Thursday 28 January 2010

Extended Weekend Away

Hilary, my nearest other VSO Volunteer is based in Koraput only some 5 hours away by train. Last weekend we met up and took a couple of days off to celebrate our two January birthdays and went to Visakhapatnum (Vizag). I left home for the Koraput train departing Rayagada at 5:30 AM. I had been asking about how to get to the station that early and was consistently told that getting an auto to come at that hour to where I live would be very very difficult. In the end Mr P said that either the NGO's driver would stay overnight in the office and pick me up, or someone would go into town, get an auto and then come and pick me up. It sounded all very complicated, with me being very dependent on other people's goodwill and they themslves being put out to do this for me. But I was told it was the only way. So Rajinda, our young driver, ended up staying overnight, picking me up and driving me to the station, whereupon he insisted on making sure I got on the train OK. Luckily I had a 2AC bunk so I managed to get a couple of hours extra shut eye as the train made its way cross country. Hilary met me at Koraput station with an auto in tow and we went back to her place. That late breakfast of toast with real marmalade tasted really good. I haven't found marmalade in Rayagada yet so this was a very welcome change from my usual jam or honey. After a quick look round Hilary's accomodation and getting pointers to the houses of the other VSO volunteers in Koraput, we were setting off back to the station for the train to Visag.

For this journey we were in First Class - and before you think we went overboard and forked out a fortune for a sumptumpous berth, let me explain that First Class is more basic than 2AC. There is no AC, but also no glass/plastic in the windows, so after sunset and into our evening arrival at Vizag at 9:30PM it is quite cold. You absolutely needed warm shawls.

Hilary had picked the hotel out on the web, so we were taking a bit of pot luck but it turned out to be a good choice. Nice decor, great food in the restaurant, beer, very comfortable, firm beds, and quiet! We were very pleased with it and have it earmarked for another trip. For anyone planning a stay in Vizag it is the Hotel Daspalla, and its a 50 rupee autoride from the station at day time rates, although we ended up with 70 rupees late at night.

We had the best part of two days in Vizag and hired a driver for the whole of the Sunday to take us round all the tourist sites - temples, viewpoints at the top of the many hils around the city, the film/TV studio, beaches and submarine.

Our first trip to a temple was very strange. We had to first join a long queue to get a bag, then a ticket, then hand these over to get them filled with food offerings. Two white faces in the queue caused lots of looks, smiles and questions. Folks that had any English were keen to ask us where we were from, did we like India and Indian culture etc. We then found the shoe drop, deposited our shoes and joined the throng of people to enter the temple. This line weaved its way, single file, through a twisting set of metal barriers. As we neared the back of the queue, you could feel our spirits drop. It was long! We joined the queue and waited. It moved albeit slowly and we decided this was typical of Indian and we just had to be patient. After perhaps 30-40 minutes it became clear that not only was the queue now not moving, but there was another steady stream of people joining it, in front of us - we were in effect going backwards! After much deliberation, we decided to backtrack for real and squeezed our way past the people standing behind us and exited through the entrance! I'm sure most folks thought we were mad, crazy, impatient Westerners, and a few who had spoken to us before asked what had happened. I made excuses and we brazenly continued out. We'd have been queuing for hours! So we never did get to see that temple.

The Kailasagiri viewpoint at the top of one of the hills provides a great public space for residents to enjoy and panoramic views of the city and coastline. I love seeing the way people have fun here in India. This time it was a group of women, old and young, playing a game. Two teams, standing around in a circle with a pile of shoes in the middle. Two women enter the centre and move around the shoes, the aimis to get a shoe back to your team without the other person stealing it from you. Cunning and speed are key to a successful grab. Giggles and laughter, squeals of delight and clapping abound when one team scores a succefful home run with a shoe. I've seen the same game played by kids in the Marquesas Island in French Polynesia, with a banana rather thana shoe. This innocent fun is just great to see. Back at home you'd hardly ever see such a mixed aged group playing togther, and with youngsters any "fun" would be alcohol fueled.  Not so here, and it is much better and lovely to see.

The views from atop the hills could be lovely, but sadly like so many places the air is polluted, is not clear, and you can't see very far, the horizons are packed with boats but all in a haze. Vizag is  both a commercial port and industrial city, so there are lots of large liners, freight ships as well as smaller boats plying the coastal waters, and local fishermen in small boats bobbing along. When we arrived late at night the coke, coal and sulphur smells were predominant from the mining and smelting plants which exist in the valley approaches to Vizag and which seems to surround the town. own near the coast the air felt better, what with the sea breeze and salt spray. We spent a long time walking on Rushikonda Beach, a long stretch of sandy coastline, clearly popular with locals, football, families paddling and children playing in the water but not much in the way of swimming because the tides are very strong and dangerous. But it was good for us to get out and about and stretch our legs. Other than my short walk into work, and a walk round the nagar I don't get much in the way of exercise opportunities. Salt and sand also are great cleaners for mucky black hard skinned feet, as I spend most of my time barefoot.

We also were taken to another hilltop where there was a film studio. We had no idea what to expect here. What we found was a permenant set with houses, shops, ploice station complete with holding cell, and a large mansion type house which could have had multiple uses as mansion, hotel etc. Inside it was just an empty hanger, so again the scene could be staged as per by the film requirements. Imagine some big Bollywood dance number. There were also a couple of very strange buildings whose use we could not fathom at all. One looked like a glass cube. We concluded  that this may have been a set for something like a TV serial, a la Neighbours or Eastenders. The other thing that was going on was outside on the waste ground atop the hill where a production crewe were shooting a dance number. Judging from the many attempts to get the moves right, it was early days and their choreography needed working on. But we spend a little time listening to the director shouting through a megaphone, the cameras being wheeled back and forward on their gantries and the dancers practising their steps. I've no idea who anyone was, whether it was a famous director or if famous stars were involved. I did find out it was an Oriya movie.

Our last stop of the daywas down on the waterfron where the first Indian submarine is berthed as a museum. Given that I grew up near Rosyth dockyard I've never been in a submarine before. It is just as you'd expect, small. Even with some twenty to thirty peole going through in  an organised fashion it feels crampt. Imagine what it would be like with a full crewe. One compartment had bunks in to show what it was like for a grunt seaman, 24 men in that compartment, you would not want to be clautrophobic or to have someone who snored in their sleep. The officers quarters, although more private with 4 people to a cabin were still tiny, and even the Captain's room was a tight fit. Passing through the individual compartments makes you realise how little is sealing off one from the other in the event of a flood or fire. we couldn't jump over the entrance ways
like you see in films but we did see the torpeedo bays, the sonar room, and the bilge pump. For those of you who are reading this who were one Soren with me, yes it brought back memories of the Bilge Monster and the night in the Southern Ocea when it attacked my cabin, drawning most of my possessions in mucky, oily bilge water. Yuck.

For our second day we walked through town to the local beach area, walked more there, found a Spencers supermarket, which Hilary had been told was the one supermarket chain that sold western style things. We went in just to buy a cold drink and ended  up with bag full of goodies. Prime finds for me were dates and coconut milk. We treated ourself again to a nice leisurely lunch with the requisite cold Kingfisher beer back at the hotel, and settled down to read newspaper prior to our evening train back to Rayagada. We arrived only slightly late (30 mins) at Rayagada, and caught an auto back to my place for around 11:30PM.

The next day was a public holiday here, National Day, and we got up late, went and did some grocery shopping, walked aroud the nagar, found the short cut through to Rayagada's only hotel, the Sai International, which avoids the horrid main road and all its huge trucks, had some lunch and were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves for a jolly good weekend, whhen Hilary got a message from the UK to say that all trains to Koraput were cancelled! If it hadn't cme we'd have gone to the station not knowing what was happening. A bande/ strike had been called by the Naxalites, we found out later because the leader's wife had been arrested by police. After much to-ing and fro-ing we established that not oonly were trains not running that day, but there was only one running the following day and that was the long distance train form Bhubaneshwar to Koraput, yes the 5:30AM one! So we were back to the problem that started the weekend of how to get to the station early in the morning. I did not feel like I could call the office and have them asked Rajinda to come in since it was a National Holiday and he might not even be around. I sought assistance from my landlady. Luckily her daughter speaks good English for a 12 year old and she translated for me. The upshot was that she called the auto who drives her daughter to school and they said they would come at 4:45AM to pick Hilary up in time for her to try and buy a ticket at the station. That's not the way we normally do it as we try to book online to get a confirmed berth or seat. The wrose case would be that there were no tickets available and Hilary
would have to jump back in an auto and come back and wake me up again to get back in the house. So we called it an early night and got up and were ready and waiting at 4:30AM. 4:45 came and went, 5:00 came and went, 5:15 came and went. Clearly even a known driver wasn't coming out here at that hour. e went back to sleep. My landlady's daughter checked in with us when she got up to fnd out that the auto had not arrived. After grabbing a bit more rest we traipsed into my work, Hilary having contacted her NGO who finaly arranged for an taxi car to drive from Koraput to Rayagada to pick her up and take her back. She finally got back home around 3PM. So quite an extended long weekend. But I at least still felt the better for it. It will be a couple of months before another long weekend away is planned, when I intended to add a couple of days onto ta VSO trip to Puri.

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