Saturday, May 26, 2018

Days Spent In Malkangiri

       On one's travel from the town of Jeypore in Koraput district to Malkangiri occurs the small village of Govindapalli, almost halfway between the former and latter. I am going to relate to a few of my fond memories of this small yet amazing place that I have been able to retrieve from the stack piles of remembrances.  I lived in Govindapalli for a short period from year 1996 to 1997  with my parents and brother. The rented house in which we lived was towards one corner of the village. The owner of the house was employed as a forest guard in the Forest Department for the sake of it, but he was one of the wealthy Brahmin farmers of the village cultivating paddy on land close to hundred acres and owner of the only rice mill of Govindapalli. Apparently due to this he wielded considerable influence in the area. Their homestead was therefore a typical wealthy farmers homestead. The house was located at the end of a street, relatively on higher ground. The courtyard was one large cattle shed which sheltered nearly 20 heads of cattle and 10-15 goats. In the middle of the courtyard was one big dug out canoe of sal log which served as the eating and drinking space for all the cattle. Once in the morning and once in the evening the canoe would be filled up with rice husk, rice water etc. for the cattle to feed on. To the west was the huge old tin roofed house where the owners lived.To the east was the house in which we lived. It was a simple two bed room affair with a train coach like alignment of rooms. 
The village itself is located at the foot of a ghat. Luxuriant sal forest surround the village on Eastern and Northern sides and paddy field interspersed with scrub forest mark its Southern and Western periphery. River Saptadhara takes its languid and serpentine course to the west of Govindapalli.
We moved to Govindapalli in the month of September of year 1996. The following winter and spring were very good time to explore the surroundings. That winter many of our mornings were spent driving up and down the ghat from Govindapalli on my fathers trusty Rajdoot. Starting very early in the morning we would drive up the ghat just as the mist is clearing up. We would not see any wildlife except Red Jungle Fowls. A 4-5 kms stretch of the ghat around river Saptadhara and Kasigada yielded the most number of sightings. The gaily coloured cocks often darted across the roads and the shyer hens kept to the clearings in forests where crops has been harvested. Me and Sidhu(my younger brother) have many times given them a chase down into the bushes just for the fun of it. Two three rides up and down the ghat watching birds would culminate at a pool on Saptadhara river. The pool was a furlong away from the road. A huge mango tree and a massive rock overlooked the limpid pool whose banks were lined with fine sand. A quick splash and lesson of swimming in the icy cold water and we would call it a day.
Morning View of Saptadhara River 

On some Saturdays and Sundays we would go to the same pool for our  amateur angling sessions. In fact this was the pool where father first taught us to make a rudimentary fishing rod from Bamboo and cast a line with bait. We used lines and hooks purchased from the weekly haat. Peafowl feathers were used as floats. The rod, hook and line were of the most basic nature to say the least, but that was hardly a deterrent, for us, to dream about landing that 50 pound Mahsheer and make our way into the angling record books. The river Saptadhara at that time did have some pools where Mahsheer fish flourished. It would be a matter of much jubilation if we bagged even a small palm sized tiddler. Thus were the weekends.

View From Top of Govindapalli Ghat

Other such occasions for outing were the festive days like Holi, when the entire village would be soaking in colours and noisy celebration. Our plans would be otherwise. The colours of sal forest in spring proved more alluring to us than the many shades of gulal. When it comes to Ghooming plans in junlges, earlier is better. The sight and smells of a deciduous jungle at dawn has no parallel. The activity of the forest denizens is also at the peak when the sun is young.

It was on one such Holi we made an early start, just before sunrise. Among the things we carried with us water was most important. 3-4 liters of drinking water would keep us going for the entire outing. Mom packed us a nice cold lunch of Paratha and Potato Fry. From the end of the village it was a walk through the paddy fields in a single file. Baba leading the way, me and Sidhu bringing up the rear and our dog Rocky at our heels.
Here I will have to tell you all something about our pet Rocky.  Our long time wish to keep a pet came true when we brought Rocky home. Our land lords  had a bitch named Tommy, yes you read it right, her name was Tommy, as is the case with every other village-cur-with-an-English-name. I can best describe Tommy as a cross between a Welsh Corgi and an Indian Dog, with marginally longer legs than a Corgi. Its coloration was mostly black and white. Poor Tommy was part of a travelling circus which had once camped at Govindapalli. In a twist of fate she was either left behind by the circus or escaped from the mundane circus to find a laid-back and easy-going life at Govindapalli. She found the home of our Land lord much to her liking and took shelter there. Food was never a problem in the house of a wealthy Brahmin. Nobody chained her, so she had the whole village, surrounding fields and forests to amble about and numerous village mutts to choose from as a suitor. When I saw her she was almost 10 year old. Rocky was from one of her litters. She had littered under a staircase just in front of  our door. Rocky was the pick of the litter. All of the pups from her litter were black and white. Other pups were readily picked up or were given away to the acquaintances of our land lords. Rocky did not enter our family so easily. It took its share of pleading, cajoling, persuasion etc. to get Rocky home. Baba had his point. Getting a pet home is nothing short of welcoming a new member to the family who has to be cared and treated well and many such responsibilities that come with a pet. We picked up Rocky after all the deliberations. To Rocky's good fortune he could enjoy the affection of her mother as they lived in the same compound. Rocky looked identical to his mother, except for his drooping ears and stiff long tail. Tommy had a puny and curvy tail. Rocky was an adorable dog. Of all the dogs I have seen or cared for, I can assure, that Rocky was the laziest. Lazy to the extent that I have hardly heard him bark at anyone coming into the compound.

As we started our march with Rocky, Tommy started following. At the end of the village we unleashed Rocky. The end of paddy fields brought us on to the kachha road that physically separates the fields from the forest and skirts the forest in the south. To the north of the road a hill rises abruptly up to a height of about 600 feet from the road. The hill clothed with dense sal forest is known as "Hunkar Dangar". The interesting name of the hill has been coined due to the constant booming whoops that can be heard from the hill. The makers of these whooping noises are none other than the many group of langur monkeys that inhabit the hill. The word "hunkar" in Koraputia loosely translates to whoop or roar. As if to do justice to the name of the hill a troop of langur started their whooping just when we were nearing its base. The road on which we were walking connected the villages of Kamlapadar, Limbapadar and Sadakput etc. to the main Jeypore-Govindapalli road. Beyond the village of Kamlapadar the road fords the Saptadhara river where it is easily fordable in fair weather. But during rains it becomes a raging torrent and people of the villages beyond either use a circuitous road to reach the main road or stay put till the water recedes in the river. In winter the sandy bed of Saptadhara and other such streams of this area are used for cultivation. The sandy bed is called "Atalo" here. A particular variety of Brinjal is grown in the "atalo" here which has a huge demand in the markets of Malkangiri and Jeypore because of their size and taste. One rotund brinjal may weigh close to a kilo, yet they are soft and fleshy. The taste of bharta made from these can turn the strongest detractors of this vegetable into its admirer. Just before the village of Kamlapadar the road bifurcates, the bigger road goes to Kamlapadar and the smaller track leads north and into the forest. We took the latter. The plan was to head north, circumvent the hill and ascend from its northern face. The southern face of Hunkar dangar is nothing but precipitous rock. The whole southern face looked like a huge mass of black granite, sloping at a steep angle. Before entering forest proper Baba briefed us with his instruction. "Now we will be entering the forest. So no talking in loud voices, only in whispers. If you want to draw attention then whistle. If you see any animal, freeze in your tracks"

The narrow track lead us through forest proper. As we entered the woods our anticipation and excitement increased thinking of the prospect of sighting any wild animals. With in few minutes of walking Baba pointed at something that glided from one tree to another and looked like a flying doormat with a bushy tail trailing from it. We had not seen anything of that sort earlier. Just as we stood and watched in awe the object again turned into a flying rug and effortlessly glided to another tree out of sight. Baba asked us  in hushed voice"what did you see boys?" We shook our head sideways, having no idea what the animal was. "It was a Flying Squirrel". We were rewarded with the sighting of the very very rare Indian Flying Squirrel. Lady luck was all smiles at us.

The general scenery around was very pleasing to the eyes. The endless shades of green and brown were broken by the pale yellow of the sal leaves. Then, here and there were the more gaily reddish orange petals of " the flame of the forest". This tree is not very numerous in these forests but what they could not achieve with their numbers, they made up for with their colour. They splash the forest with patches of their colorful flowers. Bees, Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers and other nectar loving creatures flock around this tree. The forest resembled more like an unkempt park. The low grass growing here and there were just turning yellow due to the change of season. We were in no hurry and just ambled along the forest path looking around for birds and animals. Baba having spent a lot of his time in the jungles of Koraput knew a great deal about jungle lore. Baba showed us the game trails(rough paths made in grass and undergrowth by passage of wild animals) which may not be so noticeable to a townsman. The game trails tell a lot about the movement of animals. It was in those game trails where Baba taught us how to distinguish between the tracks of a barking deer and wild boar, because the numerous game trails that criss-crossed the park like forest held many different tracks of these two types of animals. In the course of walking around a kilometer we came across the numerous tracks of boar and barking deer, droppings of hare at a place, a heap of barking deer droppings and the remains of a bird which must have been devoured by a carnivore. That was a lot of jungle lore for a mornings outing. But while walking in a forest every step taken is a lesson learnt for green horns like us.
Rocky and Tommy did not walk at our heels. Excited by the surrounding they kept ahead of us. Whenever they were out of sight Baba had to call them back by whistling. Walking in this fashion we reached the foot of the northern face of Hunkar Dangar. Here in the shade of a tree we rested for a while and slaked our thirst with the cold water from the can we were carrying. Then we started our ascent of the hill. As usual Rocky and Tommy galloped ahead. The hill side was covered with dense forest. The bauhinia creeper ran over most of the forest trees forming an impenetrable canopy.
A Racket-tailed Drongo voiced his scolding at us from his perch somewhere up on a thick bauhinia creeper.  The season being fall, many of the deciduous trees had shed leaf profusely. Our passage on the leaf litter made a lot of noise and the galloping and frolicking by our quadruped companions added to that. So any animals coming our way was a slim possibility. Rocky wasn't even a year old then. In the excitement of the outing in the forest he ran about pointlessly and spent most of his energy. When the real strenuous task of climbing the hill came his way, he started panting  huff and puff.  Halfway up the hill and he could not walk any more. No amount of prodding or enticement would make it move. We decided to take a break and partake of our meal which we had carried with us. This we thought will give the much needed break for us and Rocky to regain our breaths. As we started our meal poor Rocky lay down on his flank, panting heavily. We could see him lying on a bed of dried leaves. I tried feeding him a few pieces of paratha, that we were having, but he would not have any of it. This got us really worried. In the mean time Rocky woke up with a start and thud he fell into a small ditch just below the place where he was lying. I could hear only his whimpers. I ran up to the ditch to find a whimpering Rocky rolling from side to side in the leaf filled ditch and trying to get at something on his own belly. It was a comical sight. It took me quite sometime to realize the cause of my pets discomfiture. But soon as i found it, the leaf litter on which our lazy dog was lying turned out to be a colony of red ants, the ants that are known as kai in Koraput and are more famous for the spicy and tangy chutney that is prepared by mashing these ants and their eggs with chilly and a few other condiments. The ants had got the better of our pet and attacked the most vulnerable parts of a dogs anatomy, its belly and genitals which do not grow any fur. I went into the ditch to my dogs rescue and got a few stings myself. Once out of the ditch Rocky kept scratching and whimpering. The red ants only added to woes of an already exhausted dog. Baba made a bowl from bauhinia leaves while I tried to calm him down by caressing his belly. We poured some of our drinking water into it and placed it in-front of Rocky. Rocky drank it to the last drop and made puppy noise asking for more. In went another cup of water. The cold water from the can breathed some life into the dog and it now stood on its quarter. Some pieces of paratha after that, and Rocky was good to go again. We warped up our meal quickly and were on our way again. If one has an eye for it, one can learn a lot of things in a forest. For example that day during our trek we saw a ditch which was freshly dug out. The soil from the ditch sparkled like gold. In a first look at the soil one may be fooled to believe that the soil has gold in it. Baba told us that the soil has crystals of mica. Gold may not occur in a crystal form. Some enterprising villagers dig out this mica crystal. Grind it to a fine powder to mix it with lime or other colored soil and paint their homes. This indigenous hack gives their huts the much needed luster.
I feel I am wandering away from our trek too many times in this writing, at the same time I also feel, being a Koraputia, its my obligation to tell you about things that one may come across while roaming in Koraput. In some little time we reached near the top of the hill. As we neared the summit of the hill the vegetation grew thinner and the sun started peeping harder through the canopy. We could feel its heat now. The top of the hill was a maze of boulders. Boulders of all sizes ranging from a football to a truck were strewn all over the place.  The top was almost devoid of big trees except for a few clump of bamboo and other bushes. Under the smaller boulders we found freshly dug out soil. That indicated the handiwork of a sloth bear who must have scratched under the boulders in search of succulent grubs or other such delicacy which the member of bruin race relish. On other boulders we came across fresh scat of sloth bear. We could clearly see undigested seeds of tendu/kendu in the scat. Baba told us to watch around and asked us to follow him. It was nearing mid day and the possibility of a bear being about anywhere in the open was very less. But the two dogs running about and making a lot of noise could unduly attract the attention of any bear or any other animal enjoying a mid day siesta in any of the many caves that lay about in almost all direction. Jumping from boulder to boulder we negotiated a good 100 meters. This brought us to the brow of the hill. The sun was almost overhead and with each passing minute the temperature soared. Standing there we admired the view of forest to the west and north. We could clearly see the serpentine course of Saptadhara and Dharamgarh river in the distance. The two rivers converged around the horizon. To the south, fields around Govindapally shimmered from the rising heat waves of mid day. We saw the southern face of the hill from where we were standing and it became evident that it will be very difficult to descend from that path which was not a path but a precipitous cliff. So we went a little way back on the hill from where we had come and cut a diagonal way down the western side of the hill which seemed a more easier thing to do. As we found later the diagonal path we took was not a very easy one either. The hill side was not as steep as the one we had avoided but was not very easy to descend nonetheless. Finding a foot hold on the gravely surface was little scary experience. The hill side had no bushes to hold on to. The bigger trees were the only ones to rely on. Baba identified to us the many ghost trees that grew around. These trees stood out among the other trees of the forest due to their pale whitish bark. With measured steps we could climb down half way and from there the descent became easier till the foot of the hill. The two dogs were waiting for us on the road, reaching there much ahead of us. From there we quickened our pace back to home. To wear off the exhaustion we took a dip in a hill stream that had been dammed among the paddy fields. It was almost half past noon when we reached home, tired and exhausted. The festivities of holi had come to an end in the village.

Now when I look back at those days I am filled with a mixed emotions. The feeling of having spent some wonderful time in those forests is something that I want to cherish. The situation prevailing in those parts these days, fills me with grief and concern. The area has undergone a radical change since the time we lived there. Left wing extremists took over the whole area soon after we left Govindapalli. The natives taking the advantage of the law and order situation had a free run of the place and destroyed miles of these beautiful forests and poached countless animals that lived there. Forest protection became an exercise merely confined to the files and folders of the department. Movement of outsiders in these forests today is a risky affair. An outsider roaming in these forests is at the risk of getting heckled by both the side, the police or the extremists.  To go on a hike in these jungles today is an endeavour with considerable risk to ones life and belongings. Because death lurks  there in the form of a bullet or a land mine waiting to go off.  In spite of its share of threat, as a grown up youth,  I have gone into different parts of these forests whenever opportunity has afforded, just for the sake of my love for these jungles where I have spent some of my most memorable days. But the peace and joy that one experiences on those wanderings is not all the same. Fear accompanied me on these later occasions. A father taking his two adolescent kids for a hike along the forest paths around Govindapalli is something that one can not even imagine today. I have related about some of my recent hikes in these forests somewhere earlier in this blog. The signs of animals is getting fewer by the day and birds are holding on to an ever contracting forest. The ghat whose winding roads and tall trees were our favourite haunts, is now the haunt of red rebels and the security forces who are camped there to counter them. The steep climb up from Kasigada bridge where Baba has come across a beautiful male leopard many a times, now overlooks a BSF camp heavily guarded by armed sentries and it is lit up by bright flood lights at night. I don't see the Emerald doves at the cool and damp ravine near Mantriamba any more. A huge crater on the road greeted me instead of the doves. The crater was the result of a heavy explosion of an IED which claimed the lives of a few jawans. The familiar sal trees which were landmarks for us due to their colossal size are not there anymore. Some of them were felled by Naxalites to block the road and some were felled because they were coming in the way of a wide road that was passing through the forest. 
They said prosperity will walk through these roads !

Road To Jeypore 

Note : Neither I nor my family possessed a camera at that time. I have used a few photos in this blog which have been taken much later around 2010 in the same area by me. Though the places I have written about lie in present day Malkangiri district I refer to them as Koraput as a matter of personal choice as they were part of Un-divided Koraput district which was one of the largest districts of India.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Coffee In Koraput

The almost denuded slopes of the undulating low hills of Eastern Ghat hill range may present the onlooker with a specter no less beautiful than the fabled English country side. The less steep slopes blanketed with various crops like niger, raagi, paddy, lentils etc. depending on the season. Large trees like Mango, Banyan, Fig, Mahua, Semul and perhaps a stray Sal dot the landscape. Here and there crop up tissue cultured eucalyptus plantations and break the monotony of smaller crops. The landscape exhibits a unique array of colour with each passing season. The steep hill slopes which are spared from podu cultivation host scrub forest of mixed variety where trees are not very big. A careful look at the satellite map of Podagad and Kakrigumma area of Koraput will reveal patches of dark greenery in the otherwise barren looking carpet of brown. Some of these are remaining pockets of dense forests and the others are the painstaking effort of some of the entrepreneur who have taken up cultivation of shade grown coffee with pepper. The tall and straight growing silver oak trees host the pepper creeper, afford the much need shade for the coffee bushes and more importantly add up to the green cover of the area.

History of coffee in Koraput district can be traced back to the times of Maharaja Ram Chandra Deo of Jeypore who had set up silviculture stations to take up cultivation of coffee plants on an experimental basis near present day Mohulbhata village and Peta ghat. The experiment was successful to some extent as well.  The erstwhile ruler had foreseen the suitability of Koraput climate for rearing of coffee plants. Though the real head way was made post independence when soil conservation department of government of Odisha, to mitigate soil erosion, decided to take up large scale plantation of coffee in the catchment area of Machkund reservoir. Further some private entrepreneurs from within and outside state acquired land and started cultivation of coffee with pepper in Kasipur, Dasmantpur, Kakrigumma, Podagada , Pottangi area as a cash crop. These areas being located on the 900 mtr plateau of Eastern Ghat mountain range offer suitable climate for coffee rearing.
In 1970s and 1980s nearly 200 aspiring planters raised coffee plantations in different areas of Koraput district to reap the benefits of the conducive climate. Coffee Board of India  set up a research station near Koraput town to promote, develop and assist agronomy of coffee in the district. And thirty years later only 10-20 planters have been able to carry through.
Absence of any market linkages, labour shortage, increased labour cost, lack of any support or stimuli from state government has forced many of the planters either to abandon the cultivation or move on to other agronomy. However steadily high demand of coffee and pepper in international markets at present has made cultivation of these commodities a more lucrative proposition than ever before. Traditional areas of Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala where coffee had been grown over the years have been facing problems in plenty which include high labour costs, pest/diseases like berry borer and coffee rust, unavailability of new land for expansion etc.    
Sri Susanto Panda, a planter from Jeypore, has persevered hard to tide over the lean period and has established himself as one of the successful coffee planters of the district. He ventured into the business of coffee in the year 1997, quite late compared to other planters of the district. With sustained effort and his conviction he has succeeded in reaping good profit. From among the two variety of coffee that is grown in Indian sub-continent viz Arabica and Robusta Sri Panda grows the former at his 30 acres plantation near Rajuguda village in Dasmantpur block of Koraput district.
He opines “Climate, soil condition, rainfall etc. are very conducive for coffee in Koraput district. With a little hard work, dedication and sustained effort one can get good profit from coffee and black pepper. When I started I had very little access to information and technology related to the crop but now everything is so readily available. However for any agricultural success story some push and support from government is very much necessary in the form of technical know-how, financial aid and market linkage etc.”

“For the overall development of our region coffee cultivation can be an effective tool. Being labour intensive it provides employment to poor tribal folks. The shade and host trees increase the green  cover and check soil erosion. Coffee plantations also act as a safe heaven for the biodiversity of the region if environment friendly practices are adopted.” says the 45 years old agriculturist. 
Importers of coffee from Europe are looking up to non-traditional area such as Odisha and Andhra Pradesh for better quality coffee beans as the beans produced in these areas have not been affected by berry borer or other such disease. But the production from Odisha is not sufficient to carve a niche for itself in the international market. Ruing the lackadaisical attitude of the state he says “Government of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state is vigorously promoting the coffee from Paderu and Araku area internationally and have targeted to increase area under coffee cultivation by upto 1.5 Lakh hectare where as due to lack of any encouragement from state government the area under coffee is gradually decreasing in Odisha.”   

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Humble Beginnings in Photography

Looking back at the days of adolescence I can say that in every aspect I wanted to be like my father, and I still try hard to this day. Be it his love for nature or his compassion for other human beings, his affinity to the outdoors or his voracity for books of all sorts, his humbleness or his sincerity at work I wanted to acquire each and every trait of his while growing up and I have no idea how successful I have been at that. But I am sure that Baba must be a happy man to see me pursue a few hobbies that he also had a liking for but could not do so due to vagaries of circumstances. Photography is one such hobbies which I inherited from him. Baba was a photography enthusiast since his college days. He had a very crude and basic Fujica 35mm format camera which exposed 72 frames per meter of film. More interestingly he used to develop his films himself as photography was a prohibitively costly affair back then due to cost of media and photo developing charges. Some of the photographs taken and developed by him still adorn our old family albums. It is from him I learnt the basics of photography. The first camera Baba purchased for me was a Kodak KB10 35mm fixed focus camera which was as basic as a camera can be. From the beginning I had strong inclination towards nature photography and tried to capture landscapes with my Kodak KB10. If I saw an appealing landscape all that I had to was to point and shoot. Except for the composition of the frame I had very little to control. Then I was handed a Russian 35 mm Zenit SLR camera with a 18-55 mm lens. Now this was the first camera that allowed me to experiment with the settings like shutter speed. aperture etc. Admittedly I have spoilt countless length of films while experimenting with the camera.
I am yet to graduate to a DSLR as per the need of the hour. For now I am happy clicking with my point-and-shoots. I find photography to be a very satisfying and pleasure giving form of art. Showing your perspective of things to the world through a camera is really a  gratifying experience.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The First Tiger......

"Her Majesty : The very first wild tiger I saw, a tigress in fact. It was the morning of 15 Nov'13. We were out on a safari on a canter in Zone-3 of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Minutes after entering the reserve alarm calls of cheetal and sambar deer charged up the morning air. A rather normal morning suddenly got electrified. Frantic driving by our canter driver brought us to a bend in the road. Even before the guide could point I had spotted the tigress striding down a grassy slope. There she was, the queen. Then she kept her slow yet long strides roughly parallel to our canter but in our midst there were many trees that hindered our attempts to photograph her in excellent morning light. In the excitement of things I could only manage a few record shots of the queen and this is my first shot of a wild tiger. I am really thankful to "Her Majesty" for offering me and audience. And its pointless to add here that my heart skip a few beats like many others who are fortunate enough to have seen a tiger in the wild.

First Ever Bird Documentation Survey in Gupteswar Forests of Odisha

The forest near Gupteswar in Koraput district of Odisha are one of the finest and last remaining patches of pristine sal forest of the country. However owing to its geographic location or the apathy and ignorance of our conservationists and naturalists this biological wonderland has remained literally unexplored. No proper documentation has ever been carried out in these forests to learn about the flora and fauna of this region. Being a Koraputia myself this neglect by our front-line naturalist and conservationists deeply pains and astonishes me. That's why I decided to take matters into my own hand and started with the simple task of documenting the bird life of these little known forests myself. For this I visited the Dandrakhol Reserved forest area on 13.01.13 and spent a full day in the forest observing and recording the birds. My plan was to spend at least two days in the forests. But due to logistics and other constraints I limited the visit to one day. However I plan to do such short trips to this forest at various times of the year to collect an exhaustive list of birds found in the area. Before visiting the forests I had marked a trail on Google earth which I later followed on the ground.
On 13.01.13 me and my brother Sidharth Sankar Patra started for Gupteswar forest from Jeypore early in the morning before sunrise. We reached the edge of the proper forest at around 6.30 am. We started the process of noting down each species spotted from near Ramagiri village which happens to be at the edge of the forest. We were carrying two high-zoom point-and-shoot camera's. We made it a point to take the record shots of each bird spotted wherever it was possible. We left our bike at a village named Malipadar which is nearly 7 kms from Ramagiri. Thereafter we followed a hilly nallah which skirts the village towards its south and flows inside dense sal forest before emptying into river Kolab/Saveri about 1 km downstream of Gupteswar caves. We kept a slow pace and scanned the dense canopy for movement of birds and the early morning birding attempt yielded the maximum result. We followed the nallah till its confluence with Kolab/Saveri. There we had our bath and an all dry lunch of rusks, biscuits and mixture. Then we retraced our steps to the Malipadar village along the same trail and proceeded to Gupteswar caves. A little snack and cups of tea were refreshments good enough to charge us up for our second trek along a valley parallel to river Kolab. We set out for our second trek at around 4 o'clock. This same trail on my last visit was teeming with bird life. This time there were very fewer birds and less interesting ones. We reached the place I had pre-designated on Google-earth and returned to the Gupteswar shrine. On the way we visited the '"Parabhaadi" cave also which is home to many Blue Rock Pigeons. But there were no pigeons around this time.




Here below I have given a list of birds I encountered(either saw or heard the call) during the course of the day.(sunrise to sundown). The indicative list contains only the birds I saw/heard on that particular day. Other common species that ought to be present in the forest have not found entry.
Cattle Egret 
Black Eagle
Oriental Turtle Dove
Spotted Dove
Laughing Dove
Yellow-footed Green Pigeon
Alexandrine Parakeet
Plum-headed Parakeet
Common Hawk Cuckoo
Green-billed Malkoha
Greater Coucal
Creseted Tree Swift
Malabar Trogon
Indian Roller
Common Kingfisher
Small Green Bee-eater
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Brown-headed Barbet/Large Green Barbet
Copper Smith Barbet
Rufous Woodpecker
Greater Goldenback
Lesser Goldenback
Speckled Piculet
Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Common Iora
Scarlet Minivet
Small Minivet
Brown Shrike
Bay-backed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Common Woodshrike
Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
White-bellied Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Black-hooded Oriole
Indian Golden Oriole
White-throated Fantail
Black-naped Monarch
Indian Jungle Crow
Rufous Treepie
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-vented Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Grey-breasted Prinia
Ashy Prinia
Plain Prinia
Common Tailor Bird
Greenish Warbler
Jungle Babbler
Yellow-billed Babbler
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
Oriental White-eye
Indian Nuthatch
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Spotted Creeper ?
Jungle Myna
Common Myna
Asian Pied Starling
Chestnut-tailed Starling
Tickell's Thrush
Indian Robin
Oriental Magpie Robin
White-rumped Shama
Ultramarine Flycatcher
Verditer Flycatcher
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
Jerdon's Leafbird
Purple-rumped Sunbird
Puple Sunbird
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird
Red Avadavat
White-rumped Munia
Black-headed Munia
Indian Silverbill
Grey Wagtail
Chestnut-shouldered Petronia/Yellow-throated Sparrow

The above list is a testimony to the richness and astounding birdlife of the region.
I firmly believe that this small effort of mine will provide the required impetus for further studies in this neglected region and will be helpful in drawing the attention of the people who matter. I would like to add a note of caution here that unless drastic measures are taken up immediately to protect them, whatever is left of the once virgin forest will be lost forever. I would like to draw the attention of readers and bird lovers of the state to join hands with us in the conservation of this little known yet rich habitat.


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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Re-discovering Koraput : Day-5

Route : Jeypore-Balia-Boipariguda-Ramagiri-Gupteswar
            And return via the same route.
The trek up and down Duduma waterfall on day-4 had left us high and dry. We were sleeping on the verandah of our farmhouse. It was nearly 7 when we woke up and someone handed me a glass of steaming hot decoction of tea dust and sugar, a very good beverage to refresh the senses. Thankfully the fatigue of the previous day was gone to a great extent. I wasn't feeling tired from the muscle anymore. The morning was bright and chilly. Birds were singing their morning songs everywhere around. A pair of black-hooded oriole and the magpie robin were singing much closer to us on the two Mohua(Madhuca indica) tree in-front of the house. Listening to the bird calls Udayan remembered the promise I had made to him earlier. He had not yet seen the Red Avadavat or Red Munia(a small and colourful bird of the size of a sparrow, males are bright blood red in colour with white dots). I had promised to show him the birds in our farm where they are found in very good numbers. The parts of the farm which is left uncultivated is always invaded by weed and wild grass and the flock of these Munia are very fond of feeding on the seed of these grasses. I have seen flocks numbering 200 birds feeding in our farm. These flocks generally consists of  more than three or four species of Munias. We set off on a walk through the fields in the hope of finding the munias. Though there was grass in some patches of the field but the birds were not there. 
Here let me tell you something about the location of our farm. Our farm is situated 12 kms south-west of Jeypore town, near the place where the gorge of river Kolab ends and the river runs off out to the flatter parts of the plateau. One has to take a right turn from the state highway at the end of Patraput village and traverse exactly 1.8 kms towards the village Durgabhatta and our farm house appears on the right hand side. My maternal uncle bought 15 acres of land in the year 1997-98 here. Later in year 2003 my father bought another 15 acres adjacent to it. River Kolab flows 200 mtr south of our farm and we draw water from the river for irrigation purpose. My uncle and my brother look after the farm. We grow a variety of crop here. Aromatic plants such as Jamarosa, Vetiver, Lemon Grass and Citronella are major crops at the farm. A small distillation unit has been set up there to extract the oil from these plants. These aromatic oils find various use in cosmetic and other such consumable goods.

When we didn't find our target species of bird we proceeded towards the small perennial stream that skirts our farm towards the north boundary. The bank of this stream is overgrown with scrub and shelters many passerines. The birds that I always spot near the stream are Long-tailed Shrike, Common Hoopoe, Scaley-breasted Munia, Indian Silverbill, Yellow-eyed Babblers, Ashy Prinia, Common Tailor Bird, Common Quail,  Grey Francolin, Black-shouldered Kite , Indian Nightjar, White-throated and Common kingfishers and many more. A pond was dug out nearer to the stream, half an acre in area. It dries up as soon as the rains are gone but the deepest part of the pond remains wet till early summers and it is this wet part that is overgrown with Ipomoea weed and many small birds have made it their safe heaven. We did not have to search too far. There they were. The Red Munia's. A few males and females were going in and out of the Ipomoea bushes. A small blue kingfisher was also perched on a Ipomoea branch. Udayan went after the munias to take a record shot. I sat on the bank of the pond, basking my back in the morning sun. I kept my promise, Udayan saw his bird. It was time to leave for Jeypore.

A frugal breakfast was awaiting us at Purunagarh(my ancestral home). We lost no time in finishing off whatever was served. Our ancestral home at Purunagarh was built by my grand father way back in 1970's. The house is more like an old British bungalow with a porch and large garden space. All living quarters and bedroom doors open to the verandah, the kitchen and store have entry from the back yard. The garden borders the house on the east and north. The garden to the east is a jasmine garden that was very lovingly planted by my great grandmother way back in the 70's and it continues to bloom every summer without exception. To the south of this jasmine garden there are two mango trees, two tamarind trees, one neem tree and two coconut trees. One of the mango trees is much older than the house itself. Though its fruits are not so great to taste but it provides the much needed shelter to many birds of the garden. A colony of common myna and a jungle owlet share the tree. The jungle owlet being nocturnal uses the dense foliage and the hollows of the mangifera as a day time resort. The mynas do not mind sharing their territory with the owlet as it doesn't harm them or their fledglings. But they are at constant threat from the pair of shikra who nest close by on the bigger tamarind tree or the silver oak in our neighbours compound. The jungle owlet was also a bird that I had promised to show to Udayan. It didn't take us long to find the bird as it was sitting on an open branch of the neem tree, doing up its feather in the sun after a busy nights wandering.

We returned to Bada Maa's house to snatch an hours nap and then got ready for our ride to Gupteswar. Since we had a late breakfast we decided to have lunch either at Boipariguda or Gupteswar. We left Jeypore close to 1 o'clock. The sky looked fantastically blue with blotches of clouds in the western horizon. Sidhu was accompanying us this time and was riding my Enfield and I retired to the pillion to take pictures. We reached Boipariguda and bought some refreshments there. Then we rode on to Ramgiri village which is a sizeable village at the fringe of Gupteswar forests. Gupteswar is exactly 13 kms from Ramgiri. The road from Boipariguda bifurcates at the beginning  of Ramgiri village. The right one leads to Kundra and the left one proceeds to Gupteswar. I had visited Gupteswar on two occasions earlier. Once from Jeypore and from Kundra on another. Due to my misjudgement we proceeded a furlong along the road branching off to Kundra but the open farmlands and the absence of a police outpost made me realize that we had been going in the wrong direction. I signaled Udayan to turn back and we were once again on the right path. The police outpost of Ramgiri was blown up by the naxalites a few years ago and a small company of BSF jawans now man the outpost. Few sentries are always kept on guard in the bonkers and they keep their assault rifles aimed on to the road all day and all night. The sentries gave us penetrating looks as we passed on the road. Forest proper begins a couple of kilometers from the police outpost.
"The sky looked fantastically blue with blotches of clouds in the western horizon"
"An Abandoned iron suspension on Sati river on the way between Jeypore and Boipariguda"

Gupteswar forests are the remnants of a vast forest scape that was known as Dandakaranya. The loot of forest resources from Koraput, by natives as well as outsiders, in the last few decades has reduced this forest to a mere few hundred square kilometers of dis-integrated forests dotted with numerous human habitations, leaving little or no room for the diverse wildlife that once inhabited them. Notwithstanding these facts wildlife has subsisted in the remaining patches of less disturbed forests. The pristine vegetation is one of the few remaining patches left in India today of its kind and the birdlife is astoundingly rich. My subsequent birding ventures in these forest has yielded as many as 100 species during the span of a single day.


As we pushed ahead the vegetation got denser. We stopped at the famous "Dalkhai" shrine that marks the beginning of a steep ghat named "Dokri Ghati", (Dokri in Koraputia means an old lady). The steep road looses elevation of nearly 100 meters within a distance of half a kilometer. This slope was even steeper in earlier days which made the ghat a treacherous road to travel on. Negotiating the ghat either way on bullock carts and other vehicles was a nightmarish experience. Even vehicles with four wheel drive found it difficult to traverse. Many of them have rolled down this ghat resulting in human or animal casualty. Travellers pay a darshan at the Dalkhai shrine and pray for a safe passage through the treacherous ghat. The obeisance is paid in the form of a small branch or a bunch of small branches that is laid at the feet of the deity "Dalkhai". This is a custom that is followed by travellers very religiously and local people sell bunch of branches, a rupee apiece, and make a small income out of it. We also paid our homage at the shrine and had a small chat with the pujari(priest) of the place and enquired about the wildlife in that locality. Since the shrine is located at the shoulder of a hill, it commands a majestic view of the surrounding forests. Forest stretches upto the horizon in the west. The hills clothed with pristine sal forests roll down up to the river Kolab. The other side of river Kolab is Chattisgarh forests. I took a few photographs from this point and we rolled down this steep ghat. I have on earlier occasions trekked in the southern aspects of this forest. Now I recall those experiences with a lot of delight. But the forest looked a whole lot different while riding through it.




We reached Gupteswar at around 3 o'clock and went straight to the bathing ghat on river Kolab(Sabari/Saveri). This place offers a spectacular view of the rocky river and surrounding jungles. We went for a stroll upstream along the river expecting to sight a few birds but all in vain. Except heaps of human excreta we saw nothing. Retracing our step we went to the small market place near the shrine where petty vendors sell sundry items to tourists. There are a few eateries that serve tea, snacks and frugal meals. Few shops sell the goods that is offered to lord Gupteswar as offerings and some locals also sell local forest produce such as honey and sal resin(also known as Jhoona). Here at this market place we met a person from Jeypore who has taken to the life of an ascetic and living in one of the caves near Gupteswar since last one and half decades. He used to be a computer hardware and software professional at one point of time and somehow got fed up with his banal existence and resorted to a living that he regarded diviner. He greeted us in fluent English, taking us to be tourists from far off places. But once I gave him my introduction , over cups of tea, he opened himself up through a fulsome conversation in the course of which we discussed things ranging from wildlife to computer languages. He also told me that he knew my father well. We said good bye to him and went loitering down the narrow concrete pathway that leads to the caves of ""Parabhadi"which are situated on the other western side of the same hill that houses the main Gupteswar cave. The name means "abode of pigeons".

Hardly did we know, as we ambled down the pathway, that the the next couple of hours will turn into an jamboree of bird sighting. The first bird to appear was a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. As typical to the birds belonging to nuthatch/creeper family, this bird was also creeping upside down on the branches. A Velvet-fronted nuthatch is impossible to miss in a tree due to its bright and contrasting colouration. The sighting of this bird thrilled us.To be honest I was least expecting the bird in the vicinity of the cave as this area is mostly frequented by bipeds. The next hour or so  turned out to be a pleasant surprise as we spotted many interesting birds like Vernal Hanging Parrot, Indian Yellow Tit, Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, White-rupmed Shama etc.



The birding sprint drew to a close as light started to fade away rapidly. We decided to head back to the road where we had parked our motorcycles. On our way back I had an interesting chat with a elderly man who was happily puffing away at his tobacco leaf(colloquially called a "sutta", "dhungia" or "pikka"). He was a man from nearby Siribeda village which is mostly inhabited by a tribe named "Dhurua". Pointing to the hills to our west the old man told me "Babu, you see that huge rock? Last year in the month of  "Pus"(peak winter) I had seen a "bagh" and its cubs playing and basking in the sun. Not on one occasion but many times. Not only me but many people from the bazar also have seen it". Now a "bagh" in Koraputia can mean anything from a tiger to hyaena. Secondly after years of interaction with my jungle dwelling friends of Koraput, I have learnt to take their words with a pinch of salt as their narration of events is very very prone to exaggeration. Hence I assume it to be a leopard if it was a big cat at all. Because no tigress, how bold it may be, would not raise its cubs so close to human settlement and in a place that has very depleted prey base. On my part it is only wishful thinking that big cats continue to roam these beautiful forests and live in harmony with human beings.


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The ride back to Ramgiri and onward to Jeypore was a cherished one in complete darkness of night. Time of twilight had also elapsed by the time we were heading back. There were no stops till Ramgiri. This was not for the first time that I was running down that road at night. But this time the road had an  eerie charm of its own. Centuries old sal trees towered on both side of the road. Their huge trunks and the retro-reflective plates fixed to them by the R&B division reflected the beam of my bright motorcycle head light. The constant motion though the towering trees carried me away to the games that I used to play as a child on computer. The lone rider going through the forests of night. Not a single human soul passed us in those 13 kilometers. Only a lone jackal, a jungle cat and a fox at three different locations were all that of wildlife we saw on the way. In my class 3 books there was this true story about the chowkidar of a forest bungalow of Mathpada(very close to Ramgiri) and his blood-curdling encountered  with a tiger inside the bungalow compound. Those were the days when tigers were plenty in these forests. So naturally these were the favourite hunting grounds of  Maharaja of Jeypore and his guests. But now there is no sign of any tigers nor their prey. I will not talk about the destruction brought upon these forests here. I have written a detailed passage about it some time earlier on this blog.
Just after crossing Ramgiri we stopped on the road near Mathapada. Parked our bikes on the road side and sat right on the road to soak in some silence and tranquil environ of the sal forest. Except for the constant trill of the cicada there were no other sounds. Not even the familiar hoot of an owl. But I imagined, sitting on the lonely jungle road, somewhere deeper in the forest a Brown Fish Owl must be perched on its vantage point besides a stream, awaiting its night meal. On some high branch of the sal tree a Scops owl must be hooting away its constant childlike muffled syllable -Unh-Unh-Unh-Unh..... Not too far away a bruin must be searching and digging termite mounds to suck out the juicy white ants as there is no dearth of them in these forests. A cunning and clever jackal must have taken its position near some village hut to chance upon a chicken from the pen. A good 15 minutes we sat there in silence until a pick up van passed on the road at full speed.

A cursory visit to some of our relatives  and  a few cups of hot tea later we left Boipariguda and headed for Jeypore. On the way again a jungle cat crossed our path. I stopped the bike and Sidhu went down to the road edge to see where it had gone. The cat after seeing us approach had gone into a paddy field were paddy was almost waist high. The cat had gone into a bush and its eyes were reflecting the light of Sidhu's torch from a bush across that field. The cat had its lair in that bush where it was perhaps tending is kittens as we could hear the meowing of the small kittens and also the resentful snarls of the mother cat. Just then Sidhu tried to step down into the paddy field with the light still on the bush. The mother cat let out a shrill snarl and jumped into the paddy field and came leaping though the paddy grass like a bouncing ball, snarling repeatedly. I watched all this from the elevated road. It stopped after coming half way down the field. I called Sidhu back and told him to leave the family alone. It was really a lesson that even an animal as small as a jungle cat can charge down on human beings to protect its young.

At about 9 o'clock we reached back at Jeypore and headed straight to the famous Girija fast food joint which serves Jeyporias their daily share of chicken soup and egg roll. This small treat was to celebrate the successful close to Day-5 of the trip.

The forests of Gupteswar hold a special place in my life. I have always enjoyed trekking up and down its densely wooded hill sides the most. Watching its birds and wildlife gives me immense joy. One of my candid confessions is I wish these forests are protected and restored to their former glory, full of life and full of gods beautiful creations. So that I can drive down these forests, as an old man,  in a jeep with my grand children and point to them a sambar stag scratching its antlers against a tree, a sloth bear rubbing its back against a scaly sal tree, a colony of hill mynas whistling their sweet notes, a beautiful leopard bounding across the road and melting away into the bushes, to take them on a stroll along a stream bed and to enjoy a cold lunch of sandwiches. Is it too much to ask for? I think our coming generations have every right to these small pleasures of life. Don't they?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Re-Discovering Koraput : Day-4

Route : Jeypore-Kota Junction-Peta Ghati-Lamtaput-Machkund-Duduma-Ankadelli/Onukadelli
             and return via the same route. 

The plan for the day was something else. As per the itinerary I had made, Duduma waterfall and Gupteswar caves were supposed to be covered the same day, i.e on Day-4. Fate had something different planned  for us. The same predicament of previous mornings repeated itself. Waking up early was proving a real hard task for us. Anyway after a lot of alarm snoozing and you-go-to-the-toilet-first antics we were ready for another hectic and eventful day. We left Jeypore town at around 7.30 am. I had instructed Sidhu to arrange lunch for us at our farm house near Patraput village. Coincidentally the location of our farm house is such that for someone visiting  Duduma and Gupteswar the same day it is almost midway. There is an iron suspension bridge across river Kolab near Patraput, which also happens to be a picnicking spot for the people of Jeypore and nearby places. The iron bridge was built in the year 1931 by the British and handles most of the traffic between Jeypore-Malkangiri and Jeypore-Lamtaput even today. This bridge is exactly 10 kms far from Jeypore. We stop there for a while to enjoy a packet of biscuit and the morning melody of the birds of near by forest. River Kolab emerges from the higher hills to the Jeypore plateau near this bridge. Both banks of the 10 km long gorge is cloaked with dense forest and holds a good number of leopards. Bird life also seemed rich from the calls I heard that morning.
Morning from Peta Ghati 

The condition of road on the first few kilometres of Peta ghat is horrendous. The first two kilometres is in such a bad shape that it took us 20 minutes to go through it. Probably the road was being black-topped and the contractor had left the job half done. Bare boulders lay scattered on the road and threatened to rip the tyres if we tried moving faster on them. To add to the woe of the commuters there are two hairpin bends with high gradient, passing which without falling off the two wheeler can be considered an achievement in itself . Somehow we passed the stretch unscathed. The morning was young and the air felt crisp as it feels on a winter morning in Koraput. We stopped at a few places to take shots of the landscapes. This road also happens to be the road which we used to take while coming from or going to Padua. But this road was a less frequented road in those days and we usually came on our Rajdoot. The Rajdoot my father rides (he still rides it) is a 1980 Rajdoot. It carried four of us, Baba, Maa, Sidhu and me effortlessly up the Peta ghat. If Baba and me happened to go together I used to sit on the tank. On long straight stretches Baba would let me hold the handle and the throttle. I would be thrilled to twist the throttle and the 175 cc Rajdoot would gallop on the open roads. And now I was riding a Royal Enfield on the same old roads alone. The landscape on the plateau is strikingly similar to the English country side. Fields of niger seed, paddy and raagi interspersed with lines of cashew, eucalyptus and other such trees give the countryside a resemblance to the countryside of a few European nations. Every dirt track that diverged from the main road was an invitation good enough to leave the road I was travelling on and go where ever the dirt track went. Wish I could do that.
A Lovely Morning near the Back Waters of Kolab Reservoir 

8.30 am saw us at Lamtaput. Lamtaput is a big village which is also the head quarter of the administrative block by the same name. Like many such villages of Koraput, Lamtaput too has its share of government offices and residential quarters for the staffs who serve in them. Apart from this there are a few shops that cater to the basic need of people of the village and the villages around. The entire village is full of sky high eucalyptus trees. The eucalyptus trees are laden with thousands of fruit bats during the day time and are quite a spectacle. The bats rest on these trees, upside down and their wing flaps covering their face during day light. We photographed the birds. My school friend named Sandeep Patnaik works for a NGO and stays at Lamtaput. I had informed him of our visit earlier and he was ready to accompany us to Duduma. We went to his house where he introduced us to his colleagues and room mates. They also expressed their amazement when we told them that we have arrived there on Royal Enfields from as far a place as Bhubaneswar. Four of his colleagues also joined us for Duduma. We went back to the market place of Lamtaput where we took our break fast. Puri and upma served with chutney and ghuguni in a leaf bowl(dana) was good enough to appease our hunger. Coming out of the hotel we see that Udyan's Thunderbird is nowhere to be seen. Nearly 15 men had surrounded his bike and were making their expert comments on the make and build of the Thunderbird.
The Bats of Lamtaput
 At 10.30 am we start for Duduma via Machkund. On the way we crossed a weekly haat. Haats in Koraput are usually a very colourful place. Especially the ladies come to the haat in their strikingly colourful clothes. I let Sandeep ride my Classic so that I could enjoy the landscape around. There are several coffee plantations on the way from Lamtaput to Machkund and the coffee from Koraput has a demand of its own in the market ,some people say. While on the way Sandeep and me discussed his work and the prevailing anarchy in the region. On the way a bus coming from behind kept honking at us and when we left way for it to pass I saw, to my utter surprise, a bus full of Bengali tourists. In the given circumstances when people from Jeypore and Koraput fear to visit Duduma, a bus full of Bengali tourists was there. They must have all the way from West Bengal to Koraput through Odisha. I wonder if there is any nook left on the map of India that has not been visited by a babu moshay. When tour operators from West Bengal can arrange tours to the so called remote places of our state then what is stopping our own tour operators to include these places in their itinerary. After crossing the village of Machkund we drove along the reservoir banks for some distance. The check dam on the river Machkund/Sileru has given birth to a beautiful water body and water to the Machkund Hydro Electric Power Plant is diverted from here. We did a  customary stoppage there as "tourists" usually do. Then  we started our down hill descent into the Machkund river gorge along with the river. There came the awe-inspiring vista of the gorge. A few stops again were mandatory. I had this wish to go to the bottom of Duduma waterfall since the time I came here last time. The visit was a brief one that time and I did not have the time to trek down the waterfall. Hence we decided to go to the view point beyond Ankadelli village and return along with some refreshments from Ankadelli village to trek to the bottom of the waterfall.
Coffee Plantation en-route Machkund

The Dam on River Machkund : Upstream View 
The Dam on River Machkund : Downstream View
Power Channel that carries water to the Hydro-station
The Awe-inspiring Vista of Machkund Gorge
While passing through the Ankadelli village we saw a few Bonda women, but as there is restrictions on clicking their photographs now we went ahead straight to the view point. The view point is on the shoulder of  the mountain on the western side of the gorge. We clicked a few photographs there. The view point is the regular pit stop for all the visitors and hence was littered like a garbage dump. Polythene wrappers, cigarette packs, broken liquor bottles and what not. The mountain on the other side of the gorge is in Andhra Pradesh and has thick blanket of forest on the slopes and. The river is flowing in the valley below in the shape of a serpent. What a view. To the north is visible the waterfall and the penstocks(nothing but large pipes that convey water from reservoir to the turbines)of the Machkund Hydro-power Station. An electric winch that dates back to the British Era runs parallel to these penstocks and is quite functional till now. I have heard, from many people who have used this winch, about the scary experience of descending in that age old winch. Not too long ago while traveling in the winch a few people have also seen tigers and leopards in the forest that surrounds the penstocks. Unfortunately I never have had the opportunity to use that dreaded winch. Machkund Hydro-electric Power Station was the brainchild of some British administrator. The work on the dam and power house started much before independence but it was not until 1955 the generators were commissioned to generate electricity. The generated power is shared between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha in a 60-40 ratio as the reservoir is spread across both the states. The village of Anakadelli is the small township for the employees of the power station. Most of the staff are employed by Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Corporation and are Telugu. Therefore there is regular bus service to Vizag and Vizianagarm from Anakadelli.
The Snaking Machkund River

Panoramic View of the Gorge 

Sandeep and his colleague 

The Wanderer
After satisfying our eyes with those sumptuous vista we went back to Ankadelli village to purchase some refreshments that were necessary for the arduous trek. A few packets of biscuits and a few pouches of drinking water were all that we thought would be necessary. Then we went to the small cottage situated on the ridge from where the trek to the bottom of the fall starts. We parked our bikes there and  started our walk downhill. The district administration has taken a lot of pain to construct concrete stairs half way down. This definitely has made life easier for many. As it happens often when you trek downhill after a long time, my legs started trembling and shaking. Thanks to the steep gradient. When the stairs end one needs to take to a well beaten track that leads to the bottom of the waterfall. Walking on this track was a little difficult, at least for me. The mud path had worn smooth by the barefoot of the fishermen who use this track frequently and the dew from the canopy above had made it a little slippery. I had to be a little extra cautious as I had a twisted left ankle to watch out for which I had injured a few months ago. I could not have risked another damage to the already damaged ligament. I could see the snowy white colour of the stream from within the gaps in the canopy. Finally we reached the bottom.

Here let me tell you something about Duduma waterfalls. Duduma waterfall is on the river Machkund/Sileru. The waterfall on the main river is 175 mtr high and is classified as a horsetail type waterfall(waterfalls that fan out as they drop down). This falls ranks 19th among the waterfalls of India in terms of height. Apart from the main Machkund river another stream that flows from Andhra Pradesh side also plunges into the same gorge as the river. The excess water that could not be utilized by the Machkund Hydro-electric station is also released into this same pool. This artificial stream is most beautiful of the three and is not to be seen throughout the year though. The only place from where the view of the three waterfalls together can be enjoyed is the place where I stood. Three of the gorgeous falls pouring their grandeur onto me. Mighty walls of rock surround the place on three sides and the river has licked its way through the rocks on the other remaining one side. I leave it to my pictures to convey what my words cannot. I clicked, videogrpahed , thoroughly enjoyed and literally soaked in the beauty of the place. Then it was time for a bath. The pools of the river were never a safe option for people like us who barely know to swim. Machkund river as a matter of fact derives its name from these pools. Machkund is derived from the word "Mastya Kunda" meaning "Pool of fish". As per colonial officers these pools used to teem with Mahsheer fishes which were surprisingly docile and let people stroke their backs in shallow water apparently the reason was a restriction on their catching by the ryots. In the present context that thing seems only like a fairy tale. Over-fishing and pollution of the river has reduced the population of these tigers of fresh water to nothing. We very carefully tiptoed upto the base of the largest of the three waterfalls and enjoyed the mighty "shower". The spot where we choose to take shower was much away from the main fall. Only a few smaller streams from the main fall had entered rock crevices and poured out from the other side. But the force of water was too vigorous to stand. The rocks were also slippery owing to the running water. We enjoyed the bath but maintaining the caution all the time. Thankfully we all came out unscathed from the bath. The refreshments followed while the wet clothes and undies were let to dry on the rocks. It was going to be 3 o'clock now. We had abandoned all plans to visit Gupteswar by now. I could not even inform Sidhu of our altered plans as there was no signal down there, who otherwise would be waiting for us with lunch at our farm.

"The Prodigious Plunge"

So we started our uphill trek. I knew from the very beginning that the climb would be one of the toughest I have ever taken. Sandeep and his colleagues had earlier trekked up and down on an earlier occasion and were aware of the hardships. I tied my jacket around my waist, which I usually do while climbing a hill and relieved myself of the binocular and handed it over to Sandeep. The first climb was on the path without stairs, hence was a little easier to climb. Udayan started struggling after only a few meters. Being a bulky fellow and not having climbed hills very often he started panting like a fish out of water. I slowed down to keep him company and gave him a stave to use as an aid. He stopped every twenty paces and I started to feel really worried looking at his panting. I told him to sit down for a while and drink some water. Alas. All we were left with were only three pouches of water. I gave Udayan one and the other two to Sandeep's colleagues. Udayan didn't drink it then. Said I will drink it when I feel extremely thirsty and saying this he put the pouch in his back pocket. We reached the concrete steps. I asked Udayan to get rid of any belongings except the camera. I handed over his jacket to someone and asked others to go ahead at their own pace. From now on the ascent has to be made on stairs which made it more difficult for us. I framed a strategy on my mind to overcome this problem. I decided to climb 20 stairs at a time, regain breath and then again climb 20 stairs. If breath permited then I did a couple more than 20 but not one less. That definitely helped me. I told Udayan to do the same but he wasn't able to cross more than 10 at a stretch. Almost half way up the hill he squeezed out the water pouch he was carrying in his back pocket as he sat right on it and spilled out the few mililitres of water that was left with us. Almost everyone was feeling thirsty but there was no water to drink. I had drank to my fill in the river as I knew, half way up the hill water will be a scarce commodity. I stuck to my strategy but made sure I was not much ahead of Udayan. I kept shouting words of invigoration to him but those had little effect I guess. His slow progress gave me ample time to rest and regain breath. Udayan was last in line, I ahead of him and a colleague of Sandeep, who was from Bhadrak, preceded me in the line. He finally decided to give Udayan some morale booster and went back to walk by his side. Only 50 steps to go now. Ah. Those 50 steps seemed like a 500 more. The pressure on thigh and calf muscle felt tremendous as if something has been tied around them to restrict them from moving. My heart was literally beating in my throat and I could feel my eyes popping out of their sockets. The lactate formed in my muscles due to the  strenuous climb was now playing tricks with me. I thought I could go no more. Yet the sight of the mango tree on the ridge didn't let me stop. I thought of all those great mountaineers who have conquered the Everest, K2, Annapurna, Kanchenjunga and other such hostile mountains. Compared to those oxygen bereft, rough weathered and blood-freezingly cold mountain sides these hills and stairs are nothing but a piece of cake. Nothing on this earth stands against the strong will of man. Neither the highest of mountains nor the deepest of oceans. At the end of the climb I sat down looking down at the gorge and the sun that was preparing to set down behind some distant hill. The gorge looked all the more alluring and all the more scenic than the time I had last seen it. Heart beats eventually regained their normal pace and the tense muscles felt a little relaxed, thanks to the soothing vista. I called Sidhu and told him not to wait for us any longer as we wont be back before 6. I dragged my way to the huts on the ridge. Asked the lady of the hut for drinking water and emptied the whole pot and asked for some more and took it up to Udayan who was sitting at the end of the stairs. The huts on the ridge have been built on one of the most picturesque location. I wondered how it missed the keen eyes of the Britishers, otherwise there must have stood a beautiful bungalow in place of those huts today. Surely I would be a lot happier man if one of the huts belonged to me.
Oh My Dear, There You Are

It was time to retrace steps to Jeypore. Without further delay we started on our way back to Jeypore. The day was no doubt so full of activity, anxiety, fun, fatigue and satisfaction. The trek up and down the waterfall was one of the most challenging feat for both the body and our will power. The grandiose vista we got to experience from the bottom of the fall is something that providence doesn't blesses everyone with, but only to a few who dare to tread that extra mile. The pictures I clicked are mere testimony to the stunning spectacles that awaited us down there. I realized that sometimes one has to go down to experience heaven. And Duduma is one such heaven down under.

The return journey was un-eventful except a few brief stoppages to click the chir pine plantations. We returned to Jeypore as it was just getting dark. After a little tea and snacks we(Me, Udayan, Sid and Dada) left out for our farm at Patraput, to spend the night there. Dada had arranged a special feast in our(Udayan and Me) "honour". It was the day after the full moon and the night was none less beautiful than the full moon night. We reached the farm at around 8 in the evening. Dada had left a full chicken in yogurt and spices through out the day. It was to be our dinner. We lit up a campfire and made arrangements to grill the chicken on charcoal. Then started the campfire gossips. Dada smeared the chicken with the masala paste he had prepared for the purpose and kept the chicken rotating on a fresh bamboo stick so that it doesn't burn to char. Warmth of the campfire in that chilly night, aroma of the roasting chicken and the chilly breeze from the nearby fields and the hills beyond them were having some mixed effect on our senses. I was feeling hungry, I was feeling fatigued and I wanted to stay awake the whole night, I wanted to go for a walk in that splendid moonlit night. Sometime during our conversation a pack of jackals yelled out into the night their chorus. I could imagine sitting on my  camp chair,  four to five cunning canids standing on some elevated ground, raising their heads sky ward every time they make that hookay-hoo call. The call of a lone jackal is always associated with evil by the natives. For many people, not habituated to jungles of the night, the howling of a pack of jackals on a silent night can evoke the eeriest of feelings. The chicken was cooked to perfection. We four gorged on the chicken and rotis along with a gravy of chicken prepared at home. I had plans to go out for a walk after dinner but that was not to be. Thanks to the trek of Duduma. Our muscles refused to obey our orders that night. That was it, a tiresome end to Day-4 of our journey. We retired to the farm house verandah for the night. The blankets and our jackets were good enough for a comfortable sleep. The visions of the days proceedings came floating once again to me, lulling me to a slumber. The huts on the ridge, the shade of the mango tree near the ridge and the scenic vista is all but a dream for those who haven't seen it with their own eyes. As the mercury dipped with the night my slumber became deeper and deeper.

Oh dear God, if there exists something like rebirth, then please give me birth in this same land of Koraput, Once again.

Coming Up : Day-5. Exciting Birding in Gupteswar forests and travel through the best Sal forests of Koraput at night.