The sound of drums fills the air, even as the dance move to rhythms as old as time. Experience Chhattisgarh-tribal heartland of India.

Located in the heart of India, Chhattisgarh is the heart of India's tribal country. This densely forested region is a pleasure to visit especially after the monsoons, when the fulsome river create some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country. The highly evolved tribal culture of the region-and in some ways highly advanced-is a major attraction. Besides Chhattisgarh's bounteous natural beauty, there are elaborate temples and Buddhist sites as well.

The rapidly developed capital, Raipur, serves as an excellent base for exploring the wonders of its neighboring areas. The important, historical town of Sirpur is eighty-four kilometers north-east of Raipur. Its main attractions are the Lakshman Temple and the excavations of a Buddhist settlement. The Barnawapara Willd sanctuary is nearby too. Champaran is the birthplace of Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya of the Vaifhnava sect and a 520-year-old temple here happens to be one of the 108 reversed jyotirlings. Rajim town boats the Mahadeo Kuleshwar Temple, whichstands at the confluence of two rivers. Further south of Rajim is the Sitanadi National Park.

Not to be missed is a stay at the luxurious Raj Mahal (Palace) in Kawardha. Trips to nearby wildlife parks and tribal villages are also arranged. The superb eleventh-century Radhakrishna Temple at Bhoramdeo is very close to kawardha, its fa?ade covered with intricate erotic sculptures.

Northern Chhattisgarh is virtually undiscovered, and includes the cool hill station of Mainpat in the Sarguja district. The town of Bilaspur is a good base for forays into the North.

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Pride od place must go to the southern district of Bastar. It is the most developed from the tourism point of view, although other areas are fast catching up. Jagdalpur, the district headquarter, is a good base for your Bastar odyssey.

In Bastar, Kanger Valley National Park is one of the finest tract of virgin jungle in the world. The park is also noted for its limestone caves with their remarkable stalagmite and stalactite formations. The most interesting are the Kutumsar caves and the Kailash Gufa. Another major attraction is the Trrathgarh Falls. Visitors to the park also get ample opportunities to interact with the local tribal communications.

To the north-west of Jagdalpur lies the horseshoes-shaped Chitrakote Falls on the Indravati river. Nagarnar, to the east, is famous for terracotta handicrafts.

The best place to experiences a slice of tribal life is to visit the weekly haat (market) and watch people in their tribal finery trading their special wares. Once the day's trading is done, many tribal settle down in the afternoon to a glass of the local brew-mahua-distilled from the juice of the mahua flower. This exquisite and heady brew is worth a taste. Other folk watch-and bet heavily on-the extremely popular cock fights. Visitors with an interest in tribal life must check out the Anthropological Museum at Jagdalpur. They can also visit the renowned ghotuls of the Muria tribe of north Bastar. The ghotuls are special dormitories where young boys and girls can interact freely with each other before moving on to marriage.

Chhattisgarh boasts an ample and beautiful wilderness. There are thick forest, river and massive waterfalls. Indeed 44 per cent of the land is forest, accounting for 12 per cent of India's forest cover. Its three national park and eleven wildlife sanctuaries are home to wild buffalo (the state animal), tiger, panther, deer, sloth bear, flying squirrel, crocodile and python among others. There are many rare and beautiful birds (and exquisite butterflies and moths too), including the hill mynah (the state birds). Notable nature reserves in Chhattisgarh include Kanger valley National Park, and the Barnawapara, Sitanadi and Udanti sanctuaries. .

Chhattisgarh's most spectacular festival is the Dussehar held in Bastar each autumn. With a tribal twist, the festival here has a flavor all its own, unlike the festival as we know it in the rest of India. Other prominent festivals of Chhattisgarh are Madia , Raut Nacha Band the Chakradhar Samaroh.

Chhattisgarh produces some of the most gorgeous handicrafts in the country. In famed the world over for the wrought iron figurines of Bastar, those haunting curiously elongated objects. But the craftsmen of Chhattisgarh are expert in metalwork as a whole. Pioneered by the Ghasia tribe, bell metal pieces-ranging from souvenir items to life-size figures-are made with the lost wax technique. Chhattisgarh is also noted for its hand-printed vegetable-dyed fabrics. There's lots of terracotta and bamboo-ware too. Narayanpur is a good place to visit handicrafts. It is known for handicrafts of all kinds-bell metal, wood, wrought iron and bamboo. Some think holidays are about getting away from it all. But in Chhattisgarh they believe holidays are all about getting to a p0lace that is exciting in itself, offering, as the tribal sate does, an experience that is rare, pristine and refreshing.

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