the road to Athamalik…updated…
60 miles of unseasonal green interspersed with sparse stretches of faded yellow and dull brown – that then is the road from Angul to Athamalik for you. People told me before I landed here that Orissa is beautiful in patches. In that case, I have been rather lucky. So far I have only seen the patches whichever way I have headed. Puri, Konark, Cuttack, Talcher and now Athamalik.
Orissa is not violently verdant, in the way Kerala is for instance. Nature does not hit you right in your face, there is no overpowering sense of being shifted to a whole different place and time far removed from your hard concrete everyday existence. The green is subdued, the hue lighter, the rice fields smaller, the palm trees far enough apart that you can see whole houses-doorless with their golden yellow thatched roofs, not just a mere glimpse of a facade strangled by the surrounding dense foliage. There are no rash drivers rushing past in their weatherbeaten buses, only a narrow but well tarred road that winds into and around the landscape, waiting languidly for that rare vehicle to pass by. Sometimes you see the road ahead disappear into the horizon, sometimes it bends so sharply that the stream flowing intermittently alongside is a straight drop ahead. But there is no savage wilderness, nothing to indicate that this is a place that would evoke unreasonably strong emotions. Everything is measured, like the words of a man of moderation.
The driver tells me this is forest land. Must have been once is all I can think. But I don’t see those telltale signs of defilement – the hacked stumps, abandoned, as if in some foolish hope that this too shall be a tree again one day. There are no stumps, no sad armless trees, nothing to indicate that the forest has been defiled in some desperate way. Maybe this is the way it has always been, or maybe it is only the surfeit of horror flicks that paint in your head the idea of a forest as a brooding dark place. A little further away, on either side, the hills rise a few hundred metres, but even those seem to be all shrubbery or stunted trees at best, a bit like the Western Ghats denuded of all its cover along the Mumbai-Pune expressway, only more naturally so. Right now, I find it difficult to imagine that anything more aggressive than a wild goat could live or move here. Too calm, too placid, too non threatening.
But this very moderation, this part minimalist-part baroque decor is comforting, beautiful in its own way. It lingers, not the excited remembrance of a heady cocktail or a dramatic victory, but more a happy reflection on the thoughts unstated during a good conversation with a loved one.
All the more a pity that my drive ends in a humourless government office too involved in election duty, to make conversation that lasts anything more than “Ah I see. Interesting, but later maybe.”