Nestled in the bend of river Dudh, a tributary of the Mahanadi, and framed by an arc of hills, this picturesque town is a gateway to tribal Bastar. Kanker, for most of its history, was a tribal kingdom. Descendants of the last ruling dynasty of the Chandravansh are still respected by a town and tribal folk proud of their heritage.
Dotted with monuments from the 19th and the early 20th Centuries, the life of the town is a veritable treasure-trove of vignettes. Its principal road, the axis around which the town takes shape, often becomes a virtual bazaar , where tribal folk, attired in bright clothes and quaint ornaments, gather from neighboring hamlets to trade their wares. From all along this road can be seen the Qila Dongri, a majestic hill that towers over the river and township below. A trek to the top is a pleasant experience and takes you to a temple and its adjacent pool and caves, a bagful of lore, and a great view of Kanker.
Things to do
The vicinity of Kanker abounds in sites of natural beauty and archaeological significance. Some of these are easily accessible and make excellent short trips. 30 Kms south of Kanker, amidst dense forest, rise the hills of Keshkal. The road climbs up a spectacular series of ledges in 12 loops. At the top are two picture-perfect Rest Houses which offer an array of breathtaking views of the lush expanse of jungle and the interlocking valleys below. On a rainy day, clouds float about in the ghats and numerous streams spring to life and gurgle down the slopes. As some distance is the tribal village of Bahigaon, famous for its warmth and dances.
An hour’s drive from Keshkal is the craft town of Kondagaon, where several colonies of artists practice exciting traditions in pottery (Kumharpara), wrought iron and bell metal craft. West of Kondagaon, again an hour’s drive, is the tribal town of Narayanpur, famous all over Bastar for its Madai, an unbridled celebration of of undiluted tribal culture, and its unique bamboo craft. The Ghotuls, where unmarried youth mix in a bold social custom of courtship, can also be visited in the vicinity.
Saathi Centre: Situated at Kondagaon, a small village 1 hour south of Kanker and just off the road to Jagdalpur. This is ideally done when en route to Jagdalpur from Kanker and makes and interesting stop. This is one of the few places where you can go to the loo. Developed by two inspired and caring people, the aim of this village community is to revive the traditional handicrafts of Bastar and to generate income for the local artists, both male and female. It is also working in the field of integrated rural development through environment management systems, natural resource managements, empowerment and awareness for women, and general education. The result of their efforts is varied and hugely successful and boasts: a terracotta production centre; approximately 30 self help groups (including 11 women’s groups) the facilitation of design workshops, skill diversification and training programmes for artisans; funding of student projects in design and research fields; the hosting of several health and awareness camps and a centre for bell metal artisans and potters.
It is a peaceful place to wander around, watching the different processes of pottery and bell metal making going on. The artisans are not bothered at all by people watching and are pleased to have someone taking a quiet and considerate interest. There is a shop here which sells some high quality and extremely reasonably priced items. If anyone is interested in buying local handicrafts, this is a nice place to do it as the money is all going to a known and tangible cause which is the centre and the artisans themselves.
One of the real highlights of Kanker and Girhola is their proximity to the backwaters of the river Mahanadi. Kanker has its own boats and guests can take short or full day boating trips, stopping for picnic lunches on an island with canopies hung between trees for shade. The birding is excellent so trips that leave at dawn and return after dusk are popular with serious birders.
Among several of the region’s forest sanctuaries is the wildlife reserve at Sitanadi, to the north-east of Kanker. An old British Rest House sits atop the central hill around which spreads a dense forest. The Reserve protects, among other species of wildlife, sambar, bear, leopard, spotted deer, wolf, line fox, langur, peacock, bird of paradise and jungle fowl. It is also being prepared for the tigers. Approximately 30 Kms south-west of Kanker is the reservoir of Dudhawa. A toy-like Rest House on a hill overlooks a vast expanse of water, an ideal setting for angling and bird watching!
Best time to visit
September – April