another land – India series: temples on the hill

Since we said bye to each other two days after our marriage, three days before New Year’s eve at Frankfurt airport, Toni and I had lived in some stressful suspense. I knew that I would be going to India for an exchange program and thought it would be fun to meet Toni there, but did not know that the date of my trip would get postponed again and again due to various unforseeable reasons. Even my visa got rejected and was only approved on a Friday evening, which finally confimed my flight on the following Monday. Therefore, after four and half months, we finally reunited at India in the peak of the summer heat:)

We both landed at Kolkata, spent a night there and took a four-hour train to Jamshedpur where my company is located. Since we were not yet familiar with our surroundings (which turned out to be quite remote from all the famous tourist destinations in India and controlled by Maoists at certain areas), we decided to explore some nearby places on our first weekend. Toni had his eyes on Similipal national park which is a tiger reserve less than 200km away, but our lack of planning and the fear of abductions instilled by the daily news made us change our destination to Dalma hill which was much more accessible according to my colleagues.

We arrived at Dimna lake (an artificial dam) at first and thought it would be possible to hike up to Dalma hill from there, but our driver got agitated and told us that it was too dangerous, therefore he brought us to the official entrance of Dalma sanctuary and drove us all the way to the top despite our repeated requests to get off the car (I believe he had some really bad experiences with wild elephants).

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Figure 1: map of dalma sanctuary

It was a bumpy ride. We passed by small tribes where villagers with colorful clothing either rested or carried loads on their heads along the road side. It was astonishing how they could support the heavy weights and walk with perfectly straight spine without any interference from their hands. As we drove up further, we entered the dry forest which could barely block the blazing sunlight from the top. The soil appeared rusty orange and there were big trenches at the giant roots of the trees. I thought they were formed by the elephants while they were scrubbing their back, but it turned out that these excavations were man made to prevent the elephants from running down the hill. Apparently they like to run behind people and could accidentally crush a few bones in the chasing game. Therefore the best way to escape from an elephant is to run downhill…

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Figure 2: these deep trenches are used to prevent wild elephants from running downhill

The top of Dalma hill resembled a small garden and was slightly cultivated. We climbed up a lonely concrete structure to have an overview of the surroundings.

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Figure 3: walking up the concrete tower which has no handrails

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Figure 4: view from the tower

To our driver’s dismay, we decided to hike down the hill and asked him to wait for us at the entrance. We gave him two bananas as lunch and left one for ourselves. A flight of stairs led us to the temple at the hilltop, where red paints were spilled all over the wall and the statues. Toni became apprehensive that the red paints might come from blood, and we quickly walked away.

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Figure 5: temple at the hilltop

After barely a turn, we came upon an ancient house. Two dogs guarded the entrance and barked at us aggressively. Just as we were about to walk away, a man hushed the dogs and gestured with his hands for us to come over. We entered the yard where a huge tree towered over the entire space. Occasionally, a few seeds would drop down on our heads because of the playful monkeys on the braches. There were two kids with backpacks as well, which made me feel more at ease to know that there were some other hikers. We took off our hiking boots and socks and followed the man to an elevated platform. He told us that a monk lived here and showed us two rooms, one empty and the other one with some sofas in it but was darkly lit. There was also a backyard with a kitchen and a well. Some servants roamed around, undisturbed by our presence. The man told us that they hiked up from the bottom (which made me feel really bad about driving all the way up without using our limbs), and they planned to overnight at the empty room before hiking down the next morning. They came with a big hiking group, and more people would arrive pretty soon, where they would start cooking for lunch. He invited us to join them, which tempted us considerably – it would be so exciting to spend a night at a monastery, even more so because there would be excess food as well~~

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Figure 6: the monastery

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Figure 7: the giant tree which had grown out of a stone

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Figure 8: relaxing in the heat

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Figure 10: backyard of the temple

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Figure 11: a simple but functional oven

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Figure 12: the most commonly used aluminium water container

We were undaunted by the fact that Toni carried our tent but not our sleeping bags, but we forgot that our biggest obstacle in this trip was our kind driver who was adamant about keeping us safe from any potential hazard. When we went back to the hilltop and told him about our spontaneous decision to stay overnight in the monastery, he shook his head vehemently and was convinced that he would be scolded or even lose his job if he left without us. We brought him to the man at the monastery to have a better understanding of the situation, but he would not yield to his appeal as well. By this time more hikers had come up, which consisted of two more adults and lots of children. The adults stayed behind and talked to us, whereas the children ran around wildly and played with the water pump (which hardly produced any water because of the drought), their noise adding liveliness to the peaceful monastery. Everyone tried to help us by persuading the driver and calling different authorities despite the poor signal, but it only made our driver more agitated and scared. In the end, Toni and I became so sympathetic of the driver that we decided to leave our kind friends and continue our jouney down the hill. After resting and talking to the hikers a bit longer, we bade goodbye to them and left the monastery with a heavy heart. But this time, having tasted our temperament, our driver had decided to trail us in his car so that we would not have any opportunity to escape from his sight, instead of waiting for us at the entrance. It was the most uncomfortable hiking experience ever, as our driver inched his car behind, overtaking us every now and then, but only reappearing 5 minutes later before he would start his engine again. He also switched on loud music in a resolute attempt to scare away any wild animals to protect us.

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Figure 13: boulders outside the monastery

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Figure 14: huge roots

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Figure 15: monkeys

On the way down we walked past a village where there was hardly any water left in a big and deep well, as well as another smaller temple which was built in a shallow cave. The surroundings were foreign to us, but the presence of our watchful driver tormented our conscience and finally we got back into the car and allowed him to drive us back to the guesthouse. It was a short journey which ended even before lunchtime, but we still enjoyed the little bits of tranquility in the cozy monastery and small conversations with the hiking group.

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Figure 17: a deep well which has dried up

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Figure 18: the last temple before we stopped hiking and got back into the car

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