109.ODISHA. (3) Jagannath Puri & Around.

With the objective to write an integral post on the Chilka Lake we had bypassed the important town of Puri between western and eastern part of the great lagoon. We have now returned to Puri, one of the four most important ‘dhams’, the holy places of Hindus. The pilgrimage to Puri along with the other three ‘dhams’ ensures that all your sins are ‘washed’. By implication if you visit Puri you have been pardoned for at least 25% of your crimes in your life so far. I am not sure if this is part-washing is officially sanctioned. This applies only if you are a Hindu, of course. Such facilities are available in the Middle East and Europe for other kind of Believers. Hinduism is probably the only religion which has made the facility available at four different convenient locations in the country. Countrywide marketing and distribution of services practiced of late has its origins here, not in Philip Kotler. Marketing boys, please note.

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The hotel that we booked online is very close to the main temple. So close that cars are not allowed up to the hotel. Not knowing what to do we call the hotel and they send us a man on motorcycle to pilot us to the hotel past the traffic policeman.

As we walk the main street surrounding the temple we find large wooden logs on one side and large smooth wooden logs on the other. This certainly demands and inquiry. I go for it. The explanation comes forth effortlessly.

You must surely be aware of the English word juggernaut. Its origin is in these pieces of wood. Lord Jagannath is taken out of and into the temple once in a year in a chariot made of wood. Juggernaut is the corruption of Jagannath and refers to this huge wooden contraption in which the Lord travels. Now why two sets of logs?

On the one side are the logs for making the chariot for the current year. They are therefore raw logs, unprocessed.

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What we see on the other side are the logs dismantled from the last year’s chariot which is not reused. The wood is used for cooking the ‘prasad’ in the temple.They are not allowed for any other use.

This ancient temple took its final shape in the later part of the 12th century. In the 17th century the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb ordered it to be demolished. It is said that the soldiers who arrived for this task were bribed and sent away and the temple merely ‘closed’, not demolished and reopened after the death of Aurangzeb. This is probably an important aspect of our history which the historians have ignored. It suggests that the foreign invaders to this country could have been kept away by bribing if the local rulers did not have the strength to fight them.

The temple by itself is not very impressive. The design particularly of the ‘Vimana’ part of it looks very original and uncommon but that view can be had only form a distance and the only convenient place for that purpose without being airborne is the lighthouse at the beach.

Here is the temple as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

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All the important religious places in this world are also important commercial centres. Religion is at it’s most useful here: to create employment. And that is the only useful purpose of God and religion. Here is a small sample of goods and services.

Going by the environment in and around Puri it is very difficult to say if this place owes its existence to religion or to tourism. The names support the latter-Hotel Sea palace, Hotel Gandhara, H. Samudra, H. New Rock Bay, H. Sukanya, H Swanapuri, Oyo Rooms Sand Bay, Reba Beach Resort, Sonar Tori, H Sagarika-.  I am inclined to believe that this place is about 70% beach resort and 30% temple town. This proportion might change during the ‘Rath Yatra’, the time of the year when the ‘presiding deities’ of the temple are taken out in a procession to and from to another temple where they go for the summer vacation.

The beach as seen from the top of the lighthouse is a beautiful site.

And here is the lighthouse. This lighthouse must be among the most visited lighthouses in India as access to it is very easy and a large number of tourists visit the town throughout the year.

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Visiting major temples is India is and probably has always been difficult. The first things and the most ancient issue is of the dress-code. The devotees come dressed for the occasion. The other kind of visitors do not have these requirement in mind. The second issue is of the cameras and mobile phones. Mobile phones are a nuisance. Cameras appears to be banned for commercial reasons. The photographs of the deities are copyrighted and the local shops who sell the pictures need to be supported. This theory does not hold good against the advanced copying techniques and very slim smartphones that could be smuggled in. Anyway, this prevents people like me from visiting the insides of the temples although I am entitled to enter by virtue of my birth as a Hindu and not converted to any other religion.

Among the highlights of the temple ceremonies is the changing of the flag on the top of the temple. This is a daily routine watched by many devotees.

The Jagannath temple has four entrances but only one is used on regular basis for the public and it always has ques in front of it.

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And here is another gate:

The temple has engravings almost everywhere on its walls depicting among other things acts of lovemaking, a theme that is found in most of the temple art in Odisha.

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The pilgrims come to Puri  from far and wide and by all means of transport. This man has traveled considerable distance on his bicycle to reach the place.

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We are seeing the battery-run autorikshaw for the first time. It has been brought here to be blessed by the Lord Jagannath.

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When pilgrims visit the temple, they take away the ‘prasad’, sweets cooked in the temple for the near and dear ones. It is sold in these boxes made of leaves of the Tada palm- another use for this widely used plant.

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The priests at the Puri temple have developed a new style of carrying mobile phones which is not known to the outside world.

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Apart from the prasad, the other important takeaway is the sweet called ‘Khaja’, sold everywhere around the temple. It is made of gram flour and sugar.

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Jagannath Puri temple is a rich institution and a major source of the income is the donations made by the devotees. The temple has made elaborate arrangements to collect the donations- on site as well as off-site.

Most of Puri is around the two main temples located a short distance from each other and to the north are the roads connecting Bhubaneshwar, the state capital and Konark famous for its temple and its erotic art. To the south is the road to the eastern part of  Chilka lake. There is a stretch of  land to the south which is on the seashore and is being developed as a tourist area, with new hotels and resorts coming up. We decided to spend some time here away from the crowded city. This is where the Dhaudia river meets the sea. Dhaudia is a small  river meanders through the south west and meets the sea here. The place where a river meets the sea is called ‘Mohana’ in Oriya. This makes for a beautiful site.

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The is inter-tidal making its water brackish and suitable for the habitation of several species of fish. The locals mainly use nets in the shallow waters at low ride to catch fish.

And the catch is here:

We leave Puri passing by the Gundicha temple, move northwards for what appears as Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary on the Google map. Before we reach the sanctuary we find a place where vehicles have stopped. It is another temple – Maa Ramachandi Temple.

The stretch between Puri and Konark is called Puri-Konark Marine Drive and here between the land and the sea flow three rivulets meeting the sea after running parallel the road and the seashore.

Our first stop is Baleshwar beach and temple for which we drive 6 kms off the highway to the seashore. We find a pretty little temple but not on the seashore. There is no crowd here. It is not a part of the Puri-Konark tourist circuit.

The environs of the temple support quite a few bird species, the Hoopoe being the most prominent among them.

The beach is quite good, woody and clean.

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And quite good for meditation.

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Maa Ramchandi temple is located between the road and the Kusabhadra river. It is a part of the Puri-Konark tourist circuit and draws a large number of tourists.

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The main draw here appears to be the boating facilities in the shallow brackish waters of Kusabhadra.

Balukhand-Konark Sanctuary exists only on the map. We approach the gate and the forest guard informs us that there is nothing inside, no animals. There is no point in our going in. Either he is telling the truth or he simply does not want to take the trouble of allowing us in. I have not seen anything written about this sanctuary either. We let it pass and make a halt at a resort on the northern end of the Kusabhadra river, just across the road from the ‘sanctuary’.

The last spot on the Puri-Konark Marine Drive is the Konark beach. From here one turns left for Konark which is a short distance away. Chandrabhaga Temple is the major tourist attraction apart from the beach.  The river Chandrabhaga used to drain into the ocean here but it no longer does. It has dried out. A pond is constructed as if to commemorate the river.

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The lighthouse at the corner is the last item we can see before we go to Konark for the overnight stay. It is called Chandrabhaga lighthouse.

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We keep Konark for the next post.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

 

 

108.ODISHA. (2) AROUND CHILKA LAKE

Chilka ( also written as Chilika)  Lake is actually a brackish water lagoon formed on the Bay of Bengal. At 1100 square kilometres it is the world’s second largest water body of this type. Theoretically all the various parts of the lake can be visited from the land side but there are only three major locations from where lodging and boating facilities are available. Two of them are on the west side of the road and one on the eastern side facing the sea. We decide to explore the lake from all three spots- Rambha, Barkul/ Balugaon  & Satapada.

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The southernmost of such spots is the facility provided by OTDC at Rambha. We are greeted at the entrance to the town by this religious procession associated with Veerabhadra, a form of Lord Shiva.

The OTDC complex provides large cottages as well as rooms, with fabulous views right on the lakeside.

Exploring the lake is possible only by a boat and there are plenty of them available. We have those operated by the OTDC and also those owned by the private operators. The first place we are taken to is called Breakfast Island. The story is that the British colonials used to visit this rock on weekends for their breakfast and the structure was built for the purpose. It has survived well.

The next stop is at the Bird Island. A smallish island which hosts a large number of migratory birds during the season. We are well into March and cannot expect the migratory birds at this time of the year.

We have to make do with the sighting of the local deity with whose blessings the migratory birds make a safe passage back to their respective places in the north.

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The lake hosts a large number of other animal species. The endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin is one. We could see a few but the photographs did not come off well.

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There is a small bivalve mollusc resembling the Green Mussel growing on the lake. At first glance, it looked like the young of the Green Mussels but the boatmen clarified that this is the maximum size this species grows up to and they are not edible. I guess this would be the food for some of the birds visiting the lake.

There is another place on the eastern shore of the lake near Rambha which houses a shrine to a Goddess and one has to crawl through a tunnel in the rocks to reach it. We decide against this adventure and return to have a meal with fresh lake fish at the resort.

Our next stop is Barkul. Barkul with it’s neighbouring  Balugam has been a tourist place for quite some time. We had stayed here about 20 years back. Barkul is busy the year round, birds or no birds. It has a naval establishment very close by and there is an island with a famous temple which is accessible economically from this place. The Goddess Kalijai has a huge following in this part of Odisha and visitors keep coming continuously. Add to this the birding season and you have a perfect commercial place. To make things more attractive the OTDC has developed a Water Sports Complex on the lakeside.

We reach Barkul late and decide against a boat ride and stick to the sunset.

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After some early morning birding the next day, we proceed towards Puri, passing Balugam on the way.

Whilst at Rambha we had contemplated visiting Satapada from the eastern side, the seacoast side. As we were driving the people at the resort discouraged us from the journey. There are a number of  water crossings on the way and the roads are not good. There might be work going on a bridge. Nobody was certain if we could make by that route. The other option was to go to Puri and then drive southwards to reach Satapada, only place having accommodation on the eastern shores of  the lake. We decide on the Puri option.

The road to Puri is through several villages and an enjoyable ride. We stop at many places as we go to look around.

We stop for a drink of the tadi, the sap of the palm thinking that it is the Borassus palm sap. It happened to be the sap of the Date palm. This is the first time we had an occasion to drink the sap of the date palm and it predictably tastes sweet.

Here is a house at the village Pattajoshipur with masonry walls with elaborate decoration but with roofs of the palm fronds.

This temple on the side of a small lake has sunk on one side and appears tilting to its right.

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This arch looks incongruous in the village. Perhaps it belongs to another era when this was a rich town.

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This method of lifting water for irrigation is still being practiced not far from the capital city of Odisha.

The drive from Barkul to Puri is more than 143 Kms. Puri to Satapada is 48 Kms and Puri is also a place we need to visit as it is a coastal town, we decide to halt at Puri. For the sake of continuity, allow me to skip Puri for the time being and jump on to Satapada.

This part of the drive is through another set of villages and small towns and through an area which is more densely populated. A few kilometers from Puri we are greeted with a huge flock of Glossy Ibis foraging in the wet fields.

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A wild growing tree in the region grows seeds of large size. They are dried for extracting oil. Edible? No. They make soap out of the oil.

Cashew trees are in flower. It appears a bit late for the first flowers. I call up my brother in Goa to check up on the status of the tree on the west coast. I get the information is that the fruit came up on the west coast more than a month ago. Now it is the time for the ‘Hurrak’, a liquor made out of the fruit juice. Here in Odisha it is just flowering.

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We come across a traditional method of fishing in shallow waters of paddyfields- very interesting and probably very efficient.

This video shows the action:

( Link is at the end of the post.)

 

We reach Satapada in good time to check in at OTDC  and take a late morning boat ride to one of the islands towards the sea and there are many of them. The boatman offers to take seven ‘points’. In all tourist places in India they have ‘point’- five, seven, nine, eleven etc. The price differs with the number of ‘points’ done. One of the points offered by this boatman is ‘dolphins’, as if they were a tree.

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What one can see all along in the lake is the fishing nets. The water is low with the right amount of salinity and the bamboo sticks planted in the lake basin allows the nets to be spread in wide areas.

And here is the fabrication work going on :

The boatman has started showing us the seven ‘spots’. Here are two:

Which two?

‘the island is one.’

‘and the other?’

‘the small temple under the tree’.

For the third ‘spot’ we are taken a bit towards the east to show us some water which is supposed to be seawater entering the lake.

For the next ‘spot’, we have to scan the lake for the dolphins. We then move on to another island. This one is formed with the soil dredged from the lake bed. And it is here that we can have our lunch. It is another matter that it is counted as another ‘spot’.

The lunch with fish and fresh crabs is delicious even when served in aluminium foil.

We return to the resort and wait for another glorious sunset on the lake.

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On our way back to Puri the next day we visit the famous Alarnath Temple.

In many parts of Odisha a house is painted on the occasion of a marriage ceremony and this fact is duly recorded in paint. Now, this paint and the fact of the wedding ceremony will remain intact until a fresh coat of paint is given which probably will come at the time of the next marriage ceremony.

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Next we meet at Jagannath Puri.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Photographs by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Video by Veena Naik

March 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

107.ODISHA.(1) AROUND GOPALPUR-ON-SEA

We leave Somepeta and get on the National Highway to cross the Andhra Pradesh border into Odisha. It is not that simple. The highway takes you into Odisha and back into Andhra at least at two places before finally leaving Andhra behind.

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Normally in India one does not feel that one is crossing one state into another. There are a number of overlapping factors in the border areas- language, food, culture etc. The places where the division into states (or the Federal nature of Indian Union) come into sharp focus are the points where the state governments have their Border Check Posts. At most of these check-posts one can see ques of trucks running into miles, waiting for their turn to cross the check-posts, making a border look like a huge traffic jam which it partly is. The reason is that the ques are formed on the road. There is no separate lane for the border check posts. This results in the passenger vehicles not requiring a check also to be stuck in the traffic. This also results in two adjoining states of the Union of India looking like two different countries.

Gopalpur is a village on the Odisha coast and has a passably good beach. Why this place is called ‘Gopalpur On Sea’ is a mystery. I guess this is the creation of some idle Englishman who did not find a better thing to do when in the service of the Honourable Company. The history buffs will tell you that Gopalpur was a big port during the days of the East India Company and was rich and what not. They may also tell you that the EAC used to import rice from Burma through this port. The import part could be true but not the claim of being a big port. Further, Gopalpur that we see now, the resort village could not have been a port at all. It is a flat, straight beach where no ships can be berthed. The possibility is that the area several kilometres to the north of the village had a port in the sheltered waters of the creek. Not Gopalpur on Sea, sir. Even the new port which is being developed is some miles north of the creek, further away from the beach town. Incidentally and surprisingly the new port is on the shore without any protection.

Probably because of the romantic name- Gopalpur-On-Sea, I had great expectation of the place. It turned out to be a damp squib, as the Englishman who christened it would most likely describe it today.

The beach is quite good, long and straight, used by holiday makers, tourists, fishermen and defecators at the same time without any conflict of interest.

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We are put up at a hotel just behind the Gopalpur Lighthouse, right on the seashore. We do not make an attempt to climb the lighthouse.

Forts, the sea forts, happen to be one of the landmarks along with the Lighthouses that we have decided to visit on this journey. The rationale is that we will be able to cover the maximum part of the coast without missing much. Not far from G-O-S there is a fort.

Potagarh is a sizable fort and looks more like a combination of two or three forts or fortresses, on the banks of the Rushikulya river or at the point where the river meets the sea. In Andhra they call it ‘mixing’. I am not sure what they call it in Oriya.

It is a sad reflection on Indians’ lack of sense of history that we are still not sure when this fort was constructed and by whom. And this is not about ancient history, it is about a 17th century  masonry structure which is largely intact. One theory or speculation is that it was built in the 17th Century by a Muslim Faujdar of the Kutubshahi sultans. The reason given in support of this is that there exists a Mosque within the fort complex. The second claim is on behalf of Monsieur De Bussy, a Frenchman. The evidence? Existence of two graves of Frenchmen in the fort. Date? 1753. And then the claim on behalf of the Honourable East India Company represented by Edward Costford, Resident of Ganjam. When? He was the Resident from 1768 onwards.

And here is the graffiti on the walls and the arches, something I deeply hate.

We return to our base just before sunset and on the way, could see a few industrial complexes including one of Indian Rare Earths.

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More interesting is the government built elaborate ‘shelters’ for the people who might be affected by cyclones. It is very interesting. I would have liked to study how it works and the extent of the area is covers.

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Reviewing our progress at the end of the day we realize that as we drove we missed an important geographical formation between Andhra and Odisha. A creek- pure creek without any major freshwater flowing into it – is formed between the two states and the state boundary runs through this creek. This is an interesting phenomenon and we decide to explore it although we have to drive back south on the highway with all the trucks blocking our way and making life difficult. In the event the place is found to be worth visiting. If there was an ancient port in this area, probably this should have been the place. It has everything that a good harbour would need.

If you look at the map of the area, you will see the lagoon-like formation through which the borderline of the two states pass. You see these names of the places on either side of the border: SONPUR, SONPUR BEACH,KEUTA SONPUR & PATA SONPUR. The lagoon is named Bahuda Muhana Sagar.

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A bridge has just been constructed and is named after the first Chief Minister of the State. The approach road to the north is not ready. No, you can’t cross this creek. You can try but…………… We decide not to try to drive through the mud excavated by the construction equipment to the other end. We had crossed the bridge but then decide not to go further.

Just at the beginning of the approach road to the new bridge we find a small lake and the birders in us woke up to spend an hour along the lakeside.

And here are the lakeside Gods.

We return back to the highway and make our way to two places, not very far from each other, which have historical and religious significance. One is a Buddhist politico-religious site at Jaugada where Emperor Ashoka had placed an edict after his conversion to the Buddhist way of life and the other is the famous temple of Taran Tarini, both in Ganjam district.

First we drive to Jaugada and find that the road to the site is blocked by the farmers who are drying their produce on the approach road. The only option we have is to walk about a couple of kilometres through hot sun. the farmers are protected by the very efficient equipment that have designed which provides the shade without depriving their heads of the cool breeze.

 

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The farmer and his cool hat.

 

JAUGADA is worth visiting. It is quite a sizable area covered with granite boulders ideal for inscribing edict in the pre-paper days. The 3rd Century BC edict is in Prakrit language and is written in Mauryan Brahmi script. Of course, so I have been told. The other thing that I have been told is that the edict, among other things, speaks about protection of animals and wildlife. In short non-violence and love of all living things, particularly the animals. I am sure it does not extend to plant life.

What is commendable about the edict is that the way it has been protected by Archaeological Survey of India. Full marks to them for the maintenance of the site.

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Located 32 Kms from Brahmapur, on a hill is the shrine of Maa Tara Tarini. This is a very complex Puranic deity. The shrine is one of four major ones of the Shakti Cult and one of the four ‘Shakti Peeths’. Out of the four two are in Odisha, one in Bengal and one in Assam. I would like to excuse myself from the religious aspects of this phenomena (which is too complex to be discussed here) and stick myself to things like the gate to the town where the temple is located. ( Here are some pictures).

And the efficiency of the cable car that takes the pilgrims to the top of the hill without any effort on their part. Of course, there is a road driving option also available to get on to the top.

The view of the Rushikulya river from here would be much better in the morning and at the sunset. We happened to be at the place in the mid-afternoon. And this is how it looked.

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The temple or the combination of various places which together makes the shrine attract a large number of pilgrims from all over the region and even from far away places.

The farmers at the foot of the hill are not blessed by the Maa with any comforts. They have to live with their drudgery although a few among them are making good money off the visitors selling them various things- refreshments and charms.

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Text: Suryakiran Naik

Pictures : Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

March 2017.

106.ANDHRA PRADESH. (10) Vizianagaram, Srikakulam, Baruva.

The two northernmost districts of Andhra Pradesh, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam are bordered by Odisha state on the western side and the history of these two districts intermingle with that of adjoining districts of Odisha, meaning they have had common ruling dynasties in history. This is quite common among the modern Indian States.

Vizianagaram is not to be confused with Vijayanagar empire although the empire ruled over this place briefly. Vizianagaram is not exactly a seaside town but is 18 kms form the seashore and qualify to be visited by TheBlueDrive which has a 30 Kms range from the seashore permitted.

As we drive towards Vizianagaram, my mind is trying to recollect why this place sounds familiar to me. Vizianagaram………. Late that night I remember it. Rajah of Vizianagaram Vs Commissioner of Income-tax, a landmark case related to the principal of Heads of Income being not interchangeable. That was in 1980, 37 years ago (not the case, my reading of it), when I was in the second year of my law degree.

It is small town. We reach late in the afternoon and intend to spend only one night. The town is typical of the erstwhile principalities ruled by the princes who succeeded to smaller geographies at the demise of the larger empires and ruled till the White Man appeared at their doorsteps and fleeced them. The rulers of this small principality are known to have erected a fountain in the middle of London, England.

This is not a spectacular place and hence there are no spectacular pictures and then there is the short time allocated to this place. We decide on two places to visit. One is the Fort, a modest one which happens to be in the middle of the town, and a temple to Goddess Sarasvati, a rare thing. We do a round of the fort on the day of our arrival and the temple the next day morning before we proceed to Srikakulam.

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The fort and the modest palace within it are now flush with educational institutions of various kinds. Hats off to the Rajus, the erstwhile rulers who have donated a huge amount of space to these institutions. The fort has among it’s deities the Goddess Sarasvati. The rulers seem to have given her the due importance. The last ruler is duly honoured within the precincts of the fort.

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Statue of Shri P V G Raju

 

The Goddess of learning is honoured in the fort precincts.

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Sarasvati carved in stone, Vizianagaram Fort.

 

The flag of the erstwhile principality is still raised in the fort.

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Vizianagaram State Standard

 

The next morning stopover before we proceed to Srikakulam is the Gyan Sarasvati temple. It is not easy to find. It is not very old and temples to Sarasvati are not common either. People have been building temples to all kinds of Gods and Goddesses from the Hindu pantheon but very few of them have found it necessary to similarly honour the Goddess of Knowledge. This temple is perhaps a fallout of the dedication to the Goddess by the erstwhile rules of the principality.

 

From the perspective of an atheist who considers the attainment of knowledge as the supreme human endeavour, paying obeisance to the symbolic manifestation of knowledge does not surely amount to idolatry. Consequently, I enter and fold my hands at the temple with conviction and without remorse.

 

The new students who start their schooling are given a sanctified slate before they start attending the school. With great difficulty I convince the temple trustee to part with one for me. Yes, I am willing to make a small donation. I will preserve this.

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Off we go after a roadside breakfast towards Srikakulam, through the farmland on both sides of the road, greenery all over even at the onset of the summer.

We stop at the sight of this man to make enquiries about what he is carrying and where. He is carrying food for the farm workers who have been working there since the morning. Going by the timings the people may have been working in the fields since the first hints of light.

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Carrying lunch to the farm.

 

And here is a type of small umbrella the farmers in coastal Andhra use to protect themselves from the scorching sun. It reminds one of Vietnam and neighbouring places where such equipment is in use. Here the raw material seems to be the leaves of the ubiquitous Tada palm.

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The Sunshield, Andhra style.

 

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Three rivers flowing down from the Eastern Ghats meet the Bay of Bengal in Srikakulam district, the northernmost of the Andhra Pradesh districts. River Nagavali hosts Srikakulam town on it’s banks. Vamsadhara forms a sandy beach at Kalingapatnam and Mahindra Tanaya forms a spectacular land & seascape at Baruva. This is coastal region in its truest sense.

We find a hotel overlooking the Nagavali in the old part of the town and begin with the Kalingapatnam area. Kalingaptnam is an ancient city and a major port through which the east coast of India was trading with the countries of the south-east Asia. There are no remnants of it to be seen. Incidentally Kalingapatnam is not related to Kalinga kingdom or the Kalinga war. That place is located in present day Odisha near Bhubaneshwar.

Kalingapatnam is a huge sandy beach and here we discover a culinary invention- Bamboo Chicken. Spiced chicken pieces are cooked in a Bamboo on open fire. The bamboo piece is a single use item. We are tempted to taste it but that was the last order he was delivering as he had run out of chicken. The boys who bought the last order are also carrying Tadi, the sap of the palm tree which when heated would turn into a liquor or perhaps that is what they are carrying. It goes well with the Bamboo Chicken, they tell us. We don’t get to taste either.

Beyond Vamsadhara one can see an old Lighthouse. Can we go and see it? ‘ Yes, but not from here as there is no bridge on the river. You will have to go to Srikakulam and comeback from the other side’. We drop the idea and make do with pictures from a distance.

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The current operational lighthouse is closer to the village and far off from the seashore. Perhaps the sand has accumulated since the lighthouse was constructed increasing its distance from the sea.

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The area along the river is a major sand mining area. One can see the tractor trolleys collecting sand, a sight repeated on a large scale on Mahanadi in Odisha.

Apart from rice the farmers here grow a black lentil like Moong but not exactly like the popular green moong.

Salihundan is a hill overlooking Vamsadhara from the south and on which are found relics of a Buddhist monastery. Not much is known about the place except that it would have been active from the 2nd century BC to 12th Century AD. This could have used for the spreading Buddhism to the South East Asia through the Kalingapatnam port. The site is accessible by a good road up to about half a kilometre to the top of the hill. A place worth visiting even if you are as ignorant about the Buddhist architecture as I am.

The view of the river is spectacular from the top of the hill.

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On the way back we come across this temple to the Kurma avatar of Lord Vishnu.

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Srikakulam is more famous for it’s Suryanarayan Temple. No photography is allowed inside and we satisfy ourselves with the outsides.

Srikakulam makes its ladders from the round poles.

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Our last stop in the state of Andhra Pradesh is at Baruva on the banks of river Rushikulya, 105 Kms. from Srikakulam. We drive along the coastal road which goes through a major salt manufacturing area and picturesque countryside. One gets to witness this only if one sticks to the coastal road and avoid the temptation to take the highway which is further west, away from the sea.

We have booked a room at the APTDC’s Haritha Beach Resort. The APTDC has found the most beautiful locations for their properties but they appear to be grossly underutilized and poorly maintained. The areas along the northern coast of the sea does not have any major population centre and that explains the fact there are not many visitors to these beautiful beaches. This is the view of the Mahendra Tanaya river as it meets the see , as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

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Here is a tower which one can see from the Lighthouse at Baruva. We could not find any information about it. Is it an abandoned Lighthouse?

Here is the landside view. The little road is the one leading to the Haritha resort.

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The lighthouse is next door to Haritha resort and we climb up to see the surroundings. Worth the climb.

The life on the beach is very active in the absence of many visitors. One can see a number of live seashells.

In Baruva village we make a discovery. The village has a lake just on the outskirts and a pond near the Hanuman statue on the road leading to Somepeta. Between them these water bodies hold a large number of bird species. They are not just the ordinary species. We could find a rare Baillon’s Crake here!!

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Baillon’s Crake

And here are the lesser avian mortals.

 

Somepeta is the small town, bigger than Baruva where we had breakfast on two consecutive mornings. The roadside eatery serves delicious and fresh south Indian snacks at unbelievable prices. The two of us could eat Idlis and Vadas and Dosas and were asked to pay only Rs. 35/-. We felt guilty. Tea however is not served at the same place. We had to cross the road to find the teamaker.

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The cinema poster between these two eateries is alluring.

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With Somepeta we end our journey through Andhra Pradesh and make our way to Odisha.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

 

105.ANDHRA PRADESH. (9) Visakhapatnam , Thotlakonda,Bheemili, Bheemunipatnam.

The Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region starts almost immediately after one leaves Anakapalle. A large hill appears from nowhere on the sea coast. In fact the Eastern Ghats are located much further to the west. The hills of Vizag appear to be the foothills of the eastern ghats somehow detached from the main range to create a city in between.

The city and the region around is an ancient settlement. The history goes back to the days of Kalinga Kingdom in Odisha of which it was a part. In the subsequent centuries it was ruled by the Cholas from Tamilnadu and some local kings until it fell into the hands of the French in the 18th century. The British wrested control from the French in the early part of 19th century and ruled till the Indian independence.

Vizag as the town is also known as  is a great natural harbour, a major port and an important naval base of Indian Navy. The combination of these gives the metropolitan region a population of over five million, the largest in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Kailasgiri Park on the northern side of the town is a standard tourist attraction with road access as well as a ropeway. The views of the beach and the sea below justifies the climb.

We just pass through the Zoological park which occupies quite a large area on the side of a hill close to the sea.

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The War Memorial on the beach is another place we visit as probably everyone does when he is in Vizag.

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We have not lined up many places to see in the city. There is a famous lighthouse of course and a couple of other hills which we would see to get a view of the town from the top.

Dolphin’s Nose Lighthouse must rank among the most visited lighthouses in the country. It is on the tour operators itinerary. To reach the Dolphin’s Nose is quite difficult. One has to take a round of the entire town and climb a hill from the south side to reach it. The shorter roads are in the Naval area and not open to public.

The lighthouse is not a great structure but the views from the lighthouse are.

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Dolphin’s Nose Lighthouse.

There is a Dargah close to the lighthouse. We skip it.

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The next day we start early and continue along the road north of the city towards Beemunipatnam with the Rushikonda beach as the first halt.

The development of the city is in the narrow space north to south with the hills forming the obstruction towards the west. This continues throughout till Beemunipatnam.

Not far from Rushikonda are several hills in which ancient Buddhist sites have been found, some of them are quite well preserved despite their age of 2000 years+.  Bavikonda and Thotlakonda hills are the ones we decide to visit.

We visit both the places in quick succession. For someone not conversant with the Buddhist architecture they look the same- the Viaharas and the Stupas etc.

 

At Bavikonda ( which means Hill of Wells), we find a number of water cisterns created to collect rainwater which would perhaps last the monks a whole year as it would be difficult to find alternative source of water on the hill.

The Yellow-whattled lapwing breeds well in the hills keeping company and providing background sounds to the Buddhist stupas.

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Yellow wattled Lapwing

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The entrance arch to the   Thotlakonda    site built by the Andhra Pradesh government is more grandiose that anything the Buddhist monks might have thought of constructing 2000+years ago.

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Thotlakonda entrance gate

About 15 Kms north of Rushikonda the river Gosthnai meets the sea after encircling the hills which form the backdrop to Vishakhapatnam town. Bheemili beach is next stop. What distinguishes the beach is the large number of sculptures and statues in concrete depicting various religious themes.

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Bhimili beach has a lighthouse, arguably the shortest one in the country. It is called Bheeminipatnam Lighthouse and is about 10 meters in height, overall.

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The Lighthouse

Gandhiji’s statue looks strange, probably the walking stick has been taken away it.

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Gandhi and the Lighthouse.

The Telugu love for statues and sculptures does not end here. It continues to the Bhimunipatnam town and beyond into the hills.

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Naracimha  on the Hill

In the town square itself there are a couple of sculptures, quite prominent.

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Mermaids by the dozen

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From the scriptures

 

The major one and worth looking at in detail is depicting various facets of the life of the town and probably the region.

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The sculpture in main square.

Fisherwoman. (The birds are real, not a part of the sculpture.

Men at sea, catching fish.

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The townsfolk.

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And the white man who spent time here, not in the very distant past.

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Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

104.ANDHRA PRADESH. (8) Ethikoppaka Vadrapalle & Anakapalle

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hillside cut to build a temple on the shores of the lake

 

 

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.

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How can the artists be left behind when the local invention has been a success? The boats get their decorative paint.

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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.

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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.

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The saltpans on the way.

 

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.

 

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Fishing boats on the beach.

 

Here is a typical house on the hill slope leading to the Lighthouse.

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And here is the lighthouse.

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And the Pudimadaka temple.

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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.

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The process used as simple as elsewhere in the country.

Squeeze out the juice from the cane.

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Collect the juice in a vessel.

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Boil the juice using the cane residue called bagasse and there you are.

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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.

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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.

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The unloading:

 

 

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.

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With this information we leave Anakapalle and continue towards Vishakapatnam.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik &  Veena Naik

Videos by Veena Naik

 

103.ANDHRA PRADESH. (7) Kakinada & Kadiyapulanka

Yanam to Kakinada is a short distance but we have booked a room at the Haritha Beach Resort owned and operated by the AP Tourism Development Corporation which is located by the sea at the northernmost corner of the town or perhaps outside the town as the place is called Vakalpudi. As we are travelling from the southern side we cross the almost the entire town to reach the place.

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In the vicinity of the resort is the Lighthouse. It is known as Vakalpudi Lighthouse. We are allowed to climb the stairs up but decline as we are a bit tired after the long drive in the morning.

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Apart from being a seaport, Kakinada is also a major fishing harbour. Right in the centre of the town one can see a large number of fishing boats anchored in the creek which cuts across the town.

Kakinada also has a sizable fishing boat making industry. The location is right in the centre of the town along the creek. One can watch the various operations related to making wooden boats.

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It is a busy little place with boats at various stages of completion.

This one is almost complete and getting painted.

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There is a temple in the midst of the shipbuilding area. A small temple probably with the specific function of blessing the boats under construction.

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When you are visiting the boat building yard, you can’t fail to see the little market for dry fish in the vicinity. The eastern seaboard of India appears to be fond of dry fish much more than the inhabitants of the western part of the country. One can see dry fish sold in most of the coastal places.

 

Probably the only recreational place Kakinada offers to the visitors is the Hope Island. This island has formed during the last two hundred years (200) and is a tadpole shaped. The 16 Kms long island is more of a sandbar with vegetation. The slim southern end extends up to the Coringa wildlife sanctuary near Yanam. It is said that this island is responsible to make the  Kakinada port the safest harbour on the east coast of India.

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AP Tourism provides boat facility to travel from the Fishing Harbour to the island and back.

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The boat ride is a return trip with a very short stay at the island. The island by itself offers nothing. It is barren except for a lighthouse which you notice as you approach the island.

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The ride between the harbour and the island takes you through a busy shipping lane.

One can even watch midstream loading of ocean-going vessels.

People visiting the island in the boat seem to be doing so for the pleasure of the ride rather than actually doing something on the island. In our boat is a large family and as we approach the island we realize that they have come as a group to celebrate the first birthday of this little boy. We join the festivities and act as the unofficial photographers.

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Hope island is rich in seashells. We pick up several of them for our collection.

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The island seems to have a population of pretty squirrels. This one is nibbling at a coconut washed ashore, perhaps from the offerings made to some God.

KADIYAPULANKA is not exactly a coastal place but we decide to visit it for its famous nurseries and flower market. Located near Rajahmundry along one of the Godavari’s many water canals the place is worth visiting. From Kakinada one drives westwards through the green countryside and the maze of canals which support year-long agricultural and horticultural activities in the region.

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A large gathering of Openbilled Storks

 

The entire place is awash with plant nurseries. Countless. And they seem to be growing all kinds saplings, jut name what you want.

The main road divides the flower market into the Wholesale and the Retail parts. The Wholesale market building is under construction and is custom-designed for the products traded here.

We are a bit late for the early morning auctions but still can see the huge quantity of flowers traded, and the vast variety.

The smaller retail market is all the more interesting. It is here that one can see the garland-making and value-addition to the flowers sold on the opposite side, around a small temple.

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Temple in the flower market.

 

Garland making appears to be major activity here. The garlands are custm-made for various uses. Temples & Gods, Marriages, political functions etc. etc.

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The giant garland, made to order. for a temple.

 

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On the roadside near the retail flower market, this man sells home-made sweets unique to this region.

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The sugar and other ingredients are wrapped in a thin sheet of what looks like a paper but is in fact a film made with starch gleaned from the water in which rice is boiled. It is called Pootharekulu.

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Pootharekulu

 

To wind up this post here is a brief video of how they make Rs 5000/- per piece garland.

 

 

 

Text: Suryakiran Naik

Pictures : Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Video : Veena Naik

102.ANDHRA PRADESH. (6) Sacramento, Yanam, Coringa.

Between Antarvedi in the south to Yanam in the north the river Godavari meets the Bay of Bengal by means of 4 distributaries, forming a classic river delta, rich with soil brought in by the river. This is the rice bowl of India made all the more useful and productive by an intricate network of canals and waterways. The irrigation system is credited to the British administration and more specifically to an irrigation engineer who has become a legend by the name of Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton. The importance of the irrigation system built by Sir Cotton is of immense importance to the region and is so acknowledged by the people benefited by it. You will see the statues raised to the memory of Sir Cotton everywhere competing for space with the post-independence political leaders. In 2015 a ‘Pindaparidhanam’ ceremony was conducted on the banks of Godavari to the memory of Sir Cotton, a honour reserved for one’s departed ancestors. That gives us an idea about the degree of reverence the people have for this irrigation engineer.

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Sir Cotton on Horseback at a village square.

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Sir Cotton with Lord Parashurama for company.

 

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Bust at a village in West Godavari district

  

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Among the statues at Yanam

 

Starting from Dindi on the banks of Godavari we decide to make a stopover at Yanam (which is a part of the Union Territory of Puducherry) but before we do that we have another spot to visit, a lighthouse in fact.

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The new Lighthouse (L) and the old one (R)

 

 

 One has to pass through Bojjavaripeta and Kandikuppa in the Amalapuram Taluk to reach a fishing village called Pora to find a lighthouse named Sacramento Lighthouse. Is the name not a contrast to the surrounding places? Does it not sound very foreign? The lighthouse got it’s name from a ship that floundered and perished in the sands near the coast. The sand bars formed along the coast in this area of east Godavari district are notoriously treacherous. To ensure safety of the ships the Sacramento Lighthouse was completed in the year 1895.

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The orignal 1895 lighthouse, now discarded.

 

 The picture below shows the lighthouse compound with the staff quarters bearing the imprint of colonial administration.

 

 Sacramento Lighthouse is difficult to reach. It is not the distance but the terrain. One has to drive through a maze of village roads, cross a number of fish and prawn culture ponds, cross a couple of mangroves and at last a bridge so narrow, a car can barely pass. This must be one of the narrowest motorable bridge anywhere!!

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village on the way.

 

 

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A Bridge Too Narrow

 

 The striking part of the region inded the whole of Andhra Pradesh is the existence of large number of statues at every conceivable place.

 

XXXXXXXX  YANAM

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Yanam Entrance

 

 

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The trademark gates of Puducherry at all the 4 places

 

When you cross the last distributary of the mighty Godavari, you drive into the former French territory of Yanam. Yanam which is now a part of the Union Territory of Puducherry and the surrounding areas of Andhra Pradesh have nothing to distinguish between them. One can walk from one to the other without knowing. The only differentiating factor perhaps is the price of fuel and liquor which is lower on the Yanam side.

We try to find some ‘French’ past- architecture, art, food, monument etc. There is none or next to nothing. Yes, there are a couple of government buildings and a Church. Surprising? Or we were not properly guided.

 

 What dominates the town is the post-independence riverside beach and recreation area on the north Bank of Godavari, replete with statues of politicians and the large plaques indicating which politician inaugurated the statues.

 

Yanam has a couple of good restaurants purely local and do not indicate even remotely any French influence. Culturally the place is pure Andhrite. We could witness the procession of Virabhadra right in the centre of the town.

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 Yanam is now shaping up in a different way. It is the hub for the KG-2. The Krishna-Godavari Gasfields. Reliance group is quite active here.

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XXXXXXXXXXXXXx Coringa.

The area north of the mouth of Godavari where there is considerable drilling activity for natural gas is also a bilogical hotspot. The dense mangrove forest has prompted the Andhra government to declare a sizable area as a wildlife Sanctuary. Coringa is located between Yanam and the port town of Kakinada to the north.

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This sanctuary will not survive long despite the dense mangrove cover. It is under threat from all directions. To to the south are the gas drilling activities. To the west are the prawn culture ponds which are almost inside the sanctuary. The overall picture of the sanctuary indicates that it is being turned into a picnic spot. A road  inside is even named. To add to the problem are the huge number of students who make the sanctuary a lovers lane.

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Nobody seems to be bothered about the wildlife for which the place was set up.

At low tide the mudskippers are quite active in the mangroves.

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The extensive wetlands facing the Bay of Bengal and the meeting of the Godavari made this area economically important during the British regime. This is born out by the fact that there used to be extensive shipping activity along this part of the coast. In spite of the wetlands and the mangrove cover the area boasted two lighthouses. We have seen one at Sacramento and another one was supposed to be functional at a place in the mangroves in the past. It is no longer functional and cannot be reached by road. There is a possibility of reaching the place by a boat journey of four hours as indicated by the boat operators. We decided to pass it and be satisfied with a pictureof it found in the sanctuary.

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Text by Suryakiran Naik

Photographed by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik

101.ANDHRA PRADESH. (5) KAIKALURU TO ANTARVEDI

 

Kaikalaru may not ring a bell even among the born Andhrites. It is a very small town. The only reason this place has achieved some kind of fame is perhaps the presence of a bird sanctuary and that precisely is the reason for us to be here. The Sanctuary is called Kolleru Bird Sanctuary.

The first hurdle is finding a place to stay. We have driven all the way from Kuchipudi and don’t want to dance here looking for a hotel. There are not many options available. There are a couple of lodges in the town. The best one among them admits us for a night with a condition that we will wind up and disappear from the place before 8 am. A ‘marriage party’ has booked the entire hotel from early morning onwards, next day. We agree to the terms and conditions and dump our bags and proceed to Kolleru, not very far, for a sunset view of the birds. This is the second time in Andhra Pradesh that we found it difficult to get a place to stay, courtesy marriages.

We dump our bags and rush to the sanctuary which is not very far off for a sunset view. Not bad. Lot of birds though not a great variety. The winter has ended and most of the migrants have found their way back to their homes. We have to make-do with whatever is left behind. Not bad. We enjoyed.

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To their credit the Forest Department of the AP government has maintained this place very well. Creditable cleanliness. The guys around there try to make some money by taking people for a boat-ride in the lagoon which is not really required. You can see all the birds without the boat ride. Interestingly most of the people visiting the sanctuary do so for the boat-ride.

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The steel structures that you in the picture above are unprecedented on a large scale like this. Anyways the birds make good use of these stands.

The silhouettes of the birds seen against the light of the setting sun are really worth seeing.

We get up early the next day to make sure we are not thrown out of the room by the ‘marriage party’. We get back to the Sanctuary for a sunrise session of pictures. Lovely. There is a bund through the sanctuary over which the locals take their buffaloes for grazing in the wetlands beyond which adds to the glamour of the place.

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Among the species we found were Asian Pied Starling, not found on the west/south coast of India.

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Asian Pied Starling

And a few other passerines.

 

After a round of morning birding we continue northwards. We drive through the towns of Bhimavaram and Narsapur to cross the Godavari at Dindi. The Godavari delta is charming. The greenery appears to be year-long. As much as nature there is a human being who takes the credit for this. Sir Arthur Cotton a British irrigation engineer is worshipped in this part of the world, deservedly. He will appear in detail in another post in this series.

The riverside is calm and serene:

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From east Coast of Godavari,late in the evening.

Kaikalaru to Dindi is a long drive taking us the entire morning. We reach the Dindi Coconut Country Resort for a late lunch. This place is on the east bank of the river. The river is navigable for small craft and the surrounding countryside is lush green with coconut plantations and paddy fields.

This greenery stays with you all along the coastal belt and more particularly in what is called the Krishna Godavari Basin. We are in the month of February, but that does not seem to make any difference here with the irrigation-induced greenery.

The next day morning  we drive to a place called Anatarvedi. Coconut plantations, harvesting and processing is a part of the life here.

Rope-making out of the coconut husk does not seem to be an industry here. We did not see it anywhere. Maybe it did not develope here or the locals here were quick to abandon it with the advent of the nylon. Or perhaps we did not notice it.

Antarvedi is where one of the three distributaries of the great Godavari meet the Bay of Bengal and is considered as a holy place by Hindus. The modern people in Andhra call it ‘MIXING’. The term ‘mixing’ here means mixing of the sweet waters of the river with the saltwater of the sea. ‘Mixing’ is a widely used term in Andhrite English. Is Teluglish the right word?

Before we reach the mixing place, we come across this very popular temple of Laxminarasimha . The pilgrimage to Godavari ‘mixing’ is not complete without visiting the temple.

The Mixing ( I continue with this word as I don’t know a better substitute. Confluence does not appear to be right term as it refers to mixing of two rivers) by itself is not a spectacular place. In fact it is not a specific place. It is a general area where the river meets the sea and this is not the only place. This river meets the sea at three different places and  this is the last northwards ( or eastwards depending on how you hold the map).

The lighthouse is more than a kilometer from the seashore and does not give a much better view of the mixing from the top.

The  Red Ghost Crab appears here in large numbers.

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This boy insisted that he has a Driving Permit.

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There is a temple between the town and the beach. We stop here for a few pictures of the Deepstambha, the lamp-post which is wooden, for a change. In most other temples they are made of metal.

Done with the mixing and we take a different route to get back to the Coconut Country Resort, through a different set of villages and diffrent canals, for a part of the way. And then we stumble upon another temple with a lot of artwork on its walls. Unfortunately we have did not bother to ask for the name of the place and the temple and all the writing are in Telugu. Anyway the paintings are done by someone who understands art.

As you drive around the rural and semi-urban areas of Andhra Pradesh, you cannot escape he Telugu love of statues. They are everywhere. This tempts me to make a separate post on that subject. Here are a few.

The above selection includes mythological figures, recent politicians, Irrigation Engineers etc. Andhra Pradesh is incomplete without these images.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik

 

 

100.ANDHRA PRADESH. (4) Guntur-Uppalapadu,Undavalli, Machilipatnam, Challapalli, Kuchipudi.

We leave Nizamapatnam and decide to drive to Guntur although it is not on the coast. The idea was to see the Chili growing region and the sight of red Chilies being dried in large quantities. Added to this was the desire to see Vijayawada-Amaravati. and how the new capital of the state shaping up.

Looking back, it was a disastrous decision. We missed a lot of coast, a Sanctuary and a Lighthouse in the Krishna river delta. In fact, we missed out on the entire Krishna river basin. However, there was the possibility that we would not have made it at all if we had tried to drive in the area. Krishna meets the Bay of Bengal using three different distributaries creating the delta which is marshy and wet. There are hardly any roads in the region. We were warned by an engineer at one of other lighthouses that it would be difficult for us to reach the Lighthouse as it requires a journey of 3 hours by country boat in addition to long road journey.

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If you look at the map above it clearly shows the absence of habitation in the Delta. I am not yet sure if made a major mistake by going up the Krishna and coming back to join the coast at Machilipatnam. One thing is sure, we missed some coastal places and also the bridge across Krishna.

The trip to Guntur was a disaster. There was no scene of drying chilies. It was not the season. We could not manage to get a reasonable accommodation and when we found one it had a horrible parking underground with an incline of more than 180 degrees.

Having come all the way to Guntur we decided to visit Uppalapadu a bird sanctuary located not far from the town. In fact, it is a largish Pond facing a temple which many birds find it convenient to breed.

It is managed by Forest department and they charge an entrance fee. The birds are the usual Spot-billed Pelicans, the Jacanas and a few others.

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Spot-billed Pelican

In short this is the Beginners Guide to birds. I hope the Guntur residents make good use of it.

We have now to get back to the coast and continue with our travel programme. We have to either get back to near to Nizamapatnam and cross Krishna downstream  or cross Krishna at Vijayawada and go south- eastwards. Our destination is Machilipatnam. We decide on the latter.

We decide to visit Undavalli Caves on the way.

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Undavalli caves are dated to 4th and 5th Century. Initially started as a Buddhist Viharas carved into the hill by Buddhist monks, the place was taken over by Hindus later on. It appears to be as a result to change of royal mind of the local kings who initially supported the Buddhist but later on favoured Hindus.

The exteriors:

Some scenes of the interiors:

Most of the statues, idols and images are now Hindu.The reclining Vishnu on serpent is the highlight.

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A part of the cave is a functional temple where Puja is conducted. The carvings are numerous and are in pretty good condition. Lovers graffiti is conspicuous by it’s absence. The place being a functional temple appears to dissuades the lovers-cum-artists.

The surrounding part of the countryside is green and beautiful. The Krishna is not far from here.

As you drive through this part of Andhra you will notice that the grass /hay generated by the paddy is stored in  the fields. In other parts of the country it is carried and stored near the place of farmer’s residence. The cattle who consume the hay is generally kept nearer the residences rather than the farms.

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We pass through Vijayawada but do not stop. Here is the Prakasam in the town. Krishna has a large number of islands in its stream, big and small.

We reach Machilipatnam late in the day to find that all hotels in the town are fully booked till the next day. A big man’s son is getting married and a large number of guests have arrived from other places. The bride or bridegroom seem to be studying or working in US or Europe as we see a number of young white men and women around, most certainly wedding guests.

We make another round of the hotels and lodges trying our luck and at the same time considering other possibilities like getting back on to the highway and look for accommodation. At last we come to a hotel where the receptionist says that they don’t have any rooms but they can offer a suit. This is OK by us. We need to take some rest urgently. They have a basement parking like most hotels in the area do and the entrance to the parking is a steep incline.

Machilipatnam has been a French colony which was subsequently taken over by the British. There appears to be no signs of the French presence left behind. At least they are not known. Before that it also used to be the principal port of the Golconda Kingdom and a major centre for the production and export of the famed muslin cloth.

The people here seem to be big fans of Saibaba of Shirdi, not the one nearer home.

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There is not much to be seen in the town but there is a beach and a Lighthouse about 12 Kms away. We go for it. It is called Manginapudi beach. The stretch nearer the beach is a very pleasant drive.

The beach has an ‘entrance’. Beaches should not have entrances and exits. It is a huge beach both lengthwise (seashore) as well the breadth from the sea to the ordinary land.

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entrance

 

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Religious icons add colour to the flat beach.

One of the visitors to the beach:

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The Lighthouse at the beach is quite tall, among the tallest in India and according to the keeper, people are not allowed to climb it. Every lighthouse has its own rules. Taking pictures? No problem.

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Next day morning we take off from Machilipatnam to visit two small towns. Challapalli and Kuchipudi.

On the way, we again come across a canal. These canals are the lifeline of coastal Andhra.

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Freshwater canal used for irrigation And fishing.

Between Machilipatnam and Challapalli we come across this depiction of Lord Krishna drinking fresh milk straight from the udders of the cow.

Challapalli is the closest that we approached the Krishna river on the Diviseema Island where the last northern distributary of  the river separates the other two parts of the peninsula. We do not reach the river banks.

Challapalli was the headquarters of  Yarlagadda Jamindars who rules this place and the surrounding countryside in the 16th to the 20th centuries. In the 19th century the ruling Jamindar constructed a palace which is the purpose of our visit.

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The Palace or Fort

 

The palace is not seen easily from the main road outside which is lined up with motor mechanics. There is an outer gate. As you enter, a couple of people materialize from nowhere demanding , what else, money. They say there are the caretakers. By the time we return they have disappeared.

The palace grounds seem to start at this entrance but there are some educational institutions inside which can be accessed through this gate.

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Main entrance

The palace, referred to here as Fort’, is a modest building with a few artefacts and portraits in the ground floor hall. The upper floor is not open to public. All in all is not a must-see place.

The palace compound has a number of fruiting trees which invite a number of birds including parrots feeding on the bananas. The descendents of the Jamindars do not seem to mind.

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The next stop is Kuchipudi which gave the name to a famous dance form. The town displays the artistic inclinations of its residents.  The entrance gate to the town has been done artistically:

The town Bus Stand has a small garden!!. The Bus Stand is miraculously clean.

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We make a brief visit to the school where the Kuchipudi dance is taught. It is a residential academy.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik