Most Memorable Field Visits: Amlapuram

We were having a discussion in office the other day about our favourite sites to work on. That basically got me thinking and motivated me to start penning (or blogging, whatever) my all time favourite site visits. In the past I have usually blogged about current site visits. However, this series will be completely a trip down memory lane.

The first site visit that comes to my mind, is Amlapuram. Amlapuram is a small coastal town in Andhra Pradesh, known for its oil and gas industries and made popular by a Bollywood song. That is all I knew of the place when I was told I had to go do a project there. The site visit was for an expansion of an existing project and was in a remote corner of the town, far cut off from population. While now I remember the project with fondness, it was one of the worst site visits I have ever undertaken.

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Let me try and paint you a picture. The town was so small, that it had no hotels, just one lodge. The lodge thankfully had clean rooms, but no restaurant/kitchen. We had to order food from a nearby restaurant. That restaurant had a five page menu, boasting of dishes from north India, south India and Chinese! However, no matter what we ordered, even Chinese, it was always the same curry. The only way we could tell Chinese apart from Indian was because for Chinese, they used diced vegetables ! We landed up eating biryani  for seven days. It was thankfully quite delicious.

We would daily drive out of the town for about 2 hours, to our site and do our work. This was such a remote location that there was no source of food. If we wanted lunch, we would have to drive back to town. Also, the restaurant did not have a facility for packing us lunches. So basically we had the following options: a. no lunch, b. have lunch in town but lose an additional 4 hours a day just travelling, c. eat bananas for lunch. Guess which option we chose? yup, every day we would buy a big bunch of local bananas and a bottle of Mazza (a mango drink), in the morning, and that would be our lunch. This continued for seven days.

On top of that, we were in a coastal town, in summers. This meant that the average temperature was 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and humidity was over 80%, no matter what time of day. Basically what this meant was that by the end of the first day, we were already tanned and I looked as if someone had tried to write braille on my face.

The next issue we faced was language. Our Telegu (local language of Andhra Pradesh) speaking colleagues were all unavailable for this site work. So the team was comprised of people who spoke Hindi and English. Which is usually fine, except for no one, not one soul, seemed to understand either languages! not even our drivers. Though thankfully they understood the words ‘go’ and ‘stop’, but that was it! we eventually had to resort to hand gestures to communicate. Try finding directions to a government department or locating a person’s residence without knowing the language, its really fun. Not.

But then why is this trip one of my most memorable trips? All because of one day. Towards the end of our visit, it turns out was the Telegu new year. What this meant was that we couldn’t get any work done that day, since no one was available. So we decided to spend the day on the beach, with our biodiversity expert, helping him identify the biodiversity along the shore. Basically what that meant was that I spent a day collecting sea shells and watching crabs fool around. The beach was completely deserted and it was just us three for over 5 hours! Heaven!

 

After this amazingly peaceful day, we headed back, in search of proper food for a change. On our way up to the city, we noticed a small room (it was literally a room) tucked away in a corner by the road, completely obscured by the vegetation around it. But the board outside it indicated that there was food to be had. So we stopped and asked (again by hand gestures) if they had any food we could eat. Lo and behold! This small little place, with a capacity of seating six people, was serving the traditional new year’s feast! Sadly I don’t have a photograph of that. But it was by far the most amazing meal I had had in God know’s how long. Simply cooked, served on a banana leaf, the food was amazing in the affection put it into it, which in my opinion always translates into taste. more than 3.5 years down the line, when I think of that afternoon and that food, I can’t help but smile.

So yes, Amlapuram is definitely one of my favourite site visits ever.

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