Exhausted! We were supposed to have lunch but suddenly the weather has started deteriorating. The local guides pointed towards the misty hilltop and warned us of the impending drizzle, which arrived soon as we ran for non-existent cover. The makeshift shed provided us with a bit of relief and we had our lunch under it, while getting drenched on one side.
So, what is the good part here?
Well, this was not the start but the end of the adventure. We were done with the trek already when the sky was clear!
6PM, Oct 5th
Ok, let’s start from where it should. The Dholkal Ganesha Trek is one of the main attractions in any Bastar itinerary. So I reached Jagdalpur and joined a group of other visitors on the morning. I’ll describe the whole Bastar trip with necessary details in a different post but let’s stick to the trek for this one. From Jagdalpur we drove to Dantewada and finally to Faraspal Village. It was already evening and we stopped a few times for some golden hour landscapes.
The campsite where we were supposed to stay for the night was a few KMs ahead of the village. We finally reached the area at around 6 pm and it was already dark. Even before the campsite, we stopped at the office cum restaurant ran by local youngsters, who even welcomed us with bouquets.
7PM, Oct 5th
After the formalities we finally reached the campsite, joined by some of the aforementioned local youngsters. Do note that tourism is a very new phenomenon here and local boys and girls have been recently trained for these tasks as a part of a community initiative (More about it later), which helps the locals earn livelihood and develops sustainable tourism infrastructure.
The tents had had been setup already. The local guide turned hosts started cooking and we tried to stargaze but the cloudy sky nipped the budding astronomers at the bud, leaving us with only the bonfire.Both ursa major and ursa minor disappeared but an ursine suprise was still waiting for me.
Anyway, we salvaged the evening with a few pegs of local Mahua liquor, along with the food. The liquor was pretty mild although I did not consume too much so as not to risk the trek. Everything is served here on bowls made of local leaves, which is another noticeable aspect of sustainable & responsible tourism development here.
7AM, Oct 6th
The sleep was comfortable although it rained at night. In the morning the hills looked covered in mist, almost reminding me of lower Kumaon rather than Central India. More importantly, there was a footprint just outside my tent. The local guides said a bear visited the campsite at night. I am not sure about it but I wish it had knocked if it really was there.
9.30 AM, Oct 6th
We were supposed to trek early morning but as it happens with groups, there were some delays due to various reasons. The sun was already out when our group of four tourists finally began the trek, along with three of the locals. Thankfully, most of the trail is protected by a thick canopy of dense vegetation and so the sun barely reaches the ground.
The trek was initially simple with gradual ascents. It reminded me somewhat of the Tendong Hill Trek in South Sikkim earlier this year in terms of gradient and difficulty level (or the lack of it). Most of the trek passes along some hilly streams that form small waterfalls at parts. I did not really spot any wildlife except some insects and millipedes but the flora here is worth nothing. Most big trees here have noticeable aerial roots that can work as swings capable of supporting multiple adults. The other noticeable feature here are the giant anthills scattered all over the jungle. It is not surprising that ants as well as anthills play a major part in the local culture. Those who are familiar with Bastar will be aware of the ant chutney while the clay from the anthills are used to make moulds for Dokra metal craft, as I learnt later during the visit to a craft village.
11 AM, Oct 6th
After slightly more than an hour, we reached a point that the our guides simply called the “Border”. The ascent of the main trail ends here and it goes down from this point. Apparently this is the official border between Dantewada and beighboruring Bijapur Districts (Not to be confused with Bijapur in Karnataka). However, from this point, we left the main trail and took a comparatively steeper detour on the left side for another half an hour, till we reached what seemed like the end of the road!
So, we had reached the final part of the trek. The Dholkal Ganesh was no more than 300 meters away but this was the most challenging part of the trek. There is no real route here but we simply had to climb over a few large boulders to our final destination. The fecund plains of Bijapur are visible on the left side, which also means that there are no protection on that side. It took another 10 minutes and a few moments of hesitation before I took the final step and suddenly the vistas opened up in front of it, with the Dholkal Ganesha along with it.
This statue is around a thousand years old and apparently was put there by the local monarchs. However, for centuries, it was visited only by locals and only a few years ago it became known to the outside world and proper tourism started only recently. Although the statue was visible, it required another precarious step to reach, as it is located on a somewhat isolated rock. The tourists had already had enough adventures for the day so we simply let the local guides to get there and clicked photographs.
2 PM, Oct 6th
The trek was over and as mentioned before, the rains started after we got back to the camp. We saw a lot of locals going up when we were returning. Not sure how they managed the rain but we had timed it perfectly. The rain refused to stop but started driving back towards Dantewada soon as this was just the first point in our Bastar Trip and a lot of things remained to be done.
But before I finish it off, I would just like to mention one more thing. Firstly the sustanable tourism efforts and engagement of local communities here are noteworthy but a lot of tourists seemed to be litering the trail with plastic. The local volunteers work hard and clean it regularly but I think some puitive measures are necessary. They can try the system they are using at Shirui Hills in Manipur, where they make a note of plastic bottles at the entry and check it during return. If someone fails to account for a botthle, he has to pay a fine.
Jump to Specific Queries
Dholkal Ganesha Travel Guide
What and where exactly is Dholkal Ganesha?
Dholkal Ganesh is an ancient thousand-year-old Ganesha statue made of stone that sits atop a hill on the Bailadila Range near Dantewada in the remote Bastar Region of Chattisgarh. Since it is located atop a hill, you need to trek to reach it and hence this route became famous as Dholkal Ganesha Trek.
A nearby hills is supposed to have another shrine called Surya Mandir but as far as I could understand, it does not have any surviving structure and all I could see form a distance was a Trishul (Trident), most probably a recent installation. Another noteworthy point is that these hills are also rich in minerals and is always a target of mining companies.
How to Reach Dholkal Ganesha?
The easiest route to Dholkal goes from near a village callled Faraspal, which is around 15 KMs from Dantewada, which is a major town in Bastar with Train and Bus connectivity. The campsite at the foothills of the Dholkal Hills is another few KMs from the village.
Accommodation (Camping) near Dholkal?
Yes, as mentioned, the local support group maintains campsites. They can set up tents and also provide food for the night and act as guides during the trek.
Did you take the help of a tour operator?
Yes. Although I’m a proud antisocial and Solo and DIY travel has been my style for years, let’s face it, Bastar is not Himachal! It is hard to find information as it is and the infrastucture here is very basic. So, I opted in a Dussehra trip being organized by a group called Unexplored Bastar who can help you with the arrangements and personnel you need to explore Bastar.
If it possible to do Dholkal Trek on one’s own?
It is not impossible. I saw locals going there and the trek itself is a short one that can be done as a day trek. If you have a vehicle, you can simply drive to the starting point (You will have to pay an entry fee to the local workers) and then do the trek and come back. If you don’t have a vehicle, check the next section.
Are there Buses to Dholkal?
From what I could figure out from the locals, buses run on this route from Dabtewada to Faraspal. After that you will have to walk to the base camp and then trek. Besides, buses are not very frequent. So, I think public transport is possible but not a very convenint way to do it.
How long is the Trek?
From the Camp Site at the foothills, it is only 3-4 KMs of gradual hike with a 300 meter of stiff climb at the end. While the hike is pretty easy for most parts, for the final bit of climbing you will have to use both your hands as well as your legs. Overall, you will have to cover around 7-8 Kms on both sides.
How much time does it take to complete the Dholkal Trek?
For a person with normal fitness levels, it should take no more than 1.5 to 2 hours to reach the top and 1 hour to come back, excluding the time you spend at the top. Overall, you should be done within 4 hours.
What is the best season for the Dholkal Trek?
The winter months beween November and February are the most sought after due to pleasant weather. However, do consider the rainy months of monsoon between Late July to Early October, when the hills are at their verdant best (But always go preapred for the rains).
Central India has a hostile and punishing summer. In fact, it gets heating up as early as March and that is why this trek is not recommended between March, April, May, & June… till the monsoon rains arrive. Of course it is not impossible and you can camp at night and try to do this early morning but still, I would not like to set foot myself in this region during these months.
What is the maximum altitude on this trek?
The highest point of the trek is around 3000 feet or around 900 to 1000 meters high.
Who built the Dholkal Ganesha Statue?
While the history is not fully clear, it is generally believed to have been built between 10th to 11th century by the kings of Chindaka Nagavansha. This is apparently a locla dynasty that ruled between 10th to 13th century. I could not find too many details about them and I don’t think they should be confused with other Naga dynasties of first millenium that ruled parts of North-Central India. Apparently there is a small sepent sculpted on the statue (although I could not spot it), which suggests that it was built by the Nagvanshis (Naga=Serpent).
Mythology Behind Dholkal Ganesha?
Locals tell stories about Ganesha fighting with Parashuram somewhere in these hills and one of his tusk was broken during this process. I think even those kings knew this story and that is why they built the statue. There may have been a bigger shrine here at that time but now only the statue survives.
Wasn’t the statue broken?
A couple of years ago I remmeber reading a report that the staue was destroyed. Apparently, it fell from the cliff and discovered again under it. Some reports allegened the Naxals but there were no conclusive evidence regarding this. Any way, the authorities have now restored it and also built a protective barrier of stones to protect it from falling again.