Bastar was once one of the largest districts in India, bigger even than the state of Kerala and countries like Israel and Belgium. Its early history is obscure - it is believed to have been established in the 11th century by the Nagavanshi dynasty who had their capital at Barsu.
There are plenty of theories about the origin of the name "Bastar". The most rational is that it is derived from the Sanskrit word vistrat, wide territory, which is how the Deccan chieftains perceived the area North of the Godavari river to be. Another explanation is that the name evolved from "Basta-karna", sal trees, which Bastar is full of. The 3 rd conjecture is that Bastar is from "Bastah", goat, the area being a popular territory, even today, for shepherds migrating from North India. A 4 th hypothesis says Bastar is from "Basta", bag, associated with the gypsies who were the earliest traders to come to the region to barter salt for local forest products and iron ore. And the 5 th thinks Bastar owes its origins to "Bastakam", a variety of salt, the commodity most imported into Bastar in the early days of its contact with the outside world.
Historically, Bastar formed the buffer zone between Deccan in South India and the Rajput splinter-states of Central India. It did not impact and was not impacted by happenings outside. As such, it developed its own way of life and governance. The population, mostly tribal, was native to India long before the Aryans arrived (10,000 years ago!), and they still follow their traditional lifestyle.
The Indravati river is the largest and the most important river in Bastar. Pamer Chinta is its main tributary. Almost half of Bastar is under forest cover, and the region is full of dense jungles full of bamboo, sal, teak wood, sheesam and bija. High mountains, valleys, streams, waterfalls, natural caves, and natural parks abound.
There is plenty to see and do in Bastar and it is recommended that you spend at least 3 days here.
Jagdalpur, the district headquarters, is a small town, easily explorable on foot. It is green and beautiful.
Believe it or not, you can walk right off the street and into the 70 year old Bastar palace, situated at one end of the main street. The erstwhile Royal Family still resides in one part, while another is being used as a medical college. Currently, there are no residential facilities here, but lunch can be arranged. There is a weekly haat (market) here on Sundays.
Many wonderful waterfalls are nearby. The Ganga Munda and Dalpat Sagar lakes are on the river Indravati, which passes through Jagdalpur. Sprawling over 350 hectares, Dalpat Sagar is the largest artificial lake in Chhattisgarh. It was created over 400 years ago by Raja Dalpat Deo Kakatiya to harvest rain water. Today, it is a major source of fish. If you can wake up early enough, join in the ritual worship of the deity before watching the group fishing, where one group spreads the nets and the other group drives the fish into the nets by howling and beating water. Or, if you prefer, go boating (motor / pedal boats) on the lake, especially at sunset.
Shop for tribal handicrafts during Dassera and Diwali at the nightly Gole Bazar and at the Kumhara Para area.
As you drive on National Highway (NH) 16 to the west of Jagdalpur, you can see the Maria Menhirs, monumental stones erected for the dead. The size of the stone indicates the standing of the deceased, and drawings on them suggest objects and acts dear to the dead person. It is customary to drop a pinch of chewing tobacco at the foot of the menhir, as a mark of respect to the departed soul.