‘When will we reach Jeypore?’ I ask the bus conductor.
‘Half past four,’ he replies.
My high hopes are dashed in a flash. I had hoped to be there by noon. I didn’t in my wildest dreams imagine this journey would take six hours. Worse still, I don’t have a seat. I stand for two straight hours until a seat becomes available at Sanur.
It is indeed a slow ride through hilly terrain. Sometimes it is beautiful with terraced green fields on the slopes and hilly peaks in the background. Tribals living in these hills are a common sight from the bus. I notice trees, almost leafless, covered with bright red flowers. They cover the trees in redness. Their five petalled glory bears nectar that’s a favourite with birds. It doesn’t look like the Flame of the Forest and I hope to discover its name later.
A woman in front is vomiting. The sharp and frequent turns of the road have got to her. Dangerously she puts her head out to relieve herself. Few seats ahead of her, a man is spitting his paan supari. So is the guy sitting next to me at the window. I pity those on two-wheelers coming the opposite way and also this bus that now wears newly splashed streaks of red and white.
Suddenly a stifled laughter breaks out at the back.
‘One who doesn’t know Telugu, Oriya, Hindi and English is a sanyasi,’ comments the paan chewing neighbour sitting beside me. While I try to make sense of this deep and profound statement, he taps me on my knee and points to the conductor, ‘He is Andhra guy.’
There is a guy at the back making jokes and spitting abuses in Oriya. The laughter is thus explained.
When I arrive at Jeypore it is five in the evening. There is no way I am going to move to Jagdalpur today. Chhattisgarh will have to wait for one more night. I find a room with two beds costing a ridiculous sum of eighty rupees. I unpack quickly and go in search of an old palace.
‘There is nothing much there. It is really old. There is an aged queen and lots of ghosts,’ says a sardar who runs a bookshop in town.
‘Nothing interesting according to you,’ I paraphrase although I think ghosts will be interesting.
‘Is the queen dead?’ the sardar checks with one of his employees.
‘Not sure. I heard she was staying at Koraput,’ replies the man.
‘It’s a place of dead corpses,’ concludes the sardar. An aged queen in Koraput was as good as dead to him.
I thank them and walk the long straight road to the palace. This appears to be the town’s main road with shops on both sides. In the evening it is a scene of business. A tall buttressed wall at the end of the road announces the palace. Domes within are visible on the outside. Windows with curving architraves match the classicism of the domes. The palace is clearly in ruins. The guard is having his dinner. Apparently no one is allowed without permission. The guard is quick to assert his authority as if he himself is king.
‘Where is the office?’ I ask.
‘Can I get permission there?’
‘No,’ he shakes his head.
He has no reply. I have learnt one thing in my travels: those willing to help will never say no. In their enthusiasm to help, they may even unintentionally misguide you with incorrect estimates or outdated facts. Those unwilling to help will always say no without even considering the alternatives.
So this palace, which had been the sole reason why I chose to break my journey at Jeypore, turns out to be an unappreciated ruin. It is likely to remain this way for some years to come.