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Those who have been regulars of Iris will recollect the ‘Through My Lenses’ series and Koraput Moments. I had promised in that article, written a year ago (precisely June 2010) that I’ll be back with the second part of the story soon. However, the pictures somehow vanished from my hard-disk and then I could not locate them for one year, until this June when suddenly they reemerged mysteriously from my old desktop’s hard-disk.

Well, a commitment once made is a commitment to be kept — so this weekend article is Anne’s tribute to some unexplored and exquisitely beautiful parts of Odisha — Koraput, Jeypore, and Gupteswar . It’s completely an individual’s experience and perception of the landscape  through the  camera lenses. I would love to hear your opinions and experience if any of the valley.

Koraput, is a sylvan landscape ensconced between hills and mountains. There is  the gorgeous Araku valley connecting Andhra and Odisha on one end and then there is the Salur Ghat  on the other end that connects NH 43 and the rest of Odisha to this valley town located ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’. Rajam is the largest town on the way from Bhubaneswar to Koraput.

Completely girdling the Eastern Ghats, the ghat roads are a beauty in themselves — clouds knocking at your window and if you are lucky enough you might catch a glimpse of thousands of tiger butterflies fluttering around. However, a word of caution — the ghat roads are not safe to be traveled at night or even late evening.

The ghat road

The ghat road

Butterflies in Salur Ghat

Butterflies flocking around _ in Salur Ghat

A Close-up

A Close-up Profile

Watching these butterflies fly around you is like watching thousands of gig-lamps burning at one go. The Eastern Ghats are known for their erratic weather and sudden spells of rain. I had described about Koraput and life there in the first part of this article. Let me invite you to a festivity that I saw in the place.

While staying in Damanjodi, one morning after a bout of rain and thunder-storm, when I found the skies white-washed and the weather inviting  for a walk, I took my digicam and went out for a walk from the guest-house towards the nearby locality. I was greeted to the chime of bells, ullu-ullu, and Sankha dhwani.  Followed the call of the sankha and landed up in an open area where many married ladies were gathered under a tree. Dressed up in their finery, with pallus over their foreheads and gold jewellery, anklets and alta adorning their feet, against the background of forests and hills — the sight was something to behold. The tree was decorated with sarees, festoons and underneath was the image of a make-shift goddess. On enquiry, someone informed me that it was Savitri Amavasya that day, where married ladies worship the goddess for the long lives of their husbands.

Savitri Puja

Savitri Puja

Married ladies putting Kum-kum on each other's forehead

Ladies applying Kum-kum on each others forehead

The tree worshipped with sarees and sindoor

The tree worshiped with sarees and coloured bands

That which struck me as unique in this particular place was the care in which the trees were treated by these ladies. Not a single leaf was supposed to be disturbed by anyone, I was told by an aged lady standing with the sankha there. There was a riot of colours — seemed like nature’s green and the multi-coloured sarees co-mingled and created a visual effect of their own. The rain-washed breeze added the required effect to the settings.

The next morning I went by a car to visit Gupteswar caves. Located 65kms from Koraput, you have to cross Jeypore and move through dense Sal forests in order to reach the caves. The picturesque and extremely controversial Kolab dam is visible from a distance on your way.

View from the roads

View from the roads -- Kolab at a distance

Pastoral

Pastoral

Those of you who are acquainted with Koraput and its histories must be aware that it is currently one of the most troubled landscapes in India. Maoism, Naxalite movements, and religious conversions keep the district in news. Its charm and scenic beauty have given way to turbulent uprisings and daily killings of innocent civilians or junior police officers in the name of Maoist movements and counter-attacks.

Gupteswar falls in that zone of fire. Situated 65kms from the town of Jeypore, the caves are a real adventure for the adventure lover. If you visit Gupteswar make sure that you return to Jeypore before sunset. Dense Sal forests, water-bodies, human-less natural habitats, snakes, and a huge  limestone naturally-formed Shiva lingam of more than 5 feet greet you in Gupteswar.

You might encounter some human habitat for a few kilometers after Jeypore, but after that for miles it is only jungle. I was amused by a forest dawk-bungalow inside the dense forests leading to the caves on a district road. If you are an ardent nature lover or a botanical researcher, this forest IB is a must stay place.

A forest dawk-bungalow

A forest dawk-bungalow

The smell of the forests is something unique — scary and enigmatic. The rules of the jungle are beyond the perception of the ‘civilized’ human — but these are rules still.

Miles to go

Miles to go

Road to Gupteswar

Road to Gupteswar

The area of Gupteswar is tribal in its life and orientation. For centuries the cave and the puja has been managed by tribes and you would find that the prasad also comprises banana, and wild berries. A fresh water mountain stream that becomes Kolab river criss-crossing the entire Koraput district runs along the foot-hills of the caves. Everything here has the organic charm of the mountains, untouched by the destruction of a ‘civilized’ modernized society. My best experience here was the interaction with the tribes and the women who sell berries — was overwhelmed by the love that they shared with me though we could not interact on the basis of language.   Sometimes silence is the best communicator.

A family I met

A family I met

Posing for the lenses

For the lenses

The gates

The gates

If I am asked about my experience of Gupteswar,  I would say — surreal. The caves are dark and you have to walk down a flight of steps cut out of the cave rock into a dense darkness. When you reach down and your eyes get accustomed to that darkness, through the lights of dimly lit Deeyas, you will see a huge limestone structure in the form of a shiva-linga staring at you. There are certain explainable aspects of nature and there are many other unexplainable aspects — Gupterswar falls under the category of unexplainable.

Entrance to the caves

Entrance to the caves

The natural limestone Shiva-linga

The natural limestone Shiva-linga

Lighting up the dark caves

Lighting up the dark caves

There is a word of caution. When you are walking inside the caves, be a little careful about snakes. Someone was greeted by a small yellow serpent coiled near his feet inside the cave.

Gupteswar

Gupteswar

The caves from a close-up

The caves in a close-up

The entrance into Gupteswar area has an interesting goddess with a very deeply entrenched tribal history. She is called — Dalkhai in that area (goddess who likes to eat branches (daal)). You can buy wild berries or branches of Sal leaves for Rs. 2 as a gift for the goddess, who ensures that your journey back to human habitat is safe enough. I met a little girl who appeared to be dressed in a school uniform. She said she goes to a school and also helps her mother to sell the wild berries in this area. Her name is Jhuma is what I could make out from our conversation.

Dalkhai

Dalkhai

Jhuma selling wild berries

Jhuma selling wild berries

You have to talk to them

Share love if you should

My visit to Gupteswar was a revelation in itself. We do not know and neither do we bother to know the secrets of nature very close to human habitat. There is poverty, there is  Maoism, but there is also a deep sense of surrealism which is difficult to be expressed in words, unless you experience it.

As I said Koraput, Jeypore and the areas adjoining are troubled and perennially in news because of Maoist activities. While returning back to Jeypore via Nandapur, there is a police outpost called Ramgiri. As we passed Ramgiri, I had a glimpse of the violence that often rocks the valleys and brings it to front pages of newspapers. Ramgiri outpost had freshly been looted and there was a Maoist massacre just a few days ago

Ramgiri Outpost

Ramgiri Outpost

Gates of the deserted police outpost

Gates of the deserted police outpost

Broken gates and roofs _The silent witnesses of violence

Broken gates and roofs _witnesses of violence

Koraput, Sunabeda and its adjacent areas are a delight for the explorer in you. However, these areas have their own set of risks — the risk is neither from animals, nor from the forests, and nor from the tribes. Here human beings of ‘civilized’ societies shed blood in the name of civilization and in the name of defending cultures. If you have to visit Koraput, you will be appalled by the choices that you have as a tourist — Boriguma, Kolab, Sunabeda’s Sabara Shreekshetra — each is a marvel of human craft and nature’s craftsmanship.

My Koraput series ends here. Will embark on a different journey through life, people, and places in the next article. The cup of  ginger tea has emptied and the clock says it’s past 1. 30 am. I am reminded of a beautiful mountain song sang by Paraja tribes (a famous tribe of this area) and recorded by Gopinath Mohanty in his novel Paraja:

To the rhyme of the maize that is fried
Or the maize that is boiled,
I fashion my song;
Oh my darling who keeps her word,
Lovely is your nose-ring of gold.
My dungudunga wears only a brass string
But it makes exquisite music.
Oh my darling, do keep your word,
Save me, for I die with your name on my lips,
Oh Jili! (Gopinath Mohanty, Paraja )

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