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Monday, December 8, 2008

Patalkot - the bottom of the Earth

We were traveling in a hired vehicle from Raipur to Pachhmarhi via Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh (India). After a drive of about 62 km's. on a plateu like terrain, we came across a sign board on the right side of the road reading "Patalkot". We were reminded of the people living in the bottom of the earth and indeed it was!. We alighted from the van and saw an extremely deep gorge surrounded by high mountain ranges. The place looked heavenly beautiful and scenic. In a way the formation resembled the great canyons of the Americas. But it was not barren. There was plenty of greenery. All of us climbed down carefully using the stairs provided but when we reached the bottom of the 3000 feet cliff, we were told that we need to walk for about 3 km's to reach the nearest human habitat. Since we were required to reach Pachhmarhi the same evening, we found our way up with a heavy heart.
There were people standing near our vehicle to greet us. We then spoke to them and learnt many things about the place. We also supplemented ourselves with additional information about the wonderful place and now we share it. Here it goes..
Deep in the valley, in an area around 79 square km's, there are tribal hamlets in 12 villages situated approximately at a distance of 2 km's apart. The inhabitants are tribal of Bharia and Gond denominations. They are above 2000 in number and solely depend on the mother earth for their livelihood. The vegetation in the valley is more akin to the tropical forests. The Doodh river which flows inside the valley lends grace to the terrain.
The important aspect of the flora and fauna is its bio diversity and abundance of rare plant species, medicinal plants and herbs. The inhabitants are skilled at using the forest plants and herbs to make effective medicines for every known ailment. The Bhumkas who provide health care in the hamlets have inherited the divine knowledge from their ancestors. However, the modern world was completely unaware of the existence of Patalkot and the people of the valley had an isolated existence until recently. Now there are increasing threats of deforestation and exploitation of the people.
The State Government has formed a Patalkot Development Agency which has been entrusted with the responsibility of welfare of the tribals. A middle school, primary health centre and veterinary services have now been made available. Self Help Groups have also been formed for the effective use of forest produce. Pure vegetarian Honey which comes out of Patalkot is really something to relish.

Incidentally, we may add here that one Dr. Deepak Acharya, a research scholar, who hails from that area, has been engaging himself in understanding, protecting and preserving the unique bio-diversity and the traditional knowledge of medication of the adivasis (Ethnobotany). Clicking the highlighted words will lead you to the respective sites.

Reports suggest that out of greed, a cartel of traders is active in the area and are engaging themselves in smuggling out the rare herbs and medicinal plants which are even being exported abroad. Their activities, unless checked, may lead to further deforestation and loss of the unique bio-diversity found in the valley.
Here is a video of Patalkot. Please do listen to the drum beats at the end.

Photos: Dr.Deepak Acharya हिन्दी में यहाँ देखें