Orissa

We drove to Orissa which gave me a chance to watch the landscape change.  Rolling along with Tagore songs on the cd player and Arpon and Parthib singing.  The air was hot but heavy and soft, the rain always waiting in the wings.  Tagore was a Bengali polymath who lived at the turn of the century, and is so influential in Bengal, especially in poetry and song.  He won the Nobel prize for literature and is adored here.  His songs are divided into love, nature, devotion and patriotism (love of country rather than nationalism). I had snippets translated for me, which I am assured don’t  really represent the beauty of the original.  Another reason to learn the language, however, as I am pretty much limited to greetings, asking where things are and saying how hot it is I have a long way to go!
We crossed the agricultural plains and entered a landscape dotted with groves of trees, homesteads with pools and fields full of vegetables and fruits.  We met up with Mano, who has joined the project as field assistant in a place called Nilgiri, a kind of frontier town.  You turn off here and go deep into a land of small holdings and forest.  Mano is a kind of fixer, he arranged our lunch of dal and rice (I find that people offer me spoons less than they used to so I must be making less mess with my fingers!) and sorted out our entry permissions into the forest reserve.  On our way to Kuldiha we stopped and looked at some potential field sites for our project. India works in mysterious ways.  We were rolling along and passed a man carrying long bamboo poles.  Mano called out to him and he stops, nods assent and takes us across some small paddies to a vegetable plot, surrounded by a living fence and planted up with a number of gourds and a tomato crop.  No it wasn’t his plot but he thought the owner would be interested in our project.  So he talked about the crops for a bit, accompanied us out and went on with his poles. So for those who are following the program this would be an intermediate plot with forest nearby but with many neighbouring fields and possibly some modern agricultural practices such as pesticide application. We went to Kuldiha to drop Arpon at the field station.  This is the jungle proper and I would have absolutely loved to have spent a night there.  It’s remote with no electricity (which means no fans) but in the hour I was there I saw more wildlife than in all the rest of my trip put together.  Arpon has found 137 species of ant alone.  There are two PhD students out there and it is a tough environment to live in full time but so incredibly beautiful. The station is surrounded by an elephant trench which also keeps out a number of other beasts.  The forest floor is relatively open, the trees support orchids and tree ferns.  The black naped orioles flit through the branches, quite heavenly.
We pushed on to Chandipur where we stayed the night and met up with Pranab, our project partner in Orissa.  We had a meal in the Forest Department’s guesthouse.  We sat on their little jetty, over the Bay of Bengal, eating pakora and drinking a beer.  The electricity failed and all there was were stars.
In the morning we got up early to walk out on the strand. The sea retreats 4 km here, and turns on a 6 hour cycle.  The sea was out and we wandered over the wet sand, picking over shells and horseshoe crabs.  The fishermen were coming back in, with a poor catch of a handful of tiny fishes and crabs.  They were hunkered down on the sand untangling their net.  How do they survive? We spent the day visiting potential sites.  The area is largely tribal, arranged in villages of homesteads.  We sat down with several local famers, under their thatched eaves and courtyards.  Lots of curious children, chicken, goats and everywhere mahoa flowers and tamarind drying in the sun. I smiled a lot.  The language here is Oriya, so I am completely lost. However, thanks to the amazing partnerships we have, the project progressed and we identified several potential sites. After swinging by Kuldihar again we finished up in Panchalingeswar, a pretty village in the foothills.  At Kuldihar the heat had built up oppressively and while we were there it finally broke and the rain lashed down with hailstones the size of marbles. Although, in the morning we travelled back to Kolkata we made a trip to the local temple. As Mano’s family are very involved in temple life we had a great guide.  The site is up a hill, nestled in a grove.  There is no central building, just a scattered shrines and stalls selling devotional bits and pieces.  The sacred site of interest is a waterfall fed pool.  You lie across it and plunge your hand in to feel Shiva’s five – well they were described as ‘siblings’ –but I have since read they are linga.  They are rocky protuberances.  I had a go and was indulged by the others.  Then we had chai.  Yum.  As a final flourish we went to visit a possible building for our site office / accommodation.  Mano had casually said his uncle had a house he might rent to us and we mooched along to have a look.  The house was newly built.  It has three rooms plus bathroom and kitchen area with a rather fantastic hallway.  It has a walled garden that we can use as workshop space and fields close by that we have been told we can use as an experimental garden. Also a roof terrace which looks like the perfect place for a moth trap and also an evening snooze. A beautiful village.
Back in Kolkata James has arrived!  We are giving workshops and seminars while working on project design and planning another trip to Orissa.
Have acclimatised to the heat now.  Hope it’s not too cold at home. 30 feels just about right

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