Gopalpur On Sea

It was a sudden tour. After a lot of confusions around date of journey, tickets and accommodations we finally started in the morning of 5th Dec by Falaknama Express. We were a bit disappointed to miss a whole day in journey but we took it positively.

We had seen the first sun beam at Howrah with the background of the Ganga & the bridge. Our train left in time. The sound of the train passing over a bridge interrupted our drowsiness; we peeped out of the window and had full view of the beautiful Rupnarayan. We started enjoying the journey, a joyful naughty kid accompanying us in the compartment made the journey more enjoyable.

We saw 3-4 other rivers including Subarnarekha, Mahanadi and Brahmoni, a major tributary to it, just before and after Cuttack. In these days when the mighty rivers of India are becoming things of the past Mahanadi and Brahmoni are still really wide and beautiful. When the train was leaving Cuttack, the water from the pipeline entered through the open windows and drenched us.

Just before Balugaon station we saw for the first time a water land and then for the few Kms there was only water at our left. We guessed it was Chilka and its backwater and that was confirmed when we saw the Rambha station. The day was heading to its end, and the daylight was waning. In the soft light of the dying day we saw the lake, small rocky islands, fishing boats at a long distance and the bluish water extended till the horizon. We were in confusion whether we should cover Chilka in the 1.5 days we had in our hand as many told us that there is nothing much to see there But we were in love with the lake at the very first sight and the decision was taken to visit it.
The train was running late by 30 mins and we get down at Brahmapur at 5PM. The thought of reaching Gopalpur after dark was making us worried, but as we got down we forgot everything else. A bunch of green coloured birds (May be Parrots) welcomed us at the station. They should be more than 50 in number, flying around the station in a circle. The light was not sufficient to capture the colour of the flying birds; so we missed a very beautiful frame.

When we came out of the station a group of auto and taxi drivers came to us and demanded Rs 200 by auto and 250 by taxi for Gopalpur. After some bargain we got the rate of Rs 200 from a taxi driver and Rs 180 from an auto. It was complete dark before we left Brahmapur town.

We had our booking at Hotel Kalinga at Gopalpur. We reached the hotel at around 6:30PM. The booking agent charged us Rs 800+tax @10% per night. Location-wise the hotel is very good. But the amenities are very very elementary and the building is an old one. Later we came to know from a local taxi driver that the building was once the godown of the old Gopalpur port. We were allotted a view room at the direction of the light house. The view from the balcony was excellent. But the room was not at all decorated, we had even seen cockroach at the toilet. Power cut is very common in the area, and the hotel does not provide a generator backup during the day and you will get the toilet completely dark even during the day. The food was horrible.
After a few minutes of our check-in the power went off. The hotel staff said that the power would not come in an hour and as most of the guests were not in the hotel they were not ready to start the generator. We were provided with a small chargeable lantern. We had a quick fresh up and went outside to the open terrace. The beach was looking out of the world in the soft moonlight. The silhouettes of a few tourists sitting in the beach made it look mystic. The light house was sending signals to the boats in the deep sea and its piercing beam was creating a magic circle. We enjoyed the ambience and the sound of the roaring sea with a cup of tea. Then we walked for a while in the deserted beach. Our emotions were coming out in our songs and we were singing full throated.
We were listening to the mysterious sound of the sea from our bed and that is the specialty of this hotel. Sometimes it was sounding like a blast.

When the alarm rang at 5:30 it was still dark. I jumped out of the bed and went to the balcony to see the weather condition. The weather god was not in our favour in any of our previous trips and we could never get a chance to view a sun rise from a sea beach. We rushed to the beach to see the first ray of the sun. The fishing boats were coming back to the shore with their catches. We started walking towards the point where a number of boats were being seen. Fishermen were busy bringing the fishes to that place and arranging them in a rectangular area. We understood that a fish auction was going to start. We moved around the place and noticed various activities of buyers, middle men and the sellers. Mainly women from the fishing groups were carrying basket- full of fish bought by the traders while some sly people – children, urchins, even old men and women- were pilfering fish one by one the place of auction. Lives here move around the sea and the fishes.

The place was originally a habitat of tribal people who were evicted from their hearth and home for hotels and guest houses and are now being made to serve tourists. This is evident from the fact that most of the staff of the hotel as well as the people working around us were all tribals.

After breakfast we again went to the beach. The blue water was glistening in sun light. The boats with colourful sails looked like small paper boats made by children. Last night I had written the name of the hotel on the sand just in front of the hotel gate. But now we found half of the letters were washed away. We had gone towards left from our hotel in the morning where the fish auction was taking place. So this time we chose the right hand side and started walking.

There is only one hotel ‘Song of the Sea’ to the right of Hotel Kalinga, just in front of the light house. A broken wall is visible in front of that hotel. We are not sure if that is a remnant of the old port. The light house compound has a casuarina plantation which looks like a jungle. Beyond it there is a huge compound with incomplete but old stone buildings. Later we came to know from a local driver that it was being built by a Marwari businessman who came here from Kolkata, but could not complete them as the permission to construct a huge building so near the beach was not granted. We had seen a pair of goats walking on the stone wall of this premise, at some 25-30 ft height from the beach.

A number of kites, Brahminy kites, and other unknown birds were flying in circles above us. We tried capturing photos of them, but the batteries were already drained out after the photo session in the morning. So we concentrated in collecting shells. There were varieties of them and we were surprised to see the geometric patterns on them. Why they are made with so many colours and patterns?. Is it of any use to them in their struggle for existence? Why has nature created them with such beautiful designs?

We saw local fishermen crossing us from both the directions. We noticed they were vanishing or coming into sight from a point where a number of boats could be seen. We concluded that a village must be there behind the sand dunes and decided to go to the village after lunch.

We came to the beach again, this time without camera. We were ready to take bath. I am usually afraid of bathing in the sea, but at the same time feel very much attracted to it. The result is in any beach I spend a lot of time in knee deep water, but do not dare to go further. This time I became a bit more courageous and went to waist deep water. But the waves were touching my shoulders. Eventually I started playing ‘come catch me’ with the waves; running towards the beach when a big wave was coming, then again following the returning wave. The undercurrent of the sea was really dangerous. Twice the waves knocked me down and I drank a few glasses of saline water. A few who started bathing with us went back, 2-3 new groups came and they too retired.

After an enchanting fight with waves we came back to hotel around 12:30 pm. We were tired and needed food and a sweet power nap. But lunch was not ready. So we spent some time at the open terrace watching the sea, boats and kites.

After lunch we got ready to explore the fishermen’s village. Everything was seen like B & W as we were watching everything with the very bright sun at the background. Again we started walking towards right from the hotel. This part is a desolated place. The crabs were moving quickly as they felt us approaching. They were very colourful with green and red spots on yellow body. We had seen a red crab also. But it hid itself so quickly that we could not take a snap.

Finally we reached near the spot where the boats were being seen. A group of fishermen was catching fishes. They were taking the net a few metres into the sea with the help of a boat. Then they were dragging the net manually. There were 7-8 of them actually working and 4 women were waiting on the sand. They were Telegu speaking tribal people. The women had a different look for wearing the saree high above the ankles and coving their upper trunks with it fastened at the back of their neck without any blouse. They had brass ornaments like bangles, multiple earrings and nose rings. The men too had coarse and short dhotis. All of them had a weather beaten look; their skins chapped by the saline water and the rough sea wind.

We waited for sometime there, and watched their catches. From our idea of market price we had gathered from the auction in the morning we were sure that the catches from 2-3 drives would bring them not more than Rs 300-400. And from the number of the people we found at the beach we knew that at least 5-6 families have to go by this earning.

Here we saw the Brahminy kite from a vantage point very near us; it was flying so close to us that I got afraid to see its claws. Then I found two Brahminy kites sitting at the edge of a boat. They were looking like ‘byangoma-byangomi’ in our fairy tales.

We turned right, away from the sea following the foot marks on the beach. We had to climb up the wavy sands. After few steps we found 3 men making a net. They were sitting between two sand waves and were completely invisible from the sea. We approached them for a photo. Surprisingly after the photo they asked (just asked in light mood, not pressing) for money, and moaned ‘machh uthena’ (we do not get much fishes nowadays) and there body language was asking ‘how would we survive??’ The boundless sea is the only hope in their battle of life, but the sea itself has now become poorer and disappointing them. These people reminded me of the famous play ‘Riders to the Sea’ by J.M.Synge and also the novel ‘Padma Nadir Majhi’ by Manik Bandhyopadhyay. We saw progenies of ‘Kuber’ and ‘Ganesh’ in the wrinkled faces of the wizened men sitting there.

We moved again; following footsteps we climbed the sand dunes. It was full of cactuses and small Keya like bushes. After reaching the top we were able to see the locality at the other side. What we saw in front of us was not like a village. We saw a few huts far away. May be there is a village at that side. But there was nobody to ask. We could not ask the fishermen we met as they could not understand our language. They only showed the direction with hands when I mentioned the one word ‘gaon??’(Village). We found speaking only relevant words than trying to make a sentence is more powerful in communicating with people who do not understand our language.

We had to come back as the timing to climb the light house was 3:30-5:30 and it was already 4 o’clock. The Light House compound is well maintained. We were surprised when we were asked to put off our shoes before going inside the light house as we do in temples. We had to climb more than 120 steps to go to the top. We had a nice bird’s eye view of Gopalpur from there. The sun was setting making the sky and part of the beach tinged with crimson colour. But we could not capture many photos as the camera was again switched off. The battery was not sufficiently charged due to power cuts and the hotel did not provide generator facility during the day.

We came down before 5:30 as it was getting dark. We had to book a car for the next day’s trip to Rambha(Chilka). We found a travel agent Sagar Tours and Travels at the corner of the road, just beside Hotel Holiday Home. We asked for a car to Rambha. The person at the counter asked for Rs1000 for Gopalpur – Rambha – Gopalpur journey. After some bargain (we are not good at this art) the charge was fixed to Rs 1100 for Gopalpur-Rambha-Bramhapur. We asked the car to pick us up from hotel at 9:30Am.

For the next morning we had a plan to walk up to the back water we had seen from the light house. The alarm rang at 5:30. We went to the beach before sun rise and started walking towards the point where fishermen were gathering their catches. Last day we had seen a very busy auction at that place. Catches were in plenty and the auction was almost over by 7 o’clock. We don’t know the reason, but that day we did not find that enthusiasm and that hurried business. Number of fishermen was less, catches were less and those small catches were being sold before displaying it on the sand. We, as outsiders, found lack of energy on this day’s activity. But there were plenty of objects for photography and that stopped us from proceeding towards the back-water.

The car came on time and we started for Rambha at 9:45 am.
After a KM or so the car took a right turn from the road to Bramhapur. We saw a water land at both the sides of the road and we recognized it at once as the backwater we had seen from the light house which was still visible. We stopped the car as we had seen a number of birds at the back water. There were cranes, different types of Kingfishers, ‘Pankouri’ and a few unknown birds.
The car took a road which runs parallel to the beach and the road sides were full of wet lands and mangrove type trees, ‘Keya’, at first and then sand and cactus type trees and trees of cashew nuts.
Our next stop was at new Gopalpur port which is still incomplete after a couple decades. The work has gained some momentum presently after it has been handed over to some private company.
Our next and final destination was Rambha on Chilka. It took around 1.5 hrs to reach there from Gopalpur. The entrance is in a well maintained OTDC Panthanivas compound. When we reached the only motor boat had left with tourists, so the options were to take the OTDC speed boat or hire boats from locals. The charge of motor boat was Rs 550, the speed boat was Rs 850 and local boats depended on bargain. We booked one local boat for Rs 450 for visiting 3 points: breakfast point, cave, and Birds Island. It was like the fisher men’s boat. The motor was not assembled with the boat but placed separately at the edge.
‘Breakfast point’ is a small bright yellow temple like structure, which was looking beautiful on the blue water. When the boat stopped at this point we were astonished to hear the sound of water which was being subdued by the sound of motor. If one has enough time in hand rowing boat must be the best option here as the birds fly away due to the sound of the motor boats.
The lake here is surrounded by hills on both sides. Our next destination, the cave, was on the hill at our right hand side. From a distance we saw monkeys sitting on big boulders. This part looks like an island and we were surprised to think how the monkeys survive on the rocky island. The water was covered with reddish moss at this part and hundreds of small rusty coloured birds were on it. We had to climb big boulders to reach the cave.
The next destination was birds’ island on which OTDC has built a statue of a stupid Dinosaur and the boat man mentioned it as Dinosaur Island. We did not find any interest in getting down at the island. The main attractions were the birds around the island. We tried hard to balance multiple motions of the moving boat dancing on the wave and the flying or floating birds to get good snaps of the birds.
The main attraction of Rambha is watching various birds in the silent ambience. The OTDC Panthanivas is also worth for a night’s stay.
We had to conclude our short trip. The car dropped us at Bramhapur. Chennai- Howrah mail arrived at scheduled time 5:35 pm to take us back to our routine life.
We have visited a few other beaches on the eastern coast. But Gopalpur attracted us more than most of the other beaches because of its tranquil surroundings and ideal atmosphere. There were local people and their daily activities to enjoy, but, there were no crowd of tourists. We could peacefully enjoy the beauty of golden sand of the beach, the wide expanse of the blue water, could listen to the songs of birds for hours and watch the sun rise in its full glory. We would like to visit Gopalpur sometime in future again.

Written on April 7, 2013