh (Source: Swasti Pachauri)

Patalkot, or the hidden world is a mystical valley located in Tamia block of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh. Located approximately 3000 feet above mean sea level, it is described often for its horse-shoe shape, the deep gorge that segregates the valley, and the scenic beauty canopied with the mighty Satpura mountain ranges and forests.

Within the valley are Patalkot’s 12 villages and 13 hamlets, which inhabit around 2000 people, according to the district website. From the cliff of the valley – a hotspot for tourists, one can easily spot villages of Rated and Chimtipur, amid small patches of cultivated areas, herders rearing cattle, and a spectacular landscape covered with diverse flora. Doodhi river that bifurcates the valley is the primary water source of the region.

Around 70 kms from Chhindwara the valley of Patalkot is further 0-22 kms from Tamia block (Source: Swasti Pachauri) Around 70 kms from Chhindwara the valley of Patalkot is further 0-22 kms from Tamia block (Source: Swasti Pachauri) Villages of Rated and Chimtipur are spotted easily from top of the valley. (Source: Swasti Pachauri) Villages of Rated and Chimtipur are spotted easily from top of the valley. (Source: Swasti Pachauri)

People & Local Beliefs
The valley is home to the Gond and Bharia tribes of Madhya Pradesh. The tribes normally engage in subsistence agriculture, cultivation of seasonal crops and vegetables on small patches, collecting non timber forest produce and animal rearing. They also utilise several kinds of grass to weave beautiful bamboo and Chhind (date-palm) baskets relevant for household purposes.

Till a few decades ago, the tribes living here were totally disconnected from the outside world because of the difficult terrain leading up to the valley, and the dense forests sprawling across. Because of this disconnectedness and seclusion, the Bharias and Gonds established a close friendship, and dependence with the ‘sacred’ forests around them.

Since then, the tribes inhabiting the valley have inculcated a strong reliance on forest and natural resources for their survival. It is because of this long term dependency on traditional resources that Bharias are regarded as indigenous knowledge experts in the area of natural medicinal healing, which they have discovered over the years from a wide variety of rare medicinal plants, herbs, barks and fruits found in the valley.

The valley has several hamlets and is richly endowed by several medicinal plants, herbs and trees The valley has several hamlets and is richly endowed by several medicinal plants, herbs and trees

Locals specialize in collecting these, and use those to treat common ailments. This indigenous expertise has come naturally to the locals of Patalkot because of their harmonious equation with forests, highlighting their enduring relationship with the jungle for survival and existence.

There exist several mythological beliefs and traditional narratives that connect the origins of Patalkot to Mahadeo hills – a sacred site for Lord Shiva. Chota Mahadeo peak near Tamia an offshoot of Mahadeo hills surrounding Pachmarhi (the only hill station in MP on a plateau) is situated in the vicinity of the valley. According to locals, the deep gorge (see pictures) in Patalkot is owing to the mythical journeys of Shiva in the ‘Tapovan’ of this valley.

Government support & Tourism
Villagers usually trek ‘concrete steps’ to reach the top of the valley from interior hamlets, built over the years by government administrations so as to cater to the needs of economic accessibility and outreach. Because of a difficult geographical location and a scattered terrain, very few villages are easily connected via mainstream pathways, and one has to necessarily take these steps to reach the exteriors.

The scenic landscape offers multiple opportunities for eco-tourism (Source: Swasti Pachauri) The scenic landscape offers multiple opportunities for eco-tourism (Source: Swasti Pachauri)

 

The administration has time and again also promoted several trekking camps so as to promote tourism in the region. For instance, the Satpura Adventure Tourism Festival was organized in 2012. Such initiatives contribute to rural livelihoods by creating opportunities for local youth, for instance, as tourist and trekking guides. Similarly, realising the developmental concerns of the area, Patalkot Development Agency, a dedicated wing of the district administration, is working towards tribal welfare and subsequently, increasing outreach of government schemes in this difficult topography.

Additionally, the administration maintains a government rest house near Tamia close to the Chota Mahadeo hills (because of its scenic location) through which one can easily view the deep ridges and depressions of the Patalkot valley. En route to Sidhouli village while travelling towards Patalkot from Chhindwara is the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Motel which offers accommodation and a restaurant, where tourists regularly halt.

Patalkot valley from the top (Source: Swasti Pachauri) Patalkot valley from the top (Source: Swasti Pachauri)

Preserving Ecology & Culture
Because of its rich natural capital with expansive vegetation and forests, wall painting and slogan messages revolving around the larger theme of ‘forest conservation’ and ‘ecological protection’ have been painted on boundary walls en route to the valley, encircling the cliff, thus highlighting the essentials of eco-tourism and environment conservation.

Additionally, in order to spread awareness on tribal groups, their customs and practices, the district also houses the Badal Bhoi State Tribal Museum which celebrates indigenous tribal culture of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh states. Beautiful and traditional depictions of tribal livelihoods, primitive/agrarian occupations including those of Bharia and Gond tribes, their traditional festivals, musical instruments, paintings, ornaments and customs, have been showcased through artefacts, paintings, and sculptures made by tribal painters and artists of Madhya Pradesh.

Reflections
Witnessing its spectacular, massive landscape on one hand, and acknowledging the present day hardships of locals to the time when communities were totally cut off from the mainstream civilization, highlights the schizophrenic character the valley conveys to one’s consciousness. Till a few decades ago, the valley was completely hidden and isolated from the mainstream in terms of accessibility and visibility.

Over time, efforts of several government administrations working through the years, and tourism initiatives have underscored the local needs of tribals living, here. This has constantly promoted development and tourism efforts around the valley, which have led to positive developmental impacts such as infrastructural accessibility and market linkages-benefiting people.

At the outset, therefore, one doesn’t know whether to experience the peaceful serenity of nature which the valley offers, or to brood over the macro developmental questions this secluded land puts across. But a deeper deliberation over this natural beauty rich with forest resources along with an evaluation of continuous governmental concern for the valley and its people, reveals an evolved picture.

How to Reach
The best time to experience the ethereal landscape is during Monsoon, while for community research purposes, early winter is ideal for travels. The valley is around 80 kilometers from Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh and further 20-22 kms from Tamia. Chhindwara district is connected via train from Jabalpur and Nagpur.

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