A very Happy New Year to all my readers. 1st January on a Sunday is a boon for bloggers who wish to write weekend articles. As I browse through the memories of last year, on 6th January we had decided to get into aggressive blogging — each weekend was the target set. I must acknowledge an unknown reader, he calls himself Panapatti, as an inspiring force. We do not know who he is and neither do we wish to know — yet he really changed the story of Iris with his questions. Iris was on an all time low then, and no one read the blog because of extreme irregularities — however this person kept reading through every archived article and commenting.
Last Jan when we began, Iris was a shelter for Anne, the place where she found her emotional life when betrayed by her own quest for life — it was anger and revenge that led her to the gullies of Iris with vehemence. However, as we moved together, week after week and as time unfolded, Iris became not the shelter but a learning process, teaching that it is love not anger that wins through what seem like tough moments.
On that note, I welcome you all to join this quest for love through the gullies of Iris. Love is not restricted to a human dimension — by love I mean every little thing that has been overlooked as ‘commonsense’ or has been trampled by high ideals, gross ego, and higher motives of human beings like you and me. Let me take you across a journey of five day breaks — I used to get up at 5.30 AM and go into the deep sea in search of that ‘beyond’ human dimension. Believe me there is nothing more enigmatic than nature when you start these trail blazing searches.
Today’s article is based on the animals that are symbolic of love — no not the Doves, but the Dolphins, a special category of dolphins — the Irrawaddy Dolphins or the Gangetic dolphins.
This December when I went home, I was determined to search for the Gangetic Dolphins residing in the Bay of Bengal. I was born and brought up in Odisha and for all these years in spite of living close to the heartland of some of the richest flora and fauna of the world, lived in thorough ignorance. My interest in these dolphins was initiated by Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Hungry Tide .
‘In Calcutta?’ Kanai said incredulously. ‘You’re telling me that there were dolphins in Calcutta?’
‘Oh, Yes, said Piya. ‘Not just dolphins. Whales too.’
‘Whales?’ Kanai Laughed. ‘Now you are pulling my leg’.
‘Not at all’, said Piya. ‘Calcutta was once a big place for cetacean zoology.’ (Amitav Ghosh, HT, 227)
Following Ghosh’s trail of research has always been an interesting and rewarding experience. The lead protagonist of the novel Piyali Roy comes searching into Sunderbans for the Irrawaddy species of the dolphins. These dolphins are special as they are specific to the Indian subcontinent. I was suspicious that there might be more to Gangetic dolphins other than Sunderbans — the result — located Satpada on the eastern shores of Bay of Bengal in Odisha-Bengal borders. Satpada is 175Kms from Bhubaneswar and 75kms from Puri. In Odisha people know the place as a tourist destination, where you simply go to ‘watch’ dolphins, have picnics, and come back home by evening. However, if you really have to see the dolphins in their natural habitat then you have to stay overnight. Of course, anthropologists and marine biologists are working intensively on research projects across the place, yet there is gross lack of awareness among the public about the significance of these dolphins. There are nearly 200 dolphins in the mohana and it is amazing to see them in their natural habitat — untrained, raw, full of life and creative force!
Satpada is a very small fishing village, significant only for being the place where the sea meets Chilika — a Mohana of the largest natural salt water lagoon and the Ocean. The Bay of Bengal has a vibrant aquatic culture that is shared across Bangladesh, West Bengal, and Odisha. Irrawaddy dolphins are the culminating point of that aquatic culture which understands no borders and nor are restricted to boundaries of places and narrow regional divides.
If you are driving from Bhubaneswar, the Satpada turning comes just before you enter Puri town. The roads are slightly lonely and in the winters they tend to get dark. On your right will be vast expanse of salt water and on your left there will be the small fishing villages. The place is a very small fishing locality and the only available accommodation is in the State Government owned guesthouse called Yatrinivas located in the heart of the village. By the way, it should be noted that there are no ATMs in Satpada — the nearest ATM center is at Brahmagiri, 20 Kms from Satpada.
There is small bus-stop right across the Yatrinivas gates. For backpackers the stay is affordable — Rs. 500 for a double bed room. I had booked my rooms beforehand because traveling alone for single people in Odisha also means a lot of caution and safety. The bungalows are colonial style cottages, designed for a complete breakaway from city and urbane lifestyle.
The stay in Satpada is so refreshing that you forget the cares of the world, the moment you enter the rooms that face the Chilika. My stay coincided with the full-moon nights and the full lunar eclipse in Odisha. Perhaps nature was being extraordinarily bounteous and was fulfilling every little wish that I had to explore in its deeps, by opening-up new moments and sights. I was nervous that whether would be able to sight the dolphins in the first place — that was my first and only aim. The Manager of Yatri Nivas had arranged an amazing travel guide-cum-boatman Jeetendra to take me into the deep sea. I kept asking him a lot of details on the Gangetic dolphins, their food habits, their lives, and their pattern of behaviour. He kept answering every question patiently and said that he will ensure that I get to see the dolphins. The only precondition was we had to start early — by 5.30 AM.
The dolphins are usually comfortably visible just at the moment of the sunrise. That is also the time when the mohona is at its quietest and the motorboats have not began blaring their horns. I agreed to take-up the challenge of going out into the waters that early in the morning of a December month. It is mist, clouds, moisture, and bitter cold if you decide to dare the winters at Satpada.
My experience after the trip has been that for the first time in my life I regretted not having a DSLR camera to capture these moments. In the next part of this article I will be describing the journey into the deeps and the dolphins, their lives, their fears, the sham of conservation and ecotourism, and the beauty of the oceans.
Till then, we wait for dawn….Goodnight!
(to be contd. in part 2)