The Fifth Tale from the North East – Puri

By Nick Goslett
Going to see the Irawaddy dolphins on Lake Chilika
Going to see the Irawaddy dolphins on Lake Chilika

This Maharajah’s hotel in Puri is a really special place. Not only is it cheap but the water is boiling and I haven’t had to clean the shower head. And the class of person staying is very conducive to good, long conversations. What a treat! However, this evening the cook said he was going out of his mind because there is no one to cook for, and feeling rather guilty I took a break from Indian and went to a very swish Chinese (all of a fiver). There is a dearth of western tourists. Today I went on a tour to Lake Chilika (1,500 sq kms) which is famous for its birds in winter. I knew there wouldn’t be any around and well over 200 boats taking God knows how many Indian tourists will have scared away all but the hardiest egrets, terns … and one sea eagle (I think). I did not see one other westerner. I shared a boat with a sweet family of 14 and managed a stilted conversation with one of the brothers. The trip was supposed to last fours hours and since it only lasted three I was expecting a punch up but (unfortunately?) objections petered out, probably because three hours was enough on the hard seats. The Indian party, apart from my friend and his sweet little daughter, looked bored stiff with the whole exercise: Indians from the cities are not, by and large, interested in nature. The women, to a man, were gigantic and had great difficulty getting in and out of the boat (it’s the sugar and rice and no exercise). Anyway, the trip was supposed to be 1.5 hours out and 1.5 hours back with a stopover at an island with a few scruffy Tea/Coffee cafes and the highlight would be to see the Irawaddy dolphins. We saw what could well have been a plastic wind up replica controlled with a simple computer because all we saw was a hump and perhaps a fin of one animal and apparently that “animal” is usually to be seen at the same place every day. They all desperately tried to photograph it. The sight was enough to let the driver assume that the outward journey was complete so back we went. In fact it was a very pleasant day with a drive through emerald green paddies, lunch with my Indian family and a real herd of pigs being driven along the road rather than the usual sight of one grovelling in the muck. Which reminds me that when at Konark I had the first ever in my eight weeks of travelling in India squat loo in my room. Which way to face (and what you do if you have really bad knees I cannot imagine)? Google it! and you find a Discussion Forum with heated arguments going back and forth but the final word seems to be that you face the door.

The Tax Collector

The Indian Family

Yesterday I decided on another bike ride and headed for the Heritage Craft Village of Ragurajpur about 15 kms away. Shari, who had just cycled from Chennai to Cochi which sounds enticing (Dave?), did not feel well and Ingolf Skipper (great name!) would not venture onto a bike in this place. This time I tested the seat and got the guy’s mobile number. Google maps just couldn’t get me to the quiet roads on the way out so I had to contend with the rush hour roads which was fun (really). After several false starts I found the turn-off along a winding river and rode through village after village manufacturing bricks! Thousands and thousands of them. The road turned into a surface that was about to be paved and I had to walk for about a quarter of a mile. I came to the village the wrong end. As a result, the house that is usually the last to be visited (and there are 120 of them!) was the first. I purchased, with a brief bargaining (I dislike the whole bargaining process. We are being taken for a ride and made to feel guilty because they earn so little. We have no idea what the real price should be. I don’t mind paying a realistic price but if they can sell it to an Indian for X why should I pay 3X? OK, because I am richer! I suppose I would prefer not to be made a fool of.) Anyway, when I searched my pockets I did not have enough cash for the purchases and started to think about which one to discard whereupon the younger brother said “No problem, ATM at the market” and in no time I was on the back of his bike haring down the dirt tracks beside the river. They don’t miss a trick.

The laundry drying by the river

The Google Road

The ride back was adventurous. Google maps shows not only roads but dirt tracks and seeing a route that appeared to bypass the main roads I set off. I asked three cyclists if I could get to X by turning left in a few hundred yards and they all said No but Google Maps cannot be wrong so on I went and then a motor cyclists said Yes! It was a little path through the rice paddies miles from anywhere with only the occasional rather surprised field worker to wave at me.In the evening, Mr Skipper and I watched ET on the hotel’s giant screen. I always weep when they fly into the air on their bikes!

I read this morning that India is expected to grow at 8% this year, faster than China. Good news for all. The amount of infrastructure work going on is phenomenal and in every village there are mounds of sand, cement and bricks with a lot happening. India is going places. You cannot imagine the number of Institutes there are for this that and the other in all the towns, and even some of the villages. I doubt that many are worth a heap of beans when it comes to getting a job but they are trying. The father of the little girl in the boat today proudly told me that his daughter was being taught in the English Medium because education and ability to speak English were key to her success.

The Craft Village of Raghurajpur

It needed a lift to an ATM to buy the produce

More temple Guardians

I have been wondering why the empty spaces in the towns are not grabbed for vegetable growing (perhaps they would get stolen, or they can’t afford the seeds, or they are too tired) so was pleased to see one today neatly laid out with cabbages and cauliflowers and other stuff I couldn’t identify.All for now. Next stop Varanasi.

Much love to all


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