The Gems of Araku
As I ponder about my experiences in India my mind wanders to my travels in South Africa and the description used to promote the country, The World in One Country. I cannot help but speculate if this is not a more apt description for Incredible India!
Stunning, striking, spectacular are just a few words that describe the Gems of Araku Valley. As I travelled through the valley drinking in the delights of the rolling hills and lush green valley’s I contentedly relived part of my childhood. Having been weaned on Scotland as a youngster I was reminded of the picturesque scenes of hills and dales, greenery and jewelled colours of the variety of heathers. I certainly hadn’t anticipated such beauty when agreeing to do a photo shoot of the inhabitants of this amazing hidden jewel. As we drove through streams and across the rugged terrain towards the remote villages the location became more breathtaking.
As we approached the first village I wondered what surprises I would encounter. We drove as far as we could then trekked towards the hamlet. On route we came across a group of females busily washing their pots and clothes, full of banter and laughter they stopped to give a beaming smile and a wave then busily carried on their daily chores. As we entered the village I was amazed at the views that surrounded the village, I thought of the congestion over populated and polluted cities in other parts of India and other parts of the world. I wandered through this tribal village to find not only magnificent views but also warm friendly people, truly ‘gems’ of these valleys. Many of the younger inhabitants of the hamlet were busy in the fields or tending their animals and evidently the elder community were left in charge of the home chores and minding the babies. The reception I received was incredible as I weaved my way through the small lanes. The evidence of the strength of these tribal women was unmistakeable as they busily went about their daily chores laden with their heavy loads.
The next stop was to visit the local tribal people working in the coffee plantations. As I have often witnessed during my travels the team work exhibited was effortless and the harmony between the workers quite remarkable. As I clambered amongst the coffee plants armed with camera and lens carefully anticipating each step to avoid the embarrassment of falling, I was taken by the agility of these individuals and felt quite inept. The vivid colours of the saris were framed by the backdrop of the dramatic greens of the lush plants. This encounter was so different from some of my previous experiences more tranquil and relaxing. With over 80,000 coffee farmers in the region I felt honoured to have had quality time with just a small example of these special people.
Having completed my visit with the plantation workers it was time to move onto the next tribal village, Gondivalasa Village. The journey to the next hamlet took us by a route that had suffered damage from the severe rains, the bridge having collapsed meant we had to take a short diversion but what a route amidst the beautiful landscape, passing rivers, agriculture fields and watching the steam trains winding through the valley. For some time we travelled through the countryside not seeing a single person then in the distance was our destination. Before long some of the residents of the parish became visible working in the nearby fields. Entering the village the welcome was so warm and genuine and I was eager to meet the local inhabitants. My object to capture the fervour of these people through my lens to share with others was to be slightly tricky. As I started to move through the narrow paths I was amused to find groups of, predominately women, following me, obviously curious as to what I was doing. Appearance was very important as I came upon a young woman washing and styling her hair, this evening the village was to have a gathering where many would be demonstrating their dancing skills. The village was alive with excitement and preparations for the evening event well underway. As I continued to weave my way through the hamlet I came upon some very interesting characters, especially some of the elderly people. The majority of the citizens wanted to oblige by posing to have their photographs taken. At the same time, telling tales of their day’s encounters and activities. Some of the young members of the village freely discussed their education and the degrees they had proudly achieved. The further I went into the village the larger the crowd grew, it was such a warming experience.
Upon leaving the village I came across the local market where many of the tribal inhabitants from the local hamlets congregated. The atmosphere was electric, everyone laughing and enjoying the relaxed day. Bartering was taking place in all corners of the market with vendors proudly selling their wares. There were mixed groups enjoying the local refreshments, exchanging stories. Children chased each other; squeals of glee were heard as the pursuer captured his prey.
On reflection many of these people I encountered during my visit were less fortunate than a lot of us but it didn’t stop them from striving for a better life like all of us do. This trip was certainly one of those magical moments never to be forgotten.
How humble I feel to have had the opportunity to peek into this isolated world of astonishing individuals.
by Lesley Saunders, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, UK