SG expedition to Orissa - Kruttika

Page - August 17, 2005
Orissa was an unexpected pleasant surprise. We set out on the 15th of July expecting bad roads, terrible weather and generally a tough 2 weeks ahead.

Kruttika surveys the land.

We reached Bhubaneshwar on the 17th and spent the day chalking out a rough plan for the days ahead. On the 18th, we set out for a few colleges to interview professors on their view of climate change. We did not get any new information from them but finally got to use the camera. The next day our real work finally began. We reached Chilika Lake by 19th evening and went to a village close by. There we interviewed fishermen who had lost their livelihood due to the opening of the new mouth and therefore had resorted to tourism as their new occupation. These people knew about the concept of climate change but did not link, of course, climate change to the global events causing it. We then went on one of their motorboats to see the famous dolphins of Chilika Lake. The lake is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life. The immense biodiversity of this lake is mind-boggling. We did manage to see some dolphins and also red crabs. By the time we got back to land the moon was out and it was a beautiful night. Leaving the city lights and noise behind, Chilika is a peaceful place indeed. That night, we had a magnificent dinner and also were lucky to witness some local entertainment in the form of folk songs.

After a sleepless night of mosquitoes, we set out for Balabhadrapur, which is another village near the lake.  Here, we met a young fisherman who was a graduate in history and Sanskrit. He had tremendous knowledge on the concept of climate change and provided us with a lot of information. He told us that the salinity of the water had decreased due to the opening of the new mouth. This had let to decline in the their fishing and also the danger of being attacked by the octopuses and other big fish of the sea, sometimes sharks. We also got an opportunity to see the fishermen cleaning their boats, repairing them and also building new ones. Most of the fishermen had just returned to land and were busy separating their catch and cleaning them. This was an entirely new experience for me and I was enjoying every minute of it!

The next village we visited was Arakuda, which was situated near the old mouth. We were met by very friendly villagers, who helped us to get a boat and visit an island near the old mouth. This was a fascinating island (also the old mouth) with the Bay of Bengal on one side and the lake on the other. It had one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen with fine sand and clear water. After interviewing few of the localites we made our way back to arakuda after which we set out for Konark. After a good night's sleep in konark we woke up early to catch the sunrise on camera but unfortunately this did not happen as it was very cloudy. Instead we went to the famous sun temple and spent some time admiring a truly magnificent structure. After a quick breakfast, we headed for Astarang, where we went to a village called nuagarh. Nuagarh is situated on the banks of the Debi River, which is a ferocious river. This village is highly flood prone and was one of the worst affected by the super cyclone. Here, we interviewed many people including an old man who gave us some new insights as well as elaichi from his shop!  We also interviewed an anganwadi worker, who told us that the number of diseases in the area had increased. Also, she informed us that they now need to visit allopathic doctors while earlier diseases could be cured by their local herbal medicines. She was a truly hospitable lady who invited us for lunch to her house. Thus, we were slowly getting a glimpse of the simplicity and humility of the people of Orissa. We also interviewed some public health officials in the district of astarang and were shown some cases of a rare skin disease cause due to heat.

On the 22nd, we headed back to Bhubaneshwar, the first stage of our trip complete.

The following day, we set out for Talcher to get some footage of the thermal power plant as well as interview the localites on the conditions prevailing there. We not only managed to do that but also managed to get pictures of smoke stacks and trains loaded with coal. Talcher is not a very pleasant place as one is followed by the sick smell of coal wherever one goes. So I was relieved when we finally checked into a local hotel to spend the night.

The next day, we set out early to see the kaniha thermal power plant. After which we went to the rengalli dam and then returned to Bhubaneshwar.

The next morning, we headed for the debi river mouth again, and visited a village called Bandar. We were able to observe damaged mangroves as well as huge acres of wasteland.

After talking to a few people we returned to Nuagarh and then headed back for bhubaneshwar to prepare for our press conference, which was going to be held on the next day. We spent the 26th preparing for the press conference, which turned out to be a success. We got coverage in quite a few newspapers and were quite thrilled. This was an entirely new experience for me as I had never before attended a press conference and certainly had never participated in one! I learnt quite a few things that day. After the conference, we spent a relaxed evening as all our work was almost complete and we were leaving the next day. On the 27th, we interviewed Rajan Patil from the UNDP, who gave us a lot of new information on how climate change is playing a very important role on the health of the people of orissa. It was a truly enlightening discussion. We managed the entire discussion on tape. Though there was no projects or programs on climate change specifically, there was sufficient interest in the subject, however.

All the people we spoke to told us that temperatures had increased and the sea level had rise. But most of the villagers did not know why. They also agreed that the number of disease they were affected by had increased and so had their intensity. They did not know why this was happening either. Floods, draughts and cyclones regularly affect their land. They blame it on God. Most of them do not understand the concept of climate change and blame it on their misfortunes on past sins. But in spite of all these hardships, they are relatively happy in their simple homes living their simple lives. Orissa is a green land with comparatively good roads and lovely people. They are people who will never give up. After every calamity they rise from the dust and start their lives again. It is indeed a truly spirited land.