During High School days, I was an active member of the National Cadet Corps (Army Wing). When volunteers were asked for to attend the annual NCC camp of 1982 to be held at the HAL town of Sunabeda near Koraput, I was one of the first batch of students to register.
Early one morning I along with a gang of unruly teens boarded a state transport bus at Bhanjanagar to take us to Brahmapur. From there we were to board a train for onward journey. You can see on the Google map that from Bhanjanagar, Sunabeda would be nine and half hours’ journey by road even going by the longest of the routes. But those days the eighty kelometres bus journey from Bhanjanagar to Brahmapur took nine hours. The bus had to make innumerable generous stops on the way to take and dump goods and passengers and to take care of each individual passenger’s chai, pani, paan and other natural urges.
But we were not bored. Of course we must have been a bit of nuisance to the passengers who did not belong to our group. No teacher was accompanying us. We were in charge of a boy from a senior class. Due to us, the bus must have been delayed by one more hour than its usual delay. Every time the bus stopped, our group leader did not allow the driver to proceed unless he had counted us all and made sure that no one was left behind.
We reached Berhampur railway station by evening. We were well before time as the departure of the train was at 10 PM. Our NCC teacher was waiting for us at the railway station. He took us to a nearby hotel for our dinner.
It was a passenger train. Other than us there weren’t many passengers in the compartment. We spread our bedsheets on the wooden benches and slept. When we were woken up by our group leader it was morning. We got down at a station called Kothavalasa. We were told that we had to take the train to Koraput after two to three hours.
Kothavalasa was a very small station in those days. More over, we had a lot of time in hand. We went to a nearby pond surrounded by barren fields for our morning activities.
For breakfast we must have shared biscuits or some dry snacks that we had brought with us. At about ten or eleven we boarded another passenger train to Koraput. I remember it was a steam engine because by evening most of us were unrecognizable due to our over exposure to coal shoot by virtue of our sitting on the doorway instead of the seats to have a better view of the landscape.
The landscapes that we encountered on the way to Koraput were breathtaking. There were innumerable tunnels. There were innumerable gorges. As the train made an unexpected stop on a mountain slope, a number of locals came with ripe jackfruits and bananas. Jackfruits and bananas were the only things we had to eat throughout the way since we did not find any eatable to purchase in any of the small stations where the train made its official stops.
We reached Koraput at about ten or eleven o’clock in the night. Even there we did not find anything to eat. Maybe, we did not have time to find anything to eat because we were hurried to the Army vehicle that would take us to the campsite in Sunebeda.
You can imagine the height of our hunger. We were expecting that after reaching the camp site immediately we would fill our bellies with a proper meal. But that was not to be. Those were not the cellphone days. When we reached Koraput the camp got message of our arrival and by then they had cleaned the last utensil after the dinner. In Army camps dinner is usually served early in the evening. But, hearing news of our arrival, they had reactivated the kitchen.
The Camp was held at a local High School. Afte waiting for about half an hour we were summoned to the dining hall which was actually the school courtyard full of bird shit as the big tree in the compound was the resting place for birds. But those things were of least consideration then. What mattered was that the half cooked rice and dal served that day was so tasty, it remains to this day the most cherished meal of my life. Yes there was only rice and dal and we did not need anything else that day to make the meal more palatable.
PS: There are many wonderful tourist attractions full of natural beauty in remote parts of Odisha. Unfortunately, other than the golden triangle of Puri, Bhubaneswar and Konark, large areas of Odisha still remain unknown, unexplored, unmarketed and underdeveloped. As the popular tourist attractions all over the globe suffer from over tourism, it would be a good idea for travel and adventure enthusiasts to explore such remote places in Odisha and elsewhere in spite of the lack of cosy infrastructure in such places.