112.ODISHA. (6) Chandipur, Bichitrapur & Chandrabali

Our last stop was at Chandbali and the next one is Chandipur separated by a road distance of 130 Kms. via the town of Bhadrak. Chandbali is not connected to Chandipur by a coastal road. Consequently, we travel by a road which is under repair or reconstruction from Chandbali to Bhadrak. A difficult and tiring drive through a number of villages. On the way, we attend to a tyre ‘pumcher’ before we reach Bhadrak.

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Bhadrak is a sizable town, a District Headquarters. What attracts one’s attention is a Dargah on the road as one approaches from the Chandbali side. The Dargah is the final resting place of two Sufi saint brothers.

This place is called Gulshan-e-Ghouspak and consist of a Mosque reportedly built by Allaudin Khilji and the Mazaars of the two saints. The Saints do not claim any antiquity. They came to Bhadrak in the ‘dark days’ (according to the shrine’s website) of 1960s and spread light and relentlessly performed miracles mostly on the medical side. The younger brother who appears to have been more popular died in the year 2013 in Delhi, followed by the elder brother next year. The magnificent edifice of the Dargah came up thereafter.

The importance of these saints lies in the claim that their lineage is through Shaikh Abdul Qadri Jeelani of Baghdad (who was a direct descendant of Prophet Mohammad) and hence they belong to the Sufi order of Quadriyya.

Outside the shrine one can see various shops selling the offering to be made at the shrine as well as the take-aways. The business appears to be brisk on both departments.

We continue through the town of Bhadrak and move towards our Chandipur. I will remember Bhadrak forever for one simple reason : at a fuel station they put diesel in my petrol tank and then started suggesting that I am a fool to buy a petrol driven car when diesel is cheaper. I realized my mistake and continued driving with about 6% diesel in the tank.

Chandipur is also known as Chandipur on Sea. It is known for two things: firstly, it is a major military establishment involved in the missile testing facility of the defence department and therefore out of bounds for the general public. The other claim to fame is that the beach here has the longest inter-tidal zone. The sea recedes five kilometers at low tide. This allows the visitors to walk up into the sea as much as they can during the low tide.

It is said that this feature allows a wide range of marine organism to live in this range, especially the shellfish and crabs. One can find a few varieties in the food stalls on the beach and around the village.

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There is not much else at the place to be seen. There is a Lighthouse but it is located in the military area and cannot be visited. This one on seen from the beach was initially mistaken by us for a lighthouse but turned out to be a watch tower or a radar.

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The most convenient place to stay the night at Chandipur is the Panthnivas, the OTDC facility. The tourism department has built a large visitors area with an amphitheatre overlooking the beach which is always crowded by the day visitors brought in by various tour operators. Our Late President presides over the place gracefully with his rocket station not far away.

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As we were looking at the fishing harbours, we are directed to another village called Balaramgadh which is on the banks of the river Budhabalanga, a few kilometres north of Chandipur. The river which meets the sea here has spurred a boat-building industry, perhaps the only one in Odisha.

We visited the place at low tide and hence did not witness any fishing related activity.

We stay the night at the beach and proceed the next day to another seaside place called Chandrabali, again hosted by the OTDC Panthnivas overlooking the ocean and a river. This resort has made the best use of the empty egg shells.

As we approached Chandbali from the Highway to the west, we could, for the first time, see this tall grass being carried around and wondered what it was and the purpose for which it would be used. Upon enquiry it was explained to us that these are the stems of the Jute plant. After removing the fibre for making the gunny bags and other jute products, the stems are sold. The main users are apparently the growers of ‘paan’ who use the stems to make the covering for the paan growing areas as we had shown in an earlier post.

Chandrabali is near to a border place called Chandaneshwar where the state of Odisha ends and West Bengal starts. Chandrabali is on the bank of river Subarnarekha where she meets the Bay of Bengal. The meeting point of the river has created a huge sand bar and a longish lagoon which can be crossed on foot during low tide but needs a boat at high tide. Most tourists prefer to cross the bar and approach the sea. It is worth doing it for the sake of witnessing one amazing creature.

The beach hosts a large number of shy red Ghost Crabs which dot the landscape until you approach them up to about 10 meters when they disappear in their nests under the sand. This is not the only place where this crab can be seen but among all places we saw it, this beach has the highest concentration of numbers.

Here is a short video of the crab at lunch:

The beach looks beautiful at sunset. This place deserves better attention than it gets.

The little forest between the river and the OTDC Panthnivas where we stayed attracts several bird species.

 

Green Barbet:

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Chandrabali village has a Shiva temple and substantial number of pilgrim visitors but despite its beach has not developed as a tourist place. This is largely because the town in West Bengal just across the border called Digha offers much better facilities and connectivity from Bengal side.

The only other place one can visit with Chandrabali as the base is the Bichitrapur Mangroves which the Odisha Forest Department is trying to develop as a sanctuary. The sanctuary area is a depleted mangrove forest facing the Bay of Bengal which hosts numerous mangrove-oriented  species of marine life and birds. The Forest Department hires boats. The people who accompany you are not trained in wildlife viewing and understood only Oriya language, seriously affecting our purpose in visiting the place.

We still manage to see a few crabs and birds.

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Fiddler Crab in display.

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Hermit Crab  with a rock growing Barnacles.

The Red Ghost-Crabs are found here as well.

 

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Stork-billed Kingfisher.

The locals use the mangrove forests as their firewood stores which perhaps lead to the depletion of the mangroves. However, the efforts the people are making to haul the dead (killed?) trees through the muddy waters is indicative of extreme poverty of the people.

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Apart from the firewood, the locals also depend for their livelihood on the other products of the mangroves. Among them would be the edible crabs and shellfishes.

The Bichitrapur Mangroves are approachable and may afford opportunities to study the ecosystem closely from the nearby villages.

 

With this our coastal travel in Odisha comes to an end. Tomorrow morning we make an entry into the state of West Bengal.

Text : Suryakiran Naik suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Photographs: Surayakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Videos: Veena Naik

 

 

 

111.ODISHA. (5) Paradip, Bhitarkanika & Chandbali

The river Mahanadi starts splitting into distributaries west of Cuttack and meets the sea at several points with Puri at the southern end and Paradip at the northern. This forms a huge delta perhaps as big as the Godavari basin but smaller than the Sundarbans.

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In terms of economic activity and the consequent prosperity however the two northern deltas are far behind their southern cousin. The road distance between Puri and Cuttack is currently 160 Kms. A direct coastal road would reduce the distance by about 40% but will entail considerable expenditure to bridge the various distributaries of the great Mahanadi. After travelling through the region extensively I strongly felt that this huge region could be developed much faster with better road connectivity. Right now, the entire region appears to be grossly underdeveloped.

Paradip or Paradeep is an artificial harbour and has considerable importance in bulk cargo trade, especially in iron or from the India’s eastern region and the petroleum products imports. Coal and Fertilizers are other important items.  The dust of the imported coal lying around in the town is processed in pallets by the locals and used as cooking fuel. This is certainly a take on our age-old cow dung. People have merely substituted the coal dust for the cow dung.

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There being no significant historical or religious places the commercial activity dominates the town. But there is always something if you look for it. Not ancient but from the recent past is found. A romantic place housing a famous lighthouse called FALSE POINT LIGHTHOUSE built by the British and a cemetery for the Englishmen who worked there. This lighthouse seems to have been an institution by itself. Upon inquiry, you will come to know that this place was equipped with even a small hospital for the inhabitants who were employed in connection with the lighthouse. I will not be surprised if someone tells me that they had a priest to preside over the frequent funerals.

The major question is: how to reach the place. The place is shrouded in mystery and there being no Tourism Industry in Paradip, is seldom explored. An attempt has been made by an employee of the Lighthouse administration to throw some light on the history of the place. One can easily access it here:

http://www.dgll.nic.in/WriteReadData/Publication/Publication_Pdf_File/FalsepointLightHouse(2).pdf

It is difficult to locate this place on the Google map. One can see a place called Batigraha- lighthouse which is quite far from the sea and the map does not show a connecting waterway. The lighthouse may be (now, after silting for more than 150 years) far from the sea but the access is by boat through a navigable channel which you don’t see on the map. During this coastal drive we have had several problems with the Google map.

There are three sources to reach the place:

1 There is a boat service to and from the villages around which runs a ferry- looks quite dangerous. It is a schedule service and is dependent on the tide timings. And if you enlarge the picture you will see more motorcycles being carried.

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2 The Lighthouse has contracted a boat for supplies which makes a trip every day. You (and me) are not entitled to this service but I guess one can talk to ‘right people’

3 Look for a private operator who can hire a motorboat.

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We get up very early in the morning. Our objective is to prove the manager at the OTDC Resort wrong. He has told us that it is impossible to go to False Point and return alive the same day. We wander around on extremely bad roads, damaged by the very heavy vehicles plying in the port area and reach a beach from which the boats are supposed to be plying. There is nobody around here. We return towards the town and, on the way, take a diversion to the Fishing Harbour.

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All fishing harbours in this country look alike. The difference may be in the numbers.

We make inquiries at the fishing harbour.

‘How do we go to False Point from here?’

‘No, this is not the place from which you can reach your destination. The fishing boats do not offer that kind of service’

‘What’s the alternative?’

After a brief thought the man suggested that we should perhaps hire a private boat.

‘Where do we find one?’

‘There are not many but there is one owned by Sahoo. Go across the fishing harbour, drive on the road along the waterside and look for a Restaurant visited by the fishing-trawler operators. We follow the instructions and reach the place.

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Pradipto Kumar Sahoo is more helpful than expected. He opens up even more when we describe to him our mission of the coastal travel. Pradipto is in his middle age, owns a few businesses- a restaurant, a motorboat, perhaps a fishing trawler and a distribution business in Chemicals and hardware.

Yes, he has an 8- seat motorboat but has no other customers for the day. He is trying to develop a tourism business in the Mahanadi estuary. He has problems created by the port authorities who do not want traffic in the approach channels in the port crossing the river. And then there are private parties operating dedicated private jetty operations in the area who might not like the disturbance in the channels.  He has plans for ‘Kerala-style’ houseboat operations in the Mahanadi. Ambitious, to say the least but a very practical and forward-looking person. We don’t find many of them easily.

The private boat tour works out quite expensive as there is none to share the cost of the 8-seater.  We discuss and Pradipta is very understanding and considerate. We agree on a mutually acceptable figure for the boat ride of nearly four hours excluding the waiting time. We agree to come back and have lunch at his restaurant for which we select a bunch of  fresh Blue Crabs at the harbour.

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The licensed boat operator takes his own time to arrive. He has just returned from his native place in Andhra Pradesh last night and reported for work late and then had to go to the jetty with a plastic can to bring the diesel. In the event the boat was very efficient. We were comfortable despite the fact that we were sailing upstream.

To the left above is the storage facility for the imported Phosphates. Right Up is a barge in the estuary and at the bottom is one of the industrial establishments upstream on Mahanadi.

It is a great experience to go upstream through inhabited channel banks although they are not anywhere near the population density of the Kerala backwaters. The construction of the large huts needs to be studied if not already done. They look very sturdy. Unfortunately we did not have an opportunity to land and have a look.

The scenes from the backwaters look pretty at this time. Life should be much more difficult in the wet monsoon days.

The picture at the bottom with the hanging pots is still a mystery for me. I showed to to several people on the mainland and nobody could explain what it is all about.

We miss the way (waterway) once and have to return back and take the correct route, losing half an hour in the process. We manage to reach the landing site which is about 200 meters from the Lighthouse.

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The lighthouse is a massive structure like no other we have seen in India so far. The huge plinth and the bottom, the painting and the surroundings are like no other we have seen.

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The area surrounding the lighthouse is huge. The In-charge of the lighthouse is a very helpful gentleman who has grown up here when his father was working at the lighthouse. We are offered a climb up the lighthouse. This is unlike at other lighthouses where the suggestion would have been resisted. The people at most of the Indian lighthouses consider the visitors a nuisance. Here it was different. We turn down the offer as we have been given a total time frame by Pradipta and we need to return to the mainland in time for the lunch. The Blue Crabs are calling. In the process, we miss out on some views from the top of the lighthouse.

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The area surrounding the lighthouse have many monuments of the past including the old utility and the residential buildings and the cemetery. Here are some of the structures in the compound.

Top Right is the cemetery, bottom left is the hospital and the right is the drinking water well.

The return journey is quite frightening and takes much longer. There is high tide now, water is rising and there is heavy wind in the opposite direction. We sail quite a distance upstream to make it to the fishing harbour at Paradip.

After feasting on the crabs, we move on to the resort and after some rest move to see another Lighthouse, the one serving Paradip. Yesterday we had been sent off from the gate of this lighthouse as were about 90 seconds late for the schedule timings. They try to send us off again today. The people at this lighthouse do not want visitors. The person in charge at this place in Mid-March 2017 is a particularly vicious, extremely arrogant and unfriendly bureaucrat who thinks the lighthouse and the surrounding property is his private preserve. They try to persuade us not to climb up the lighthouse despite the fact that it is officially permitted on payment of a prescribed fee.

Despite all the efforts made by the keeper to keep us away, we decide to climb. The person assigned to us inform us that we do not have a right to visit. We can be denied an entry without assigning any reason. This is downright insulting and the motive is by now clear. That prompts us to be adamant.

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As a last attempt, the man tells us that we are too old to climb. We insist that we can and do.

It turns out to be worth the effort, climbing and fighting the petty officialdom.

Here are the scenes from the top of the Lighthouse.

The beach:

The grazing grounds for cattle:

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The harbour side:

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The residential part of the town which is very neat and clean- the modern town:

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A little out of the town is this Shani temple with the ferocious ‘Shani’ right on the gate.

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We are done with Paradip and have to move to the next place which happens to be Bhitarkanika. We now need to cross the distributary of Mahanadi which we crossed yesterday the previous day to reach the False Point but much upstream. This part of the river is used for massive sand-mining operations, highly mechanized.

We stop on the way fro breakfast at a junction off the highway and come across a Musical Instruments shop:

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The Mrudang and a wide variety of Indian percussion instruments are here to see and buy, mostly for the religious functions.

We do not find our daily dose of green coconut here and settle down for a nice watermelon:

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This is not an easy ride. We drive along the narrow country roads connecting villages and small towns to reach the mangrove forests which is called Bhitarkanika. ‘Kanika’ is a largely inaccessible island on the mouth of one of the distributaries of Mahanadi and the portion of the mangrove-infested estuary upstream is known as Bhitarkanika- Inner Kanika.

We take the Pattamundai-Aul-Rajkanika route to reach the place called Khola Gate in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary.

We have booked our stay at an expensive lodge as there are not many places to stay available in the area. W arrive in the late afternoon and take a short walk around the village and the riverside. The shape of the huts here is peculiar. The roof comes right up to the ground.

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The place is promising as far as birds are concerned. We are instantly rewarded with the sighting of a Lesser Adjutant Stork.

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The real fun begins the next day morning. We get very early and get on to a motorboat with a well-trained guide and boatman. In the first 15 minutes of the early morning ride we spot five species of Kingfishers, a record of sorts, at least for us.

The first one to make his appearance is the Brown-Winged Kingfisher.

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The Black-Capped Kingfisher followed:

A pair of  Collared Kingfisher came along:

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And then there was the Pied Kingfisher:

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And then there was the Common Kingfisher and the White-breasted Kingfisher.

Bhitarkanika is mini Sundarbans. In fact, it has crocodiles in more abundance than the Sundarbans. Even birdlife is much more profuse. The only thing absent here is the Tiger and the huge Bengali crowd. In my understanding tigers don’t like noisy people and that is the reason they have become man-eaters in the Sundarbans.

And also the other bird species like the White-breasted Waterhen which is quite common all over the country but here in the mangroves she looks very bright, clean and fresh:

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And here is the father of all chicken we eat- the Red Junglefowl- Gallus gallus. (apologies for a bad picture)

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The Mudskippers are a delight to watch at the low tide when they dominate the mud between the water and the dry land:

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And here is an eagle and the photographer taking rest after the early morning efforts:

This estuary extends further upstream up to Chandbali and beyond. In fact, there is a tourist boat service run by OTDC from Chandbali to the sanctuary. The boat service would take about two hours but reaching Chandbali by the road takes considerable effort and time.

We take the Pattamundai-Aul-Rajkanika road to reach the banks of Baitarana river and cross the bridge into Chandbali.

At Aul we stop to buy some fruits and we are told by the locals that Aul used to have a palace which is now not accessible as we should proceed to Rajkanika and visit the palace there. When you say (or I say) ‘palace’ it implies kings have stayed in this little hut. And this one is highly rated.The Telegraph, the prestigious newspaper on Saturday 9th April 2011 said that this palace is ‘ poised to become a major hub for overseas tourists’ Six years down the line the palace is closed and waiting for the overseas tourists to come and open it. This palace is said to be housing the ‘largest crocodile skull’. Does this imply that it is the skull belonged to the largest crocodile? I doubt. In any case this palace looks pretty with open grounds inside and outside the gates. There were tell-tale empty ice-cream cups on the outer grounds (from where the pictures below were taken) to indicate a recent evening of festivities.

One need to cross this bridge on Baitarna river to reach Chandbali from the south side.

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Chandbali was an important riverine port in the early part of the last century. It connected the agricultural hinterland of this part of Odisha with Calcutta by the river and the sea. Hardly any signs of the past glory of the port are visible to-day. The town is used by the people who intend visiting Bhitarkanika and those visiting the temple at Aardi. The Aardi shrine is easier to visit by boat from here rather than by road from the north. Chandbali has an OTDC Aranyanivas. The term Aranyanivas is used for the hotels and resorts which were earlier Forest Department guest houses.

As we not find anything interesting around and we decide to take a boat upstream on the Baitarana to a place called Aaradi. This place is famous for its temple of Akhandalamani. It is a Shaivate temple and has a legend about its origins. It is too long a story to be dealt with here.

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What assaults your senses here is this crass depiction of sexual acts on the walls of the temple. This appears to be a peculiarity of Odisha temples. I am not sure if anyone has an explanation for this feature which is not found in other Shiva temples or at least not found in such explicit manner.

The Baitarana upstream from Chandbali is otherwise an interesting boat ride. The major economic activity perhaps is sand-mining.

The mode of transportation around the area is the country boat.

Coastal Odisha journey will continue in the next post.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Photographs 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.

 

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.

 

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   suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Photographs by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Video by 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

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

 

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.

 

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

 

 

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 bridges anywhere!!

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village on the way.

 

 

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A Bridge Too Narrow

 

 The striking part of the region indeed 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.

 

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. suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

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 develop 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

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

 

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

97.ANDHRA PRADESH. (1) Sullurupeta- Sriharikota- Armagaon.

We leave Pulicat and drive towards Sullurupeta 71 Kms. away and in the process, cross the Tamilnadu border to enter Andhra Pradesh. Except for the script on the sign boards nothing changes for the first few Kilometres.

We drive westwards to come to the coastal road which will take us to Sullurupeta. We lose our way and drive some distance to see this temple.

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 And then two botanical surprises. One is a palm in full bloom but dying. The leaves (fronds) have dried but the upper part is full of fruit which I believe the plant is using for propagation of the species.

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 The second one is a Peepal (fig) tree growing with the support of a palm. The palm is totally weakened and may not survive long. On a closer look I find that the Peepal has its roots in the soil. It is not likely that it is dependent on the palm for the nutrients. This tree usually grows on its own. Then why should it strangulate the palm and virtually kill it? I found the same phenomena once again in another part of Andhra much later.

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 The place bearing the name Sullurupeta is not well known but Sriharikota is. It is the place where the Satish Dhawan Space Centre of Indian Space Research Organization, is located and forms the nucleus of India’s aerospace launches. We stayed at Sullurupeta on 7th and 8th of February. The manager of the hotel we stayed advised us to stay a few days more if we want to witness the launch of a rocket. On 15th February, they successfully launched the rocket carrying a world-record 104 satellites.

Sullurupeta is 22 Kms. from Sriharikota on the eastern side. A road cuts across the northern edge of Pulicat lake to carry the ISRO people most of whom appear to be staying at Sullurupeta, to the Satish Dhawan Centre.

We never expected to go so close to the place from where the launches take place. Surprisingly one can drive up to the gate of the launch centre without any security check along the dedicated road which cuts through the Pulicat lake.

 Sullurupeta is a small town and apparently is dependent on Sriharikota for much of the action. It is on the Chennai-Kolkata highway. Here is the Google map which gives a good idea of the place. You can see what appears to be a bridge between the two places whish is actually a road with provision for the water to pass underneath at various places.

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 We have a look at the local fish market which sells both the freshwater as well as the sea-fish.

 Among the barber shops in town is this one. The customers include rocket scientists. I decided to have a Haircut here with the hope of getting some rocket science in my head.

  We had decided on a halt at Sullurupeta as it is credited with two bird sanctuaries. The vast Pulicat lake shared by Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh is a shallow lagoon that supports a huge variety of marine life which in turn attract a large number of migratory as well as local birds.

It is the second week of February and the summer has set early this year which reduced our chances of any significant bird sightings. We were happy to be proved wrong. On the very first visit we were greeted with a huge flock of Flamingos feeding on the northern side of the lake.

 Here is a video clip:

 

 

The next morning was the turn of a sizable number of Spot-billed pelicans to appear and in between there was a wide variety of waders and of course the Painted Storks.

 The shallow water along the road are also used by local people to for small-scale fishing. The water is not deep enough to use boats.

 Nelapattu is officially designated Bird Sanctuary by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department and it is close to the sea and therefore we cannot ignore it. There are not many people in Sullurupeta in the know of this place. We decide to drive on and try to be there. The nearest place to the sanctuary is Polireddy Palem. We are at the gate early afternoon and it is closed. We wait and look inside to see some signs of life- wild as well as human. There are none. After half an hour some women workers appear at the fence.

I must record here something that I experience. Many people presume that since Andhra Pradesh was a part of the erstwhile Hyderabad principality, people would be knowing some form of Hindi/Urdu. It is not true. That presumption may be true of region around the city of Hyderabad. The typical lingo of Hyderabad never percolated down to the whole state. Certainly, not to the coastal Andhra Pradesh.

The ladies try to explain to us about a death and that being reason for the closure of the sanctuary. We return to the hotel. The hotel manager made his inquiries and informed us the next day that one of the staff members of the sanctuary had died in a road accident that day and the sanctuary had to be closed and will remain closed the next day as well. We have no option but to skip it and proceed with our travels.

Our next night halt is to be the town of Nellore but south of Nellore along the coast is a lighthouse. The name of the place is Armagaon. We try to find out from various people at Sullurupeta if we can go to Armagaon driving along the coast and without going up to the highway. There are no satisfactory answers and the Google map is not of much use. At last we meet a young guy who is conversant with the topography.

‘Yes, you can go along the coast’

We are very happy.

‘But you will have to leave the car behind. Your car will not go’

‘Why? is the road so bad?’

‘Road is good but there are a couple of places where you have to cross in country boats and they might find it difficult to take the car in’

We get the message and drop the idea. The lake is shallow but the guys at Renault did not make my Duster fit enough for a Normandy kind of landing We drive along the highway up north and branch off to Armagon Lighthouse the next day. It is quite a bit of driving. The first part is on the highway and pleasant. Then you leave the highway and take the country roads with a number of villages along. We reach Armagaon early afternoon.

 One has to cross an institution called to Buckingham Canal to reach the Lighthouse. We will visit this Canal later on in another post in some detail.

 A lighthouse was built here in the year 1853 by the British. It was abandoned in the year 1928 on account of widespread attacks of Malaria. It was brought back into use in 1938. It worked from 1938 to 1983 when a new and taller lighthouse was built.

This is the old lighthouse now used as a water tank. Brilliant use of the structure.

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 The new Lighthouse. This one was more or less abandoned when we visited. There was nobody inside the compound. We waited for some time then made inquiries in the surrounding locality. The locals tried to be supportive of the staff who had gone about their own business leaving the lighthouse to the winds. They assured us that the guys will come back after half an hour.

We decided to go and visit the beach. A good beach but so remote from the population centres.

  We drive back and have our customary coconut water on the way. Here we find a new type of knife for cutting the green coconut,  quite different from the one we had seen down south. This one has a long handle.

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 We drive through rich agricultural lands where combined harvesters are used even in paddy fields. We are now nearing the rich Krishna-Godavari basin.

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 We reach Nellore for a late lunch and for some rest.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Video: Veena Naik

 

 

 

96.TAMILNADU (11). VEDANTHANGAL, SANDRAS MAHABALIPURAM, CHENNAI & PULICAT.

VEDANTHANGAL is not on the coast and therefore it should not have been a part of this tour. But it is not very from the coast either. It is only 53 Kms. from Mahabalipuram. We decided to succumb to the temptation and visit it for its uniqueness and the bird life that one is expected to see here.

In the year 1858 the then British collector of Chengalpattu passed an executive order establishing Vedanthangal as a ‘sanctuary’ apparently without any supporting legislation. In 1936 it was officially declared a ‘wildlife sanctuary’ and in 1962 it became a Reserve Forest under the Madras Forest Act. In 1988 the Vedanthagal Lake Bird Sanctuary came into existence under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. All through these legal tangles the farmers of this area zealously guarded the lake and it’s birds especially the visiting migratory species. It is on record that they even petitioned the government against the British officers hunting in the area.

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The farmers have a good reason to guard the place and the birds. On the opposite side of the lake is a large area growing paddy using the lake water. Because of the birds, free fertilizers are added to the lake water. A Bund separates the lake from the paddy fields and the water flow is controlled by 4 small gates. The Bund is now converted into a beautiful pathway and two watch towers have been constructed. The small sanctuary with a very high density of birds is regulated by the Forest Department of the state.

Many farmers are benefitted by the bird droppings which work as a natural fertilizer. Here at Vedanthangal this same phenomenon has been harnessed to the maximum benefit and very systematically.

The lake and the paddy fields on the opposite side.

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The water level was quite low this year (2016) on account of lesser rainfall and consequently the lake attracted fewer birds. By the time of our visit in early February 2017, most the migratory species had already made their way back to their own countries but a number of them could still be seen.

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Pair of  Painted Storks

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pair of Spotted Owlets

 

 

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Asian Spoonbill

 

 

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An young whistling Dock

 

 

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Rare view of a Painted Snipe.

 

A Moorhen with her chicks:

 

 

We came to Vedanthangal later in the afternoon Chengalput and decided to come back next morning again so we retire to Chengalput and make a second visit the next day ear;ly morning. This lake affords great opportunities for bird photography even for the amauteurs.

Vedanthangal is a place to remember.

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Everyone knows MADRAS. Now it is called Chennai and after some time people will forget Madras as they have forgotten the name SADARS which is 68Kms. south of Madras or Chennai. Sadurangapattinam was the original name before the White Man arrived.

During the Europeans’ race for the colonies on the Coromandel coast Dutch established a post here in the 17th century. The fort or at least the part which exists is in a fairly good condition and free of encroachments. The location is between the Madras Atomic Power Plant and its residential colony. The existence of the power plant and a Research establishment ensures excellent road connectivity to the fort, right up to the doorsteps.

The entrance:

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The Granary:

Sadras was basically a trading post and not a military garrison. It has a lot of space for storing merchandise. The major items traded in the area at that time were grains, ghee, muslin cloth and salt. The view of the sea from the Fort:

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In 1818 the British raided the fort and probably the first war between the two  powers was fought here in 1818 and is called the Battle of Sadras in the history books. The Dutch lost.

The Dutch seem to had been preparing well for their dead. Wherever there were Dutch establishments the graves have survived very well. We have seen them at Surat, Cochin, Pulicat and here. Immaculate graves with proper inscriptions and what is to be noted- extremely good construction which has survived 300 years or more.

When you enter the fort, turn to your right to get a view of the cemetery and the graves.

The ghosts here are friendly:

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MAHABALIPURAM or MAMALLAPURAM is an UNESCO World Heritage site is our next stop. Much has been written about its fabulous sculptures and temples. It is too technical for me to comment on.

Historically this place was also a port trading with Sri Lanka and South-East Asia. It flourished from the 1st century AD under various South Indian dynasties including the Pallavas ruling from Kanchipuram.

Some unfinished work of the sculptors:

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Krishna’s Butter Bowl. is this what they call this stone?

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Among the living things is a tree which has taken this curious shape among the granite boulders as if imitating them:

Mahabalipuram has a lighthouse ensconced in the granitic rocks. It provides an excellent view of the surroundings even from its base.

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The recently started Museum of seashells is a must-see. It is a private museum housing a huge collection of a seashell put together by a single individual. It must rank as the biggest such museum in the country. The only competitor is on the island of Diu in Gujarat and is much smaller.

A fish merchant with a passion for the seashell – Mr Raja Mohammed has spent time and money to collect a vast 2000 species and 40,000 specimen of seashells. An entrance fee is charged but you will feel it justified.

The displays have been arranged in a professional way but need some rearrangement to bring the exhibits in line with the biological classification of the shells.

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CHENNAI  is not on our itinerary. We have been there before. We would have skipped it altogether but we had to be there to attend two weddings. Lighthouses is something we do not skip on this coastal trip. We landed at the Chennai Lighthouse which is attractive as it has an elevator. It happens to be a Monday their weekly off. The only other two places we dropped by is the Fort St George and the Church of St Thomas. The latter because we had met him on our way on the western coast in Kerala.

The Lighthouse:

Fort St George. I must record here that our visit to this place was during the third short-lived Chief – ministership of O Paneerselvam. The security was tight indicating his presence on the premises. A week later he was out.

The Church of St Thomas:

The next day morning we start early and this is our last day in the state of Tamilnadu. The destination is Pulicat.

The 60 Kms drive from Chennai through Thiruvallur district to Pulicat takes you through interesting countryside. The first half is through the areas abutting the new ports that have sprung up north of Chennai and the other half is the typical seaside villages. The roads, by and large, are good though narrow.

Pulicat Lighthouse is an elegant structure and at 50 meters high one of the tallest in India.

Tamilnadu shares the Lake Pulicat with Andhra Pradesh and has only the southern end of it to its share. Fishing activity on the Tamilnadu side is quite high. Probably the fishing takes place mostly in the Andhra waters.

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Pulicat is supposed to have a fort, a Dutch Fort. It is nowhere to be seen. We make inquiries and sent from one corner to another. I understand that the fort was more of a warehouse and a flat building which is now used as a government school and health centre.

True to their reputation the Dutch cemetary survives unscathed.

The gate is closed and we had to take the pictures from the gate. On notable feature of these graves is that there is no Cross to be seen. Instead you can the skulls and bones as seen on the sign boards indicating danger.

In between the above four place that we visited we attended two weddings in Chennai city. Here are some pictures from the weddings:

Late in the day we leave Pulicat and make our way towards Andhra Pradesh. Our travels along the Tamilnadu coast lasted 22 days.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik