Bastar’s history is reflected in its many communities with their different customs and languages who come together to buy and sell in markets and to participate in festivals.
Till the year 2000, Bastar was a part of the State of Madhya Pradesh. But then the new State of Chhattisgarh was formed, carved off from Madhya Pradesh, and Bastar was made one of the Divisions of Chhattisgarh. Bastar Division is divided into three districts: Kanker District to the north, Dantewara District to the south and Bastar District which lies in between. The town of Jagdalpur is the Headquarters of the Bastar District as well as of the whole Bastar Division.
Bastar District is a plateau 2000 feet above sea level. Numerous rivers and streams make their way down from it towards the Indravati River which itself flows on to swell the Godavari on its way down to the sea through Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The Abhujhmar Hills, home of the Abhuj Marias, are in the north-west, and the Bailadilla Hills with their iron ore mines in the south.
Ahmed Ali’s expedition took Narayanpur as its starting point. This town lies to the north-west of Jagdalpur, which is itself about 300 km south of Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh.
Bastar contains one of India’s all too few remaining areas of un-disturbed forest and is home to large numbers of Adivasis or tribal people. They make up about 70 per cent of Bastar’s population.
As Ahmed Ali’s photographs show, the forests of Bastar contain diverse habitats. Besides thickly wooded tracts there are large open spaces with grazing for cattle, single mighty trees where groups of people gathered, well-trodden pathways past great rocks and boulders, wide rivers, and wooded hillsides. It used to be a world with its own landmarks familiar to the people who lived within it, a world in which almost all their needs could be satisfied. At that time there were wild boars, bears, sambar, leopards as well as tigers, but the wild life has now shrunk considerably.