By Utpal Borpujari, Tamia (southern MP)
Mythically, it is said the “hole” on the earth near here is the entrance to “Pataal” (the netherworld). But in reality, Patalkot is a geographical wonder to reach where one has to descend a few hundred steep stone steps.
Till a few years ago, polling officials would descend these steps, almost 75 degrees steep, with great difficulty to enable a few thousand Bharia and Gond tribes living in the 12 villages in Patalkot to vote. In some parts of Patalkot, legend has it, sun’s rays never reach.
But now times are changing. A motorable road laid along a less-steep gradient on another side takes one almost to the deep gorge within the Satpura plateau.
This has definitely made things easier for the polling officials to do their work. As Chhindwara Superintendent of Police Rajababu Singh says: “One can use the steps to reach the place for sure, but the road on the other side of the ‘hole’ has made it much easier to reach the place.”Education
Owing to this easier connectivity with the outside world, the tribal people are slowly getting accustomed to the comforts of modern life. “They no more have their earlier lifestyle. They wear jeans, sun glasses, trousers and shirts now, and many of them have come up to live in nearby towns like Tamia,” says Singh. Being promoted as a natural wonder with immense tourist potential, the construction of the road has robbed the place of its unique attraction—that of having to descend those ancient steps to meet the tribals, till recently a self-sustaining group, who would come up to the ‘world’ above to buy salt.
Congress candidate Kamal Nath, in whose Chhindwara constituency the Tamia block that comprises Patalkot falls, has already made his vote-appeal trips to the place, and so has his BJP rival Maruti Khaose.
“I have constructed a hostel near Tamia for boys from the tribes who want to study. Now, they have access to modern things,” says a proud Nath. Incidentally, Nath descends to Patalkot for campaigning in his personal helicopter. But the place, known for its rich herbal plants and a unique tribal lifestyle, could soon lose its special identity, as “development” creeps in.
While it is for policy makers and anthropologists to decide how best to take the fruit of development to the tribal people living in Patalkot, local officials say there is an urgent need to take steps to preserve the identity of the place and its people before they get subsumed into the “modern world”.
Located at a depth of 1,200-1,500 feet, the horse-shoe-shaped structure is believed as the place through which Ravan’s son Meghnad went to the “Pataal Lok” after worshipping Lord Shiva. “These tribal people were totally cut off from the civilised world earlier. But as a result of the efforts being made by the government now these people have access to primary schools, health centres, veterinary centres etc.,” says a district official in Chhindwara. Also, diesel and electric pump sets have been provided to them to irrigate land, and they have been educated about the use of improved seeds etc., says the official.
The question is, are we losing a “lost world” in the bargain? Only time will provide an answer. But for now, polling officials are getting ready to descend with their EVMs to “Pataal Lok” on April 23!