Table of contents for Tribal Terrain
It was an unknown, remote tribal settlement till a discovery was made which stripped the place of its anonymity and earned it the sobriquet of “Andhra Kashmir”. A few years ago, weathermen found that it was the coldest place in Andhra Pradesh, with night temperatures occasionally dipping to sub-zero levels. This news was broadcast by TV channels and the resultant hype has made it a popular tourist destination.
We set off on a cold January morning from Vizag when it was still very dark. About 50 kilometres south of Vizag, on the Golden Quadrilateral towards Chennai, we turned right and proceeded along the state highway towards Narsipatnam, a sub-divisional town, which is the gateway to the Chintapalli forest zone.
After crossing Narsipatnam, the ghat section starts and we go up a winding road cutting its way up the Eastern Ghats through dense vegetation. The entire route is cloaked in a dense fog which forces us to crawl at a snail’s pace due to the extremely poor visibility. However, one felt like we were making our way through the clouds and it lifted our spirits.
There is a fork in the highway at a tribal hamlet called Korrubayalu (कोर्रू बयलु), which, in the local tribal dialect means stiff as a stick. A gruesome tale has it that a thief was caught at night and was tied to a tree as punishment and in the morning, his body was found frozen stiff due to the cold weather. That is how this hamlet acquired this name.
At Korrubayalu, we take the left prong of the fork and 1 kilometre down the road, we enter Lammasingi. Other than a few ramshackle huts, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about this nondescript tribal settlement. We drive a few metres ahead and park our cars in a small clearing.
When we step out of our cars, boy, was it cold! Not as bone-chillingly cold as we had expected it to be but in a bracingly pleasant way (must have been about 5⁰C). Both sides of the road were flanked by tall trees and thick shrubs and flowering plants. Botany being an area of darkness for me, I cannot identify them but like any lay person, I was captivated by their bright colours. Maybe Gita or Praveen can identify them for our benefit.
Other than a few shacks, there are no facilities whatsoever. Even the usually ubiquitous chai shop is conspicuous by its absence. However, having been forewarned by those who have been here before, we had brought some hot beverages in thermos flasks along with us and we stood in the middle of nowhere sipping piping hot coffee out of paper cups in the deliciously cold tribal hamlet.
“यह कौन हँसता है फूलों में छुपकर
बहार बेचैन है किस की धुन पर
As the sun rises up in the skies, some of its rays pierce the leafy canopy and gradually, the fog thins out, revealing the landscape around us, a hilly terrain populated by a wide variety of trees and flowering shrubs.
There is a clearing in the trees and I spot a cheerful looking graveyard with tombs sporting a fresh coat of paint in pastel shades. I stop to look at the graves and photograph them. I suspect that its is a tribal graveyard as I see neither crosses nor crescents. My wife urges me to hurry up since she doesn’t like spending so much time in such a place.
We stop at the Tajangi “hotel”, a smoke-filled thatched hut with a charpoy and a couple of wooden benches. The eatery is run by a tribal female duo comprising a garrulous mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. While the daughter-in-law does the cooking on a firewood stove, her mother-in-law chats with my wife and they swap information in the effortlessly easy way that comes naturally to women (where are you from, how many children, who are all the people accompanying you, etc., etc.) Steaming hot idlis are served on banana leafs along with coconut chutney and something the call “Bombay chutney”, a gruel made from gramflour (besan), onions and green peppers. Notwithstanding the downmarket ambience, the food tasted great.
A short distance from Tajangi was an artificial lake formed by a small check-dam. The water from the dam was released through a sluice gate valve into a channel which irrigated terraced fields on the downstream side. I was told that this was the only source of drinking water for the tribals of Tajangi.
The lake was pleasant to behold; ringed by hills on all sides. the blue skies reflected off its still waters and a pleasant breeze wafting across. We spent some time there, fascinated by the pristine beauty all around us.
Near the lake, we came across a tiny temple dedicated to tribal deities. These goddesses are considered to be manifestations of Adi Shakti, the primeval energy that permeates the manifested universe. Its interiors are neatly maintained and the walls are covered by red granite tiles. Opposite the temple was a clearing in the trees, a place which seemed to be popular with picnickers, going by the amount of litter they left behind.
It was a horrifying sight to behold. The ground was strewn with non-bio-degradable polystyrene plates, plastic spoons, plastic bags, plastic mineral water bottles and food waste. It made my blood boil that people who had the economic means to travel to these pristine, beautiful and remote places in cars for picnicking did not have the civic sense to take back their wastes with them. This is a sight I keep seeing everywhere and I wonder why the authorities do not take stringent action to tackle this menace.
By now it was nearing 11 AM and we decided to head back home since we had to return to Vizag for lunch. The visibility was good now with hardly any traces of fog. On the way back, we saw several monkeys flitting about.
It is a pity that the touristic potential of this beautiful place is not being unlocked by the state tourism authorities. It is tempting to think that tourism will degrade the pristine environment of this area but it is a specious, self-defeating argument. Tourism, if developed responsibly, is a win-win situation for all concerned. For the stressed out city dwellers, it will be a much needed break. For the impoverished locals, it will provide incomes and much needed employment opportunities without having to migrate to cities. All we need is the political will to make things better. Since tribal lands cannot be bought by non-tribals, it is for the authorities to develop these places. The best way forward is to involve the private sector with strict supervision to ensure that the best practices are being followed. Am I expecting too much?
In the next in this series, I shall talk about my visit to another part of the same sprawling and beautiful forest.