Timidly, I asked my wife whether she would join me to my next travel -destination ?
Without much attention, she inquired “ Now, where are you up to”?
Listening to my travel plan, she yelled at me “ Are you gone mad or bitten by a mad dog ? No sensible person can even think of what you are crazy about . Just forget , you may do it alone . I am out of it. “
Any how without much disappointment or frustration, I acquainted her with my determination to accomplish my plan. She made another attempt to convince me saying “ The place and people you wish to visit are uncivilized, hostile , they kill any stranger witghout any mercy. Just give up this silly plan”.
Unphased by the scary descriptions , my anxiety to make my intended trip further deepened and I declared“ Look my dear , let the heaven fall on the earth , but I will accomplish my plan all alone, come what may !!”
My travel plan and all needed arrangements already done, I left my home for my expedition. I think, after the background, I explained above , “ Expedition” would be more appropriate word.
My travel destinations were two extremely remote and godforsaken districts “ Jhabua” & “ Alirajpur ” of the State of Madhya Pradesh of India.. Both these districts are home for the oldest tribe “ Bhil” of India. Few pockets of these districts with thick population of “Bhils” are poles away , even today, from any influence of the modern World. They still follow their rudimentary life-style and are happy within their own World.
I started from my hotel at Jhabua city , accompanied by a forest department guard , whose work places were such sensitive remote villages of “Bhils”. He was a frequent visitor to “ Bhils”, who could speak their dialect and was friendly with these primitive lot. I requested my guard friend to take me to the deepest points of “Bhil” community villages , as I will never get such opportunity any time else in future. My companion, after some hesitation, was prepared to oblige me. He agreed only on one condition that I will very strictly follow all his instructions throughout this journey. He further alarmed me that the villages he is going to take me, cannot be approached by the local Police. Any suspicious element in the impression of “ Bhils” is simply killed by them. “Bhils’ are immaculate archers. Police finds themselves helpless as they are always clueless from which direction, they could be ambushed. Continuing his caution, I was informed by the guard that the region , where he is going to take me has the highest rate of crime in Asia. With all these words of caution, my journey with my guard friend begins in the deep land of “ Bhil’ tribe;
The time was just the beginning of spring season. We were driving through the agricultural land with standing local crops. On the way I saw a huge size tree with light yellow flowers in full bloom, which attracted me. Reaching close to it, there was very pleasant aroma in the air. Few flowers had fallen down, I picked up few of them. Smelling it was a great feeling. I inquired with my companion, about this flower, never seen by me before.I was told this flower is called “Mahua”. Fresh flowers are used in temples for prayers by local people and about 90% of the flowers are used in food, beverages & phamaceutical industry. It is a wild flower, found in forests with extreme climates.
We reached the first village, with cluster of few huts, with people starting their day. It was around 10 in the morning.My attention was caught by a villager cooking something in a large size utensil, sealed with brown colour mud on top with a pipe projecting out and other end being dipped into a water tank nearby. This definitely was not a domestic kitchen, in my judgement. Asking my friend, curiously about this cooking arrangement, I was explained “ The fellow is brewing Country Liquor , using the fermented Mahua flowers, what you just saw”. Knowing this,I was surprised to see his rudimentary cooking arrangement , which was just parallel to the Chemistry laboratory equipment, a nice looking transparent glass retort with bent top turned at an obtuse angle and a water cooling arrangement with collection arrangement for the condensate at the end of the glass tube of about 6 ft length. The illiterate villager had designed his equipment in his own way, just following exactly the same working principle.
I was so full of praise for that man and wanted to talk to him. My guard friend called him , and he was literally as an interpreter between me and that villager, as I was not knowing their local language. Listening to all my praise for him, the villager ran inside his home and returned instantly with two small glasses, containing about half filled white water like liquid in them and offered to both of us, one glass each. The guard came closer to me and whispered to simply accept their welcome drink and consume it slowly, without thinking about it. I was told that refusing their welcome drink is not liked by them. Remembering my promise to my guard friend, I obeyed his advise and slowly started sipping it. First sip, Oh My God !!!! the liquid ran down through my intestines like mercury. I could distinctly feel the flow of that stuff through my throat reaching my stomuch. Finishing the first one after some time, we were offered the second, without any pause. Here I was bit hesitant for the second one, but guard with his eye gestures, told me to simply follow him. So after about an hour in the villager’s courtyard, we finished the second helping, to the smiling face of our host. Thanking our host for his hospitality and their guest welcome, we took his leave. I had never before taken such a drink, obviously it was some alcoholic drink. My head was slightly spinning, but I was in total composed state, moving ahead in our journey. After this first strange episode of my journey, the guard explained me the ” Bhils”, always offer their Welcome Drink to their guests 2 times in succession. They believe, only 1 is for the enemy and 2 are for the guests. I can never forget this Welcome Norm of “Bhils”.
After few Kms of drive through the barren land we reached another village with few huts located in scattered manner, in that locality. Pattern of the huts and living style more or less similar. Some of the villagers were seen with arrows and bows in their hands, which was very attractive scenario for me, as such scenes I had seen either in comic pictures , in old Indian historic and mythological movies or Amazon’s Ads for items for archery for children only, not in practical life. I was explained villagers use their armaments for self-defense against their enemies and Police. Any suspicious element for “Bhils” is their enemy, who is killed , which is their way of living in their own World. Since they are totally cut off from rest of the World, what we call as “ Law & Order ” , does not find a place in their concept or dictionary. Any how I was introduced to an elderly “Bhil” , who was looking like the family head in his late 60’s. Looking at me, a smile, as I was with their known person. Few more younger males and females and children gathered, to see this creature from a different planet for them. Throughout my body language was very humble, smiling, and inquisitive to know them, their life-style, living habits, and more about them in the shortest possible time. I was greeting them with folded hands [ Namaste or Namaskar, as per Indian way] with smile and taking full help of my interpreter friend, for conversation with them. They were apparently looking happy, some outsider taking so much interest in them, taking their pictures. I saw one of the youngster climbing up the tall Toddy tree in their compound with a vessel tied to his waist. To my utter surprise, he reached to the top of the tree withing twinkling of an eye. I felt even a monkey could not have done it so fast.
Within few minutes he was down with a pitcher filled with fresh Toddy and we were offered their Welcome- Drink . To my luck , I had tasted fresh Toddy before, so I enjoyed both the helpings of this host’s Welcome-Drink, sipping slowly , gathering as much information as possible through my interpreter friend. I observed a special brown colour serving vessel for toddy, which again was something new to me. Upon inquiry , I was told it is customary among “Bhils” to use this serving vessel for toddy, known as “ Tumdi ”. It is meticulously crafted out of dried Bottle- Gourd , incorporating a fine filter within its tubular portion, so that toddy can be enjoyed without any solids/fines. I was amazed by their concept and craftsmanship. Toddy is poured into either folded palm or on a folded special leaf for drinking. The spout of the “ Tumdi “ is never used for directly drinking from it. It is supposed to be bad manners among them, as same “ Tumdi” is used to serve to family members or their guest.
After this welcome session, I just moved around their village, without any problem. In fact ,everywhere I was greeted by the households with the smiles and with the gesture as if they were at my disposal, for whatever I wish about them . Standing at the courtyard at one of the homes, I could see some colourful wall inside , which made me curious to see what exactly was that ? Hesitatingly, I requested [ through my interpreter] the lady of the house, whether I could see their house from inside. With smile I was taken inside, but bare feet , as no footwear are permitted in their homes. I was stunned to see the entire one wall painted out of the four. It was very bright wall painting using different colours. The painting depicted normal substances of our daily lives, not complicated abstracts of any nature. Whatever it was, it was looking very beautiful and was a proof of the artistic taste of “ Bhils”. People who are neglected by our modern society, had their own way of home decoration. I was told these wall paintings keep on changing whenever they feel like. For me it was an excellent exhibition of Tribal Art.
My crazy inquisitiveness, put forward to my tour guide, whether it is the only home with such lovely wall painting, he took me to another home and I was again obliged by the owner to witness his home wall painting. This too, though of the same pattern, but was also beautiful. I , in my concept, saluted the artistic sense of this tribal community. It was a great experience for me, as actual grass root level exhibits at the homes of Bhils and not as any art exhibits in a Tribal Museum. I was thanking my stubbornness attitude, that I came here to see something, not available to millions, in their original form.
“Bhils’ are wonderful craftsmen in different rural items. I had an opportunity to visit a home of a potter. Every member was engaged in his/her work related to their pottery business. They come out with simple and lovely clay pottery items,sold in the rural markets.
Next exiting item for me to see was “Bhils” as archers, of whom, I had heard so much. I was taken to few Bhils, who showed me their armaments, mainly Arrows & Bows. Bows are made of seasoned bamboos and arrows are very sharp pointed, appear to be made of some alloy, which never rust, as I was told. Bhils keep their armaments in very conditioned way, always in Spic & Span condition. It is an item of daily use for them , to protect them from their enemies, including the Police. I was given an exhibition of their accuracy of archery, in their own style. It was highly impressive to see their arrows almost never miss their targets. The men are simple looking, without any impression of their being warriors or militants, but when it comes to the protection of themselves, they are totally an unbelievingly hostile lot.
Lastly , after spending about 4 hours in their land , I saw the elderly Bhil, sitting down on the ground with few leaves and beads spread over a cloth in front of him. Beads and leaves were arranged by him. This scene, I could not guess anything as to what exact he is doing. I again had to take help of my guide. He informed , here he is playing a roll of a family physician . I had no clue at all, what this scene got to do with the medicine ?? I again needed help and I was told about their superstitious nature and believe in “ Mantra” [ sort of small prayer ] and use of herbs , influenced by their “ Mantras” used as medicines. I was under the mixed influence of my feelings of astonishment with disbelieve, at this juncture. I told to myself , may be if these people are practicing it in their lives, without any access to qualified doctors and hospitals , I should not disregard their believe. Putting my anxiety to testing the skill of that elderly “Bhil”, I communicated to him my actual problem of joint pains after I travel a lot , to my utter surprise, he gave me a herb from his stock and I was communicated to boil it for half an hour and cool it , and drink the filtered juice out of it. Repeat it for 10 days. I with all honour brought this herb bundle to my home and followed his instructions , and can you believe, my problem is relieved to a great extent. I can travel with much ease now, after following the prescription of that elderly " Dr. Bhil “ . Something, I will remember till I am alive.
With such splendid experience, I heartily extended my thanks to the “Bhil” family for their hospitality and started my return journey with unforgettable memory of the land of “ Bhils”.
So, friends, it was yet another example of my conviction to travel to remote, unknown places, to achieve something spectacular. But it has to be done with total devotion and blind faith, without any expectations of special gains.
On return, I told my wife ;
“ Your Husbend is back 1 piece, alive with type of invaluable experience, what you can not even dream of “