14-Dec-2003 -- According to the map, 16N 81E lay between the town of
Avanigadda and Koduru. We were in Machilipatnam to attend the wedding of my cousin. Typical of most Andhra weddings, there were a host of functions spread
across a full day that would culminate in the actual wedding ceremony. I was told that the first function we were to attend would begin at 9 am on 14-Dec-2003 and would be over by about 9.45 am. My uncle Anand and I decided to leave for the confluence at 10 am. The GPS indicated a straight-line distance of 24 kilometers to the confluence from our location in Machilipatnam. As scheduled, we headed towards Challapalle which we drove through on our way to Avanigadda. On our drive, we crossed one of the tributaries of the river Krishna (after which the district is named). On both sides of the road, we were treated to lush green scenery of rice paddy fields. We were in one of the
most fertile areas in India; the Krishna river delta.
After reaching Avanigadda, we asked for directions to head towards Koduru. This took a few minutes as the maps I had carried spelt the name differently and
hence we were confusing the local folk there by asking for the wrong town. Anyway, trusting our GPS, we continued down the road nearest in line with the confluence. We soon realized that this was the road we were looking for. The road runs next to an irrigation canal of the Krishna making it a very picturesque sight. The countdown to the confluence started. We also noticed that the confluence was most likely to be on the right of us and we would have to cross the canal. Luckily, we found small (but sturdy!) foot bridges across it at regular intervals. Some of the bridges were wide enough for a car to go through too.
With about 1.5 kilometers to go, the GPS pointed right. We stopped at this point and found a foot bridge just across the road. I got all the gear and
Srinivas (our driver by coincidence, he had the same name as the driver who drove us to 17N 80E and back!) accompanied me across the bridge. The GPS showed us that we had a 1.2 kilometer walk through huge paddy fields. We asked a few lounging village folk if there was a reasonable path for us to walk on. They asked us how far we wanted to go and when we told them, one of them told us that we would be better off if we took a previous bridge across the canal and drove down from the other side. Heeding his advice, we piled into the
car and headed back down a short distance till we found a wide bridge. Srinivas negotiated the bridge carefully and then hit a bumpy dirt road that slowly
but surely started winding its way towards 16N 81E!
The road was really awful at places, but Srinivas skillfully kept us moving closer. At about 770 meters from the point, the GPS showed us that we would have
to trek across the fields to our left. We parked the car under a tree, my uncle Anand decided to stay with the car and Srinivas and I started off on foot. Our
first obstacle was an irrigation stream about 12 feet wide across which a narrow concrete pole was laid. After a short successful balancing act, both of us reached the other side and started walking on the bund towards the confluence. This was the farthest I've had to walk in all the confluences I have visited so far. After about 100 meters, the bund gave way to a narrow
irrigation ditch that presumably supplied water to the farms on both sides. To our dismay, the ditch was still wet from the last release of water. The soil was
black clay. Both of us decided to remove our shoes and roll up our trousers to continue. The first foot I set in this ditch was scary; my leg sank about a 30
centimeters. Both of us soon realized that this was what we should expect right up to the point. But we later realized that we were overly optimistic. The
going got tougher and tougher and Srinivas had to give me a hand at some places when I got stuck in the black clay! It was a tough act to hold the GPS in one hand and try to take a foot out of the now almost knee deep clay and put it ahead. I lost my balance a couple of times and had to grab at the nearest rice stalks. To their credit, they stood firm and I, to my credit, avoided a mud bath!
After 30 minutes of messy stomping in the clay, we were about 10 meters away from the point. This was when my GPS died on me. I turned it on again and it
came back with a "Battery Low" indicator. At this time, both Srinivas and I were in more than knee-deep clay. I transferred the backpack to Srinivas and then dug out a pair of fresh batteries. The tricky part was to open the battery compartment of the GPS and not to drop the compartment cover or the new batteries. Tricky because the clay was shifting and we were not steady at one place. Anyway, we got that done without incident and then fired up the GPS again. It pointed a little to the right, in the middle of a rice paddy
field. Rice paddy requires standing water during it's growing phase and we guessed that more deep clay awaited us. We also realized that we were getting
accustomed to the soft ground we were treading on! It took us about a minute to reach 16N 81E!!! This one made us work for it! It was 1210hrs.
I took photographs in the cardinal directions and then took a couple of pictures of the GPS. As luck would have it, I ran out of film too. So, yet again, both of us balanced our way through a film reload process! I took a few more photographs for a panorama, recorded the altitude (amazingly, it was 2 meters below sea level!) and photographs of ourselves in the slush. That
done, we treaded our way slowly back towards the car. This time, we stopped the other side of the irrigation stream and washed off all the black clay from out legs before crossing it. We met a couple of village folks who told us we were about 2 kilometers from Rangareddypalem and we had the village of Jayapuram on
our way there. One of them, Manikyal Rao also obliged us and took a photograph. Soon after, we headed back to Machilipatnam and to a late, well deserved lunch!
Note: Just 24 hours after our visit, Avanigadda and the surrounding areas took the full force of a cyclone that destroyed a lot of property, crops and unfortunately took a few lives too. We dedicate this visit to the wonderful, brave people of the Krishna delta.