The eastern Ghats are not as majestic and extensive as the Western Ghats but this range has it’s own charm. In coastal Andhra Pradesh one can feel their presence only when one drives north from Kakinada towards Vishakhapatnam. The low but pretty hills towards the west look beautiful and have their own little secrets. The Paddies in low lying areas with the banana and coconut plantations in the progressively higher lands is almost the norm.
Higher up in the hills are the means to sustain a small institution. We are here to visit this little artistic industry. The village of Ethikoppaka is not widely known outside but has a rich tradition of making lacquered wooden toys. About 20 families here are involved in making various types of wooden toys and other decorative articles for the last hundred years or so.
The wood used is exclusively a single species of tree called Ankudu in Telugu and known to science as Wrightia tinctoria , a softwood tree found in the Eastern Ghats. The other ingredient is the lac made from certain species of insects found in the region. Together they lend a distinctive brilliance to the artefacts made.
The village is small and in the middle of nowhere. One has to leave the highway and drive on the village roads to reach the little hamlet. For us it was worth it. Here are the shops in the village mainly visited by the traders from various places including exporters.
The variety produced is amazing, given the limited range of ingredients used. Here are some samples.
The manufacturing is done in residential houses almost as a domestic activity using small lathes and a lot of manual work. The owner of the shop we visited invites us to see how the manufacturing is done. A room at the entrance to the house is all the space that is used in shaping the wood on a small lathe machine.
Here is a video.
ANAKAPALLE is our next stop. It is not a seaside town but is not very far from the sea, the Pudimadaka beach is about 25 Kms.
The first place we visit is the Vadrapalli Lake and Kondakarla Bird Sanctuary. Although designated as a Bird Sanctuary there is hardly any government presence here and much less by way of infrastructure. But this place is a gem, not to be missed.
To start with it is a serenely beautiful lake with hills for the background making it picturesque. The birds? No, there are not many at this time of the year (last week of February). The migratory species have already departed leaving the locals to enjoy the lake without crowding.
There are two things an observer will not fail to see here. One is the boats which are used on the lake. They are unique. The bottom portion of the Tala or the Toddy palm (Borassus flabellifer) is dug out to make the canoe in which a single person (or may be two although I did not see one carrying two people). It appears to be an innovation of the fishermen operating on the lake. However further innovation has resulted in joining two of the canoes together for the tourist trade.
The boatmen offered to take us around the lake in one of these contraptions. Fearing for our lives, we declined.
How can the artists be left behind when the local invention has been a success? The boats get their decorative paint.
The villagers around the Vadrapalli lake appear to be resourceful people, using the locally available materials to fashion their means of livelihood. Apart from the canoes they have their own fishing equipment. The traps with one-way doors are laid in the lake and the fish collected using the canoes.
Here is another interesting equipment. This fishing net is made by using the spines of the Borassus palm leaves and reinforced by the synthetic material. The conical nets are like the miniatures of trawl nets used in the commercial fisheries on the seas.
The fish caught here are not only the edible species but also a few of the ornamental tropical fishes for the aquariums.
We return to the main village road and proceed towards east, the seashore. Our destination is the Pudimadaka Lighthouse.
One has to pass through a fast coming up Industrial Park with excellent roads and then through the salt pans to reach Pudimadaka. We miss a turn which leads us to Lighthouse and land in the thickly populated fishing village. We are guided to the lighthouse on the narrow footpath through a maze of huts to reach the rear side of the Lighthouse. Language is a serious issue.
The seashore is rocky and one can see the large rocks and hillocks in the sea, probably the reason for the existence of the lighthouse. Otherwise the fishermen here seem to be using the very small traditional boats and there is no port nearby.
Here is a typical house on the hill slope leading to the Lighthouse.
And here is the lighthouse.
And the Pudimadaka temple.
It is ti,e for us to return to Anakapalle for the night halt. Whilst travelling in this region one cannot fail to notice that the farmers are growing sugarcane but one does not see any sugar mills. Upon inquiry I am told that this region produces Jaggery (or Gudh) on a large scale. We decide to stop at a roadside jaggery making unit.
The process used as simple as elsewhere in the country.
Squeeze out the juice from the cane.
Collect the juice in a vessel.
Boil the juice using the cane residue called bagasse and there you are.
You have to only squeeze the jaggery in the desired mounds for transportation to the market.
The next we come to know is that Anakapalle is among the largest Jaggery markets in the country, in fact ranked 2nd after another one in Uttar Pradesh. We decide to have a look at the market named after the Filmstar turned Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.
This place deals exclusively with Jaggery. We were hoping to see the trading, how the sale is made by the farmers. No, the day and time is not right. It is saturday and no auctions are held. Come back on Monday around 10 am.
But you are welcome to look around. In fact the traders or agents whoever they are were very happy to have visitors on the premises. They fed me chunks of jaggery despite my protestations that I am diabetic.
What we could witness was the arrival of vehicles loaded with jaggery and the unloading process for storage till the auctions on Monday.
The Jaggery is not packed or wrapped by the farmer producers. That process is done by the traders after they purchase the goods. Hence we can see only the naked mounds of various weights.
This lot was sold earlier yesterday and is now ready wrapped in plastic sheets and gunnies and ready for transportation.
The storage in the vast open warehouses.
You must have noticed that the jaggery comes in various colours and shades and that determines it’s quality. There are various grades commanding various price levels. The top quality is the lightest in colour.
What happens to the darkest variety?
It is sold
Why do people buy it? is it edible?
It is bought to make country liquor
Is it legal?
Well, we don’t make or sell liquor here.
With this information we leave Anakapalle and continue towards Vishakapatnam.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik
Videos by Veena Naik