The Third Tale from the North East – Tribals and Konark

By Nick Goslett
Drums for sale
Drums for sale

The Bonda … what I omitted to mention was the extraordinary sexual habits of this endangered tribe. As far as I could gather, the women rule the roost and marry men 10 years younger than them, and then only have sex with their husband’s father and brother. My guide was a social anthropologist (so he claimed … from the University of Lululand) so I asked him what on earth could have led to such a weird custom and as you would by now expect he talked about how Bonda grow tomatoes. I have just had a Kingfisher wrapped in newspaper and am secretly sipping it in this Internet cafe in Konark so may be writing drivel.

A woman and a water pot

Tomorrow morning I have to get to Konark beach (on a rented bicycle) by 5:15 to see the sunrise and then pedal like hell for two kilometres to see it rising over the world famous (apparently) Sun Temple. I am here for two nights so if I cannot peddle fast enough I can give it another go the next day.Tribal Times finished with a visit to a really large market, the most interesting part being the sheep and goat market – a sheep sells for about seven pounds – and cock fighting which did not have the excitement or anything pleasant at all compared with Bali (Penny and Dave will recall). Many and varied tribes were there and I could vaguely distinguish them but needed Prakash with me rather than the idiot guide with a handkerchief on his head. The lunch cafe we were scheduled to visit was closed on Fridays so we drove on to some really seedy place and I treated the driver and guide which set me back the princely sum of one pound and eighty pence. At this point I slipped the driver his tip and swore him to secrecy … he smiled a lot!

The cattle market

I omitted to mention a few things from the previous days: the earth is the most wonderful red colour and everything seems to grow like the beanstalk as long as there is water; Prakash pointed out fruit bats (flying foxes) at the Thursday lunch and asked if he could look at them through my binoculars which was quite a breakthrough. I hate them – I have seen too many Dracula films. I know how to make mud bricks; along one enormous reservoir, shaped like brain dendrites and neurons, there were a lot of Army patrols with rifles cocked, looking for Naxalite (Maoist) rebels who still try to use the Tribals to foment unrest; I wandered through one lovely wood with green pepper vines growing up coffee trees which Penny will remember from Kerala .. they start green, then turn red and finally black and timing is the only difference; in one village the first large field had a number of women sitting round seeming to be stripping grass: it was actually a fairly rare plant the twigs and roots of which provide Ayurvedic medicine which is purchased by the Government and they seemed to be onto a good thing; there has been an enormous investment in the last decade by both the Government and many charities and NGOs in building brick houses for the tribals (with corrugated iron roofs which must sound deafening in the monsoon if my experience in a massage parlour in Costa Rica with a corrugated roof in a downpour is anything to go by!) but at least dry and they all said that they were pleased to have them. The Government has also invested a fortune in schooling, The children all look spotless, with whites Persil would be proud of BUT I really do wonder to what end; will they end up miserable in the cities trying to earn a crust rather than boring work in the village but a strong family life? Tricky …

The catch

After my last email I returned to the hotel and went to the bar for a beer. An English-speaking local who I suspect had had a few ales approached me thus “You ruled us for 200 years, now we will rule you”. Well, at least it was a conversation with a local! Feeling somewhat nervous about being subject to a beating I was charm itself and he gradually calmed down, assisted by his brother who was a smiley person with seemingly no axe to grind. As the conversation was getting warmed up with respect to Modi and the state of the nation, his wife called and demanded that he return for supper. A shame. Lighting does not feature in Indian bars: they are dark enough not to be able to see the expression on anyone to whom you are talking and when asked why, the bartender told me that the Indians are very secretive. Makes all the bars dismal! Thank God for the Kindle Paperwhite which glows in the dark!

So many saris

At the end of the tour we arrived at the Royal Fort hotel in Vizag (Visakhapatnam to them) to find that I did not have a room booked but after a neat bit of bargaining I had a room at a reasonable price. I got a tuk-tuk to the beach and strolled along the immensely long prom. Their living statues on the beach are, of course, Gandhi all in silver. I actually found a Coffee Shop selling a real live capuccino and I saw a family with a pug and a tiny weeny puglet. I also saw a couple flying a kite hundreds of metres up and when in Delhi I will try to buy some kite string which in Brighton is prohibitively expensive. I asked where I could find the shopping bazaars and going as directed came upon another quirk of India which is that where there is a hospital, there also will be about a mile of any medical establishment you could imagine in your wildest dreams: any ..ology you can think of; blood tests; cancer tests; homeopathic outlets; pharmacies; neurological disorders; the list is endless. Eventually I found the shopping centre and restaurants and I had the most delicious Butter Paneer Masalla and a Hyderabad Mushroom (veggy in India is A-OK!).

Pile ’em high

This morning I flew back to Bhubaneswar and took a taxi to Konark and have spent a lovely day on the beach, more specifically in the fishing village. There must be about 300 boats, mostly catching small fish which they dry in the sun for three days and then sell to the markets. As luck would have it I had about 20 pens with me (biros) and these are a passport to being loved by children (and thence their parents)! You give one out and word spreads. I am a complete sucker with the children because they all look so adorable and are all so happy. At one point we had a spelling bee in the sand with five of them trying to get what I was writing in English – quite impressive actually. Having got rid of the twenty pens there was still a great demand so I found a crummy shop and bought 40 at 3R each (total one pound twenty). Well .. word certainly did spread then and they came at me from all corners: it was mayhem; all were gone in a trice but rather like the Pied Piper I now had a retinue of about twenty who followed, hoping for more largesse. In the end there was just one little girl (who had almost invited me into her house but chickened out at the last moment and had a smile that melted my heart) and her little brother. She had two pens but he had none. We walked for miles trying to find more and eventually succeeded. More work for the Trust?!That is it for now. It is always such fun nosing out the Internet cafe and often with locals peering at what I am typing.

Bye for now

Love to you all from 30C.


Horse riding on Konark beach

Gandhi on Vizag beach

Drums for sale

The veg market

The sheep market

The Konark fishing fleet

The Knife Seller

The fish sellers

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