Sunday, September 11, 2011

Exploring Odisha - Day One

It was my wish to see Orissa - the land of Konark, Puri, Lingaraj, Chilika etc - but because of the distance from Bangalore, cost and other difficulties related to transport and language; I never thought that the dream will realize anytime soon. But thanks to my friend and roommate Milon, finally I got an opportunity to visit Orissa. Yes the same place, which witnessed the Kalinga war...

Finally, on a calm Friday evening we left Bangalore to Bubaneshwar in Guwahati Express. For the next 1500 km eastern coastline of India unraveled many mysteries before me. Its looks like nature is going to stand on the next elections in AP - only two colours are visible on both sides of the track - green on the ground and blue on the sky. Vast paddy fields are spread on both sides of the railway track, unlike the heavily populated Kerala - where you can see a lot of houses in both sides of the tracks, both in AP and in Orissa it’s very difficult to see houses or people (other than those working on paddy fields) near to the railway tracks.

It was for the first time I am spending one full day in train, but the window seat was more than a replacement for all other forms of entertainment.  On the way, we can saw the mighty Krishna and then the famous Godavari and numerous other rivers flows across the Eastern Ghats to reach the sea – after giving water to various adventures of humans and animals. After covering Vijayawada, Vizag etc we finally reached the outskirts of Bubaneshwar in the early morning. Just like sun, people are also in deep sleep, straight and wide roads of the city is empty, other than the noises coming from railway station I am unable to hear any other noise. After spending the rest of the night with one friend, we started our journey towards Cuttak and then to Milon's home in the early morning. After getting in to the bus I slowly looked outside through the glass window in the sides - Bubaneshwar to Cuttuck road is slowly coming alive in front of my eyes. Yes, finally I reached Orissa and according to the plan we will start our official journey from tomorrow.

Khandagiri – Udayagiri caves

Hathigumba Inscription
In the next day, we started early in the morning, I can't say 'early' as sun already came out from the eastern mountain. Our first stop was at Khandagiri-Udayagiri Jain caves complex located near to Bubanshwar airport. After viewing the caves in Udayagiri we moved to Khandagiri - located on other side of the road. After visiting some of the caves like - sarpagumba etc with its all excitement we reached the famous Hathigumba caves. Famous Hatigumba inscription of Kharavela is in the entrance of this cave. I just looked at the two millennia old scripts for some time, as my friend Binesh pointed out after seeing the inscriptions in Mahabalipuram - "If we could read this!!!"

These caves unfurl a mysterious world in front of me. The smell of the stone caves, which have a lot to tell about their famous occupiers, really took me two millennia back. How they lived in these caves? The experience of standing in the same place where emperor Kharewala once stood (probably) will give satisfaction for any of the traveler. Apart from Hatigumpha here you can see Sarpagumpha, Byaghragumpha, Ganeshagumpa, Ranigumpha etc.

Lingaraja Temple

From the Jain cave complex we went straight to the iconic Lingaraja temple of Bubaneshwer. This temple, located in old city, is visible from a distance. More than 1100 years old Lingraja temple, the biggest (55m in Height) of all Bubaneshwara temples, is dedicated to lord Harihara. We took a round around the temple and reached very close to garbhagriha, I just looked to the top from here. With carving from bottom to top this temple reveals the excellence and hard work of ancient Oriyan temple builders. Apart from the main temple structure there are lot of small shrines (according to some sources numbered close to 150) covered by a laterite wall (520 * 465ft) in this complex. After visiting many of them and praying in front of Lord Lingaraj (Harihara) we slowly came outside.

Mukteshwara-Siddheswara Temple Complex

These two are not working temples and located close to Lingaraja Temple. Here to you can see a lot of stone works in the walls.

While we are about to leave one person suddenly appeared from nowhere and give us a parking ticket. What more surprising was, we parked on the side of the road. In fact, wherever we stopped - it doesn’t matter if it was in road side or parking area - someone would approach us with a receipt book and start asking for the parking fee. We faced this in almost all part of Orissa - I don’t why everyone is so obsessed with collecting parking fee. Even in Sapthasajya - a temple located in the forest we had to pay fee for using the road as well as for parking. So keep your tyre in running mode while you are in Orissa, otherwise you would end up in paying parking fee every now and then, and don't think it’s a nominal amount!!!

From here we went straight to the location of famous Kalinga war (Daya river plains and Dhauligiri)


Before going to Dhauligiri, I have to say something about Orissa. Unlike the situation in Kerala, roads of Orissa are very wide (at least National Highways) and so as the median. In some places from median itself you can construct two lanes. Instead of houses, both sides of the road are covered with vast paddy fields with small hills acting as a frontier. Lorries  - whether working or not - are a constant view. My friend described Bubaneshwar as Temple City of India - I must say it can be described as the 'Lorry City' too and soon it may become the city of dead Lorries.

Young girls, in huge numbers, riding on the school uniform was another interesting view on this otherwise hot roads of Orissa. Almost all traffic policemen and women standing in each and every junction of the city are very much young - looks like Orissa government just completed a massive recruitment drive!!! Unfortunately I was not able to see much public bus network in the city. Other than some DTS bus services I saw here and there in Bubaneshwar city much of the short and medium journeys are depended on shared taxies.   

We reached Dhauligiri after some time. The first mark of Ashoka we saw in Dhauli was his pillar erected at that time on the side of the road. Smell of an old empire and Kalinga was very much alive on Dhauli's atmosphere. Soon we reached Shanti Stupa at the top of the hill, elected later by Japanese. Hope that, as the name implies, Buddha's messages will create sense of happiness and peace of mind to the people living across the world.

Daya River plains - location of Kalinga war
From here you can see the zig-zag path of Daya and her plains - yes the same places where Asoka's Mauryan forces fought the famous battle of Kalinga with the then Oriyan Army. The same place, which according to the history turned Asoka’s mind and become 'Asoka the great'.

"Namo buddham sharanam gacchami. 
 Namo dharmam sharanam gacchami. 
 Namo sangham sharanam gacchami"

After seeing Daya once again we reached in front of the famous Rock Edict of Asoka. Although I can’t read it - written in old scripts - the sense of owe and respect that will generate in the mind of the reader is not explainable in words. I am standing in front of the remains of an old empire, in its glorious period, which spread from Afghanistan in the west to Assam in the east and Himalaya in the north to almost the end of Deccan in the south. One of the largest empires in the history of humanity with one of the largest standing army in the then world - which later become of the biggest propagators of peace. It’s really unfortunate that regions coming under such an empire,  is now considered as one of the most unstable part - especially the Af-Pak border areas - in the modern world. After seeing the edicts for some more time I slowly moved to our next destination, the famous sun temple of Orissa - Konark.

Konark Sun temple

Konark - a UNESCO world heritage site - is an ambassador to the mineral rich Orissa and India's heritage. What Konark to Orissa is exactly same as what TajMahal to India; this temple dedicated to sun is in form of a giant chariot. In Konark's garbhagriha no longer exists, over the passage of time we lost it. What you see now is the remains of an old temple. The path to the temple is dotted with so many shops in both sides, from here you can buy the replicas of temple and its famous chariot wheels.

Konarka Temple
In Koanark, a magnificent mandapa will welcome you. The foundation of this mandapa is very high and the pillars are heavily decorated. Two big stone lions will welcome you to the mandapa. I spend a lot of time just to see the beautiful carvings in the stone. From this foundation you will get a beautiful view of Konaka with its granites entrance - memory for a life time. Before going to the structure of the main temple, I took the left path to see the outer sides of the main temple. These temples are heavily decorated with giant stone wheels (not movable) fixed to the sides. I slowly moved forward and more and more carvings become visible. 

There is two small temple in one side, one of that is constructed using bricks. These bricks are a little bit shorter that the current bricks we are using. After taking a round I went back to the main sun temple. Ancient stone masons of Kalinga made a beautiful theme in the stone - such a theme which caught the eyes of not only Indian but also the world. After seeing the sides of this beautiful, gaint platform I started climbing the platform for to see the Jagmohan (structure in front of Garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum). Here you can see many more stone works on the sides, I spend considerable amount of time to see and understand these sculptors and themes. Apart from the carvings in the walls there are three full statues of Sun in Black Granite. In total this temple located very close to Bay of Bengal is one of the excellent examples of stone work in the ancient world. There is Navagraha temple and Museum close to the main temple, don’t forgets to visit there. 

Here I have to add something about the nature of carvings in the outer structure. Many of these carvings are erotic and represent various sexual acts. After seeing the photos some of my friends criticized the presence of such things in a temple wall. According to my opinion there is nothing working in it, people of that time army tried to represent all parts of their life in the temple walls and in that time sex was not a taboo word in India as it is now. The same case is applicable for the Khajuraho temples of Orissa. When you are seeing these figures don’t look it with the current superficial moral values, which gives so much powers to khap Panchayats. Please see this according to the centuries old living style (of course the current living style) - when you are in Konark remove your 21st century senses and absorb the 11th century atmosphere which is in sync with the place. 

Chandrabhaga Temple and Ramchandi Temple

Chandrabhaga Beach
The famous Chandrabhaga Beach is not so much away from the temple. As a matter of fact here is the first time I am seeing a see beach and sea and of course touching the roaring waves of Bay of Bengal. I was so close to Arabian Sea for a number of times in Kerala, Karnataka and Mahe (part of Puducherry UT) but didn’t see it or touch it. As the sun is slowly moving to the other side of the western mountains, darkness is slowly filling in the vacuum from the eastern mountains. Looking to the beach is certainly a different experience, you can spend hours and hours then also you will not feel exhausted, its natures poem which you can hear with ears as well as eyes. After Chandrabhaga out next point was Ramchandi Temple, after praying in this famous temple we went to the see the Bay of Bengal again from a view point close to temple.

Now we are in Konark wildlife sanctuary, for a good number of kilometers you can see the trees on both sides of the road and if you are lucky you can see some animals too. Because of travelling under the hot rays of the sun, slowly tiredness set in which automatically closed my eyes and I slept in the vehicle till it reach the temple town Puri.

Puri Beach

First we went to the Beach; Orissa Rajbhavan is also located in this road. Its almost evening, but still we went to the Puri Beach. Salty wind slowly touched my face and removed some of the tiredness. Unlike Chandrabhaga Beach Puri beach is very crowded but for Bay of Bengal there is no difference, with its n numbers of facilities it is still calling the brave men to go in and explore it. Asking for them to come and enjoy the wilderness of the ocean. By now sun completely sent in the western mountain.

Puri Beach is crowded with hawkers and small temporary stalls selling a numbers of items and chaats. I curiously went in to one of the shops and noticed a lady bargaining with a shop owner. It’s really interesting, both sides are giving two very much different prices for the same thing and started bargaining. Finally they reached a price close the initial one suggests by the seller - in most of the cases. I remembered one of my friend back in Mysore, in that case the hawker put a price tag of 120 rupees for some work on wood and she said 20 or 40 - the interesting thing is that after so much bargaining she was not even ready to review her price for more than 5-10 rupees and finally he sold her that product at that price. Now just think about a person who is not good in bargaining!!! After having some chaat we went to Puri Temple. 

Puri Jagannath Temple

Puri Beach
Puri Jagannath temple is one of the very famous temple in India. Located in Puri district of Orissa this temple is considered as one of the four temples - along with Rameshwaram - which a Hindu should visit in his life time. After washing hands, legs and removing sandals we went inside. Temple was very much crowded, still we were able to reach the sanctum sanctorum very fast and able to see the deities form close. I stand in front of the deity and prayed for some time and then took a round of the temple, like Lingaraja this temple is also very tall. With so many carvings in the outer wall and the numerous small temples in the compound there is no doubt that Puri represents one of the glorious periods in the Kalinga temple building era. 

Slowly we came out, and walked towards the Temple bus which will drop you at the vehicle parking area. As we were approaching close to the bus people shouting support to Anna Hazare's campaign came in the opposite direction. Parliamentarians have to take a close look at these people who are showing their opposition to the corruption. After all if a person is paying an Income tax - say 1000 Rs/ Year - and one of the government project - say a tarred road - is constructed using minimum possible amount foundation and metal, which is as thin as a paper, who else don’t want to show an opposition to corruption? But representatives have to make sure that they are spending less time of creating chaos in the house and more time on discussion, debate and other parliamentary proceedings. We inherited a parliamentary system and democracy, which other countries are unable to create even after getting independence along or close to ours. So we have to make sure that the house up, discussing and implementing the solutions for the problems they are supposed to work out.

To Satapada

After crossing Anti Corruption rally we are on the vehicle again - now to Satapada (a place close to the Irrawady dolphin point of Chilika). The trip to Satapada was interesting, from Puri to Satapada the entire stretch of the road except some portions and there are full of cows. Every now and then cow groups will block our way. Majority of the cows are white in colour, some are in brownish white and rarely here and there you can see some brown or black cow. It looks like, it doesn’t matter to them, whether it is car or bus, they are not ready to move from their positions. We have to find out our own way in between them. It was really a surprising experience to see so much fearless cows in a long stretch of road. After cris-crossing among the various groups of cows we finally reached OTDC guest house close to Chilika Lake. After eating the Mahaprasadam from Puri we call it as as a day and went for sleeping.


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