19-Oct-2008 -- MALIGAN
The sixth Confluence Point of our planned project was in Koraput, one of the most scenic and enthralling districts in the beautiful state of Orissa. I and Kasinath intended to do this visit all by ourselves without any other support. We left Bhubaneswar in the evening on Friday the 17th October 2008 by train and reached Vizianagram late in the night. Onwards to Jeypore was by a shared taxi, a trip I always looked forward to, as it is an adventure of sorts to do the stretch at night. The trip up the Salur Ghat with its winding twists and turns keeps ones nerves on the edge. We had especially planned this route as we had wanted to visit Deomali, the highest point in the State which lies en route. We stopped at Salur for some time, and reached Pottangi as dawn was just breaking over the horizon.
The road marker pointing to the highest point in the State of Orissa lies just a couple of kilometers after Pottangi. The roadside bus stop at the village of Doodhari is where we take a right turn . Amidst rich scenic beauty of the evergreen forests - Deomali: 5486 feet high from sea level stands in its unrivalled glory as the highest hill. Coming close to the foot of the hill when one looks up at the loftiest sky kissed peak, one look at miles of nature. It is also the tallest peak of the entire Eastern Ghats. It is part of the Chandragiri-Pottangi mountain system. Surrounded by deep green forest, the peak is rich in flora and fauna. This hill range is rich in mineral resources such as bauxite, limestone and gemstones. Deomali is dotted with brooks and deep valleys, and inhabited by tribes such Khonds, Parajas, Bhumia, Malis and Bhotras.
There was a nippy chill in the early morning air, and it was exhilarating to be on the top of the highest peak in the state. Our handy Garmin gave us the co-ordinates as 18°40'3"N 82°58'59"E and the altitude at 1674 metres which was in line with what was mentioned in the small signboard put up there. We stood and watched the sunrise and then went forth to Koraput which is about 25 kilometers away.
The Garmin Navigator indicated that the Confluence Point was a good 36 kms away from Koraput town, but we had decided to make base camp at Jeypore, another 25 kilometers away where the friendliest hotel of Orissa aptly named “Hello Jeypore” waited to welcome us as guests. After an early breakfast we arranged transport and armed with our equipment left for the CP which we intended to visit before the evening. We had planned a visit to another CP at Hatigam the next day, hence we intended to finish off Maligan on Saturday itself.
We crossed the district headquarters of Koraput by the early afternoon and drove on towards Laxmipur on the NH 463. About 25 kms from Koraput, we turned left, in accordance with the direction finder of our GPS. We drove on for another seven kilometers on a road which skirted on the edges of a small range of hills. We reached the village of Kanjhariguda where on inquiring we were told that we had missed to turn to Maligan a couple of kilometers back, so we retraced our way back. There was a small sign of a water harvesting project and a rough road led towards the base of a hill.
No human habitation was in sight, and we coaxed the car driver to venture forth. The shrubs grew high on both sided of the road, and the road became more and more rough. After about three kilometers we decided to call it a day, as the CP still lay a good 9.8 kms away from the point. The driver refused to go any further as the undercarriage of the car struck the boulders lying on the road. With great difficulty we maneuvered and reversed the car and reached the village of Kanjhariguda once again. We collected a small crowd, and on my laptop I showed the curious villagers the Google earth image of the area. I asked them to locate a small group of tin roofed houses, which lay 2 kms west of the CP and were clearly discernible on the Google earth images. Soon we had a plethora of suggestions and directions that we should take. There were arguments, counter arguments and the village postmaster and the school teacher nearly came to blows accusing each other of misdirecting us.
By now it was late afternoon, and storm clouds were gathering on the horizon towards Koraput. We decided to return and come back the next day on a motorcycle, and the terrain was not suitable for any other mode. With an air of disappointment we returned to Jeypore and tried to find a motorcycle for the next day. Late in the night we managed to contact an old friend who worked as a pharmacist in the local hospital, and he readily agreed to part with his bike for the day, as it happened to be a Sunday and he was off duty.
We did a thorough study of the 1980 Survey of India 1:25,000 topo sheet and tried hard to locate the shortest path. The Google earth image was very recent, but the terrain was such that no path was detected even under magnification.
With a lot of trepidation, we started the next morning and drove on towards the CP. It was a Sunday morning, and the tribal Christians were all making their way to the small churches which dotted the various settlements and hamlets. They were appropriately dressed in their Sunday best, decked in bright coloured sarees, with flowers struck in their well oiled hair. The little children walked along with the adults, they too in their clean clothes, with eager expectations of the Sunday service that lay ahead. It was a tranquil, placid and joyous sight, and it was hard to believe that just a few weeks ago the area was rocked by communal violence and many churches had been burnt and people killed.
Just after Jeypore, we passed a roadside cemetery where we say quite a few headstones on fresh graves. Curiosity made me stop to read and it was disheartening to read that they were the victims of the last communal backlash. Both I and Kasi offered a silent prayer to the departed and then continued on our way to do some serious bit of Confluence hunting.
We stopped for a hurried tea and breakfast at Koraput and soon reached Kanjhariguda. Some sort of consensus seemed to have happened overnight, and this time we were give clear cut directions on the approach that was to be taken.
We begged them to send someone with us, at least halfway, but the recent communal clashes had resulted in a lot of insecurity among the locals, and nobody agreed to accompany us.
I and Kasi then left most of out equipment with the headman, and armed with just our Garmin and cameras, we drove towards Maligan. Very soon, we crossed the point from where we had returned the previous day, and soon arrived at the village of Maligan. It was a small hamlet of around 100 dwellings and a government minor irrigation scheme was located nearby. However all along the way, we had seen broken down culverts, caved in causeways and small irrigation canals which were dry. The intended scheme had most likely not been a success.
We crossed Maligan and somehow managed to keep the motorcycle on the track for another two kilometers. I had my right arm extended behind me, holding onto the back of the motorbike to keep myself steady on the bumpy track. At one
point the path suddenly gave way to a steep ravine at the bottom of which lay a small river. There was no way we could have taken the motorcycle across, so we chose a clump of dense foliage and parked our bike there. We forded the Debagarh river and climbed up to the other bank. From here onwards we tried our best to keep a straight line approach to the CP, but the local terrain and the dense forest growth was just too much to handle. The river once again snaked its way on our path. The second river crossing was quite risky, and flow of the water was near rapid like, with the rough edged stones at the river bed offering us no strong foothold. Kasi was the swimmer among both of us, and he had to carry the Cameras, our shoes, and the Garmin , keep them at the far bank and then come back to handhold and guide me across. Any small slip, would have resulted is being carried by the fast moving waters to the next jagged rock.
As the river bed was full of rough gravel, I decided on keeping my shoes on, a decision I later regretted. We crossed the river three times before we reached a small plateau from where the CP was just 1.5 kilometers.We kept walking forward trying to get closer and closer. Uphill of course, it always seems to be uphill.
We passed the quaint Kondh villages of Bastarbandh, Jhirjhira, Maliabaunsa and Matarigurha. These were small hamlets of about a dozen houses. We walked through the fields that wound up and down vista-filled hillsides and valleys. The rivers meandered their way among the small hills. We rested, and soaked in the beautiful scenery. The Murani river was like a silver ribbon, streaming its way among the small hills. We saw a few figures in the distant hill, and waved to them. They moved towards us, and we soon saw that they were herding goats. Very soon we were in the company of Kumuti Jani, Sadan Saunati and Ani Mandinga and their twenty goats. They were all from the nearby Khond hamlet of Kaliajhalla. They were a friendly bunch, and were all eager to know the reason of our visit. They inquired whether we were a survey team who had come to decide where the bridge would be built over the river. They told us how difficult it was for them and their cattle in the monsoons. They are marooned for a good three months every year, as when the river is in spate, there is no way they can go across.
After resting for some time, we started for the CP which presumably lay on the far bank of the Murani River. We soon trudged to the river bank, but the CP was a good 20 meters away and lay centered in the middle of the river. It was here that we realized how outdated the Survey of India map was, as the river had altered its course by at least 30 metres since the map had been surveyed. The only way to was to wade through the thigh deep water, but the swift current was a cause of concern. Kasi made the first attempt and tested the waters. We asked our new found friends to go a few metres downstream and watch out in case we slipped and were swept off our feet. Just 30 feet away from the CP the river dropped three meters over rocks, a small waterfall which foamed and frothed its way downstream.
After putting whatever safety measures we could in place, we ventured into the water and began the confluence dance to get the exact bearings. The CP lay at a point exactly in the middle of the river, and we were knee deep in water at the point. The sheer joy of getting the zeroes in place after all the difficulties we had encountered was a relief. We stood in the turgid waters, Garmin in hand, clicking away photos at random. I sloshed to the bank, and took my shoes off, and then waded once again to the CP. The turgid water, the little eddies and whirlpools dislodged the small pebbles and gravel underfoot, resulting in a tingling sensation which rose straight from the soles of my feet up the spine to the cortex. It was a real soothing and refreshing confluence therapy that helped calm the nerves.
East of the CP, across the high river bank lay small hillocks. A tall tree with three sets of tufted branches lay exactly to the east. On the west, beyond the water rounded rocks lay a big hill. Some plantations had been done in the high reaches, but the success of these was poor due to the goats which grazed on whatever they could find. North of the CP lay a terraced hill, where the hardy Khonds had planted their rice. The view to the South too was of a tall hill.
We took the necessary photographs, and then started the walk back. Our Khond friends escorted us till the place where we had parked our motorcycle. This was to be the highest confluences of all the 17 in contiguous Orissa. We were tired and exhausted, having covered more then 15 kilometers in the last five hours. The trip back was uneventful, and we soon reached our base and collected our gear from the headman. Both of us speeded to Koraput as the only train to Bhubaneswar left 7.00 P.M. The rain clouds opened up on the way, and we were drenched to the skin. We just managed to crawl into the Railway Station five minutes before the train was to leave. We somehow managed to get the sympathy of the train Conductor who gave us two berths. We changed our wet clothes and once settle I deemed the 10 hour odyssey a success, and despite the blisters on my feet, one of the most wonderful of the 6 confluence visits I had undertaken. What a day! 1350 km for the whole trip- train, car, motorcycle and 15 kilometers of trudging thru uneven and untrodden paths and ... 19N 83E is finally ours!!!
Rating of this hunt:
Degree of Challenge:
4 – A exhausting hike in the hills with river crossings galore
(1= very easy - drive to the point; to 5= a death march –
glad it is over)
4 – Pleasant hilly area, great views, (Scale: 1= not interesting
at all; 5= take your breath away)
5 – Rural hill country, friendly people (Scale: 1=dull; 5= most stimulating.
- Time at the CP: 02:20 p.m. on 19th October 2008
- Duration: 10 hours (until we were back on our route)
- Distance of motorcycle parking: 8.50 kms
- GPS height: 793.70 m
- Description: Hilly area, ravines and gullies created by the fast flowing river. A lot of vegetation and irrigated terraced rice fields.
- Given Name: The Kondh Confluence