India

The Second Tale from the North East – Tribal Times

By Nick Goslett
The loads may be very heavy
The loads may be very heavy

I never got round to “Change from 50 Rupees” which was the original title of the first tale. It is one of the many mysteries of Indian shopping: at 8:30 on my way to the temples in Bhubaneswar I purchased two oranges from a lady at a stall on the road. The cost was 15 rupees but I only had 14.5 but she let me off. Some eight hours later, I called on her again reminding her of the .5R and again asking for 2 oranges proffering a 50R note (that is 50 pence). She did not have any change and wanted to give me eight oranges. How can she possibly not have change for 50R? Same thing today at town cafe: the late lunch cost 70R, the French couple next to me had just paid too much for their lunch and my production of a 500R note was met, once again, with “No change”!

Wonderful earrings and headgear


The rest of that day in Bhubaneswar was somewhat farcical and my own fault for not reading the small print in Lonely Planet that all the museums are closed on Mondays .. after having been tuk-tuked to both of them! However, the Tribal Festival was great. I have to admit that a little tribal dancing goes a very long way but luckily they changed the “group” every ten minutes and one or two were well worth listening to for the drumming. The Yank did not turn up but just as well since the noise was deafening and the acres of stalls selling spices, brooms, food and anything else useful was really well done. I am sitting in an Internet Cafe in Jeypore (in Odisha, not Rajasthan), not an attractive city until you poke about a bit and find a wonderful indoor market, still thriving at 8:30pm selling fruit and clothes. A big difference between an English high street and an Indian one is that all the Indian shops are useful; they sell things you need. Not a bank to be found, not a coffee shop in sight (although I would kill for a capuccino right now). It’s all such a bustle and such fun.

They walk miles each way to the market


At the end of my third day in the Tribal Area. There are over 60 separate tribes and a multiplicity of languages though most speak Odi (and today I found a girl in a little tribal village who spoke English. Under her circumstances I predict she will go far). We started with a ten hour drive and as soon as the guide opened his eyes and made his first speech I new I was on to a loser. He has one rheumy eye, no sense of humour, poor spoken English, little knowledge of the tribal peoples and will not listen. I ask him a question and half way through he answers. So I restate the question slowly and like a politician he answers about something completely different! At first it drove me mad but after a while I formed a bond with the driver who is a sweetheart, a wonderful driver, understands everything I say, knows all about the different tribes and also thinks the guide is a waste of space! I now refer all my questions to him and tell the guide to be quiet when he butts in. It may sound harsh but this guide is being paid a lot (my travel agent has just told me) and an example of his expertise would be to look at a bowl of tomatoes in the market and say “they also sell tomatoes”.

The liquor


The days are: a visit to one of the three big tribal markets; visits to tribal villages; lunch; more tribal villages; lots of driving. On the face of it, none too exciting .. but it is wonderful. The scenery is hill/mountains heavily wooded will an incredible number of cascading rice terraces with the seedlings growing and planting out happening in those areas where they have rain. (In the others, they have to await the monsoon and just have one crop.) Eucalyptus is being grown in vast quantities for the paper mills. Driving with the window open and lapping up the scenery is always something I’ve loved anyway and the state of the roads keeps the speed well down. Mind you, there is a fantastic road improvement scheme in progress in the area and another thing which always surprises me here is that the heavy carrying – on their heads – of the cement is done by the women. Their gait is long and slow and their backbones are straight as a die. Today I lifted one of their water pots by the well and found it really quite heavy at which one girl fell around laughing and said they carry three at a time.

Some are not so young


The villages are enchanting (to me anyway). Spotlessly clean (chosen well I presume) and litterless BUT they are so poor that they probably hardly ever buy anything with packaging to throw out. Some tribes are really friendly, some not so. I now know how to weave baskets, grow tobacco, plant and harvest rice and more. Sometimes it takes a bit to break the ice (and I have that stupid guide as the translator!) but in the end they smile and I find that sitting down really helps. I had two schoolrooms of kids eating out of my hand this afternoon with jokes and ballpoint pens (I had a lot!). Almost my favourite (I think to the displeasure of the guide) is to walk out of the village to the forest to see the wonderful views, hear the birds and just drink in the beauty (and 30C).

Planting the rice


The markets are not that great but today’s was enjoyable for seeing the Bonda women. They wear giant necklaces, beads on their front, large earrings hanging from the upper ear and will have walked, mostly barefoot, for between 12 and 15 kms to get to the market to sell their wares which were on their heads, to buy stuff they need and then walk back. The men carry liquor all that way balanced in two buckets hanging from a stick across their shoulders .. and will probably drink quite a bit there and fall asleep on the way home. A Bonda woman wanted to sell me some necklaces which were quite pretty and thence ensued a prolonged bargaining session lasting about an hour in two different spots at both of which I sat down and was surrounded by other Bonda women since they saw someone who might actually buy. I did buy, and the driver raised his eyebrows at the price I secured. When you have time and don’t really care, bargaining is such fun.

I am about to be kicked out so bye for now.

All my love

Nick

Rice terraces


My guide and driver (Prakash)


I love my sunsets


All-woman road menders


A local God


A Bonda woman


The loads may be very heavy


A Bonda family


Share this post

You may also like

MIZORAM: THE NORTHEAST’S HIDDEN DIAMOND
MIZORAM: THE NORTHEAST’S HIDDEN DIAMOND