Travel around India, to the extent that we are attempting to do, is incomplete without an opportunity to interact with the myriad indigenous populations of the country, be it in Ladakh, the Andaman Islands, all over the North East or for that matter in the interiors of any of India’s 28 states. Recently on the eastern leg of our journey we got a chance to meet and experience first hand the very varied and fascinating tapestry of the tribal regions of Orissa.
With 62 different tribes and sub-tribes, Orissa has the largest number of any state in the country. And these are known tribes, with documented information about their cultures, practices, habits and way of life. Despite having linguistic divisions, many of the tribes share socio-economic similarities, and most of them are predominantly involved either in hunting / gathering or agriculture. Spread across the Southern and Central part of the state, time spent in this region, visiting the tribal villages and their weekly markets was quite fascinating.
The Bonda tribe is one of the largest and their weekly market has now become a tourist mecca. However a visit to some of the smaller markets and tribal villages allowed us more freedom to move around and interact with the villagers and tribals, givings us a glimpse into their protected lives.
The numerous rings around the women’s nose and ears, the ornaments around their necks and arms, the sari like cloth draped around their bodies and facial structures make the tribals seem of a different land. Almost as if we were in another country. But as we are constantly reminded on this journey, they are off the same land, with the same welcoming smile, a part of this diverse mammoth country that we call India.