A de Chirico landscape

As we drove through the Thar desert, I was intrigued by villages which seemed half-built and deserted. Often blocks of yellow Jaisalmer sandstone would be piled up at several places, enhancing the impression that the houses in the village were unfinished. Eventually we stopped at one of these. Indeed, as you can see from the photo above, the village looks like a painting by Giorgio de Chirico: surreal empty blocks of buildings, open plazas, blue skies, bright sun, and not a living soul in sight.

The buildings are made entirely of Jaisalmer yellow sandstone mortared together. The stone is common in this region, but not easily seen elsewhere. We found a few buildings which had been left unfinished. Sand had piled up against the boundary wall you see in the photo above. The electrical lines which cut through this empty village marched away to the horizon. Sand had also blown into the unfinished houses, and piled up in great drifts inside.

It was only when a bunch of children came running towards us that we noticed the real village. It was a couple of hundred meters away; a cluster of mud huts. The children gathered around us discussing every move we made in Hindi. There was some controversy about whether we were “English”. I decided to talk about very mundane things with them, in Hindi: like why they were not at school (it was after school hours) and whether they liked math more than Hindi (there was no consensus). After this conversation quietened them down, I asked them to pose for a photo. Only four did, and you can see them in the photo above. After this they decided there was no entertainment left in us, and they ran off. We were left alone in the deserted village, wondering why it came into being when there was a real live village right next to it.

Morning near Port Blair

We rose before the sun to meet Senthil already waiting for us. We picked up Gokul and Shakti and were off for a second day’s birdwatching. With the horizon about to dip towards the sun, there was enough light to finally see the road we had already taken twice the previous night.Cows are still sleepy when birders are awake The road ran next to the sea, and a series of small bays cut into the shoreward side. The place looked misty and overcast. Birds clearly rise before cows, as you can see in the photo here. The mynahs were chirpy and active while the cows still behaved as if they were waiting for their morning cup of coffee.

At this time of the day one could see a lot of water birds near the shore.The Chidiyatapu road After the brief sunny spell at sunrise, clouds had started to gather. The tall trees that you see in this photo were full of birds, but in the gloomy light they were difficult to photograph. Among the common birds of the Andaman is a lovely red-collared dove. With its red sandstone coloured body, it looks exactly like the doves one sees in the forts and palaces of north India. But when it turns a profile to you, the bright red band of feathers circling its neck can be seen easily. There were flocks of them fluttering about in the landward bushes. This was our first view of these lovely birds.

Small school near Port Blair

Ethnic Bengalis and Tamils predominate on the islands, and everyone seems to speak Hindi as a matter of course. In the middle of a small collection of buildings we stopped to look at kingfishers. A single-roomed building seemed to serve as a school. After I took the photo above, the porch boiled over with children waving at us. Probably their teacher had not arrived in class yet and a stranger is always good entertainment. It was close to the new year, but the sign you can see is a little out of date. Later we saw much larger schools on the islands. I’m not sure whether this is a government school or private. Unfortunately we never came back along the road to see whether the sign was updated.