India // Orissa //

“Tribal” tourism


Most of Orissa’s adivasi groups live in the remote southwest of the state, and once over the pass above the hot springs of Taptapani, the appearance of pots attached to sago palms and windowless mud huts with low thatched roofs indicates that you’ve arrived in the traditional land of the Saoras. Further west around the Koraput and Jeypore area live the Dongria Kondh, the Koya and the Bondas.

Officially, you’re not allowed into the district without first obtaining a permit from the local police superintendent: concern about Naxalites hiding out in the forests along the Andhra Pradesh border, coupled with a marked reluctance to allow foreigners into tribal zones, make these notoriously difficult to obtain. This, alongside the minimal infrastructure, rudimentary accommodation and unreliable public transport around the region, means that if you’re really keen to visit adivasi villages, the best way is to arrange a tour (from around Rs1000/person/day) through a specialist travel agent in Bhubaneswar or Puri, who will take care of all the arrangements. Grass Routes (t09437/029698, w in Puri is considered by some NGOs to be one of the more culturally aware operators. Discover Tours (t0674/243 0477, w in Bhubaneswar has guides with many years’ experience and similarly makes every effort not to intrude where outsiders are not welcome.

That said, adivasi villages see little or no share of the spoils of such tours, a situation they feel justifiably angry about, and you may receive a very frosty reception. Whichever way you look at it, turning up in an isolated and culturally sensitive place with a camera has got to be a pretty unsound way of “meeting” the locals, and a glance from a car is hardly likely to enlighten you on traditions that have existed for centuries.

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