Sunday, January 9, 2011

Exploring Tribal Hinterlands-Chapter 1- Bus Journey to Bhawanipatna

Saw excitement in eyes of fellow passengers going out on Diwali vacations to Orissa from Mumbai. I was little sad also as I had lied down to my Mom that I will be there in Orissa only for couple of Days during Diwali. But I was going to be there in Orissa for a complete week out of which 5 days I was going to roam about in those forests about which I had only heard from people, had never seen any photographs, never read anywhere.First sight of low flying clouds and a turbulent flight near skies of Bhubaneswar was enough to lower down one’s excitement of long awaited trip to Tribal hinterland of Kandhamal and Kalahandi. Had persuaded Dasa to accompany me on this trip and to my surprise this time he agreed looking at his taste of travelling and living a laid down life in Bhubaneswar. This trip was looking even more interesting with none of the bookings done for any of the Forest Rest Houses. Though I had tried my best from Pune by calling infinite number of times to various govt offices regarding the trip I was not able to do any of the Hotel Bookings. Add to that the varied information on the movement of Red Brigade in the Sanctuaries & virtually no information on whereabouts of Kotgarh and Karlapat Sanctuary. Things that we had for sure were two bus tickets for Bhawanipatna in Hi Tech Govt Bus from Bhubaneswar, a TTK Road Map, some contact numbers of Hotels, Forest Officials and that of one of Dasa’s Friends,Dileep Babu. As I got out of the Airport,it was already drizzling because of commonly heard “low pressure” created in the Bay of Bengal. Because of month ending ( first word in the Dictionary of Sales people) workload, Dasa had not turned up at the Airport and I went on swearing slangs on the Airport authorities for not having a Auto Stand at the Airport.Taxis charge exorbitant rates and one in need has to go by their terms. Finally Dasa joined me at the Bus stand with 2 tickets of the Bus. It was rush time because of festive season and for me it was even more exciting as I was travelling in a night bus after a long time , popularly called as line bus.I was also not sure about the route to Bhawanipatna, so went on to talk with the conductor about the Route. Like any other occasion, the Conductor didn’t disappoint me and was more than happy to explain me the route. We were joined by the Drivers. What I came to know that we were supposed to pass through Nayagarh, Sarankul, Bhanjanagar, Kalinga, G Udayagari, Raikia, Baliguda, M Rampur and finally terminating at Bhawanipatna, the head quarters of Kalahandi district. I had never travelled beyond Nayagarh earlier. Suddenly out of nowhere the Conductor asked us about our tickets. When Dasa showed the online ticket that we had booked, conductor was little bit shocked as no body does online booking for busses in Orissa. Finally the bus left on time by 8.By 9:30 we stopped at Bolagarh just before Nayagarh for Dinner at a Road side dhaba. Hmmm...another place to taste the superb dhaba food on which I have already done a posting earlier. Dhaba was quite clean. We had some bland tadka but chicken curry was good. After having food and taking a stroll on the road, finally we boarded the bus and left for Bhawanipatna passing through Nayagarh. A sudden jolt and I woke up. Wiping my eyes, I looked at the watch. It was 2:30 in the night. Night was pitch dark, road was absolutely devoid of any traffic,only sound that made vibrations in your ear drums was the cracking sounds of nightflies and insects. Bus had stopped because of a flat tyre. Oh no...i could not belive what I heard from the driver. Infact it had 2 flat tyres. I tried my best to sleep for some more time but curiosity of getting my foot down on the soil of Phulbani compelled me to get down. Drivers down were already on work and were busy in finding a solution of getting a second spare. There weren’t any town nearby and we were somewhere between G Udayagiri and Raikia. For almost 20minutes not a single vehicle crossed us. One of the senior drivers then came up with the idea that OSRTC bus towards Berhampur would be passing in next 15 mins and we can get a tyre from them. Already my adventure with the unknown had started. Group of passengers had made a group by this time and were busy in finding out some more solutions to which all sort of vague ideas came....who says Ideating happens in IBM. Cigarrettes and Beetles got exchanged. Meanwhile some enthusiaistic guys were busy helping out the Driver in putting the spare tyre. Glimmer of hope came in form of the Berhampur Bus that came from Bhawanipatna. The camaraderie of the Drivers and Consuctors of the OSRTC can be easily seen in this kind of situations. Soon a spare tyre was given to us. Greetings exchanged and time to move on. And these greetings even become more cheerful when both the sides are from Ganjam side. Starts with Mother’s swear and ends with Sister’s.
Woke up at a small hamlet named Tumudibandha in Phulbani District around 6 in the morning where the bus stopped for puncture repairing. It was complete overcast and fog every where. Some tea shops had opened by that time and I was happy that temperature was soothingly cool. But my mercury went up when i heard that we were still four and half hours from Bhawanipatna. We were supposed to reach Bhawanipatna early in the morning and were supposed to get the permit from Bhawanipatna DFO for visiting Karlapat Sanctuary. By the way, my good friend Dasa was lying in deep sleep inside the bus , unperturbed about the situation. I took a round of Tumudibandha. Another shock came to me when I saw a Board where in it was written “ Welcome to land of Elephants- Kotgarh Sanctuary”.I was supposed to come back to this place after 2 days for visiting Kotgarh sanctuary. Tumudibandha is one of the entry points to Kotgarh Sanctuary and is also one of the range headquarters. That means we would also have crossed Baliguda some time back. I could have planned first these places and then ended my Central Orissa trip with Bhawanipatna. Because of lack of information it went the other way round. Never mind at least now I have the information. Finally the punctured tyre got repaired and we started moving towards M Rampur enroute Bhawanipatna. As the day brightened, got a glimpse of wonderful Phulbani. Everywhere greenery, tall hills , Sal trees and in between small huts with pumpkins grown on top of roofs. This was just the trailor and Kandhamal was going to show me the complete movie in coming days. I felt blessed that I had planned the trip. After having a small chai stop at M Rampur, we reached Bhawanipatna at 10 in the morning, way behind schedule. Were greeted at the gates of Hotel Bhagirathi Inn by our Driver for Kalahandi leg of tour, a character by the name of Sarath.

Chapter 2