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In the Tigerland, A Café run by the Tribal Women

With thousands of tourists visiting Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh every year, IAS officer Ms. Harshika Singh wanted to create a hub to showcase the tribal culture. So she started the `Didi’s café’ there, thus ensuring great livelihood opportunities for the tribal women of the region.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Kanha Tiger Reserve is one of the biggest tiger reserves of India, the largest and most famous in Madhya Pradesh, and draws large number of tourists, wildlife enthusiasts and photographers from all over the world. Most of the area of Kanha is situated in Mandla district. Other than the tigers, the district is also the home to several  tribal groups like Baiga and Gond. For many years, Mandla has been hosting thousands of national & international tourists who come to visit the park and see the tigers. In this process, however, the local tribal culture & their food used to take a backseat, often ignored by the tourists. 

DC, Mandla Ms. Harshika Singh is the brain behind creating the cafe

To correct the situation, the 2012 batch IAS officer Ms. Harshika Singh wanted to create in Kanha a hub like `Sadda Pind of Punjab’ and `Chokhi Dhani of Rajasthan’, popular in Punjab and Rajasthan respectively,  where the locals could present their culture to the outsiders. So she initiated and started a cafe run by tribal woman, where they would serve the local cuisine and also showcase their local art. 

The café is situated in the Mocha area, near the Khatia gate of the tiger reserve.

To promote Kodo-Kutki

Under a scheme of the Central Government,  all the districts in Madhya Pradesh are required asked to develop at least one of their local products & market it. Since Mandla is tribes dominated district so they have many unexplored veggies and millets. Kodo-Kutki is one of them and has been proved as a food of great nutritional value. 

“Under one district one product, we are focusing on promoting Kodo-Kutki. It is high in protein, fibre and minerals. Recently the cookies made out of this millet was awarded in a fare organized by the Ministry of Horticulture in Bangalore. We have been training the woman from self-help groups (SHG) to bake these and were supplying it to many resorts in and around Kanha. The cookies are witnessing a high demand, which pushed us to do some more creative things to promote the Kodo-Kutki”, said Ms. Singh, the DC of Mandla 

Revived an abandon government property

After a little research and brainstorming, Ms. Singh and her team decided to start a place where the dishes from the Kodo-Kutki, along with other local & exotic veggies, could be served. The place had be at a location easily accessible to the tourists. So they identified a vacant government property which was lying idle from decades.

Along with local dishes made out of Kodo-Kutki, a Mandla Thali is also served at the cafe

Said Ms Singh, “We roped in women from SHGs because we wanted to expand the livelihood opportunity for the tribals. With little renovation, the building was changed into a café and we had our woman to take its charge. The next step was to select the menu. Since our focus was to promote to Kodo-Kutki, the menu is dominated by dishes made out of that.”

Didi’s café is also serving local veggies and a special Mandla thali in earthen black pottery which has been part of tribal families for long. 

The place is decorated with Gond Painting

Talking about the café’s name which tends to catch eveybody’s attention,  Ms Singh said, “Here we call our SHGs woman didi so, the café got its name from that. And since they are the in-charge of the operations, the place has got a home like feel. We are also preparing to start a bakery and few art-craft showcasing sections in the café, to enable the tourist to get the authentic feel of Madhya Pradesh.”

The café is decorated with local Gond paintings and the district administration has also tied up with the Forest and Tourism department to promote it. They will soon be offering herbal products and drinks here. 


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