The Kanger Valley National Park, near Jagdalpur, presents an attractive slice of Chhattisgarh, replete with sudden cascades, interesting birds and stunning landscapes.

The Kanger Valley National Park (KVNP), as it is known, is in Bastar, the true-blue tribal district of the state. Naturally, the district comes across as unique from various perspectives because of its tribal roots, not unaffected by contemporary mores.

Chhattisgarh is not about booking a tourist cab for a day tour. It is all about getting your feet dirty, downing your car windows and feeling the breeze in your face. As of now, the state is still virgin territory, untouched and unexplored. Get in before the crowds get wind of it!

While coming from Raipur, you will be travelling via Kondagaon to Jagdalpur. En route, you also get to see the princely township of Kanker, an interesting stopover. The journey ends with the coming into view of the city lights of Jagdalpur, headquarters of Bastar District, and the base town for a visit to KVNP.

Parth Sanyal
Kanker Royal Palace, as seen from a high vantage point
Kanker Royal Palace, as seen from a high vantage point

ORIENTATION

The Kanger Ghati is just 27 km from Jagdalpur, the district headquarters that most visiting the park prefer to use as a hub. Take note that this is a national park, not just a wildlife sanctuary. The difference lies in that no human activity is allowed inside national parks, while certain limited activities are permitted within sanctuaries. Moreover, national parks receive more financial support from the central government.

The half-hour journey from Jagdalpur to Kanger Ghati (valley) is a delightful drive on a snaky road with mustard fields on both sides. A shot of adrak ki chai at the ‘T-junction’ and some quick shopping of colourful pagdis on the way would make for a great start.

Precautions, advice, warnings, instructions on safety measures and lots more at the entry gate can prove useful on the trip inside the park. The 200 sq km park comprises two waterfalls – Tirathgarh and Kanger Dhara, three caves – Kutumsar, Dandak and Kailash, one crocodile park – Bhainsa Darha and also a daily tribal bazaar. The valley is a treasure trove of things to see and do. Even two days seem insufficient for those who fall in love with the Kanger Valley National Park.

Park Entry Indians 30; Foreigners 150 Vehicle Entry car/ jeep 50, 2-wheeler 5, mini bus 100, bus 150 Timings 7.30am-3.00pm; Photography 25, Videography 200 Guide 50 for 8 people

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

The Kanger Valley National Park is one of the most beautiful and picturesque national parks in India. It is located on the banks of the Kolab river, 27 km from Jagdalpur. Spread over an area of approximately 200 sq km comprising mainly hilly terrain, the valley gets its name from the other river that flows through it – the Kanger river.

Devuni Vijeye
Bamboo trees, Kanger Valley NP
Bamboo trees, Kanger Valley NP

Known for its scenic beauty and unique and rich biodiversity, Kanger Valley attained the status of a National Park in 1982. Besides wildlife and plants, there are many tourist attractions inside the park such as the Kutumsar Caves, the Kailash Caves, the Dandak Caves and the Tirathgarh Waterfalls. The Kanger Dhara Waterfall and the Bhainsa Darha Crocodile Park are beautiful picnic spots.

The park can be said to be an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers, researchers and anyone keen to discover the very best of the fascinating wildlife in Chhattisgarh.

Kanger Valley National Park is situated in a transition zone, and as a result its flora comprises mixed tropical moist deciduous type of forests with the coexistence of sal, teak and bamboo trees. In fact, the valley can be said to be the only region in Peninsular India that is left with one of the last pockets of virgin and untouched forests.

Wildlife in the park includes tigers, leopards, wildcats, mouse deer, cheetal, sambar, barking deer, jackals, langurs, rhesus monkeys, macaques, sloth bears, flying squirrels, striped hyenas, wild pigs, otters, civet cats, pythons, cobras, crocodiles, monitor lizards and snakes, to name a few.

Its avifaunal wealth includes spotted owlets, racket-tailed drongos, steppe eagles, phakta, bhura teeter, tree pies and herons, among others. Keep your eyes peeled for the hill mynah, the star attraction at the park, now famous as the Bastar mynah, and also the state bird of Chhattisgarh.

Apart from wildlife spotting opportunities, there are also a few sites that can be visited from the park.

Pranav Purushotham
The Tirathgarh Falls flowing down into the Kanger river
The Tirathgarh Falls flowing down into the Kanger river

Tirathgarh Waterfalls

All across Jagdalpur, hoardings of the Tirathgarh Falls look appealing indeed, but the real Tirathgarh is even better than the promos. Just 4 km from the entrance to the park, to your right, a neat single road dotted with tall sal trees and dried leaves forms the setting of the approach to Tirathgarh. There are no guides upto the waterfalls. They join up with you only thereafter. As long as you remember the 4 km milestone, you are likely to reach Tirathgarh Falls without getting lost.

The first sight of the falls is awesome. A big thick stream flowing across a rock as big as a conference table. You can sit, stand, bathe and do everything here without fear of slipping. The rocks, curiously, don’t catch moss! A descent of over 400 steps, all moss-free, takes you down right to the foot of the falls. The water steadily cascades from various levels, thus enabling hundreds of tourists to take a bath simultaneously. A bath here can be taken standing right under any of the streams falling down. The falls are a popular picnic spot with families, especially those with kids. There are little puddles between little rocks that double up as makeshift bath tubs for kids.

A little temple, another few hundred steps from the base of the falls, is devoted to Shiva and Parvati. It is this temple that is known as the tirath, the pilgrimage, and hence the name of the falls. Check this out for the brilliant view of the falls from a distance. Set aside one whole day for Tirathgarh alone because kids will find paddling and swimming here quite addictive. Dragging them out is likely to be quite a task!

You need to climb up all the way to the top to reach the grub hub. Bhajias, samosas, sandwiches and whatever other junk food you might crave after all the climbing up and down, the swimming and the waterfall bath, is all available right there.

Devuni Vijeye
Brassware near Kailash Gufa
Brassware near Kailash Gufa

Kanger Dhara

This one looks like a little brother of Tirathgarh when viewed in terms of its size, but is a big boy when it comes to the momentum of the water. The water flows in powerful torrents here and is the reason why many prefer to take a bath at the much gentler Tirathgarh, while giving Kanger Dhara a stepmotherly treatment, if not a complete miss; even the tourist jeeps don’t stop by here. The falls cut across deep rocks and the wise thing to do is to just stand back and watch, and not get into the waters and thereby, into trouble. A little away is a patch of greenery with domes for birdwatching besides curious, extremely stylish looking, open-top toilets made in cane!

Dandak Caves

A series of 250 steps, a few hundred metres away from Kanger Dhara, takes you to the Dandak Caves. The caves boast of a stalactite Shivalinga with a perennial spring flowing right across, known as Patala Linga. Dandak is a challenging series of caves to explore. The name, Dandak, incidentally, means punishment.

TIP These caves are closed from 20 June to 31 October

Kutumsar Caves

If you love dark alleys, resounding dens, eerie rocks, creepy spider webs and some spooky adventures, Kutumsar is right up your alley. You enter through a cubbyhole, vertically, with your feet trying to find a foothold on the moist rocks while the guide switches his battery torch on. It takes a while to get used to the darkness, but as you do, you are likely to be pleasantly surprised by the amazing rock formations inside – one resembling the trunk of an elephant; another, a stone resembling Ganesha; yet another, a hemispherical rock worshipped as Lord Shiva himself in the form of a linga – a hundred stalactite and stalagmite formations tease you as the light from the guide’s torch falls upon them.

Devuni Vijeye
Imposing stalacmites in the Kutumsar Caves
Imposing stalacmites in the Kutumsar Caves

It is highly likely that you would find the 40 minutes from the cubbyhole entrance, down the 90 steps to somewhere midway within the 330-ft-long subterranean cave, scary or unnerving in the least. Till about a year ago, the guides were using mashaals or flaming torches to show tourists around. However, with a view towards the conservation of the caves, to keep the soot from getting to the limestone and taking the sheen out of it, the government has introduced battery torches.

TIP Last entry is at 3.00 pm and they close at 4.00 pm. Set aside at least two hours for a good look around. Closed 15 June to 31 October

Kailash Caves

The 42-km drive from Jagdalpur via Netanar barrier to the Kailash Caves is a truly signature Chhattisgarh jungle experience. Be prepared to expect the unexpected!

This cave boasts of over 280 steps and rock formations resembling a royal banquet hall. The banquet hall has a flat surface in between, as though some subterranean beauty comes in every evening to give a live performance. Like a gallery for visitors, both the sides of the dais have rocks for those imaginary guests who watch the dancer’s moves. There is a durbar hall and a mini seminar hall all right here.

Devuni Vijeye
Tamraghumar Waterfalls
Tamraghumar Waterfalls

Chitradhara Falls

Like a freebie in a shopping hamper, the Chitradhara Waterfall is the little extra you get while at Bastar. A detour of 4 km from the main road will take you to this waterfall, ideal for a small family with little children who’d love to get drenched. The falls are about 8 km away from Jagdalpur, on the way to the Chitrakote Falls. After the milestone, travel another one kilometre on a lonely road. You will come to a V-junction, from where you take the right fork.

Tamraghumar is in a tiny little village close to the Chitrakote- Barsur Road. There are no ifs and buts in between. The falls start right up there, and in one roaring, swell swoop, falls down a 100 ft to form a torrent that runs across in wild excitement. The water then flows away down a deep rocky ravine into a hidden location. Standing right up there, dwarfed by the magnificence of the falls, it feels like you are indeed privileged to be witness to a phenomenon such as this – the waterfall flowing exclusively for you. A sort of a private preview of a movie in a theatre!

Madhu Kapparath
The impressive Chitrakote Falls
The impressive Chitrakote Falls

The only communication allowed with this waterfall is right at its peak where it creates a flat surface, a dangerous one, nevertheless. The water reaches here from a rocky gorge, probably after flowing past the innumerable herbs in the vicinity which impart a menthol-like flavour to the water. Cool and refreshing.

Kondagaon and Chilkuti

On the way to Bhainsa Darha, the crocodile park, you drive past the towns of Kondagaon and Chilkuti, famous for bell metal products. The artisans live and work in the town itself. You can pick up bell metal Ganeshas, bells, jhoomars and other curios as take-home souvenirs.

Bhainsa Darha

The crocodile park is 12 km from Koleng but the road is a jungle road. Ideally, book a local jeep from Jagdalpur itself. Bhainsa Darha is a stream with the ideal mix of water and sun so that the crocs can bask in the heat or hibernate in the water at their will. The best time to visit the park is in the late afternoon, when the heat is intense and therefore likely to force the crocs to the surface. However, chances are that you might be at the left end of the stream and the crocs on the other side, avoiding you altogether. The stream has been named after the Bhainsa or the wild buffalo, the state animal of Chhattisgarh.

Devuni Vijeye
Shiva temple, Chitrakote Falls
Shiva temple, Chitrakote Falls

Singanpur Haat

Singanpur, south of Keskal on the Kondagaon-Keskal Road, is known for its daily haats, each day bringing with it something special to offer. For instance, if you can make it to the Tuesday haat at noon, you can get to witness a cock fight, amidst much rousing and cheering. The fight ends with a round of chai and namkeen for the onlookers, borne by the winner. The market is as good a mini supermarket as any other, albeit a makeshift one, and also very reasonable. On offer are pulses, grains, garments, accessories, blankets and other lifestyle products. For as little as 20, you can walk away with a pair of gorgeous oxidised earrings.

WHERE TO STAY

Your best bet is to stay at Bastar or Jagdalpur, where plenty of accommodation options are available.

AROUND KANGER VALLEY

Chitrakote Falls

Chhattisgarh Tourism aptly calls these beautiful falls the ‘Niagara of India’. The panditji at the Hanuman Mandir swears Rama and Sita spent a good year of the 14 years of their exile marvelling at the beauty of these falls.

The waterfall plunges down 96 ft from the placid Indravati river, a tributary of the River Godavari, 32 km from Jagdalpur, to form a horseshoe waterfall. On a sunny afternoon, the Chitrakote Falls burst out into rainbow colours. The rainbow’s appearance is caused by the dispersion of sunlight as it goes through the water. The sun’s rays seep across the spray and create a refractive colour effect in the gushing waters. However, the locals believe the water colours are because of beehives. Honey spills on to the river, gels with the water and the result is the play of colours that we get to see.

This is the only waterfall in the region that can be accessed from both the top and the base. Ideally, do the base of the waterfall first because it gives you a great view while daylight is still around. The base of the waterfall is large flat piece of land land with fine white sand. The sand is just the kind of place you need to sit down and get your hands and feet dirty.

A set of 60 steps takes you down to the base of the falls. A small Shiva temple on the way is a mini stopover, ideal to catch a glimpse of the place all over again. If you are at the tip early in the evening, you can go for a boat ride. However, it is advisable to hire a boat only if you know how to swim. Get out of the boat and reach the summit before sunset.

The waterfalls summit is lit up during the night-time and therefore can be seen a little beyond sunset too. In the glitter of the floodlights, the stone image of Ganesha gleams, a brown stone so smooth that it shines in the dark. Don’t miss the swarm of glow-worms and dragon flies that meet up at the floodlight and buzz with activity.

You could stay at Chhattisgarh Tourism’s Dandami Luxury Resort (Raipur Tel: 0771-4066415, 4224999; Tariff: 1,500-2,500), which is located very close to the falls and offers some excellent views.

When to go November to June, avoiding the monsoons. Winter is best for spotting migratory birds. Location Kanger Valley NP is 27 km from Jagdalpur in Bastar District near the Odisha border Air Nearest airport: Raipur Rail Nearest rail: Jagdalpur

THE INFORMATION

Tourist/ Wildlife Offices

Head Office

Chhattisgarh Tourism Board

Paryatan Bhawan, GE Road, Raipur

Tel: 0771-4224600/ 11/ 22

Tollfree: 18001026415

W chhattisgarhtourism.net

Tourist Information Centre

Raipur Airport, Mana, Raipur

Tel: 6541303

Tourism Information Centre

Railway Station, Raipur

Cell: 09926781331

Chhattisgarh Tourism Board

Chanakya Bhavan, Chanakyapuri

New Delhi. Tel: 011-26116822

Principal CCF

Aranya Bhawan, Medical College Road

Raipur. Tel: 2552221

CCF Wildlife and Field Director

Raipur. Tel: 2429600

Chief Wildlife Warden

Raipur. Tel: 2552228

Udanti WLS

Tourist/ Wildlife Offices

Divisional Forest Officer, Udanti

Tel: 07706-241229

STD code 07706

Bastar

Chhattisgarh Tourism Board

Shahid Park, Jagdalpur

Cell: 09926944221

Kanger Valley NP

Director, Kanger Valley NP

Tel: 07782-228640

STD code 07782