19 May, 2015

Orissa - Ek aankhon deka haal!

Wishing you and your family a very happy, healthy & prosperous new year!

It’s nice and cool these days… Santa had come swinging in a few days back with the goodies and has since packed his bags and left.

We brought in Christmas at Orissa this year. The weather was cold in the early mornings and nights, with the weather becoming cool to warm, during the day. Let me start from the beginning…

We landed in Bhubaneshwar. As is the case these days, this airport was spanking new, with pleasing landscaping on the frontside. When we started driving towards Puri, we marveled at the nice roads there. We thought the roads are good, as it is the capital city. But, even the drive to Puri was great – the roads were wonderful and silken smooth. Remembered Mumbai roads and the contrast was stark!

We were put up in a place called Sonar Bangla in Puri. The names evokes something regal & and of a royal past. We thought so too. The children thought, it is some five star property that we were going to. One was asking, if it had a pool table and another queried if it would have a swimming pool. The reality was decidedly sobering. Instead of the swimming pool, there was a cavernous void, in front of the hotel, so much so that, the approach to the hotel was from behind. We were told that Puri town planners had chosen this very moment to construct storm water drains in that area!

The rooms were OK. It is their breakfast that needs some column space. More about this later…

We freshened up and left for Lord Jagannath temple. We hired a Panda ( not the Kungfu kind, but a kind human Panda! ) and he took us around the temple. This gentleman was good and he made sure that our darshan was fantastic and memorable.

In this temple, they have a practice of changing the temple flag every evening. It is a sight to behold. A person goes up all the way up the temple dome ( vimana ) and changes the flag. You would not understand the poignance of the moment till you see the vimana. It is imposing & awe inspiring. It stands 180+ feet tall – as tall as a 18 storey building! On top of it is a chakra, 12 feet in diameter. There was a crowd watching the flag change on 21st, which included 6 of us from Mumbai! There was cheering and clapping once the flag was changed!

Now that we had the benign blessings of the Lord, we were ready for the rest of the trip. The next day was to be Konark.

Sonar Bangla was supposed to ply us with breakfast, before we let ourselves loose on the world. Oh, what a breakfast! There were three small katoris in which one has some jam, other had salt and a third pepper. All the three generously hosted flies, which seemed to be in good supply here!

There was Puri ( don’t know if they served it because that was the name of the place too!), some veggie, some hard and burnt bread and boiled eggs. The breakfast spread abruptly stopped there. We inquired about a thing called butter… they helpfully mentioned they have already applied it on the bread while toasting. We were stunned into silence by this revelation! So we lowered the supplies down the hatch, bit the lower lip and with a stiff upper lip, started for Konark!

Konark was stunning. It was an amazing piece of architecture. There was a dance hall, meditation space & temple. The temple was in ruins as the portugese had dismantled/ destroyed a very powerful magnet which was holding the temple pieces together ( which were all joined using iron pins ). Wikipedia has a different take however.

The temple was made of sandstone, which is porous and brittle. But the miracle workers - the artisans from Orissa, had still managed to carve such intricate, jaw dropping motifs, columns, forms! The chariot wheels looked so real! Plus, the chariot wheels are actually sundials. The guide whom we engaged actually showed how to count the time. It was accurate to the minute!!!

Konark was jaw dropping for another reason. The temples included intricate miniature sculptures, about the life of people during the times when King Narasimhadeva ruled. The sculptures were very intricately carved & were a marvel of workmanship.

The amazing sculptures depicted scenes from their lives… and many of them were pretty uninhibited at that. Amorous couples were all around, doing what gave them their name. Kamasutra came alive on the walls!

It looks like we were pretty upfront then – or was it artistic license? It is anyones guess…

But the fact is that even Bill Clinton would have found Konark instructive! You would agree that is saying a lot, given his body of experience!!! (pun intended !)

We then went to Chilika lake, which is a brackish water lagoon spread over 1100 sq kms.  It hosts a multitude of migratory birds & Irrawaddy dolphins. However, in our boatride spanning over a couple of hours, we saw very few birds and just a fleeting glimpse of one or two dolphins.

Our next port of call was Bitharkanika Sanctuary/ National Park, which is a little known destination in the country. The sanctuary has an area of 672 sq kms. We went for crocodile sightings in this estuarine area and were amply rewarded with wonderful sightings of saltwater crocodiles in profusion. The other animals that inhabit the area are Civets, Monitor Lizard, Otters, King Cobras, Jungle cats, Indian Python, wild boars etc. We saw a black animal crossing our path when we were returning back from the watch tower. We were told it might be an Otter or a Civet – the glimpase was too fleeting a glance to make out.

We also went to Nandakanan Zoo in Bhubaneshwar. Nothing exceptional here, though we did enjoy there as well.

The Orissa that we had in our mind was quite different from what we saw. It was a picture of progress – quite a contrast from the poverty ridden images, we had in our mind. They say travels expand the mind – It did in our case.

I have come back blessed by Lord Jagannath ( incidentaly the word juggernaut comes from Lord Jagannath’s Rath ). I invoke the blessing of the Almighty on your families too.

Wishing you all a super duper 2015, in every sense!!!

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