There is nothing that can prepare you for this. The sheer crush of human bodies, the frenzied existence, the vacant traumatized stares of children, the stench, the dust and the maggots swarming in the latrines.
There is no relief, not for any of the senses, let alone the heart. At every turn swarms life, cheek-and-jowl existence in the most literal sense, whole families crammed into stifling shelters, not a spare inch of land left unused.
It is approaching winter, yet the sun beats down relentlessly, baking the clay into which lives are carved. Dust plumes permeate every tiny corner, invading already violated lives. In a few weeks the second monsoon will come and wash away the toil – the harsh deluge tearing through narrow, hand-carved paths, and across the floors of makeshift homes.
Any attempt to capture the extent of these camps is futile. Mere months ago wild elephants trampled through these jungles on their way to find water, now the throng of almost 700,000 human feet lay the earth bare and lifeless. Stagnant, effluent-filled water pools in the gullies between dwellings, swarming with the refuse of a population in turmoil. Hand-pumped wells draw muddy, rancid, fluid from the ground, splattering the clothes of children as they watch idly. A man hawks loudly and spits beetle-nut into a purpose-dug pit. It spatters red against the sides and leaves a lasting impression that, most probably, this is also where the dead are buried.
A boy stands in the middle of the path, his eyes intent, his stare relentless, his suffering palpable. With his gaze, he questions: what kind of tragedy, what level of pain would you have to experience to flee your homeland to come and live like this? I take his picture, permanently capturing his intensity, his bravery, his existence.
Yet, it is he who has left the indelible mark.