Walking the talk: The Mesram Raj Gonds heading towards Godavari to fetch holy water. – Photo: S. Harpal Singh


: Despite the presence of a network of roads, the Mesram clan of Adivasi Raj Gonds in the Adilabad and Kumram Bheem districts prefer to retrace ancient jungle routes over their 12-day journey to fetch holy water from the Godavari river, a pilgrimage that is a part of the famous Nagoba jatara to be held at the end of this month at Keslapur in the Indervelli mandal. They walk barefoot, as they have done for centuries, covering a distance of about 100 km each way.

“The journey used to be thrilling until the road network was developed. When I used to accompany my father in the 1960s, even tigers used to cross our path,” recalls Mesram Tukdoji, the pradhan (chief) Adivasi elder who is leading the pilgrims on the trek.

This time, 96 Mesram people walk in a single file through the countryside, attracting curious glances when they chance upon passers by. The tribesmen are accustomed to walking single file as the only paths connecting their habitations are narrow.

“We walk barefoot as a mark of respect to our gods,” explained Mesram Chinnu, the patel or headman of the Vadgaon village in the Indervelli mandal. “We have to walk barefoot when we carry the sacred vessel or jhari for fetching the water.”

It is also customary for Raj Gonds to stay on the same side of a bullock cart track, whether right or left, over the course of their walk. If they begin on the right, they will not cross over to the left all the way till the trip is completed, and even decline invitations from villages dwelling on the other side of the road. In fact, they avoid entering villages, and when they make brief stops or rest for the night, villagers organise food for them outside their habitation.

The Raj Gonds set out from Keslapur on January 10 and cover about 30 km to reach Jamda in the Narnoor mandal. They then head for Gowri in Jainoor of the KB Asifabad district on Friday morning, and reach the banks of the Godavari at Hastinamadugu in the Jannaram mandal of the Mancherial district about three days later.