The Ambona Hills


The road up into the hills weaves in a series of steep hairpins past a small temple of Hanuman, the monkey god, at which there are always flowers left as insurance by lorry drivers, who grind up and down all day in first gear. On its roof long-tailed langurs sit, nibbling fruit and regarding the passing world with wise eyes. When you reach the top, what a view it is. To the west, a gape out across a forty-mile blur of coconut groves, tribal forests, flats and swamplands, the distant glint of salt marshes and creeks winding inland dotted with tiny shark-fin sails. To the east, the escarpment rises still higher, the mountains assuming fantastic shapes, vast rearing domes of rock wearing the sky like a wide blue hat.


I gave Bhalu many of my own childhood memories, of going looking for wild animals – there were leopards, wild boar, pythons, deer – going fishing in the many lakes, catching striped danios in the monsoon streams that would mysteriously fill with fish and crabs where days before there had been nothing but dry rock. The photograph below was taken by my mother in 1958 during one of her milk-runs: she had obtained supplies of milk from the Red Cross and organised teams to carry it in great churns to the children of Bushi and Karvanda villages. In the picture it is raining and the villager is wearing an irrla, a rain-hat woven from cane and lined with palasa leaves.


Miracle of the monsoon