Those familiar with Indian epics will recognise the old name for Bastar: Dandakaranya. In the 14th century, the Kakatiya Annama Deva established his kingdom here under the tutelage of the goddess Dantheshwari, whose temple stands to this day at Dantewada, one of the 52 shaktipeethas of the sub-continent. This verdant, mountainous tract in the south of Chhattisgarh is famous for being a tribal stronghold, populated by various ethnicities. Any foray into these lands must go through Jagdalpur and the royal palace is a must-see. Jagdalpur is 290km/6 hours from Raipur via NH43.
The spectacular Kanger Valley is one of the few pockets of untouched forest left in India. This 200sq km park has everything: dense forest, a fascinating range of flora and fauna, a labyrinth of subterranean limestone caves, land formations that range from low flatlands to steep slopes, valleys and streams... breathtaking vistas at every turn. The fact that the Kotumsar cave holds rare, endemic troglobite cavefish just adds to the mystique. Don’t miss the stunning 300ft Tirathgarh falls, do catch sight of the Bastar Hill Myna and add a cave walk to your itinerary! The park is 305km/7 hours from Raipur and about 38km from Jagdalpur.
In the north of Chhattisgarh lies the former princely state of Surguja, a district that sprawls over beautiful mountainous terrain and houses populations of various Central Indian tribes. Its capital was Ambikapur, one of the state’s largest towns. On the road from Ambikarpur to Bilaspur is a 12th-century Nagara-style temple that Sarguja is famous for. It is dedicated to the local deity Mahamaya Devi—a dual statue, so to speak, with Mahishasuramardhini in front and Saraswati at the back. This is said to be a shaktipeeth, one of the 52 temples across the sub-continent that worship the divine feminine. Ambikapur is 338km from Raipur.