The Mainpat region of Chhattisgarh is rooted in the stories of Ramayana. It carries the legends of Sri Ram during his stay in the forests here. They talk about his interactions with the tribals here.
Buddhism is not really associated with this region, though Varanasi is not too far from here. So, it came as a bit of a surprise to find a flourishing Tibetan settlement here. It owes its existence to recent history rather than ancient history.
About 50 km from Ambikapur, passing through the village of Darima, you reach this hilly area.
Climbing the hill through the dense forest, you reach Kamleshwarpur where you see a Buddhist-inspired restaurant on top of the hill. It is one of the best we have seen in the whole of Chhattisgarh. Besides this restaurant, you can see the Mainpat Tibetan settlement.
Mainpat Tibetan Settlement
In 1962-63 when a lot of Tibetans migrated to India, the Government of India allotted them land to occupy and live in various parts of the country. Most of these are now becoming tourist attractions.
In the erstwhile state of Madhya Pradesh, the government gave 3000 acres of land to about 1400 Tibetan immigrants. The population now stands at 2300 or so. They chose to live on this hill because the heat in the plains was not bearable for them. The higher altitude gave them some homely comfort.
It used to be a dense forest. Many trees were cut to convert it into a settlement. Initially, there was one single camp that accommodated everyone. Later, they were rehabilitated into seven different camps spread across the hill.
After coming here, people tried to engage in herding sheep, something they were familiar with. However, it did not work out as a viable option. Then, their main office in Dharamshala trained them in agriculture and they started practicing the same. The potato grows well here and so does the buckwheat.
They are also experimenting with microfinance, farm mechanization, and floor mills through a cooperative society model. Making handicrafts was their main engagement for a long time. That did not make much economic sense so they moved on to agricultural products.
Walking through the settlement you see a small clean village with some basic but fairly large houses. There is a typically Buddhist temple called Takpo Monastery with a Dalai Lama picture on the altar.
In the streets, you see a lot of young and very young Lamas in their traditional red robes. Colorful prayer flags line up the streets. White and golden domes with fluttering prayer flags can be seen from many places around the hill.
Young Lamas use motorcycles much like their counterparts across the country. Women wear their traditional dresses and go about doing their usual chores. Small kids in red robes have fun when the visitors come calling. They enjoy showing around their place to them.
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While walking around I could see a health center and a home for the old aged. I wondered if, in such a small settlement too, the old need a separate home. There are very few people left from the original contingent that came here to settle. For the next generations – this is home.
As a visitor, you see them at home and as an immigrant at the same time.
On the outskirts of the settlement, near the restaurant, a Swiss tent camping site overlooks the valley. During the Monsoon, this would be a beautiful place to relax.
There are various viewpoints on the hill with familiar names like Tiger Point because once upon a time Tigers could be sighted here. Machali or Fish Point as the river here was known for a type of fish. There are other tourist attractions around the area like Bageecha and Zalzala that we could not visit.
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There is a plan to create this area as an adventure tourism hotspot. While that may take some time and a lot of effort, you can visit this place for its sheer natural beauty.
The surrounding area is a bauxite mine. You can see mining trucks moving up and down the hill carrying the brittle reddish-brown stone that is supposed to be rich in Aluminum. There is a dedicated route to the top of the hill for the mining trucks. The temporary walls around the place are built with the same unique stone that looks very porous and brittle.
Mainpat was an unexpected surprise on this trip to me in Chhattisgarh.
Bisar Pani or Ulta Pani is a unique place about 5 km from Mainpat where the water flows upstream on its own. It is an optical illusion or gravity-defying, no one can say.
Mainpat is about 55 km from Ambikapur, which is connected by air, train, and road.
You can stay in the Swiss Tents or do it on a day trip from Ambikapur.
It is a good place to spend time with nature or go hiking.