After a week’s stay in Jeypore, I left the town last Friday morning on what appeared to be a normal bus. It was, however, a boneshaker, & the driver insisted on haring down the road, sending the bus flying thro’ the air at every bump. It was like being on the dodgems for 4-&-a-half fuckin’ hours. The first part of the journey was unspectacular, a level & spacious world dotted with rough-built huts & pepper’d with chequerboard squares of paddy fields. Then we hit a forest & after a while began a sharp drop through the trees. It seems that Jeypore had stood on a plateau. On reaching the bottom of the hills we began moving thro’ a vast plain, interspersed with the lovely, isolated, idiosynchratic hills of Kalhandi District. The region is kinda famous, apparently, for a series of devasting droughts that hit the area – reducing women to selling their daughters for 40 rupees just to feed the rest of the family. After a short while, the bus pull’d into this pathetic wee place to fix a puncture. The Indian busses are hard-core & have eight tyres each. It was interesting enough watching the conductor unscrew the great wheels from its axle, manhandle it to the garage & an hour later reverse the process.
I came to Bwanipatana, the capital of Kalahandi. It was pleasant enough, a series of intersecting triangular squares. My attempts at getting a decent night’s sleep were thwarted, however, by the racket that echoed thro’ the cavernous hotel. Every room had their TV turnd up full volume in an attempt, I think, to drown out all the other TVs. Total nightmare, & with the mozzys on full assault the hours of slumber were very precious indeed. While in Bwanipatana, I was googling up an ongoing route, & discovered there was an ancient fort called Asurgah, 30K away, which was only a coupel of K from the train line heading North. So I set off three morning’s back on another boneshaker bus – this one was nothing more than a rusting tin-can with wheels. It dropp’d me off at a place called Narla, from which I walk’d & hitched bike lifts about 4k to Asurgah Fort. It stands by a sleepy village & a gorgeous lake, surrounded by paddy fields & consists of 4 great banks of earth & four equally massive empty spaces where the gates would once have been. Inside the walls a few houses nestle together in rural existence, fetching water from a deep well with a tall rope-pully-bucket-thing.
I also met a very eloquent, English speaking 22-year old engineer student, who showed me a temple hidden in a corner of the fort. The keeper of the temple asked if I had washed that day – a major premise to getting into the wee temple, guarded over by two stone lions with their ‘member’s sticking out like dogs on heat. Luckily I had, so he brought me out some rice & coconut – nice guy. Then I goes in the temple & sees a vivid image of a man-god, who my eloquent guied explained had destroyed the idols of local gods & charmed the chief into worshipping him as a god on earth instead.
After a wee while, my nine day’s lack of proper sleep accumulating into ‘Im gonna fall over exhausted & got robbed soon’ kinda vibe set me off towards the train station & the journey north. En route I bumped into this guy & after a wee chat it turned out he was the area’s local historian & had written a book about the fort. Noting his name I wished him well & set off.
I then came to Rupra Road, where I discovered the trains were that day on strike… possibly. Three hours & several different answers from the train guys’ later this was confirmed, & remembering I’d seen a sign for a hotel back in Narla I set off walking the 7k. This was helped by my third boneshaker, a ride in the back of a shed thing carried by a tractor. Soon I was walking down Narla Road – which is basically a street that runs parallel to the train line. The hotel is lovely actually, & finally I got a decent kip. On waking I found myself in a poet’s paradise – peace & quiet & this great u-cup of hills. full of spacious agriculture thro’ which one can wander & muse. At one point I joined in this herdsman who was ferrying his cattle from patches of green shoots. For a while I held the leash of his pet goat, a spritely wee thing, while he dashed from stray cow to stray cow, whipping them with his stick. It has been a lovely stay so far, which I’m gonna extend for a couple more days I think. They don’t get Westerners here, period – even during the Raj the sole British officer of Kalahndi was based at Bwanipatana & ruled the place through Indian police officers. This surfaces in a lot of starings & curiosities, but my steadily growing advances in the Oriyan tongue is amusing them no end. I even got a moustache at one point – for a whole 36 hours! I’d gone to a barbers for a ten rupees shave & soon realized he was leaving my upper lip area free of foam. I was so amused I gave him double money – ten rupes for the shave & ten for the Freddie Mercury. It’s been proper funny looking at myself actually, & going what a proper kumquat!
I began today in fine spirits, & even had a shower with shampoo – it was mainly to work up enough lather to shave off my daft ‘tache. I mean, Charlie had left my soap in the Chennai hotel on November 7th – & I haven’t bought any since on the principal he has to get me some back – which he hasn’t yet by the way.