Welcome to another India”, said the owner of Desia Koraput, Mr Bubu Yugabrata, when I reached Lamtaput in the Koraput district of southern Odisha, the last leg of my journey to Desia Koraput. Having never been to this part of the country before, I was excited to see what experiences this ‘other India’ had in store for me. Before starting my journey, I was filled with trepidation at the mere thought of travelling here – a flight to Visakhapatnam, then boarding a train that cuts through the picturesque Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh, followed by two shared taxi rides from the Bheja Railway Station. However, just a couple of hours into my stay at Desia, it dawned on me that the only way you can truly explore the wonderful gems hidden in the hinterlands of this country was by taking such arduous and, more often than not, exhausting journeys.
Bubu Yugabrata, a Puri-based tour operator, constructed Desia Koraput a little over four years ago to promote a socially sustainable, eco-friendly tourism module – one where local communities benefit directly from tourism revenue. He also wanted to encourage local youth to preserve their dying cultural heritage. Koraput Valley was the perfect destination as it is home to lesser-known tribal communities whose unique lifestyles may soon be lost to the advent of urbanisation.
Set amongst towering eucalyptus trees, the verdant property exudes rustic charm – the cottages and the dining area are painted a white and earthy brown. While the two cottages here (each has three rooms) may look simple on the outside, their interiors are adorned with interesting tribal paintings and bell metal art. The colour of the walls and the upholstery inside beautifully complement each other. Each room comes equipped with a large, tastefully designed bathroom, the walls of which are decorated with shells in stunning patterns. The shower area is filled with pebbles, giving it a bucolic but luxurious appearance. Instead of using shower curtains, the management had hung blue cotton saris, the kind that are donned by local women, which was a lovely touch!
During my tour of the property, I learned that Desia Koraput hired an architect from Santiniketan, West Bengal, who coupled his own ideas with elements from local tribal houses to design the cottages. Odisha’s traditional arts and crafts were used to decorate the rooms and sit out areas. Next to the kitchen is a machan, which is traditionally used as a watchtower to spot wildlife; the purpose of the one at Desia Koraput is entirely different. This machan is the only place where you have connectivity – there is a landline here and, if you have a BSNL network, you might get a phone signal. If you’ve ever felt like leaving your city woes behind, now you know where to head!
After I explored the property, Rasmiranjan, an employee of Desia, introduced me to the rest of the staff; most of them belonged to the nearby Bantalabiri village. Although it’ll be a challenge to converse with them, since you’ll most likely be lost in translation, they will strive to make sure you feel at home. Their radiant smiles and warm, friendly dispositions would win anyone over!
Pano, one of the staff members, showed me to my room. While I unpacked, she waited on me to make sure that I was comfortable and had everything that I needed, just like a family member would. This is when the true meaning of that ‘other India’ dawned on me – where you feel at home even though you are miles away from your own; a place where the people, who may be very different from you, become your family for the short duration of your stay. While you are cut off from civilisation, you have a chance to get to know this new family – each of them has wonderful and eccentric stories to tell about their ancestors, farmlands, and families, and you could learn a lot from these humble, hard-working people.
That evening, Samar Pradhan, another staff member, narrated tales about the Koraput Valley, the tribes that inhabit the region, the problems that people face here and the urgent need to preserve their cultures. Most of the activities at Desai, he told me, are aimed at increasing the interaction between its guests and the local community. One of the main challenges in bringing tourist revenue or more modern amenities to the Koraput Valley is the common misconception people have about the region being heavily influenced by Naxalites. He assured us that, while Naxalism is prevalent in the neighbouring states, the valley itself is completely safe. However, tourists still avoid visiting this unique area, which leads to lesser development in the valley. There is a silver lining though – with little outside influence, the customs and traditions of the people here have been preserved. Desia Koraput is working towards striking a balance between the economic independence of the people and the preservation of their heritage. They help villagers with micro-financing, provide primary education to local children and create awareness about conservation. The guests are taken on excursions to villages in the valley so that they can interact with tribals and learn about their culture.
At the property, you also have the opportunity to witness a performance of the local Dhemsa dance, go camping, get a taste of the local salap (sal alcohol) or even spend a night at a homestay in the village. You can also take cooking classes and learn to prepare local delicacies, learn local crafts such as pottery, try your hand at archery, go cycling, hiking, or help the locals with farming. Don’t forget to take a look at their unique activity book. Sketched and written by a Puri-based artist, the book contains interesting drawings to represent the activities that are on offer at the property.
The otherwise sleepy Koraput Valley bursts into life on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays when people from across the region and even the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh make their way (most of them on foot) to the weekly tribal markets that are organised in certain areas of the region. I was lucky that the second day of my stay was a Thursday. We first headed to the Duduma Waterfall, one of the prime tourist attractions in the district. Formed by the Machkund River in the Eastern Ghats, the waterfall cascades into a narrow gorge, which demarcates the boundary between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The sight is absolutely spectacular! As we stood there enjoying the stunning view, we saw a group of people crossing the river from the Andhra side, to head to the tribal market at Onkadeli, which is 6km from the waterfall. Upon realising that the market had already begun, we quickly headed in that direction.
Some of the most isolated tribes of Odisha, namely the Bondas, Gadabas, Malis and Didayis, visit the market to sell their forest produce. Interestingly, the sellers here mostly hawk different types of liquor! These brews are made of rice, mahua, sal, jackfruit and sugar, amongst other unusual ingredients. The amount of alcohol consumed increases as the day progresses. Several Bonda and Gadaba women also sell hand-made tribal jewellery here. The market is an ideal place to understand the culture of these tribes. I was also told that the tribal markets work as a cultural institution of sorts where young men and women of different communities are introduced to each other in the hope that a courtship would lead to marriage. You also learn interesting things about the tribals that you wouldn’t normally know from reading about them. An absolutely fascinating example; I learnt that all the women of the Bonda tribe are only named after the different days of the week; to be precise, the day that they were born on – Somvari, Mangalvari, Budhvari, Gurvari, Sukravari and Sanivari. Oddly enough, the same rule doesn’t apply to men.
When you visit the Onkadeli Market or any other tribal market in the region, remember that you need to strictly follow the instructions of your guides so that you don’t do anything, even accidentally, to offend the tribals. note The tribals can get annoyed if you click their pictures without permission.
Other items on sale at the market are cows, goats, red ants (which are used to make a chutney) and vegetables. The Kunduli area, located 1.5 hours from Desia, plays host to a cattle market on Fridays, and on Saturdays, the Dhuruva tribe sell their pots and forest products such as bamboo mats and wooden combs at the Gupteswar market (near the Gupteswar caves), 85km from Desia.
Later in the evening, we visited the Bantalabiri village, where Pano resides, and she was gracious enough to take us to her lovely house. Here, we learned a little more about the villagers and their way of life.
The next day was unfortunately the last day of my stay at Desia. On my itinerary was a visit to Sailapada, a village that is famous for its pottery. Most families here are engaged in this activity and take their creations to neighbouring villages and weekly markets. Although my visit to this wonderful village coincided with a harvest festival and most people were busy celebrating, we found a good-natured old man who agreed to show us how to spin the wheel and make terracotta items. I tried my hand at the wheel and failed to make anything worth keeping in comparison to the pots that were being made by these talented artisans.
The food at Desia Koraput needs special mention. Chef Kusho – a local man who was sent to a hotel management institution in Puri for training – takes time out to interact with the guests and modifies his menu based on their preferences. Amongst the most notable things I’ve had the opportunity to savour during my short stay at the property are the desi pancakes (made out of wheat flour, saunf and bananas), dalma (an Oriya dish made with lentils and vegetables), kangu millet upma and puda mamsam (grilled chicken). However, my favourite was the baunsa chicken (chicken cooked in a bamboo tube), which was my last meal at Desia Koraput, This may have been more than a happy coincidence; I believe that guests are served the most delectable dish on the last day of their stay to make sure they return. Just as the Koraput Valley is unique, the baunsa chicken is a distinctive dish that packs a punch of flavour.
I went back to my room that night, with a heavy stomach and an even heavier heart. Even before leaving Desia Koraput, I was homesick, which strengthened my decision to come back here, however arduous the journey might seem.
Inputs by Priyam Bagga
- Tribal tourism
- Micro-financing local communities
- Primary education to local children
- Supports organic farms
When to go All year round; winter is ideal
Near Bantalabiri village
Koraput district - 764081Odisha
Cell: 09437023656, 09437677188
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.orgW desiakoraput.com
Tariff ₹3,500–5,500, with meals
- Village tours
- Visit local markets
- Interacting with tribals
- Visit Duduma Waterfall
- Cooking classes
- Pottery classes
Air Nearest Airport: Visakhapatnam (220km/ 5hrs). Desia Koraput can arrange a taxi for you, which will cost you approximately ₹4,500 for a one way transfer
Rail Nearest Railhead: Bheja (32km/ 1hr). The Kirandool Passenger, which leaves Visakhapatnam Junction at 7.05am reaches Bheja around 12.10pm and is the only train that stops at Bheja. Alternately, Koraput is a convenient railhead that connects the region to the rest of Odisha
Road From Visakhapatnam, take the Andhra Highway to Araku Valley and then the state highway to Lamtaput, which is 13km from Desia Bus There are APSRTC buses that operate from Visakhapatnam and Odisha State Transport buses from Jeypore
Read more in the new Outlook Traveller Getaways Responsible Escapes