Athmallik – In the Heartland of Mahanadi Wilderness

Imagine 19th century Mahanadi, a river that formed the lifeline of Odisha and the only passage to commute between Sambalpur and Cuttack and further Puri for Jagannath darshan. Mahanadi looks pristine but at times could turn hostile for sailors, thanks to its floor filled with large and small rocks that could cause accidents if you are not a skilled and vigilant captain.

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Flat bottomed boats that float even today are well suited for Mahanadi navigation. The boatmen would carry racks and hoes with which they would clear a narrow passage just sufficient to let their craft pass, where there were chances of rocks impeding navigation.

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SPLENDOURS OF SONEPUR – IN THE LAND OF RAMAYANA’S LANKA

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The people living on the banks of Mahanadi subsisted by river trading. They would carry salt, spices, coconut and brass utensils from Cuttack to Sambalpur in exchange of cotton, wheat, oilseeds, clarified butter, oil, molasses, iron, turmeric and ikat cloths.

Everything would go fine till they reach near Athmallik where Mahanadi would become a gorge, now flowing like a snake amidst densely forested hills of the Eastern Ghats in the south and Gadajat in the north. The river here is also infested with gharials, the Indian counterpart of American alligators. To gain courage and for safe passage in the gorge, the boatman would seek the blessing of Maa Binkai and Maa Konkai, two sister goddesses, whose abodes are separated by the river.

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BADAMBA – EXPLORING THE MIDDLE MAHANADI KINGDOM

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Dramatic Setting at Binkhai

Today this may sound like a fairytale, but when you are at Binkai your soul is simply transported to yet another era of mysteries and courage of river people amidst the breathtaking collage of mountains and river.

Travel Tips

Athmallik is located at a distance of 192 km from Bhubaneswar and it takes about 5 hours of drive on a scenic highway. However, one can also take a train up to Boinda from Bhubaneswar (the best option could be Bhubaneswar – Bolangir Intercity, which leaves Bhubaneswar at 6 AM and arrives at Boinda at 9.30 AM). From Boinda if informed priorly, Anupam Dash can arrange a vehicle for pick up. His phone no is +91 9937412336.

Deep Forest Farmstay is about 40 km from Boinda Station. The drive is scenic, especially on the Ghat Road. On your both sides there are majestic Gadajat Hills and mountain streams in the western periphery of Satkosia Wildlife Park.

 

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Athmallik located in the geographical centre of Odisha is the closet town from Binkai. Steeped in history, Athmallik was a princely state at the time of British Raj. Nestled on the foothills of Panchdhara Mountains and surrounded by the dense jungle of Hatidhara, the buffer area of Satkosia Tiger Reserve, the origin of Athmallik State is obscure.

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Glimpses of Panchdhara Mountains and Forest around Athmalik

In the 11th century CE, a jagir was established by King Pratap Deo of the Kadamba Dynasty. Pratap Deo was said to have found a Honda metal vessel which was considered an auspicious sign, after which the territory was named as ‘Hondpa’. Centuries later one of the chiefs divided the state into eight divisions and placed one sub-chief called ‘Malla’ in each division to suppress the unruly tribes. After this event, the kingdom’s name was changed from ‘Hondpa’ to ‘Athmallik’.

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Folklore goes: Pratap Deo was a royal scion of Amer (Jaipur) who had come to Puri as a pilgrim along with his six brothers and one sister. For some reason, he ran on trouble and lost four of his brothers in a battle against the king of Puri. As there was no chance for survival, he escaped to the jungle of Bonai. Here at Bonai after he settled down without any fear he arranged his sister’s marriage to a scion of Keonjhar royal family. But the marriage did not last long as his brother-in-law was murdered during a conspiracy.

Once again to overcome threats he had to look for a safe place. Fortunes brought him to Boudh on river Mahanadi and then to present Athmallik, further downstream of Mahanadi, which was ruled by 8 mallas or village chiefs during that time.

At the time of British Raj, Athmallik was one among the 26 feudatory states of Odisha. Today what is left of the erstwhile state are the Kishore Bhavan Palace and an older dilapidated palace on the periphery of the town.

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Vestiges of Royal Heritage at Athmallik

The region around Athmallik also has the largest number of hot springs in Asia. There are 84 in Deulajhari, a holy shrine of Lord Shiva, out of which 24 are accessible.

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Deulajhari Shiva Temple

According to local belief before Pratap Deo arrived and when the tribal chiefs still ruled, the Lord Jagannath lived in a cave by a wide-eyed, limbless wooden statue worshipped by the indigenous Sabara people. But one day, Hindu priests arrived along the river by boat and kidnapped Jagannath, installing him at the main temple of Puri, where he has remained ever since.

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Jagannath Temple Complex in Athmallik

At Athmallik, Jagannath is believed to have once been adorned by what was the largest diamond in the world, before becoming known as the Koh – i – Noor.

The Panchadhara Mountain Range covers a vast area of dense forest and is a prominent elephant corridor. A major watershed, the hills run in parallel to Mahanadi. The mountain range is named after being the source of 5 perennial streams that flow in different directions before forming tributaries of Mahanadi. There are splashing waterfalls deep inside the forest.

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Oriental Scops Owl

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Deep Forest Farmstay

A major attraction of Panchdhara is Deep Forest Farm Stay, a destination itself for nature-loving travellers. Spread over a land of 4 acres the property has been crafted by Anupam Dash, an avid wildlife photographer and a passionate naturalist. The facility is located in the buffer area of Satkosia Wildlife Sanctuary in Hatidhara Forest. As you take the winding forest road with the mountain streams in the backdrops, the Deep Forest Farmstay welcomes you to its abode with open arms.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Bichitrapur – The Other Bhitarkanika

‘If there are no mangroves, then the sea will have no meaning. It is like having a tree without roots, for the mangroves are the roots of the sea.’

Words of a Thai Fisherman from the Andaman Coast

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You have seen Bhitarkanika, widely celebrated as Mini Amazon. But perhaps you may not be aware of North Balasore Coast that has preserved yet another mangrove, though much smaller in size. Bichitrapur, the mangrove coast of Balasore is an ecological utopia.

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A 10-minute boat ride from Khadibili through the meandering mangrove creeks will drop you at a no man’s beach, the mangrove paradise of Bichitrapur. On your way, you come across numerous fishing boats mostly built in clinker technique and locally known as patia on both sides of the creek.

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TALASARI BEACH – BEYOND THE RHYTHMIC SEA

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Bichitrapur is one of the least explored mangrove coasts in Odisha and therefore retained its character as an ecological hotspot. A sheltering ground for resident and migratory birds and ghost red crabs, the major attraction here is the numerous stumps of water weathering trees strewn across the marshy land and sea waves gently tossing them.

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CHANDIPUR – BEYOND THE VANISHING SEA

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Mangroves are part of the coastal ecosystem in the tropical and sub-tropical world in Asia, Africa, Australia and America. The largest remaining tract of mangrove forest in the world is found in the Sundarbans on the edge of Bay of Bengal in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Moving south from Sundarbans, the tiny tract of Bichitrapur is the first mangrove region in the east coast.

The term ‘mangrove’ is derived from two words ‘mangoe’ (Portuguese), which means a mangrove tree and ‘grove’ (English), which means a community of trees.

Travel Tips

Bichitrapur is located at a distance of 100 km from Balasore and 15 km from Talasari Beach and 20 km from Digha, a popular tourist beach in bordering West Bengal. Surround by lush green paddy fields, swamps, rivers and villages, Bichitrapur can also be covered by bicycle. The nature camp at Bichitrapur is the only staying option, which can be booked online (https://www.ecotourodisha.com/). The boat ride starts from Khadibili during high tides. Your booking at the nature camp also includes a complimentary boat ride in the mangrove creeks.

Growing in the inter-tidal areas and estuary mouths between land and sea, mangroves are composed of salt-tolerant trees and other plant species. They thrive in intertidal zones of sheltered tropical shores, islands and estuaries.

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DAGARA – ODISHA’S RED CARPET BEACH

Bichitrapur Mangrove is also a storehouse of experiences for knowledge seeking travellers. One can also do beach trekking from Talasari or even Digha to reach Bichitrapur.

The surrounding of Bichitrapur is the agricultural heartland of rural Balasore. On your drive from Chandaneswar to Bichitrapur, you discover beetle leaf gardens, a major source of local revenue generation. Beetle leaves are delicate plants and utmost care is taken for their growth.

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Yet another attraction around Bichitrapur is Asia’s tallest Shiva Lingam at Kumbharagadi Village. The 12 feet long and 14 feet width lingam of Baba Bhusandeswara is carved out on black granite stone and only half of it is visible.

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According to a local legend, during Tretaya Yuga, the demon king Ravana was blessed by Lord Shiva and gifted this Shiva Lingam. But Lord Shiva warned him not to place the lingam anywhere. Ravana was on his way with the lingam on Puspak Viman. The angels of God were disappointed and seized the power of Ravana. In the meantime, Ravana felt desperate and planted the lingam at this place. He tried to lift again but failed because it was heavy. The lingam was buried unnoticed for a long time until when a Marwari businessman of Jaleswara town discovered it in his dream. On the next day, he accompanied by his friends came here and built a shrine over it.

The Nature Camp at Bichitrapur is a destination by itself. Surrounded by dense casuarina forest, the camp has 4 cottages on a dune in a tranquil setting.

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A few kilometres south of the camp is the estuary of Subarnarekha River, a major maritime gateway in the past for European expansion in India. Today the tranquil water of the river is extensively used for subsistence and industrial fishing.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Gonasika – Odisha’s Dreamtime Stories

The scenery is lush as far as your eyes can stretch! There are mountains of incredible beauty soaked with the floating clouds of the monsoon. You are reminded of Kalidas’s Meghadootam here, each rain-bearing cloud acting a messenger of love and passion. Numerous streams flow through them cascading the slopes and the valley floors. Mysterious forests of Sal trees once filled with tigers and leopards wrap this Dreamtime landscape. You hear countless elephant stories when you talk to country souls of this enchanting land.

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As I drive through this unexplored Shangri-La in Odisha’s Keonjhar, I am dragged to her myths – long ago, the land where I am now was floating for millions of years. However, with god’s grace, the hills of Gonasika and its neighbouring hillocks were stable. In good old days there lived a rishi in Gonasika. He was a bachelor. One day while he was resting he heard someone approaching him. There was a girl of Asur Tribe who had come in search of solitude. Both fell in love at first sight. In no time they got married and in course of time delivered seven sons and seven daughters. Now the problem was how to settle them. The hill of Gonasika was inadequate for their shelter and provides food. They required cultivable fields.

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With no other options, the couple prayed to the Almighty.

Dharam Devata appeared and instructed the rishi to slaughter the Kapila cow and sprinkle her blood to make the earth steady. The rishi brought the cow to Gonasika and killed her. Then he sprinkled her blood on the earth. The earth thus became stable making it suitable for rishi’s children. They were first Juangs on earth.

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After killing the cow, the first Juang family relished the meat and buried the head in the middle of the hill, but suddenly water sprang from the nostrils of the cow and gave birth to the sacred river Baitarani.

Travel Tips 

Gonasika is located at a height of 3000 feet from sea level in Keonjhar District of North Odisha. Surrounded by lush mountain valleys and majestic hills of Chotanagpur Plateau, Gonasika can be approached by road from Keonjhar (25 km) through the National Highway that connects Mumbai with Kolkata. It takes about 2 hours from Keonjhar through a leisure drive with a number of stopover in-between. There are no stay and food options at Gonasika. We recommend Nature Camp at Sana Ghagra near Keonjhar for accommodation, which can be booked through online.  While there are plenty of Juang Villages around Gonasika, we recommend the village of Kadali Badi which has retained some of the anarchic characters of Juang culture. It is situated at a distance of 7 km from Gonasika.

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The Juang, an aboriginal tribe of Keonjhar revere Gonaskia as their original mother and the place of their origin. Their villages are around Gonasika and Kanjipani on hilltops or slopes or on valleys amidst hills and forests all around. The Juang villages are located near streams and River Baitarani. Mostly settled farmers now they were portrayed very differently by the 19th century British historians and anthropologists as the wearers of leaf dresses. They are medium in stature with a long head, prominent cheekbone and broad nose showing affinity with the tribes living in the Mon-Khmer region of Mainland Southeast Asia. Their language is Mundari belonging to Austro-Asiatic language group spoken in parts of Eastern India and Mainland Southeast Asia.

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BONDAS – THE LONELY SURVIVORS AMONGST EARLIEST INDIANS

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During the time of Hunter’s visit in 1877, this account reveals – ‘the men wear a single cloth. The women had not even this, but simply strings around their waist, with a bunch of leaves before and behind. The life they live best is to wonder about the wood collecting wild products which they barter for food.’

Today, this may sound a fairytale as the Juangs have gone a long way of progress, thanks to various government initiatives.

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SITABINJI – A MYSTICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME AND SPACE

The central attraction of a Juang Village is the dormitory house, called Majanga or Manda Ghara, which also serve as a guesthouse and general assembly place. Their traditional musical instruments and weapons are also displayed here. In front of the Majanga, there is a spacious ground or plaza where the Juang boys and girls dance with their changu (circular drums).

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Believers of animistic religion, Juang offers sacrifices of fowls to the Sun God when in trouble and to the earth for a beautiful harvest.

Houses of Juang are small which can accommodate a married couple and their one or two children. Goats are kept in separate sheds made of wooden plants.

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A JOURNEY THROUGH KONDH TERRITORY, A TRIBE THAT ONCE SACRIFICED HUMANS

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Close to a Juang village live two or three Gouda (cattle and sheep/goat herders) families. They heard the cattle of Juangs and supply milk to them.

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A visit to their land will expose to the diversity of their agricultural practises. The valley floors and the mountain slopes are filled with varieties of crops like beans, millets and pulses. These add as supplements to their rice diet. They also are fond of eating the meat of all animals except sloth bear, snake, tiger and vulture. During Akhand Shikar or ceremonial hunting on Amba Nuakhai (new mango) eating ceremony they chase other animals in the forest. However, today most of the forest is gone, thanks to the population explosion, infrastructure creations and mining.

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Gonasika is Odisha’s own Dreamtime stories with its myriad beliefs and tales. It is truly a traveller’s paradise interested in people and the deep-rooted beliefs in their landscape, forest, rivers and wildlife.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Khandapada – a Valley amidst Nine Mountains

Scientists call him a great naked-eye astronomer. When the west had the privilege of having the best of telescopes and other aids for astronomy, he took observations with indigenous and handy instruments, all fabricated by himself. He was Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar (1835 – 1906) from Khandapada, an erstwhile princely state in Odisha’s Nayagarh district.

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Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar

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The Ancestral House of Pathani Samanta

Pathani’s greatest contribution in the field of scientific literature is a systematic record of his lifelong research in astronomy. The treatise ‘Siddhanta Darpana’ has been written in Sanskrit and Odia in the lines of Hindu tradition initiated by Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara, Satandu, Sripati and many more at different periods of history.

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Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

Chandrasekhar was born in the royal family of Khandapada. Nicknamed as Pathani by his parents (sources say that he was temporarily sold to a Muslim Faqir as a part of the local tradition), Chandrasekhar was initiated to identify stars by his father when he was a child. He received primary education from a Brahmin teacher. As he grew, he started mastering in subjects like lilavati, bijaganita, jyotisa, siddhanta, vyakarana and kavya using the resources available at the family library.

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Then on Samanta Chandrasekhar became an ardent observer throughout his life. He spent many sleepless nights for making observations throughout his life.

Today Chandrasekhar’s childhood town Khandpada has probably been forgotten by many of us. However, a leisurely walk through this little town surrounded by nine hills, forest and interspersed valleys, wetlands and soulful Odia villages is like transporting to yet another world. You are driven through layers of history and myths of this offbeat Gadajat land.

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Badamba – Exploring the Middle Mahanadi Kingdom

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Apart from the ancestral house of Pathani Samanta and the museum built to showcase his work, the star attraction of Khandpada is the palace. The 250-year-old palace, locally called Rajabati is a magnificent structure showcasing a fusion of Mughal and Odia architecture. The palace has two parts, the outer darbar hall overlooking a large courtyard and the inner Rani Mahal. While you can visit the Darbar Hall, entry to the inner chambers is restricted.

Travel Tips

Khandpada is located in Nayagarh District at a distance of 80 Km from Bhubaneswar via Baghamari. Both Khandpada and Kantilo can be covered in a day trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Khandpada also explore Sunamuhi wetland on the outskirt of the town towards Nayagarh. The Nila Madhav Temple gets closed for darshan by 1 PM. You can also have food at the temple by paying a certain amount.

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Khandpada State was initially part of Nayagarh State, founded by a former ruler of Rewa State in present-day Madhya Pradesh. It became a separate kingdom in the 16th century when Jadunath Singh Mangaraj, the first ruler of Khandpada received the title Mangaraj from the Gajapati King of Puri.

The state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India in 1948. The present Raja is His Highness Sri Bibhuti Bhusan Singh Mardaraj, who lives in Bhubaneswar.

The Jagannath Temple built beside the Rajabati is an architectural landmark of the town. Situated within a spacious courtyard, the temple draws a huge crowd during Rath Jatra and other festivals associated with the Jagannath Cult.

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A visit to Khandapada is incomplete without experiencing the darshan of Lord Nila Madhav located on a hilltop on the bank of River Mahanadi at Kantilo.

Lord Nila Madhav occupies a central position in Jagannath Cult.

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At the time, Puri became an established place of Jagannath Cult, here Biswabasu, a chief of Sabara Tribe worshipped Kitung as the God was known in Sabara dialect.

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The legend goes: once upon a time, Indradumyna was ruling as the king of Malwa. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Once he had a dream…Vishnu had reincarnated as Nila Madhav in the distant land of Sri Kshetra. The king deputed one of his counsellors, Vidyapati to travel to Sri Kshetra and confirm the presence of his lord.

Vidyapati travelled far and wide but was disappointed. One day he met Lilita, a Sabara girl, who was the daughter of Biswabasu, the chief of the Sabara Tribe. Both fell in love and got married.

Vidyapati noticed that Biswabasu would go into the forest every afternoon. Vidayapati was curious but the Sabara Chief refused to tell him where he goes every afternoon. After much persuasion, Lalita admitted that her father went into the forest to worship Nila Madhav.

Hearing this from his spouse Vidyapati was over joyous. He nagged his father-in-law to take him to the shrine. Finally, Biswabasu agreed with a condition that he would take him a blindfold. Vidayapati had no choice. When he saw the heavenly beauty of Nila Madhav he was mesmerized. He hurriedly left for Malwa to give the good news to his master King Indradummyna.

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Today, the locals still believe that Biswabasu lived in a nearby hill across the town and he would come every afternoon to the spot, where the present temple of Lord Nila Madhav stands.

Built-in the Kalinga School of Architecture, the Nila Madhav Temple resembles a miniature Jagannath Temple at Puri. From here one can have a sweeping view of the mighty Mahanadi River.

Truly Khandapada is a timeless journey shrouded in mysteries of time, culture and myths. It was a land which nurtured great souls like Pathani Samant. Here at every bit of its land, you will find the magical charm of rural Odisha.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

Wetlands, small and huge, well-known and lesser-known are some of my favourite destinations for seeking bliss. What I enjoy in wetlands that I visit are the floating vegetation in tranquil water, watching fishermen for hours in actions and musical chirping of birds, both local and migratory. In addition to these, if there are archaeological treasures and intense local stories associated with lakes, they form icing on cakes.

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In Odisha, Chilika Lake often comes to our mind when we talk of wetlands. However, Ansupa, which I find more splendid and euphoric, is almost unknown to travellers except those living in Bhubaneswar or Cuttack.

Travel Tips

Ansupa Lake is located in Cuttack district at a distance 55 km from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 2 hours to reach Ansupa on scenic Banki Highway on the corridor of Mahanadi. While at Ansupa you can also visit Nuapatna and Maniabandh Textile cluster and Bhattarika Temple on the bank of Mahanadi. For accommodation, there are few bamboo cottages built on the hilltop. You can book through https://www.ansupalake.in/  

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Situated near the bank of River Mahanadi and surrounded by hills of the Eastern Ghats, namely Saranda Hill on the western side and Bishnupur Hill on the eastern side, Ansupa is a horse-shoe shaped water body and is the largest natural freshwater lake in Odisha. The lake was created by River Mahanadi and spread over an area of 140 hectors.

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Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

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After a drive of less than two hours from the heart of Bhubaneswar along the scenic Banki Highway what attracts you at Ansupa is its immense biodiversity. The wetland is home to 9 species of submerged plants, and 26 species of floating and emergent aquatic plants. It is also home to 33 species of fish, 3 species of prawns, 10 species of reptiles and 50 species of resident and migratory birds.

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Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

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Ansupa is linked directly with river Mahanadi by a natural channel Kabula Nala, which acts both as inlet and outlet, through which flood water enters the lake and excess water goes out after the flood.

Ansupa looks heavenly in monsoon when the Saranda and Bishnupur Hills and the surrounding marshes and paddy fields erupt into various shades of green.

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Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Saranda Hill also has a rich archaeological treasure. According to folklore, the area was ruled by kings and zamindars who had established their fort at the hilltop. A legend goes: during the rule of the Eastern Gangas, King Subranakeshari after being allured by the natural beauty of Ansupa had established a fort and village on the foothill of Saranda. Named after him is the present village of Subranapur. The legend further says: one of the brothers of Dhala Dynasty of Banki had established his kingdom on the top of Saranda Hill as Saranda Gada. The king of Saranda had married to one of the daughters of  king of Tigiria, which is located at a distance of 15 km from Ansupa. The armoury of the kingdom is located on the hilltop, which was built to store arms and ammunition and was known as Baruda Ghara.  At the foothill, the king had built a fort gateway made of bronze, which would make a loud cracking sound when it was opened and closed. According to local legends, the sound used to be heard for nearly 20 km.

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Besides the Baruda Ghara, there are remains of two stone wells, locally known as Bhai Bohu Kuan. There is existence of one more well, which is believed to be the remains of the king’s treasury.

The hills surrounding Ansupa on Banki Highway are also treasure houses for archaeologists and cave explorers. There are several natural and human-made caves found on the hills that surround the Chandaka Forest. Many of these natural caves were inhabited by Prehistoric communities, who have left their marks in the form of graffiti though most of these have disappeared now. The caves that were excavated during the historical era resemble single-chambered caved at Khandagiri and Udayagiri Hills. Though it is difficult to date them, it seems these were inhabited by Hindu monks for tantra Sadhana and mediation as late as 18th/19th centuries CE. In Pandava Bakahra caves, which can be accessed through steep climbing have remains of several red ochre paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddess including of Lord Jagannath. There are also tantric narratives in Odia script.

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Travelling to Ansupa can be made in a day trip, but it is highly recommended for the night stay in Ecotourism camp, built by the forest department on the hilltop and Saranda Gada for a memorable experience under the lap of nature.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Breathtaking Duduma Falls in South Koraput – A Cultural Sojourn

Once upon a time! A Gadaba girl was bathing in the river. In the meantime, her younger brother was passing nearby. When he noticed his sister taking bath he threw an arrow to inform about his presence. The girl could not understand why the arrow was thrown at her. She did not care for it and continued to bath.

The brother felt insulted as his sister did not respond to his arrow. Shouting loudly he proceeded further. Looking at her brother approaching towards her the girl in her nude state jumped into the river out of shame. But to save his sister, the boy caught the hair portion of the girl as a result of which the hair portion remained in his hand and the body flown into the river.

On the other side of the river, the girl propagated her progeny who was named as Bonda.

Even today the Bonda women remain skin headed and consider Gadabas as their younger brothers and sisters.

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A Bonda Woman on the left and Gadaba Woman on the right

The river where the event happened according to local belief is today’s Machkund, a tributary of Godavari. The river separates Odisha from Andhra Pradesh in the highland plateau of South Koraput. One of the most scenic, the river today is tamed for hydroelectric projects, but what makes an out of world experience is its Duduma Falls, one of the deepest and ferocious landscapes in the whole of Peninsular India.

Travel Tips

Duduma Falls and Lamtaput are located in the southern part of Koraput Distance on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Surrounded hills and forest, the area is a traveller’s paradise. The nearest towns are Jeypur (60 km) and Similguda (80 km). Both have decent staying options. However, we recommend Desia Koraput, an award-winning ethnic resort (http://www.desiakoraput.com) located near Lamtaput. It is designed in traditional architecture.  The nearest airport is Visakhapatnam (180 km). Bhubaneswar, the state capital is 570 Km.

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Machkund River and Duduma Falls

Our journey starts from Semiliguda an industrial township on the foothills of Deomali at a 1000 feet plateau to Duduma through an enchanting landscape of hills, mountains, valleys, waterfalls, farmlands, valleys and numerous tribal villages. It was a rainy day with floating clouds kissing the mountain peaks. As we moved further the land became more isolated and the population became sparse. Once the area used to be a part of the Red Corridor. But now the Maoists have almost lost their grip as there is no local support and also because of the continued intervention of state forces.

Also, Read Here:

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 1)

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 2)

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After a sumptuous lunch in a roadside eatery run by two tribal women, we reached Jalaput Reservoir on Machkund River. Surrounded by hills and picturesque valleys, Jalaput wetland derives its name from Jala or Jal means water and Put means residence in Desia language. The bridge on the reservoir forms the border between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. We crossed the bridge and entered Andhra Pradesh. The 20 km road in Andhra was a nightmare.

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Jalaput Reservoir on Odisha – Andhra Border

We reached Duduma around 4.30 PM and the view from the watch tower was spectacular. I was simply lost in its breathtaking views. Duduma is one of the highest waterfalls in India surrounded by towering mountains of the Eastern Ghats. To its west are Bonda Hills, the habitat of one of the most primitive tribes of the world, the Bondas and to its north and east are the villages of Gadaba tribe. The 175 m high fall tears through the rugged rocks of the Eastern Ghats and the evergreen-deciduous forest. From Duduma we headed east along Odisha – Andhra border to Lamtaput, the heartland of Gadaba Tribe following the scenic Machkund River. It seemed the wheel of time had stopped. Watching the people ferrying the river in country boats between two states was almost magical.

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Gadabas have no written records of their history. However, according to their local mythology, their ancestors had migrated from the banks of river Godavari in the remote past. They first settled in Nandpur, the former capital of Jeypur Rajas.

Also, Read Here:

A Journey through Kondh Territory, a Tribe that Once Sacrificed Humans

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Two Old Gadaba Women

A major attraction of Gadaba people is their two pieces saree made out of the fibre of Kerenga Tree. Though now hardly anyone wearing kerenga, but when there are festivals and dance performance, the first preference of girls is kerenga. Earlier there used to be cottage looms in every Gadaba village, where the women would be seen engaged in weaving kerengas. Nowadays, the traditional knowledge of weaving is almost lost.

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Revival of Kerenga

According to a legend, when Lord Rama during his exile was wandering in Dandakaranya Forest with his wife Sita, they met some Gadaba women who laughed at her as her dress was made of fibre. Whereupon, she cursed them and condemned them to wear no other dress but clothes made of fibre.

On the next day, we visited Kangrapada Village near Lamtaput to experience Gadaba life. Here we met Deepa Sisa, a young graduate in Odia from Jeypur’s Vikramdev College. A Gadaba, Deepa is very passionate to showcase her culture. She took us around the village and arranged Dhemsa Dance performance at a short notice.

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Deepa Sisa, a Young Dynamic Gadaba Girl

Dheemsa Dance is the traditional dance of Gadabas. The women perform wearing the Karenga saree. They dance in a semi-circle with steps three and four. The body is often bent forward showing skilful moves on the heels. The men only play the musical instrument like dhol, baja, madal, flute, tumak and mahuri.

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Dheemsa Dance Performance

Gadabas are agriculturalists and depend upon shifting cultivation. They also rear cattle, sheep and goats, pigs and chickens. They are also horticultural farmers growing banana, jackfruits, mangoes and tamarinds. Millets and rice are their staple food. Millet gruel is considered to be highly nutritious and helps in the production of more blood.   According to their belief, someone who is pale has too little blood and should consume more millet gruel.

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Millet Gruel

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For Gadaba food is not only a product of the efforts of particular individual or houses but also a consequence of the successful influencing of social relationships in ritual. The growth of grain (staple food) is based on the exchange and circulation of life and food among human beings, gods, demons and the dead. Once harvested both millet and rice make their ways from fields to the house and back through the house again before they pass through the body. From the big room of the house, they move to the inner house (gondi dien) and from here to the loft where the grain is stored. It could have been simpler to get the harvest directly into the loft by way of an opening from the big room, through which one enters the house. But the route that passes the house deity, located in the inner room, is obligatory and the loft itself is an extension of the inner area.

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Sacred Chamber and Kitchen

Today cashew nut plantation has become alternative cash crops. You find women in every household engaged in the processing of cashew nuts. Mango and jackfruits are also processed traditionally and preserved for the offseason.

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A fascinating aspect of Gadabas is their house plans and colour pallets used in the interiors. Their houses are triangular in shape in the roof. However, the ground is rectangular in plan. The rooms are not provided with windows. For ventilation, there is a gap placed between the roof and the sidewall. On the left or right side, the house is provided for the kitchen and the shrine of their household deity.

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My journey to Gadaba culture has just started. And I will continue to explore more in the near future.

Herewith I bring out an end to my story with the quote by Lao Tzu.

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Salmora Potters of Majuli – A Journey through Time and Space

From the beginning of human civilisation, our ancestors had mostly preferred river banks to settle. Rivers are dual in nature. On the one hand, their fertile plains are extensively exploited for farming and their courses are used for mobility and trade. On the other hand, rivers periodically bring catastrophes through floods damaging livelihood in no time.

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It was through river-based trade India witnessed the second urbanisation around the middle of 1st millennium BCE in the region of the Ganges in North India. Buddhism was also spread through merchants and traders along the major river basins. Through river trade Srenis or Sresthis (trade guilds) had carried out the business of trade commodities, the major item being ceramics or pottery.

Also, Read Here:

Betwa – Flowing in the Heart of India

There were different kinds of luxury and everyday use of pottery traded in Ancient India. Among the luxurious pottery, Northern Black Polished Wares (dish and bowl) were in high demand. It had reached to a large part of the Subcontinent through river trade. These were used among emerging aristocrats and elites as symbols of status in Ancient India.

Two millennia have passed. It is difficult to visualize with 100% accuracy the mechanism of Early Historic Pottery trade – how were the ceramics made, who made them, how were they bartered or sold through river trade, what kinds of watercraft were used and so on.

Travel Tips

Majuli is world’s second largest river island located in the newly created Majuli District in Upper Assam on the banks of Brahmaputra. To reach Majuli one has to take ferry service from Koklimukh Ghat at a distance of 15 km from Jorhat Town, which is connected by both rail, bus and air services. It takes about 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Majuli. Salmora Village is about 25 km from Gormur, the heart of Majuli Island. While at Majuli visit various Namghars, a Vaishnava institution established by 16th century Saint Sankardev. Bicycles are the best options to commute within Majuli in one’s own pace. Hummingbird School is located in remote Kulamuha Village. Pathorichuk is yet another Mishing Village which can be reached after crossing three wooden bridges over a river. You can also have a boat ride in beels and rivers at your own pace. While at Majuli visit Samagri Satra for the masks. Made of bamboo and dried cow dungs these masks depict special characters and used in various religious dramas called Bawna. For a gastronomic experience try patta dia mas (fish backed in banana leaf), chicken kharika (chicken roasted in sticks) and fish curry (Oo Tenga Mas Jul) along with fresh vegetables. 

Salmora village in the southeast corner of Majuli Island on the bank of mighty Brahmaputra has somehow kept the historic tradition alive. Close to Dakshinpath Satra, the Kumar potters of Salmora make handmade pottery and supply them to various villages inhabited by Mising community apart from Assamese villages through river trade. They also make watercraft for sailing in the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. Size and shape of boats vary depending upon its usage in various kinds of water bodies including ponds and swamps. The business of pottery is partly through the barter system and partly through direct selling.

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Misings use them to make and store apong (rice beer) and in return provide black grams and other food items to Kumar Potters.

Also, Read Here:

Misings of Majuli – An Anthropological Journey

The craft has survived among 600 families inhabiting the south-eastern fringe of Majuli in the villages of Salmora, Barboka and Besamara. Though there are no historical records of their origin, however many historians agree that the craft was introduced during the reign of Ahom kings.

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According to a legend, the Kumar potters came to Assam from Burma during 7th century BCE. According to yet another legend, during the 13th century CE, when Chalung Sukapha came to Assam crossing the River Irrawaddy he brought with him about 11 Bor (large) Kumar families from Hong Kong in China.

The Kumars settled first in Sadiya on the bank of River Brahmaputra in Upper Assam and then migrated to Majuli in search of suitable clay required for making pottery. It was during 13th to 16th centuries migrations to Salmora took place in phases.

Apart from making pottery, the Kumars also make boats. A legend goes: in the earlier time, the Kumars used to arrange their pots on the banks of rivers and would wait for customers to buy. These banks would be regularly visited by merchants and sailors of large ships during the heydays of Ahoms. Many of these merchants would be attracted to the beautiful pots displayed for sale by the Kumars. In the course of time, these sailors started influencing Kumars to make boats so that it would be easier for them to commute long distances through river courses. The Ahom King Joyadhaj Singha had brought a family from amongst the Kumars to Salmora Village. The family members were well-versed in the art of boat making. Through the members of this family, the art of boat making was established in Majuli.

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There are about 26 varieties of earthen pots produced by the Kumar potters of Salmora. Some of these are locally called mola, madia, choru, pati kalah, becha ikalah and chaki. The making of pots is primarily done by the womenfolk.

During the monsoon season, the earth is dug with shallow pits spread wide to store clay during floods. In this season, fresh alluvium is deposited in abundance on river banks, which is used for making pottery. The glutinous clay is extracted from 60-70 feet deep pits on the river banks. After extraction, the clay is then transported back to their homes where it is further mixed with water and left to stand for a day.

After the monsoon is over, the women potters prepare the puddle with clay, silt sandy mix for primary lump. Then they give shape by hands. Following this, they dry the pots under the sun and finally take them to a furnace. The furnace is prepared by men potters with bamboo, banana leaves and dry wood. Tools used by potters are made from locally available timber and bamboo.

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Today, the eroding Brahmaputra is threatening to the extinction of this ancient craft. In the last couple of years, the river island has shrunk from 1250 square kilometre to 400 square kilometres. Flooding in Brahmaputra force people to shift their villages from one area to another within Majuli from time to time. Ironically, Salmora is also not spared. On top of this, according to experts of the Brahmaputra Board, the government organization which has been involved in anti-erosion projects on the island since 2004, the digging of pits for clay soil makes the river bank vulnerable to erosion by the river. Potters of Salmora blame the district administration for restricting them from digging on the banks since the last couple of years. This is affecting their livelihood and also the craft that has the link of India’s five thousand years of civilisation.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Misings of Majuli – An Anthropological Journey

Year 2017! Bipin Sivaji Dhane, a young alumnus of IIT Kharagpur visits Majuli and it was love at first sight. Bipin left his lucrative job in cosmopolitan Singapore to start a school in a remote village for the children of Mising Tribe. A new journey was embarked upon through partnering with local Mising community leaders to bring in qualitative changes in the area of school education in a land that is gifted and cursed at the same time. Today Bipin’s school ‘The Hummingbird’ has become a ray of hope for the Mising children and is thriving as a model for the rest of India on community-driven education. In December 2018 I was fortunate to be here spending 3 days with the Mising tribe, about whom I had heard a lot but not experienced life with them.

The meaning of the word Mising – Mi (Men), Yashing (Bright or God), which means – ‘We are bright or Good People’.

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According to Mising folklore on their origin myth, there is a common origin of the three groups – Mising, Padam and Minyong from the creator of the universe itself.

The myth goes: Sedi Babu (father Sedi), the Supreme Being is the creator of all the living and non-living beings in the universe. Sedi Babu first created Melo Nane, the creator mother and they together created Dietem (the earth), Rukji Meran (the ants and insects) and Peyi-Peltang (the birds and animals). At the same time, they created Sun (Donyi) and Moon (Polo), and wind (echar), water (asi), fire (enic) and other objects of the universe. Sedi then created Diling who was survived by Litung. Litung was survived by Tuye, Tuye by Yepe and Yepe by Pedong. Pedong gave birth to Dopang, Domi and Doshing. The son of Dopang was Padam and his offspring are the Padams of today. The son of Domi was Minyong whose descendants are known as Misings.

Sedi created the sun and the moon, which act as the two eyes of the Supreme Being through which he watches the people of the earth and no man can hide or escape from them. Both the Misings and the Adis share the common belief and regard the Sun and the Moon as the manifestation of Supreme Being. The cult of Donyi Polo has a great influence on the Mising as well as the Padam and the Minyong tribes. No ceremony, either secular or ritual ever begin without invoking Donyi Polo for their blessings.

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Today the Misings (earlier known as Mirs) are one of the largest tribal groups in Assam. There are a small number of Mising villages also found in the lower hills of Arunachal Pradesh. Capt Nuefille was the first British officer who reported about the Misings of the Assam Valley in 1825. At that time the Misings inhabited the north bank of Brahmaputra River. Now they are settled in a much wider region of Upper Assam. However, their maximum concentration is in Majuli and North Laxmipur Districts on the banks of various rivers and streams.

Also, Read Here:

Melancholia in Majuli

Travel Tips

Majuli is world’s second largest river island located in the newly created Majuli District in Upper Assam on the banks of Brahmaputra. To reach Majuli one has to take ferry service from Koklimukh Ghat at a distance of 15 km from Jorhat Town, which is connected by both rail, bus and air services. It takes about 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Majuli. While at Majuli visit various Namghars, a Vaishnava institution established by 16th century Saint Sankardev. Bicycles are the best options to commute within Majuli in one’s own pace. Hummingbird School is located in remote Kulamuha Village. Pathorichuk is yet another Mishing Village which can be reached after crossing three wooden bridges over a river. You can also have boat ride in beels and rivers at your own pace. While at Majuli visit Samagri Satra for the masks. Made of bamboo and dried cow dungs these masks depict special characters and used in various religious dramas called Bawna. For a gastronomic experience try patta dia mas (fish backed in banana leaf), chicken kharika (chicken roasted in sticks) and fish curry (Oo Tenga Mas Jul) along with fresh vegetables. 

 

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The Mising migration to the plains of Assam was spread over a long period of time, commencing approximately in the 16th century and ending only in the early decades of the 20th century. According to their folklore, the community had originally occupied the area upstream of the Dihong River, while the Minyong inhabited the area north of Dihong up to the eastern bank of Dikhari River. The Padams lived between the Dibong River in the east and the Dihong River in the west.  Despite their common origin and the common cult of Donyi Polo, the relationship between the three communities could not remain brotherly and peaceful. Although they occupied independent through contiguous mountainous terrains, they were engaged in regular conflicts over the possession of the valleys and hill slopes for carrying on shifting cultivation which was a major subsistence activity of the hill tribes. Thus for the increasing need of cultivable land, the days’ internecine feuds began which finally took the shape of regular wars among the communities living in the Dihong Valley. Some of the folktales also describe the important socio-political events that took place in the past which finally forced the Misings to migrate from the hills in search of new homes where they could live in a better peace.

Also, Read Here: 

Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

As you enter into Majuli what draw your immediate attention is their vernacular houses on raised stilts, locally called Chang Ghar.

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The house on stilts is a large hall with a central kitchen for a large joint family. The lower part of the house is used to provide to shelter animals that every household rears. Apart from the main house, there is a traditional granary over a raised platform. According to the elders of the Mising tribes, once upon a time, the banks of Brahmaputra used to be tall grasslands and also had thick vegetation of reeds leading to the favourite game area for wild elephants. According to them, elephants do not attack houses on stilts and therefore not destroy even the granaries. The grains are also protected from moisture, rodents and floods.

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The major components of these houses are bamboo, cane and palm leaves for roofing. Bamboo is a raw material of great flexibility and forms an integral part of the lifestyle and economy of the Mising community. Their stilted houses have thatched tops and are patterned simply like the letter ‘I’. Mostly they face rivers. Sometimes boats are left underneath the dwelling in case of a flood.

Also, Read Here:

Bhils of Aravali – A Socio-Anthropological Journey

Another draw in a Mising village is women engaged in weaving. The Mising women of Majuli are specifically renowned for their exquisite hand-looms, especially their mirizen shawls and blankets and they keep reinventing their traditional diamond pattern in countless weaves using their favourite colour palate, yellow, green, black and red.

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Their traditional throw shuttle loom is built under their stilt houses. Though a tedious process, the weavers produce wraps like mekhela chador and gero, stoles like gamosa and some other utilitarian items. Traditionally, weaving in the Mising community was for their own use. But these days, Mising handloom products are much in demand in cities.

The Mising women are generally known to be laborious with extensive participation in agricultural work. Traditional methods of farming techniques are used for agricultural productions. They generally cultivate rice, mustard seeds, black pulse, Jute, potatoes and other vegetables. Besides agriculture, they are also engaged in livestock rearings such as cattle, pigs and poultry.

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Misings also depend upon fishing. They use small plank built wooden boats to perform the operation in the marginal areas of Brahmaputra River and its tributaries and beels (swamps). The fishing activity is started in early morning hours and continues throughout the day until sunset. During the start of the operation, the fishermen select a shallow area with mild water current near the river bank. They take a small piece of duck meat and squeeze it with fingers at a depth of about one foot below the water surface for 10-15 minutes. After ensuring that a good number of fishes have gathered in the area, the fishermen scrap only a part of bottom soil from the river bank to dig a small semi-circular pit of about 30 cm diameter using a small spade. The fishermen with the meat piece in hand then shift the location of squeezing the meat to inside the pit. Fishes attracted by the meat ultimately enter the pit, after which the fishermen block the narrow entrance to the pit with the help of a steel plate. Thereafter fishes trapped in the pit are handpicked and kept in harvesting pots made of bamboo.

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Misings mostly depend on nature for their livelihood. Besides fishing and farming, they use plenty of wild plants and vegetables in their daily food items from time immemorial. Leaves of plants are especially used as wrappers for the preparation of different pithas (sweetmeats), smoked fish and pork.

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Pork and fish are the favourite food items for the Mising tribe in addition to the meat of domestic fowls. These are cooked with green leaves both on a daily basis and on festive occasions.

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Misings of Majuli coexist with Assamese Vaishnavites who are part of the classical Satara institution.

Though life is peaceful here, there is always a danger in monsoon, flooding and land erosion in Brahmaputra River. In the last few decades 60% of Majuli’s landmass has been shrunk and there lies an uncertain future for the Mising community. Migrating to cities and abandoning the traditional life especially among youth in a globalised economy add further misery to their unique indigenous life and living with nature.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Charu Maa – The Face of Durga Maa

Our story starts in the 7th century CE Bhubaneswar! It was the time in Indian history when the personification of ideas came to be institutionalized.  One such idea was Nataraj, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, which you find profusely in temple walls of Bhubaneswar. Why Nataraj – for me the answer could be the metaphoric representation of destruction that depicts the other side of the sea which is otherwise gentle and calm through most of the year.  The other idea was Maa Durga – the metaphoric representation of women power, for which Eastern India is widely celebrated.


Goddess Durga in Parasurameswara Temple – 7th Century CE

Lord Nataraj in Parasumeswara Temple 7th Century CE

Maa Durga in Cuttack 

1999 super cyclone that had devastated millions of lives, both humans and domestic animals in coastal Odisha. Lord Shiva had shown his extreme form, tandav leela. It was one of the darkest moments in Odisha’s modern history. It took years to recover what Odisha had lost. But the lesson learnt not only made Odias cautious but Odisha became a successful model for disaster management worldwide.  Much has been written and filmed about Odisha’s adorable initiatives in cyclone management, but very little about Charu Maa, a woman in her 50s from Gudalaba Village near Astarang on the coast of Bay of Bengal. You see the face of Durga Maa in her, who has been leading a group of 90 women from her village consisting of both Hindus and Muslims for the protection of forest and wildlife from the time their village was devastated in the wrath of 1999 cyclone.

Travel Tips

Gundalba Village is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Gundalaba Village, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Gundalba is located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood. 


Charu Maa in the left at Gundalba Village

 

 

 

 

Gudalaba is a small village of farmers and fisherfolk near the Sufi shrine of Pir Jahania at a stone throw distance from the sea. A thick forest of Casuarinas separates the sea from the village. To the north of the village is a network of creeks of Devi River which meets the Bay of Bengal at Sahana. Nature’s paradise, the beach is also part of the rookery of Olive Ridley Turtles.  The casuarinas trees, a native of Australia had been introduced more than a century ago by the British to prevent sea erosion. However, ecologists have a different viewpoint. According to whom, the alien trees have been least protectors from sea erosion. These have only become a good source of fuel. On the other hand once dominated by hundreds of species of native mangroves, now most of it lost, thanks to intensive shrimp farming and agriculture. The loss of mangroves is taking toll of destruction year after year.  

Also, Read Here:

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret


Pir Jahanaia Sufi Shrine


Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned boat at Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned house at Pir Jahania Beach – Behind it the thick Casuarina Forest


Casuarina Forest


Depleting Mangrove Forests and Estuaries 

 


Near Devi Mouth


Commercial Fishing in Devi Mouth


Subsistence Fishing in Devi Mouth 


Intensive Rice Farming – The Harvesting Season


Harvest of Gold

Gudalaba has also been a nurturing ground for ideas related to wildlife conservation and sustainable living. Here you meet Bichhi, the turtle man, who has dedicated his life for the conservation of Ridley Olive Turtles. You also meet a group of youngsters led by Soumya Ranjan Biswal, who are continuously engaged in generating awareness on beach cleaning and environmental protection.


Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtle – a severe environmental issue – This one is one of the first deaths sighted this season due to trawlers movement

 

It was on 4th November night I was first introduced to Charu Maa at her residence and while talking to her I felt the best geography teacher I have ever met in my life. There is so much of understanding about sustainable living that we have taken for granted as dwellers of large cities. I heard the first-hand experience coping the most severe disaster in the living memory of Odisha. I saw the face of Durga Maa in Charu Maa. It was decided to film her interview on the daylight the next day along with her other women companions.


An early morning scene at Devi Mouth 

Here is what she narrates:

Charu Maa has turned crises into opportunities and it is an eye-opener for each of us. Truly she celebrates the idea of Durga Maa.      

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

From time immemorial living on seacoast has been a major attraction for humans across cultures. It is true that sea with its pristine beauty can often turn ugly (tsunami and cyclone) and take the lives of both people and animals that have a deep attachment to it in no time.  But when it is calm it is a source of plenty, from fish to crab, which often forms as a buffer food base during the time of drought and other calamities.  For coastal people, the sea is Mother Nature.

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Odisha is one of India’s best-kept secrets for any nature and culture-sensitive traveller to explore her timeless charm, especially her unexplored sea coast (500 km of Odisha is her coastline), is a major attraction.

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Mangalajodi– Where Ashoka is Born and Dies Every Other Day

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My journey to one of such hidden secrets of Mother Nature begins at 4.30 AM through a branch of Devi estuary at Sahana Village. Everywhere is eerie silence. I get into a fibre boat with Babu Behra, Odisha’s most skilled lifeguard as the boatman to delve into the ghostly darkness of the estuary water. Slowly the sky opens up in the eastern horizon and you see clouds forming various patterns with the dimming crescent-shaped moon in the backdrop.

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The sail through the estuary turns noisy with the chirping of birds nesting atop branches of mangrove trees on both sides. Your camera shutter goes ‘click-click’.

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Now the morning drama reaches to its climax as the narrow estuary opens up to a wide expanse of blue water – you are at close proximity to Devi’s mouth. The country boats are in their best of actions, each forming a picture postcard setting.

Travel Tips:

Sahana Beach is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Sahana Beach, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Sahana Beach has located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood.  Your local contact is Soumya Ranjan Biswal (+91 7327963897). 

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Now your boat is anchored on the beach. You stroll down to witness a spectacular sunrise with no human souls around. The only sound is the sea’s gusting waves. For a moment you are lost and the child in you demands for time to pause. The sea, sky and the sands turn into a golden carpet with patterns that appear as Lila of Almighty.

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You are in a dreamscape and the only friends of yours are the innocent white crabs that play hide and seek around you.

Also, Read Here:

The Slow Death of Odisha’s Living Marine Heritage; the Olive Ridley Turtles

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A little walk along the beach takes you to the mouth proper, the meeting place of two worlds, river and sea. Here ends the journey of the River Devi that starts 80 km offshore near Cuttack. And this is the place of plenty, a fisherman’s paradise. Here you see them in actions, all breaching the gusty sea waves.

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Then you get into a no man’s island to witness red crabs. Also known as ghost crabs they prefer silence and live in colonies.

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Now it is the time to return to village Sahana – the time is 8 AM. On your sail back under the well-lit sky the eeriness is gone and you are navigating through mangrove creeks with birds nesting on both sides. The scene is a miniature version of the land of Amazonia. Your soul is lifted.

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So what makes you wait! Come and lose yourself in the lap of Mother Nature at Odisha’s best-kept secret!!

Author – Jitu Mishra. He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com