I am wasting a lot of time on the road. I am spending less time at destinations, seeing less of what I really enjoy. Bus connections are few. Worse still is the lack of information. No one is able to tell you the exact time or the exact distance to a destination.
This morning I had a minor victory over a local resident of Jashipur. I was asking him about the best way to get to Sambalpur. There are no direct buses, at least not at this time of the day. I could go to Kheonjar where there are buses to every part of Orissa.
‘What time is the bus from Kheonjar to Sambalpur?’ I asked in the hope of a quick connection.
‘There are lots of buses.’
This sort of a general answer simply means uncertainty. It may just as well mean that there are no buses. In fact, when I reached Kheonjar I learnt that the next bus to Sambalpur was seven hours later.
‘In any case, if it gets late, I will stop at Deogarh tonight and continue to Sambalpur tomorrow,’ I continued with the man. We were both waiting for different buses at the small bus station of Jashipur.
This seemed to surprise him. ‘Deogarh is beyond Sambalpur,’ he pointed out confidently. I was just as confident that Sambalpur is farther from Jashipur than Deogarh. Finally, I had to pull out my map and show him hard evidence. He fell silent after that. The power of the printed page!
I reached Kheonjar in good time. Here I had lunch of vegetarian fried rice. I walked to the bus station to get a connection to Sambalpur. The bus station is nothing more than buses lining up both sides of a bus and congested road. The bus to Sambalpur is on another main road and does not come into this road. So I had to walk back from where I had started.
No immediate buses to Sambalpur. Boarded a bus to Pallahara. This bus did not depart until it was close to bursting. Strangely locals will not give up their seats for old men or women with infant in arms. It falls upon the goodwill of tourists to do this, much to the surprise of everyone. Perhaps, villagers will help only others of their own village.
Pallahara was still en route to Sambalpur. No buses here too for my final destination. I decided to strike camp at Deogarh for the night. But in this rural part of Orissa with such bad public transport connections, even Deogarh seems too far for the day. Earlier I had been given hope that buses to Deogarh are plenty from Pallahara. I found none. I got a bus to Barakot. In this manner, a single long journey was broken unwillingly into multiple short journeys with long waits in between.
I just about checked into the only decent lodge in Barakot, when I got a call from home that one of my aunts was critically ill. I leave for Bangalore via Bhubaneshwar tonight. If all goes well, my journeys will resume in about a week. In any case, I may never pass through either Deogarh or Sambalpur. I am done with Orissa.
The only redeeming thing about the day was the 2.5 hour walk this morning. I walked in and around the fields leading out from Jashipur. Green fields were often broken up by harvested brown stubble fields. In many cases, the harvest was neatly grouped and laid out on the same fields for threshing later on. I observed women at harvest. Some others took their livestock out for grazing. In a pond of water lilies and ducks, a villager was washing himself.