Like the beginnings of many young projects, the Discover Mahua Workshop received love and enthusiasm from friends, family and colleagues first. Traveling from all cities across India as well as France and New Zealand, participants came to Bastar District in Chhattisgarh to engage with the Mahua tree and the lives of people who depend on it.
Being remote, the amenities were planned well ahead of time and participants who were received at Raipur and Jagdalpur airports, were taken straight to the Chitrakot waterfalls for a welcome hike and a boat ride.
Later in the evening, ‘Bastar Jungle Resort’, settled them into lodge-style accommodation, a warm dinner buffet and some improvised singing and dancing by the workshop hosts and participants.
The morning of Day 2 woke us up to bird calls, nippy air and some rather active monkeys on the roof tops. Participants gathered for breakfast followed by a round of introductions and a de-brief of the next 3 days. Soon after we met with a group of tribal women from the Forest Department’s herb processing unit. They led us for a walk into an adjoining forest in search of medicinal and edible produce growing underground, atop trees and fallen on the floor. We heard tales of beneficial uses, folklore and asked queries while documenting everything in awe on our phones. The walk ended at the herb processing facility where Salfi - a drink made from the freshly collected sap of Caryota mitis (fishtail palm), welcomed our arrival.
Post a quick lunch at the jungle resort, a tourist van took us all to the weekly market site where tribals as vendors sold predominantly food produce like seasonal vegetables, spices, oils to dried dates and mahua flowers for distillation, fried snacks as well as red ants, cut fish, and live duck and chicken. Some participants picked up souvenirs from the craft dealers selling metal jewelry, bamboo baskets and handloom textiles.
Later in the day, a collaborative workshop entertained and engaged the participants with the science and art of cocktail making. Joining us was Lucas - a mixologist from a bar ‘Symbiose’ in Bordeaux, France. Lucas had picked up Bastar ingredients from the forest walk and the tribal market earlier in the day and combining these with the MAH liquor, he created a new cocktail for the evening using ingredients like wild coriander, coconut, annatto seeds and asian weaver ants.
Day 2 began early as well, with participants meandering through fields in search of fallen Mahua flowers. The act of collection had been included to connect people to the tree and the practice of early morning flower picking with tribals from the nearby villages, as well as to save a few kilos for the mixologist, who planned to use them later in the day.
Accompanied with Rajneesh, a guide and host of a homestay, the participants took an adventurous hike through rocky trails, walking up a freshwater stream and gradually climbing up the hill. The advancement to a cascading waterfall began to get tougher yet manageable with help of the locals and the guide. The moment of glory came after bouldering and climbing with ropes, when we arrived at a pool formation on the base of a waterfall. As expected, everyone who could swim or wanted to try with life jackets dove in and we stayed here until people began to get hungry for their next meal.
The weather got unpredictable the previous evening, showing signs of rain when it was anticipated to be hot and dry. We arrived at a nearby homestay site - Dhurwa Dera for one of the heartiest meals ever prepared. Local recipes cooked using seasonal produce and unusual ingredients like the red ants chutney, all served onto plates and bowls made from freshly plucked Sal leaves.
The lunch ended with rain getting stronger by the hour, and we shifted to our next homestay site - Amcholadi. Owing to the weather, we had to cancel the much awaited distillation demonstration but were able to see Lucas - the mixologist churn another cocktail using new forest ingredients. The evening also invited some folk musicians who tried their best to perform, while everyone squeezed under one roof. With Mahua in our bellies and the joy of having another homemade meal, the night ended with some more dancing to folk music, followed eventually by popular Hindi songs.
Sunday as Day 4 was the final moment of concluding notes and goodbyes, with parting notes on future plans for more engaging programming around Mahua and the community that had nurtured this tree for centuries.
Stay tuned for more!