27-Dec-2008 -- We left Sundargarh on a very foggy morning. Thick fog, the sun just peeping over the hills and visibility down to less than 100 metres. Our drive this morning was along the State Highway No 10 popularly known as the L&T Road, which connects Sambalpur with Rourkela. It is an excellent stretch of modern highway which follows the contours of the surrounding landscapes and snakes its way around the many villages that come in its path. The twists and turns of the road blocked the view of oncoming traffic. This particular morning, the fog was thick and driving was very dangerous. We kept the high beams on, but the resultant reflection made us dip over to the low beams. The dim blurs of the oncoming headlights got bigger and bigger as they neared and the vehicles behind were tailgating us with a gap of no more then a few feet. I thought it better to stop at a lay by and wait for the mist to clear. We stopped at truckers joint and had many cups of very milky highly sweetened tea, before the sun cleared up the fog.
Just 27 Kms away from Sundargarh, we reached the closest point to the CP from the highway. We turned off the highway and took a right turn near the village of Bhasma. The Garmin Nav indicated the CP to be a good 3.5 kms away from the point. The graveled road was rutted with the tracks of bullock carts and tractors, as the road was mainly used for sand mining from the nearby Ib River. Our vehicle too fitted the tracks perfectly, and we lurched on towards the CP. We passed the small hamlets of Badabahal, Phatuktikra and Dhadhutridipa and reached the bank of the Ib River.
The road dead ended at a cluster of lean to huts and small patches of vegetables planted by the workers of the brick kiln on the bank of the river. The kiln workers were busy at work, and the smoke from the kiln hung low in the morning air.
Brick-making work, not much different from this has dominated construction in India since antiquity. Today it dominates the countryside. It is impossible to drive through any stretch of rural highway without seeing and smelling brick kilns burning.
Because it is piecework, workers are paid by the number of bricks they make; hence brick making attracts entire families. The mud and clay was being kneaded by their feet, even children were squelching about, enjoying their work. The mixture is then scooped into wooden molds and left to sun dry. An extra pair of hands always helps, even if they belong to a child. At the brickyard the children's specialty is a task best suited for small, nimble hands. It is called "finishing" and it involves squatting by the raw bricks and dusting off extra lumps of clay with a straightedge.
The dried bricks are then stacked into an igloo like structure. Generally, bricks and fuel are stacked in layers and the entire batch is fired at once, the fire is allowed to die down and the bricks allowed cooling after they have been fired.
This part of the Ib River was dry and the sand stretched till the horizon. The river was at least 2 kms broad and a thin silvery ribbon of water shimmered in the early morning sun at the far end on the other bank. The Garmin indicated that the CP lay somewhere around 1150 metres towards the far bank, and we prepared ourselves for the walk across the sands of the dried river bed.
The Ib River which originates in Raigarh, Madhya Pradesh, has a total length of 251 kms and drains a catchment of 12447 square kms. It is rain-fed and hence nearly 80% of the runoff occurs during the monsoon months of June to October. The river bed was so placidly calm at this time of the year, I could well imagine the broad stretch of fast flowing water that it would have been just a couple of months ago. It flows down the district of Sundargarh and merges with the Mahanadi a little before the Hirakud Reservoir.
The Hirakud Dam is the biggest earthen dam in the world and is one of the earliest major multi-purpose river valley projects in India. The reservoir was commissioned in 1957, on the river Mahanadi, a little below the confluence
with its tributary, the Ib. The reservoir has a water spread area of 71963 hectares at the full reservoir level. The 1,248 m long masonry dam has a height of 61 m and this, along with the earthen dams, has a combined length of 25.8 km. Besides having an installed capacity of 270 MW power generation, the reservoir serves the irrigation needs of 264038 hectares of land and produces a very good fish crop too.
There is a proposal for another dam upstream on the Ib River. This project, planned a long time back in Jharsuguda district, is likely to displace 50 villages with between 80,000 and 100,000 tribals from Subdega and Balisankra blocks where 85% to 90 % of the population is made up of tribals.
Of course, the authorities have in every instance made extensive promises of assistance, resettlement, and rehabilitation of the project-affected people. The skepticism of the oustees over these promises is justified, taking the track record of the government. These promises have never been kept. In the cases of Rourkela Steel Plant, Nalco, Hirakud, Indravati, and Rengali dam projects, the people who had lost their homes to the projects have yet to be settled even tough decades have passed. The credibility of the authorities in rehabilitation and resettlement has been totally destroyed.
According to a study, more than one lakh families have so far been displaced by different irrigation and hydro power projects in Orissa. Judging from the ongoing development projects in the state, five lakh more people are expected to be affected during the first decade of this century. And tragically, most of them are tribals.
Orissa ranks first in the subcontinent for its reserves in bauxite, chromite, graphite, manganese , and other metals and minerals. Of the 70 % of India's bauxite reserves, 1.6 billion tons are to be found in the mainly adivasi-inhabited uplands of Orissa. Orissa accounts for about 35 % of India's total iron ore production.
Of the 6,350 working mines throughout India, as reported by the Indian Bureau of Mines in 2007-08, approximately 5500 can safely be estimated to be in tribal areas. Orissa supports one of the largest tribal populations of India. According to the 2001 census, about six million indigenous people accounted for over 22 % of Orissa's total population (around 10 % of India's total tribal population). Driven over centuries from fertile agricultural land into ever more remote hill districts with the poorest soils, the indigenous peoples now protest the seizure of their last lands.
But these series of protests has not been able to stop the rush of investors for mining and metal industries. The state has granted a total of 126 iron ore leases, of which 94 are operational, and these yielded 91.5 million tons of ore in 2007-08. In the last year, about 50 new proposals poured in for setting up steel plants in the state. The Arcelor Mittal Group and the Korean steel major Posco, the world’s two largest steel companies, are setting up huge capacity steel plants in the state.
The situation today has reached an alarming point with mines and factories multiplying overnight. For example, the "scheduled district" [areas largely inhabited by tribals where the Union government has special jurisdiction] of Sundargarh, one of the most affected regions, has a population of 1,830,673, of which tribals constitute 918,903 (50.19 %). The tribals' livelihood is based on agriculture and forest produce and they have maintained their traditional system of cultivation; rather they have been forced to maintain traditional cultivation by the absence of any assistance that would have enabled more advanced techniques. The recent years, however, have seen an upsurge of unprecedented construction of dams, factories, and mining operations in the region causing dislocation of the tribal communities at all levels.
But everything goes on in the name of "industrialization" and "national development" and it seems there is no debate. The World Bank, IMF, the central and all state governments are harping on the same path in the interest of transnational corporation and the biggest of Indian capitalists. Exports now account for more then 60 % of India's entire iron ore production. The costs are minimized by an abundance of cheap labor and relaxed environmental management and regulations. A blind eye is turned on to most of the regulations and rules, and it is only due the judicial intervention of the Supreme Court, that some heed is taken. So much for the social and economic scenario of the region.
We packed up our kit and prepared ourselves for a long walk on the dried sandy river bed. We parked the car and left it in the care of the curious workers of the brick kiln. The soft fine sand made it difficult for us to walk, and soon all of us had their shoes off. The soft sand provides no rebound. All the sinking down and pushing back out tires one out very soon. I tied both the shoelaces and slung my shoes across my shoulders and trudged forward to the far bank. The others followed me and I was forced to shorten my strides and as they struggled to sustain my pace.
Nevertheless, it felt great to walk barefoot. The sand was warm at the surface, but as my feet sank down, it was much cooler. My breath was light and my soul calm. The early morning cool gentle breeze was pleasant and my feet found their way around the small pebbles burrowed in the sand which caressed the feet.
My feet kept walking through the sand, and all problems I had had to face before I started walking suddenly vanished. Nothing serious could happen to me; that was what I felt and knew while walking in the sand. My thoughts became very clear, and I just knew what I had to do. I stayed relaxed and tried not to walk too fast so that my friends were still able to follow me. Issues have to be faced, however not all day long. We need to relax and
enjoy our being in order to be better able to cope with them. Life is like waves; there is a time to face issues, and there is a time to calm down, relax and let your thoughts flow. The wind kept breezing through my hair and I kept walking through the sand without destination. I forgot about time and people.
We rested for a while in mid river and took the fresh bearings. The nav indicated the CP at a point that was 550 metres to the south and most probably in the water flow. We had a sense of mild trepidation, as the river usually ran deep at these points. However when we reached the flow, we found that the water was only knee deep. We rolled up our baggies and plunged into the water, which was crystal clear. It took us only minutes to locate the CP. The clear blue sky gave us a good reception from eleven orbiting satellites, and we could zero in with an EPE of only 8 metres.
The CP lay just 20 metres away from the high bank of the river. It was right in the middle of the river flow, this was the second time that this had happened to me in my confluences hunt. This CP would have been impossible to locate during the monsoons, as the river is a raging torrent then. The description from the cardinal points is as follows:
East from the CP the river took a right bend, but the sand still extended to the horizon, which lay outlined by blue hills and forests. The water shimmered in the early morning sun, which was fast evaporating the haze.
West of the CP was a sand dune beyond which lay a thickly wooded area. There was a small building, probably a pumping station visible in the distance.
North of the CP the river stretched to the horizon. The sands of the dry river bed and a small clump of thickly wooded trees, which much certainly have been under water during the floods lay in this direction. This view was the most scenic.
South too was the high bank with scattered trees. The erosion caused by the recent floods was very much evident, and the bank had collapsed in many places.
We spent a good hour at the CP, as the morning was still young. Kasi and the boys splashed water and tried putting dead fish into each others pockets. I had not had enough of walking in the sand, and took off, asking them to pack up and take the straight line path back to base. I took a long route back, walking in the sand with my head down. I lay down in the cool sand, running my fingers in the fine powder. The mica glistened like a thousand diamonds. I even noticed some specs of glistening gold, which I am sure was gold dust, as its occurrence is known since historical times.
This region in India was the first place where diamonds were discovered. India happens to be the homeland of all historical diamonds. It was the only country known for diamonds to the entire world till another source was found in Borneo in 1728 and subsequently in Brazil and South Africa.
The Ib and Mahanadi valley had a flourishing diamond trade since ages, but now all the diamonds have been exploited and viability of commercial scale is nil. Describing the process through which the natives mined diamonds from the bed of these rivers, the fourth Mughal emperor Jahangir writes in his memoirs, the Jahangirnama thus: "At the season when there is little water, there are pools and water-holes and it has become known by experiences to those are employed in this work that above every water-hole in which there are diamonds, there are crowd of flying animals (insects) which in the language of India they call Jhingur." Recent discovery of five more kimberlitic pipes (Diamond bearing rocks) in Raipur district has opened up another possible centre for diamond in Central India. Systematic detailed investigation in the area by Geological Survey of India led to identification of primary source rock. Mahanadi and Ib river basins are considered as potential for the occurrence of diamonds.
We had another CP visit planned that day, or I would have spent at least half the day, just walking in these sands of time. Kasi and the team had already reached the base, and were making impatience gestures so I made my way back. This was one of the most enjoyable CP visits that we had had till date. With this we had completed all the four CP’s on the 22 Degree Latitude in the state of Orissa.
CP visit details:
- Distance to a road: 3.25 km
- Distance to a track: 2.10 km
- Distance to houses: 2.10 km
- Duration: Two hours from start until we were back to base.
- Time (distance) for the hike from Base: 45 minutes
- Time at the CP: 8.50 a.m. on 27th December 2008
- Measured height: 203 m
- Position accuracy at the CP: 8 m
- Topography: the CP is situated on the southern bank of the River IB. The dry bed of the river has to be traversed to reach the point, the CP lay centered is the narrow flow of water which was only knee deep. The area will be impossible to traverse during the monsoons.
- Vegetation: The river bank had clumps of trees.
- Weather: Cool, 12 C (felt temperature)
- Description of the CP: Located in the river flow.
- Given Name: The Sandy Confluence
Rating of this hunt :
- Degree of Challenge:
2 – A pleasant walk in the sands of the dry river bed.
(1: very easy drive to the point; to 5: a death march - glad it is
4 – Wonderful scenery all around. The clean sand and the clear
waters of the river were very pleasing . (Scale: 1= not
interesting at all; 5= take your breath away)
- Culture-social factors:
3– No people encountered, the isolation of the place was nice. (Scale: 1=dull; 5= most stimulating.)