Just 15kms outside of Bhopal lies a land that is yet to catch up with the times… A place that thrives and survives without the touch of urbanization or modernization. This is a place that is yet to receive the gift of electricity, where an all-weather road was constructed just last year, where network connectivity is still questionable. But for everything that this place lacks, it more than makes up for it with unparalleled natural beauty and hidden cultural treasures. This is the tale of Kathotiya – a little tribal hamlet that follows a unique way-of-life that refuses to catch up with the times. And every bit of their existence gives food for thought to us city dwellers for whom uninterrupted connectivity, social media, air-conditioning and the internet are part and parcel of everyday life. In this edition of Tales of Bhopal, here is the story of Kathotiya and its unfazed existence in a land beyond time.

Bhopal Tribal Practices
Tumbi that is dried and hollowed out to make a container with handle.

The all-natural kitchen

On one of our first visits to this wonderland a few years ago, we found that our our cutlery and reusable air-tight food containers seemed like alien objects to the people in the village. Imagine, a place where people had never even seen a plastic spoon before. Wondering how these people managed their kitchen without everyday utensils? They use spoons and ladles carved out of wood, earthen pots for cooking and, you wouldn’t believe it – utensils crafted from dried and hollowed-out vegetables like tumbi lauki(bottle gourd) and kaddu (pumpkin). No litter, no wastage, no harm caused to the environment – what an example of peaceful co-existence with nature!

Marbles Village Game
Kanche Wala Game – Best pass-time!

The no-digital entertainment

In a place that doesn’t have electricity or mobile network, local tribals have their own unique ways and means to keep themselves entertained. Remember the childhood games like langdi (hop scotch), ashthe change (a board game played using tamarind seeds) and kanche (using glass balls to hit a target with your fingers)? – they are very popular with the kids here to this day. Teens play gulam dandi (a complicated game of catching the opponent while swinging from one tree to the next). And the adults engage in community festivities where the young folk in the tribe, along with their in-laws and better halves, enjoy tribal dancing to beating drums and folk songs all night. Spend a night with these folks and you will forget all about Candy Crush, Netflix and YouTube!

Tree Climbing in Bhopal
More fun than any other game I’ve seen!

The off-the-land fitness routine

In an era where fitness is a conscious choice managed with gym memberships and yoga sessions, the people of this village have made physical activity a part of everyday life. They walk more than 20kms each day, whether to take their cattle for grazing or to get their millets ground into flour (for which they even carry kilograms of load on their head to cross the jungles of Bhopal and reach the city.) Children climb daunting rock surfaces like its nothing and teens learn how to swim against the current in the raging monsoon rivers. Think about it – Olympic level sports talent and better-than-professional rock climbers and adventurers exist here, still undiscovered.

Exploring Tribal Village
Tribal Shrine with wooden arms and legs

The unshakeable beliefs

Kathotiya’s tribals mostly consist of Bheels and Bhilalas – people who have maintained their unique set of lifestyle practices and beliefs to this day. Just outside their little hamlet lies a small shrine, reachable after crossing a dense jungle patch. To the uninitiated, the place seems unremarkable – a rock surface left pockmarked and carved by nature’s eroding elements. But to the tribals who live here, this happens to be a holy place of worship. It is believed by the village people that if one of their own gets injured or suffers a fracture, they must make the journey to this shrine and pray to the Van Devta (Forest God) for restored health and speedy healing. And once the ailment is healed, the mannat is completed by presenting a wood-carved replica of the injured body part to the deity at the shrine. Visit here to discover scores of wood-carved legs, arms, feet and more, left here by believers as a thank you to the Forest God for blessing them with good health.

Trek to Tribal Village in Bhopal
Simple Living… Simple Pleasures

For us city dwellers, most of these practices seem other-worldly and unimaginable. The old-school games and pass-times are actually unknown to the city-kids of today, who would rather spend time on their PlayStation and Tablet PCs. But the tribals of Kathotiya have learnt to live in peace and harmony with nature. Each aspect of their everyday life speaks of adaptability and resilience. They survive and thrive without any of the amenities that we consider as necessary for a comfortable life. And the happiness and contentment with which they lead their life will surely give you reason to evaluate yours. Food for thought, eh?