Monday, October 7, 2013

Tryst with life in the East coast and Eastern Ghats

Tryst with life in the East coast and Eastern Ghats
— Part three of a six part series on my recent sojourn into this unique part of India.

Day 3: Vishakapatnam to Sileru
In Vizag, morning came early. Prashanth went to see the beach. We got ready and headed out for breakfast. Not wanting to search of food, we grabbed what we could on a push cart vending food right outside the lodge. We were waiting for Giri to get a vehicle to go for our next destination. The lodge fellow wanted us to clear out and we sat waiting in the longue. Prashanth, myself and Dr. Ganesh went to the Bangalore Bakery and picked up some plum cakes. We headed back to the lodge and still no sign of Giri. It turns out, travel agents had only a Scorpio out there and other spacious vehicles were rare. By noon, the vehicle came. It was a Tavera with a cracked windshield. Driving it was another chap named Giri!. He did seem to be in a hurry and almost got us all killed by running into barricades and oncoming traffic. He also had extra pair of horns which blared like a dying donkey.  We stopped for lunch in yet another Bhonajalaya and food was served again on the paper plates. Finally, we headed off to the hills. The temperature was as high as 43° C and a heat index of 63! It was the temperature we could perceive when inside the vehicle.

Dont drink and become a wreck; instead take care of family is what this poster seems to be saying on the backside of a bus!

A couple more tea stops and we hit the ghat road. There was heavy traffic inside the forest. People had this nasty habit of overspeeding and honking at every turn. So much so, there were sign boards which asked drivers to honk. In about five minutes, I counted over 20 honks! A dead and macerated animal lay on the road. Our driver conveniently missed it. We stopped him and got down to check. It looked like a Hyena at first but then we thought it was a dog and moved on. As we walked back to the vehicle, we noticed the Large Green billed Malkoha. None of us had seen it earlier!. Unlike other birds of its kind, this fellow flew about in the canopy. We also saw several birds along the way before the sun went down. 
Birdwatcher in the Ghats!

The road passing through the forest was awesome. A neat metalled road with markings and as smooth as a runway. Our driver had to be reminded every now and then to go slow. He was belting at 100 kmph.

A small airplane could easily land here!
Eastern Ghats had created a nice impression in my mind, before we started for the journey that is. I was hoping to see wildlife. Nilghai, Ratel, Four Horned Antelope etc. Most of us wanted to see a Pangolin too.  But then, over the next couple of days this was set to change. 
Panaromic view of the ghats as the sun went down

We stopped in a few places at night. The Vehicle too started squeaking. The fan belt seemed to have become loose. The driver tried fixing it but did not have cutting pliers. I pulled out my ever trusted foldable pliers and helped him trim away the loose part. The squeaking reduced and we moved on. We were driving through the region known for the Maoist activities. It has broadly been termed as the “Red Corridor”. Only a few months ago, a group of Grey Hounds—the elite police force to weed our the reds were blown to shreds. 
The team in Red light. L to R: Giri, Allwin, Vikram, TG and Prashanth

We did not encounter a single soul that night. Except of course, a lone vehicle and a cat. It probably was a domestic cat. It crossed the road and casually walked along the barren fields. With the faint lights of my headlamp, we saw its orange eye shine.  We also saw that the forest was burning in several places. The fire, set by humans was burning away all that was left of the dry forest in peak of summer.  
Forest fires are a big threat to the forest and its wildlife. In India, they are all man made.
The whole night journey of over three hours yielded not a single animal sighting. We reached the settlement of Sileru. Giri had made friends with someone who works at the high security dam site. He offered us accommodation and asked us to head up assuring he would follow us on his bike. For about half hour, we could not see him. Phone did not work. Meantime, a watchman at the place told us livid stories of how a sloth bear regularly came to the ficus tree which had ripe fruits! With the faint light, we saw the barks having large paw marks, possibly made by the bear while climbing up. Finally our man Friday came. His bike apparently ran out of fuel. Usual banter continued. It was getting pretty late for dinner. After dumping our luggage, we headed to the only hotel that was supposed to be open. Prashanth kept the plum cakes in the vehicle for safe keeping. Someone removed it and someone seemed to have put it back. That’s what everyone thinks anyways. 
The dinner place was a small shack, part house part hotel. A lady had just finished serving people and was clearing up. She said there is food. We sat, waited for another 10 minutes. A man came in. He was supposed to help the lady. He seemed a little off balance. Surely he was drunk. A lighted match would have ignited him. He served us food and a few people had chicken. He went on bragging how good his hotel’s food was. We asked for curd and he brought a packet, after wasting 10 minutes and tore a small hole at its base to squirt out the curd. It was disgusting. He tried widening the hole. It was even more disgusting. None the less, we ate. By the time came to settle the bill. Our man tried to take us for a ride and over charged us. All the while, he kept saying how great his food was. Everyone in the town knew his hotel and loved his food. When he came to know we were form Bangalore, he said even in Bangalore we wont get such good food! Holy hell I thought.
We got into the vehicle. It was cool. The driver had turned the AC on. Holy hell I thought again. This bugger had not put the AC when we all were cramped in the vehicle and dying of heat and now, at night, this moron is turning on the AC because he ought to sleep inside!. No wonder they charged 1000/- for overnight stay for the driver. 
At night, I went out to the ficus tree to see if the sloth bear indeed came. The watchman had just then closed the gates. I waited for a while. Nothing came. Night was pleasant. A small swarm of mosquitoes woke me up in the following morning.  
To read part two:

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