Friday, February 14, 2014

Tryst with life in the East coast and Eastern Ghats

Tryst with life in the East coast and Eastern Ghats

Part five of a six part series on my recent sojourn into this unique part of India.
Day 5: Godavari

Morning came early. It was overcast. A few drops of rain fell too only to momentarily cool temperatures. While we got ready, we noticed the half emerged cicada from last night was lying motionless on the ground. I tried moving it and it started wriggling. The wing had twisted up and had not fully opened. It had hardened. There was no way the insect could fly. If we had not disturbed it, it may have emerged completely. I thought we were responsible and put an end to it. The previous night, a Praying Mantis flew in and got its head chopped off by the fan. I had finished it off as well. 

We packed up our stuff and headed down for breakfast and the field visit for that day. Having had some food, we decided to visit the Eastern Godavari dist. Reserved forests which were severely fragmented and earmarked for submergence by an upcoming dam. We took a Tata Ace and rode down to Rampacholavaram. Rampa meant jagged edges, like that of the saw. I wondered if there was a big timber yard down there. All through the way, we saw forests being cleared. No one had a clue. Infact, for the whole period, we never ever encountered a single forest official, except at the guest house. God only has to save this place I thought. At Rampa, we took an auto and asked him to drive slowly to Devipatnam, the last town on the road and the first town to be submerged. All along, the road cut across settlement and forest matrix. A lone red jungle fowl, the mother of all domestic chicken gave a few glimpses. 
We reached Devipatnam. Walked down to the river Godavari. It was wide. As wide as two km as the crow flies. It got wider closer to the coast. A dam, at the mouth of this river was being mooted. Named Indira Sagar, after Indira Gandhi, this politically motivated dam is a disaster in the making. One, building one so close to the mouth of the river would mean that it would silt up in a short time. Two, being at the base of hills, the inundation would be high, especially in the forests. We were told the inundation would go up till Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Polavaram Project, has been mired in controversy since its inception in the early 1940’s. It is poised to relocate over 300-400 families and over 2 lakh people. That’s what the locals said. They were offered a meager amount for resettlement. Apart from the social impacts, the bigger issue was the submergence of the forest. Parts of the NP would also go. Already half of it is gone. It would be foolish to not protect the rest. (Vikram Giri and Ganesh wrote about this Sanctuary Asia, Feb 2014)
The Godavari River at Devipattinam- Boat leaves to a small Island
There is currently a stay order by the court. The future seems bleak. The deal was to harvest water from the Godavari and send it to Krishna Basin, to support industries. People seemed to have enough water for agriculture. Another complex issue was that the submergence would occur in the Telangana region and benefits of the dam were for the coastal Andhra people. This was a major issue. Several studies have been made. The dam is proven to be an ecological disaster. We felt personally violated. All this was happening right under the noses of everyone and none of them had a say. Instead, we all go up in arms against some relatively smaller issue in the relatively well protected Western Ghats. In a few years, Eastern Ghats itself may be eaten up. Yet there is no real good watchdog or a conservation advocacy group fighting for this. We felt belittled. Or at least I did. We all opined that Vikram and Giri should become the savior of the Eastern Ghats. They could start building a base of really keen and enthusiastic naturalist and conservation oriented people. We needed that. Conservation needs people and highly motivated people. Much of damage is stopped by knowing about proposed projects etc. We took some pictures of the landscape, lest it may come handy some day. If not for anything, it may come handy to compare the pre and post project landscape.  
Vikram reading the map
 We chatted with a local shop keeper while having chilled flavored carbonated water. People were unhappy to move out. Like hell they will be jumping up and down to give away their ancestral property for some dam to support industries in some far off place. We got into the vehicle and headed back. It was hard to shake off the grim picture we had seen. Eastern Ghats was going. It will be there not for long. One had to know the issues, understand them in a broader context and work towards preventing new problems and mitigating existing ones. There lies the challenge for any conservationist. 
Large Scale Timber logging is still a persistent issue.
At Rampa, we had lunch, and waited for the bus. That was supposed to be our last day in field. We had booked train to Hyderabad and then planned to reach Bangalore. We had also booked tickets from Rajahmundry to Bangalore on a train and it had not got confirmed. Like ecological dynamics, our plans too were dynamic. We decided to ditch the Hyderabad plan and instead, head to Kakinada. There, we planned to visit the Coringa Mangrove Forest, Second only to Sunderbans of Bengal and Bangladesh. 

Meanwhile, we saw ‘Goli Soda’. It is carbonated water made locally, often mixed with lemonade. It comes in green Glass bottles and a big steel ball bearing acting as the lid. To open, one had to push the ball inside and it would open with a blast. Through my childhood, I was not allowed to drink one of these. They were generally un-hygienic as bottles were not properly washed and all. Now, we were grown up and had all sorts of bacteria in our guts. We were pretty sure nothing would go wrong if we had one of those.
'Goli Soda'
 Seeing our fascination to the bottle, the shopkeeper obliged to show us how he made the carbonated water. The bottle is soaked in a tub of water. Then it is filled with water and placed in a three chamber device with a lid connected to a CO2 tank. The bottle is turned upside down and gas is allowed to flow. Once done, it is turned right side up again and the gas inside pushes the ball up to the narrow neck. It acts like the lid. Nothing escapes.  This form of local drinks is a dying thing. We no longer get them in big cities. Even in the shop, this old contraption was kept next to a cooler with a flashy add from Coke. It may only be a few years before the ‘Goli Soda’ completely dies off. 
Happiness comes in mass manufactured industries these days. The small time and old folk are left with wonder.

The carbonator spinning to make Goli Soda
The bus came and we reached Maredumilli. Packed up our stuff and trekked back to the bus stop. The weekly fair was up. The place was crowded. A few police men were playing football inside their heavily guarded police station. We kept ourselves occupied with tea and snacks.
Those cast iron pots are filled with cinders and keep the tea and milk warm. This was before cooking gas was invented!
 The bus came. It was terribly crowded. We somehow got in. For half the journey we jostled for space and managed to stay away from people as everyone was sweating. The journey seemed hellish. We reached Kakinada on the coast late in the night, checked into a nearby hotel. It was terribly hot and humid even at night. We went in search of a hotel. Everything was closed. We must have walked about a kilometer. We had noticed an ice cream parlor. We walked past. A hotel called Dolphin was open. Went in. The owner was dead drunk. He began debating and arguing on the number of plates of food he had. Looked like he had only chicken. We said hell with him and decided to eat ice cream instead! The non veg eating folk stay back.
‘Temptations’ was a fancy place. Like the ones we seen in Bangalore or Mumbai. They not only had Ice cream but had all sorts of Indian and Continental food. Sitting in the AC, we were both happy and shocked at the pace at which globalization had taken over every little place. In several small towns like Guntur, there were shopping malls and all that. This was too much we thought. We just walk out for forest and could have a continental platter. Instead, ‘Paav bhaji’ and Pizzas followed a Belgian chocolate ice cream.  The food was nice, ambience was nice and the bill was not too fat. At least, about the price one would pay in a city like Bangalore. We headed back to the hotel, having topped off the food with plantains. Prashanth, in an attempt to remove some soggy part of the fruit conveniently dropped it all and a cow cleaned it up. The push cart vendor had pity and gave a free replacement!

The lodge was a lousy place. As we began to settle down, the bed spread looked dirty, torn in several places. The room was like an oven. No ventilation what so ever. I went down to the reception asking for a new sheet. That fellow blatantly refused. He was drunk. I tried telling him that it was torn. Language barrier prevented us from communicating further. I stormed back up, brought down the torn sheet and showed him the gaping hole. He said oh big deal!. I wanted to give him a tight slap and argue that I would pay him with a currency note with a gaping hole as well. But the food at temptations had really calmed me down. I dint do any such thing. He reluctantly gave us not one but three sheets. We slept. Or at least tried.

Click here for part four


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