Yes! For an urban citizen born and bred in Delhi, who had spent a major chunk of his life in Dubai witnessing the glitzy superlatives associated with the Emirate, Korba to me, at first sight, was a huge disappointment! But just. This pseudo city (I choose to call it so) that joyfully clings to its rustic charm, soon wrapped me in its warm embrace and captivated me within weeks of our taking up residence there.
Contrary to common perception, Korba is not just about being an industrial sprawl and India’s power hub. It is much more than being home to the Gevra Mines, India’s largest open cast mines, which caters to about 11 per cent of our country’s coal requirements. Like the rest of Chhattisgarh, Korba is a vast palette of green and blue in myriad hues, and a cradle of culture tucked away in the folds of tradition.
Thick jungles, verdant fields that stretch for endless miles, rolling hills and descending mountain ranges feeding a cornucopia of streams, rivulets and rivers, ancient temples, simple tribals little influenced by the trappings of modern living and the world outside their geographical realms – contribute to the magical allure of Korba, the third largest city in the state of Chhattisgarh.
Visitors to Korba may easily spend a week here, soaking in the ambience of its well-known tourist spots and also discover its little known and ill-explored secrets. Lush forests hug the serpentine ribbon roads and make you feel as if you were driving through a long green tunnel.
More often than not, the fiery planet on the horizon makes a feeble attempt to peep through the veil of thick green foliage on these stretches. The abounding giant trees that form canopies hanging low over the roads, frequently eclipse from our view, the mist kissed ranges that struggle to show off their dark green drape.
We step back in time to catch a glimpse of Korba’s history. Nago Singh Gour, a zamindar and snake charmer who belonged to the Mourya caste was at the helm of Korba, then known as Gourigarh. Gour annexed the smaller territories surrounding him, fighting the Korwas, a hilly tribe from which the city derives its name. Legend has it that the Korwas hatched a plot to oust Gour and deceived his wife into believing he had died in battle.
The grief-stricken woman, along with her child, drowned herself in a pond. On hearing of his beloved’s demise Nago Singh too gave up his life. Thus the Korwas became the rulers of Korba. Today, however, the Korwas are only one of several tribes dwelling here. Pottery, agriculture and weaving, especially of the famed Kosa silk, are the mainstay of these people.Situated to the south of Churi-Hills, Korba lies on the banks of the Hasdeo and Ahiran Rivers. Hasdeo, its most important and largest river which originates in Koriya district, 910 MSL, tumbles into the Mahanadi, travelling a course of 223 km through varied terrain. The city is an interesting blend of the ancient and avant-garde, the progressive, and the traditional and pastoral.
Its foliaceous environs with dense forests present a striking contrast to the concrete jungle with glass structures that have come to typify urban sprawls today. While a majority of its tribes still dwell in the hilly terrains, Korba is a melting pot of people from all across India dwelling in it.
No wonder then, it is steadily and surely witnessing a makeover. The mushrooming computer centres, net cafes, IT tutorials and English medium schools, on the one hand, restaurants and an increasing number of eateries serving multi-cuisine fare, shopping complexes offering trendy attires, testify to this change.
Travel a couple of kilometres away from this modern bustle and you are bang in the midst of the weekly haats or markets held in open grounds.
You watch here with much interest and amusement, as trading takes place. Almost anything under the sky – from fruits, vegetables, grocery items, and household utilities, to cattle – cows, goats and buffalos, are being sold! And yes, on rare occasions, these items are even bartered! Yeah, that’s still a way of life in pockets, throughout Chhattisgarh.
Korba is a visual treat for nature lovers and offers trekkers and adventure seekers ample thrills at Kendai, Phutka Pahad, Devpahari, and Satrange in particular. Kendai Falls, set amidst sylvan surroundings at Tiger Point, is a breathtaking and serene getaway – a veritable balm for frayed nerves and leisure-starved souls. In spite of being a favourite haunt with picnickers and tourists alike, Kendai, which turns into a raging white beauty during the monsoons, maintains its dignified reserve. Since it lies in the midst of dense forests, it offers revellers plenty of spots to make merry without becoming riotous.
We are enchanted by the contrasting aqueous drama that Kendai presents before us. On one side of the waterfalls which is separated by a bridge, tribal children happily take dips in the calm water that flows lazily and most innocuously without a ripple.
The glassy blue elixir of life gathers momentum, weaves its way through a layered surface of rocks and bushes, a glistening deluge of bottled fury, to drop down a good 55 feet and more on the other side of the bridge. A flight of uneven steps with twists and bends flanked by wild shrubs and trees brings us to the base of the waterfalls, a most scenic spot where swimmers splash around in gay abandon.
We meet several locals at Kendai, who are out on their routine jaunt to the place. The place, we learn, was once inhabited by cheetal, sambhar, tigers and other wild fauna! But thanks to the hunting passions of the army personnel who had been stationed in the region during the Second World War, the carnivore population in the Kendai range of mountains dwindled to the point of extinction.
We are disappointed as much as we are relieved to learn that we are unlikely to come face-to-face with the wild. The sound of the thundering water is music to our ears and we enjoy being doused and drenched by the jet sprays. Several youngsters bathe in the streaming waters while the womenfolk among them cook a hearty meal on a campfire set aflame with the firewood that is available here in plenty.
Secreted away in the wooded verdure of Korba’s outskirts, is Phutka Pahad. Time does not reside in this part of the world. Nature is cloaked in her resplendent best with undulating mountain ranges, valleys that are a rich monochrome in green, gurgling streams and prowling wild animals. Phutka Pahad is a nature lover’s paradise and trekkers’ treat, located 1,570 feet above sea level. Visit the old fort of Kosagaigarh encircled by natural walls, camouflaged by dense vegetation. It can be accessed only through a tunnel that was once used for rolling down rocks on the enemy during war times.
The drive up to Phutka Pahad is breathtakingly beautiful. The several hairpin bends leading us to the top are almost vertical in sections. The panoramic view of Korba city from the hilltop is spectacular, with the meandering Hasdeo River visible at a distance.
We are privy to nature’s unique orchestra in the mellifluous calls of birds, creatures that elude our digital devices. Phutka Pahad is still a largely unexplored territory and barely known to the world outside Korba. Needless to say, it is bereft of tourist infrastructure except for well-tarred roads that snake their way right to the top.
So enjoy being embraced by nature at this scenic buffet, making sure you have ample snacks and water when visiting the place. The river Chornai crashes over several layers of boulders and falls in wavy cascades as Govind Kunj, in a frothy avalanche at Devpahari, where mountain ranges roll down to meet uneven village paths in several places.
We have a blast here as we join other picnickers at the plummeting falls and enjoy a host of activities from rock climbing to swimming.
Frothy water thunders down chasms of varying depths in ribbon streaks and create huge pools. We become one with children, splashing, swimming and playing football in this pool. We trudge through dense woods, boulders and rivulets at Devpahari on its other side, to reach the Goumukhi temple, an ancient, nondescript tiny structure.
While the shrine itself is very modest, our interest lies in its antiquity, and more importantly, the thrills of the trek involved in accessing it. If you are sated with aqua thrills and thirst for calmer waters, head to Satrange Lake, a diversion on the Devpahari route. Enjoy boating in its tranquil surrounds with descending hills in the background.
If you are looking to soothe your spiritual senses, Korba has plenty of temples, many of them ancient, to satisfy history buffs. The Sarvamangla temple, the caves of which have been shut off for public viewing, the more modern Sarveshwar temple with its vast landscaped gardens and the glass temple of Bhavani Maa, built at a cost of Rs.14 lakhs, are temples worth visiting.
An interesting feature of most of these temples is that they are set in huge precincts in scenic environs, doubling up as picnic spots for people of all ages. Goddess Durga at Sarvamangala Temple beckons the faithful. The temple which is active, assumes a kaleidoscope of colours during festivals, especially on the occasion of the two Navaratras when the deity in the sanctum is differently adorned on each of the nine days of the celebrations.
The aesthetically landscaped Silver Jubilee Park with boating facilities, and the green Children’s Park overlooking the Hasdeo River and Dam, are favourites with the locals who routinely escape their mundane lives to relax in these spots. Korba pulsates with colour during Dussehra, Diwali and Christmas, which are celebrated with much fervour.
Add to all this, a splash of colour in the tribal dances and festivities specific to the region – Hareli, Pola, Cherchera, Karma and Ravat Nacha , to name a few – and you have the picture perfect equation of a tourist destination that leaves you bewitched with its contrasting beauty.
Reaching: Air: The closest air terminal is located in Raipur, 250 km away. Hiring private cabs is the best way to reach Korba.
Rail: Trains to and from Trivandrum (passing via Chennai) and Yeshwantpur (Bangalore), start and terminate at Korba Railway Station.
Korba is a station on the Champa-Gevra Road branch line of the Tatanagar-Bilaspur section of Howrah-Nagpur-Mumbai line. It depends on Bilaspur Railway Station (110 km from Korba) to be connected to the rest of the country.
Champa is the nearest railway junction, on the Howrah-Bilaspur-Nagpur-Mumbai, South Eastern Central Railway Zone. Champa is 40 km away from Korba.
Road: Korba has connections to the NH 111. Road transport includes taxis, shared taxis and State run buses and private buses which ply from most parts of Chhattisgarh to Korba.
Accommodation: Hotel Grand Govinda, Hotel Vishram Regency, Top N Town, Blue Diamond, Hotel Maharaja Palace, Relax Inn Hotel & Resort, Hotel Shalin, Hotel Centre Point, Hotels Natraj, Akash, Anant & Arihant.
Eateries: Dilli Darbar, India Coffee House, Indore Sweets, 7 Star Flood Zone, 786 Chicken Biryani Centre.
Shopping: Kosa silk sarees, ladies’ and men’s kurtas; terra cotta, bamboo, wrought iron and bell metal artefacts.