Into the Cauldron


My relatives decided that I must be mad, or atleast slightly cracked in the head, for deciding to go to Titlagarh in the month of May. For those unaware, Titlagarh in Western Orissa is widely considered to be one of the contenders for the hottest inhabited places in the country. Summer temperatures above 50 degree celsius are frequently reached and the blazing loo makes sure that it feels much more. But I have lived in the 46 degree heat of Delhi and the 44 degrees of Hyderabad. I have even managed a 45 with 90% humidity in Bhubaneswar (an astounding 162 on the Discomfort Index). How bad could then Titlagarh be? There was only one way to find out.

Arrival, at 5 30 in the morning, was normal-even slightly pleasant. In the east, the sun is out early; especially in summer. This was no different. Even the concrete hulk that the railway station was, looked (and felt) fine. I decided to go get some shuteye before taking on Father Heat himself in the afternoon.

The first inkling of trouble was the knock on the door of my comfortable airconditioned room. “Abhi se naha lijiye..dopahar mein paani boil ho jaata hai”. Ridiculous I said. Of course the water gets pretty darned hot during the summer, but all you need to do is to leave the tap on for 10 mins and then all is well. There was no way I was letting go of my lovely sleep by having a bath at this non-bath-like hour.

Soon, it was 11. My plan was the check out the heat at this hour and then again around 2 when the sun would be at its merciless best. Attired normally in cotton clothes and having drunk plenty of water, I ventured out onto the road. The first thing that hits you, even before the heat, is the utter loneliness. Titlagarh is no village. It has a population of close to a lakh. But not a single soul was to be seen anywhere. No birds, no animals and certainly no humans. The next thing you realise is that the back of your neck is on fire. While you cover it up quickly with the collar, suddenly the full blast of the loo is in your face. Dry and dusty, it feels like being slapped around with the hot bottom of a frying pan. There is little humidity, so you do not sweat (actually you do, but you never feel it as it just evaporates within milliseconds). Sun stroke is possible in 10 mins, likely around 30 mins and almost certain in less than an hour. The head warms up to an extent that you can feel the heat radiating out of your crown. One cannot keep his eyes open. The strong glare makes it impossible. I had had enough. I was soon gulping down another bottle of water. Time spent outside: 13 minutes.

This was certainly no common Delhi-heatwave. Why though? There is little substantial vegetation around Titlagarh, partly due to the soil and partly due to deforestation. In addition, the town is surrounded on almost all sides by bare, smooth hills-almost like giant pebbles. There is no substantial body of water anywhere close by, nor is the river really a river. As the wind blows in from all sides, the hills block its path and funnel it through their gaps and crevices. The hot rock increases the temperature of the already warm wind many notches. The air temperature may be around 50 but the wind makes sure that it feels around 70. The terrain is excellent for retaining heat and one could feel the earth just letting out steam till midnight.

I never did my post noon trip. The bath did not work out either. Apparently, the man was serious about the boiling water business.

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