Dare to venture beyond

Dare to venture beyond

Sometimes travel reveals great truths. Not just about the place and its people, but also about us – who we are, what we have, writes Anita Nair.

Every once in a while when life palls and I feel the sameness of living crippling thought and word, I make a small pilgrimage of sorts to the railway station. I am not a religious person but in this temple that promises to destroy ennui in one fell swoop, I feel an uplifting of the soul, a spiritual solace, a respite.

For as much as it is a temple of escape, it is also a museum of earthly experiences. And so I know that just about any railway station would do. As long as there are platforms, vendors, passengers, the strays and the runaways, the piles of baskets and gunny bags, the loud speakers that punctuate the hour with arrivals and departures, the reek of heat, dust, sweat, deep fried bajjis, sun baked metal, desperation and expectation, and the trundling and truckling of trains that come and go, time acquires an edge… something that begins as a flutter in the belly and climbs up the spine as a flue of excitement leading to an adrenalin surge and a sense of life opening up. Boundless.

Limitless and offering multiple vistas of possibilities for she who dares. I think, then, of what travel means. For if just being in the railway station can change the nature of my gaze, the actual journey shapes not just the gaze but the thought it is founded upon.

Take the time I went to Odisha. Gopalpur on sea in the Ganjam district in Odisha was where I really wanted to go. It is here at the Rushikulya river mouth that the Olive Ridley turtles visit in large numbers for nesting. However, when I did go, it was the wrong time of the year and my work confined me to Bhubaneshwar.


Beyond the turtle nesting I had not made an effort to find out more about the place. For some strange reason I had thought of Odisha as a Kerala on the east coast. Cashew and elephants, a fondness for fish and water, the languorousness of the
Odissi dance like that of Mohiniattam…I drew up a comparison chart as the flight took off from Bangalore and I realised, apart from some clichés and trivia, I knew nothing about where I was going to.

But when my son Maitreya and I, after my official duties, set out to explore, the first thing we had to deal with was ‘do we do the done thing?’ That too is the point of travel after all. See the sights the whole world yearns to see. The must-see sights travel supplements guide us towards almost as if everything that is unique and enthralling about natural and manmade splendours can be encapsulated in a list of twenty places to see before the grim reaper pays a visit.

In the end, after dithering for two nights about visiting Konarak and Puri, Maitreya, whose is always the voice of reason, said, “Why don’t we just go take a look so we never need go there again in our lives? Besides you always say you have to try everything once.”

In the course of every journey I have made, I have always chanced upon
something that makes me feel like I have travelled. A discovery, a moment of epiphany, a divine intervention that feeds my passion for travel…So where was the Odisha I had hoped to find?

On our way to Puri, I stared at the landscape and suddenly asked the driver, “Is there somewhere else?”“Lake Chilka?” he asked. “But it is really far.”“That doesn’t matter. Let’s go there,” I said.

Chilka Lake is a brackish water lagoon covering an area of over 1,100 km. It is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest lagoon in the world. Soon, the landscape began to change. It was like nothing I had seen before. Huge tracts of water, silent and still. The lone road with neither people nor traffic. I woke up my son. Neither of us spoke. Something about the landscape does that to you. Still your tongue and thoughts.

We were heading towards Satpada located on the eastern side of the Chilka Lake. So we have had to travel almost 80-90 kms to this place surrounded by lagoons on all three sides. It was a little after four in the evening when we reached Satpada that seemed both grim and desolate. There were a few fishing boats bobbing on the water; a stall that sold water and packets of chips, a few men and a couple of dogs.
A middle-aged man arrived and the driver and he talked in whispers.

“He says he can go up to the sea mouth but not to the dolphin sanctuary. The tide is coming in already and it is dangerous. And it will cost Rs 1,400,” the driver said.
I opened my wallet. I had precisely Rs 1,400 left. The nearest ATM would be in Puri, 55 kms away. Maitreya had used up the last of his money to buy water and chips. Neither of us would have any money left if we went on the boat ride. Oh well, I thought. Who knows if I will ever come back here again?

“Yes, let’s go,” I said. Maitreya, the boat driver and his assistant and I set out. The lagoon opened out to the sea. There was no one else in the water and for a moment it felt like we were lost to the world. I was glad that Maitreya was with me. I didn’t know how wise it would have been for me to have attempted this voyage to the sea mouth on my own. A strange landscape, a strange language, strangers and on my own….women travellers have to contend with this time and again and so we must use the opportunities when they arrive and not balk from it.

The boat went deeper and deeper into the lagoon. There was nothing but water. We were heading towards Rajahansa, a thin strip of land 18 kms away, which is the point where the lagoon ends and the Bay of Bengal begins.

An overwhelming smell of fish enveloped us. A school of small fish leapt in the water. It was the most beautiful sight I had seen. A moving arc of silver as light glinted off their shiny sides. A few landed on the deck and one in my lap. I screamed in surprise.  But the sight of the flapping fish was enough to curb my repugnance to handle the living fish and gritting my teeth I tossed them back one by one into the sea.

When the boat pulled up at the island, Maitreya and I got out. On either side of us, mostly sand and a ribbon-sized strip of land, where some grass grew, was
water. We could walk around it in less than ten minutes. The sea stretched
beyond what the eye could see and behind us was a lagoon that seemed endless. The skies and water were the same ash blue.

Who we are, what we have, all of it became insignificant at this point. Sometimes travel reveals this to us. When one sees nature in its full magnificence, a great truth is revealed. Man is nothing. Nature is everything. So let us not be swallowed by pride in our small human triumphs. We will never get close to what nature can.

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