For my third trip in India, I wanted to explore the heart of the country, the rural part. Kolkata was the first stop on my way to Odisha and the base to reach the Sundarbans and Andaman Islands later on.
Kolkata, as any major cities requires time to adapt to the incessant traffic, noise, the smell, people and animals crowding the streets. It took a couple of days to feel confortable, walking with no purpose in the streets, discovering the city and I finally enjoyed Kolkata. No need to say that misery at each corner of the streets is part of the picture. Women and children are particularly affected but apart lightening my wallet of a few rupees there is nothing to do, just keep walking as I do in London or Paris…
The next stop was Puri, in Odisha. Puri was just a convenient to travel further west so I did not have much expectation however, it’s pleasant town to spend a few days and visit the fantastic near by Sun Temple. Then I headed to the Chilika Lake: Satapada, Rhamba from where it became a bit more complicated to travel. The state does not attract many tourists therefore transports are basic, poorly connected, slow and overcrowded. The few hotels licensed to accept foreigners were often fully booked if non-existent, it required a lot of patiente and more organisation than expected.
Of all the states of India, Odisha has the largest population of tribes, 24% of the total population. Their economy is mainly based on sustainable agriculture, hunting and fishing. There are plenty of weekly markets where they can be seen with minor interaction unlike the tribesmen’s villages tours offered by some travel agencies. In my humble opinion, they are better to be left alone.
I cannot say that the forested hilly landscape of Odisha is incredibly beautiful but the kindness of the people, the calm and serenity make a particular atmosphere, this state is absolutely charming.
After Odisha, I came back to Kolkata and to escape the craziness of the city, I spent a few days in the Sundarbans, the biggest mangrove in the world between India and Bangladesh. The wildlife is extremely rich: crocodiles, varans, birds of all sort, deers, wild boards, dolphins. The Sunbarbans are home of a significant population of royal bengal tigers, unfortunately no sight of them, anyway, great to know they were likely hiding around!
Finally, I spent the last week in the Andaman Islands to enjoy the sea, the only occasion I will have these coming 6 months. Well, I was skeptical at first. The main town, Port Blair, was packed of tourist and not the kind I am found of… The following day I headed to Neil Island and found a little germ. Neil has a relaxed atmosphere, no big resorts or fancy hotels there, a simple, delightful island covered by mangroves and jungle, plenty of small bays, an ideal place for bicycling, snorkelling, enjoying the quiet beaches or just chilling out with a book.
When flying over the main island, I was fascinated by the wildest of the Northern part. Unfortunately, the road from Port Blair is cutting through native’s villages. Their population has dramatically decreased, even extinct in the past decades while tourism has increased, somehow I felt it was bad enough to be there so I decided not to go further.
I am glad I mostly travelled off the main tourist tracks. I have seen another face of India, learnt so much about the culture and certainly reached humble and true connection (being alone helped though).
Dear India, once again you did not disappoint me. You played so well with my nerves and my feelings, I loved you, I hated you, you are both fascinating and repulsive but never boring. You gave me strength and taught me patience. Because of you, no doubt I will embrace with even more confidence the next adventures through Myanmar, China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.