Hey guys, hope you are doing great 🙂
Today, I’m very happy to share with you all the first part of my five-part travel series, East India Travel.
This travel series covers my exciting nine-day journey through three beautiful states in eastern India: Odisha (formerly Orissa), Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. It includes the ancient Hindu temple cities of Bhubaneswar and Puri, with some internationally-famous tourist attractions, and the serene beach town of Gopalpur in Odisha; the colourful tribal district of Bastar in Chhattisgarh; and the lovely port city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.
19/05/15: Mumbai – Bhubaneswar (or Bhubaneshwar) in Odisha
20/05/15: Bhubaneswar – Puri
21/05/15: Puri – Gopalpur-on-Sea
22/05/15: Gopalpur On Sea – Visakhapatnam (or Vizag) in Andhra Pradesh
23/05/15: Visakhapatnam – Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh
24/05/15: Jagdalpur – Visakhapatnam
27/05/15: Visakhapatnam – Mumbai
Tourism in Odisha is a veritable museum of India’s sculptural and artistic heritage. The ancient Kalinga architecture is predominant in its exquisite temples. The magnificent Sun Temple at Konark, the majestic temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri and the glorious temples of Bhubaneswar are the finest examples of its beautiful temple architecture.
Outstanding temples, extraordinary monuments, beautiful beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, enchanting natural landscape… Odisha is a unique and fascinating land steeped in an ancient culture unique to itself. It’s home to many thousands of prolific artists and craftsmen.
The Bay of Bengal washes its shoreline, sometimes gently, sometimes in fury. And yet, like the Phoenix, it rises constantly after nature unleashes its fury from the sea repeatedly.
About Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha….
Known as the “Temple City of India”, Bhubaneswar has over 500 of the country’s finest old temples, some of them dating as far back as 6th century AD. It’s the seat of Tribhubaneswar or Lingaraja (Lord Shiva), and hence an important Hindu temple city. Around eight centuries ago, thousands of beautiful temples stood around the Bindusagar Lake, in the old city area. Of them, a few hundred have survived including the magnificent 11th century Lingaraja Temple, a major landmark of the city.
This “City of Temples”, together with the important Hindu pilgrimage centre of Puri (60 km), which is the abode of Lord Jagannath and one of the four celebrated religious centres of India, and the famed Sun Temple of Konark (64 km), form the “golden triangle”, one of the most visited destinations in East India, famed for magnificent sculptures, exquisite carvings and architectural grandiose. The Jagannath Temple in Puri is one of the four most sacred sites in the country called the ‘Char Dham’.
The surroundings of Bhubaneswar date back to 4th century BC. Eight kilometres away, the famous historical and archaeological site of Dhauli is also of religious significance to Buddhism. This is where Emperor Ashoka, repenting for the heavy bloodshed that led to his victory in the Great Kalinga War (which was fought around here), renounced everything and converted to Buddhism. One of his famous rock edicts dating 261 BC stands at the base of a nearby hill. Six kilometres west of the city centre, the twin hills of Khandagiri & Udayagiri house rock-cut shelters with beautiful sculptures and carvings, built mainly for the Jain monks around 1st – 2nd century BC.
Besides temples, Bhubaneswar is a shopping destination for a wide variety of regional handicrafts. To the south of the city, on the highway to Puri, lies the small village of Pipli or Peepli (20 km) known for its brilliant applique work, while further ahead, the quiet hamlet of Raghurajpur is known for the ancient art of Patta Chitra and palm-leaf paintings. Silver filigree jewellery comes from the nearby city of Cuttack (25 km). Handwoven textiles, handloom items, Ikat (tie-dyed) saris and textiles, cane furniture, paper mache masks, stone and wood carving, bamboo basketry, brass and bell metal work, horn work, etc. are some of the other famous handicrafts. Ekamra Haat, the handicrafts and textiles market located in the city centre, is the perfect place to buy goods directly from the artisans.
All in all, this largest city of Odisha is a fascinating amalgamation of the ancient and the modern.
Today’s post is about my brief stay in Bhubaneswar. So, let’s go! Happy Reading 🙂
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
10:20 am. I’m bored. Like all other morning flights scheduled to depart around this time, my Indigo flight to Bhubaneswar is delayed too. To make it worse, some time later, the flight journey turns unpleasant. The plane starts shuddering and shaking, leaving me clasping my head in my hands. I feel like I’m going to pass out. Strange, there’s no announcement of turbulence or about what’s going on. Maybe there’s something wrong with the plane! As if all this isn’t enough, I have to endure the loud and noisy antics of a little girl seated right ahead of me. The shuddering and shaking happens again. Fed up, I start to count the time remaining for the two-hour-and-twenty-minute journey to come to an end. For the first time in my life, I experience a throbbing headache while flying. Maybe the pilot is in a drowsy mood…or worse, he must be drunk! While nearing landing, his voice on the microphone definitely sounds like he is either of the two. And then, the plane lands with a …THUD!!! It’s the roughest landing that I have ever experienced! And of all domestic airlines, this had to happen on an Indigo flight, which I have always favoured for good and punctual service.
It’s 12:55 pm and at this hour, the weather is extremely hot. I stop at the tourism office to collect a few brochures on the places that I’m planning to cover before walking over to the pre-paid taxi booking counter. The pre-paid AC taxi to Hotel Janpath in Bapuji Nagar, costs 200 rupees. The hotel is touted to be the best budget hotel in the city so that’s where I’m off to. It was very sensible of me to take the AC taxi because the minute I step out of the shaded comfort of the airport building, the hot air blasts the hell out of me. No wonder the taxi driver has told me to remain in the shade till he gets the taxi around.
As we drive out of the airport, I ask the driver for the distance till the hotel. He says, five minutes. Really? Most airports in the country are located at least 45 minutes away from the city centre. He tells me that Bapuji Nagar is along the airport road, and 15 minutes away from the city centre. Garages, motor and spare parts shops line the area. Some of the recommended restaurants serving local cuisine are supposed to be located around this place, near Rajmahal Square. But till now, I have seen only two or three smallish eateries here. A few metres later, the driver points at a small building across the road. This is Hotel Janpath??? It looks too small to accommodate even ten rooms. I’m aghast. I check my list of city hotels and quickly rattle off the names of a few. The driver tells me that most of them are like Hotel Janpath. He suggests a few hotels. There are some nice hotels around Kalpana Square. Hotel Kalinga Ashok is one of them. I ask him if it belongs to the Ashok group of hotels and he says, yes. Good. It looks like a comfortable but pricey option. For the extra distance, he asks for 100 rupees. That’s okay.
The standard room tariff at Hotel Kalinga Ashok is 2400 rupees and they don’t offer discount. The standard room shown to me looks good and the bed, very cosy. So I decide to take it. I should have taken a closer look at the bathroom, because a little later, I discover that the bathtub is absolutely horrendous. The showerhead above looks very old too. But the front desk manager tells me that the bathtubs in all the other standard rooms are pretty much the same. Your room is the best among them, he says, echoing the words of the room boy to whom I have showed the bathtub, a few minutes ago. Sigh.
My headache subsides after an hour’s rest. Around 2:40 pm, I set off to do some shopping. My decision surprises the hotel staff because it’s still too hot to roam around. I cannot afford to waste time because tomorrow I will be leaving for the temple city of Puri. I just have a couple of hours till dusk to do a bit of city sight-seeing, mostly temple-hopping. The nearest shopping place is the Unit I and Unit II market in Ashok Nagar. The city has shared autorickshaws that charge five rupees per person irrespective of the distance. I hail a passing one carrying two locals and reach my destination after ten minutes in just five rupees.
Walking around the Unit I market (known as Market Building), I find an Utkalika, a popular chain of souvenir stores run by the Odisha Handicraft Department. More than half an hour later, I walk out with two large bags…three saris and two dresses! Somehow, I just can’t resist myself from buying popular regional saris while travelling. I especially love window-shopping for the rich, hand-woven varieties. Umm…and I don’t wear saris! I remember a few years ago, I was passing by a sari store on the way to Guwahati airport in a military convoy (I was Indian Army guest, and the north-eastern state of Assam has a military presence). My attention was caught by a beautiful sari draped around the mannequin in the store window. I immediately stopped the car, climbed down and hurried into the store, followed by my bodyguard. I kept the army convoy waiting for a good five minutes! Well, that’s my obsession with beautiful saris.
I now have to buy myself a pair of sandals. After looking around a bit and checking a few shoe stores lining the road, I remain unimpressed. Tired, I walk into the next one and ask for a simple pair of sandals, rousing the salesmen from their afternoon nap. One of them gives me an incredulous look. “For you?” Of course! Silly fellow! What’s so surprising about buying shoes for myself? My eyes fall on a blue pair of sandals, exactly the style that I’m looking for. The size should fit me, I think. When I put them on, I’m delighted. A couple of months ago, on my trip to Gujarat, I had purchased a cute pair of pink sandals at 149 rupees and now I have a blue pair priced at 299 rupees. Next, it’s the turn of the by-now-fully-awake salesman to give me a surprise. This is a kiddie shoe shop! And I just bought myself a pair of boys’ sandals! The salesmen are all smiles as I burst out laughing. I put my shoes in the offered bag, and walk out wearing the comfortable sandals.
Dropping the shopping bags in my hotel room, I set off again. This time, on a sightseeing tour by autorickshaw. It’s around 5:00 pm. The Odisha State Museum is just opposite the hotel, but there’s no time for it. The few places that I intend to cover are the ancient temples of Lingaraja, Raja Rani, Parsurameswar and Mukteswar, the Bindusagar lake and the historical site of Dhauli. All the autorickshaw drivers are asking for 500 rupees, which I think is way too high for a two-hour ride. And the places aren’t far-off too. Ten minutes later, I hop into one, not wanting to waste time looking for a better price.
The tour starts with Dhauli which is 8 km away. On the way, the driver tells me that the daaru of Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity in the Puri temple, is entering the city today so there will be traffic on the road. Daaru??? I don’t know whether daaru is an Odia language word, but the Hindi word daaru means alcohol. Slowly, I comprehend his Odia-accented, broken Hindi. Daaru is a Sanskrit word, and it means wood. So, the wooden log to be used for making the new idol of Lord Jagannath is arriving in the city today, en route to Puri. The wooden logs for the other three deities at the temple – Jagannath’s elder brother, Balabhadra, younger sister, Subhadra and the Sudarshana Chakra, are already in Puri. The old wooden images of the deities are replaced by new ones after every 19 years. The shifting of the divine soul of the deities from the wooden bodies of the old idols to the new ones is popularly known as Nabakalebara. This July, it’s the century’s first Nabakalebara Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath. So it’s going to be a crowded affair. Held in June or July, the annual Rath Yatra draws millions of devotees who gather to catch a glimpse of the deities when they are taken out of the temple and carried in decorated chariots in a procession to Gundicha Mandir at a distance of 3 km. The idols are brought back in the same manner after nine days bringing to an end this auspicious world-renowned event which attracts visitors from across the world. Only Hindus are allowed entry inside the Jagannath Temple, so this is a good opportunity for non-Hindus to catch a glimpse of the Lord and his family as they are carried in their well-decked chariots. (You will read more on this in the next part of the series.)
The autorickshaw noisily climbs up the road and reaches the top of Dhauli hill. After a few flights of stone steps, I’m at the gate of this snow-white structure… the Shanti Stupa or the Peace Pagoda, which was built in 1972 with Indo-Japanese collaboration.
It’s already 5:45 pm when I start the return journey to the city. It’s a bit breezy and the speeding vehicle is open from behind. My cap flies off my head. The wind blows it behind, making it dance mid-air for a while before landing in the middle of the road. There too, it doesn’t lie still. The driver stops the rickshaw and makes a run for it, in spite of my telling him not to bother. A couple of vehicles pass by, but thankfully, they don’t run over it. The driver dodges them and quickly picks up the cap. I see him give it a good dusting, which it doesn’t seem to require anyway. I had told him that I wasn’t going to wear it because it had fallen on the road. But it looks perfectly fine to me when he hands it to me. I sweetly thank him, and he’s as happy as I am.
Further ahead, there’s tight security everywhere. The procession carrying Jagannath’s daaru is approaching from the other side of the road. The driver parks the rickshaw away from the highway so that I can watch the procession carrying the daaru, which would be covered anyway. But a cop sees the parked vehicle and we have to drive off. Maybe tomorrow I will get to see the daaru procession on the way to the artisan village of Pipli. Located 20 km away from the city, on the highway to Puri, Pipli is famous for applique work and hence a popular tourist destination.
The tour of the city’s main temples begins with the Rajarani Temple. By the time we reach there, it’s closed. The driver requests the man behind the ticket counter to let me in, but to no avail. So I employ my art of persuasion. The result is immediate. Since it is past closing time, the man allows me entry without ticket. The small temple is idyllically set amidst well-manicured gardens…
The lavishly carved 11th century AD temple made of sandstone…
The name of the temple comes from the red Rajarani sandstone used in its construction. It’s an abandoned temple with no deity inside to worship. The intricately carved exteriors include female figurines in various poses and moods: amorous dalliances, fondling her child, holding tree branches, looking into the mirror, caressing her pet bird, playing with instruments, etc.
This beautiful garden…
A look behind offers another beautiful picture…
On the way to the next temple, I stop at the sacred Bindusagar (“Ocean Drop Tank”), the city’s largest water body. The driver tells me that it has a drop (“bindu”) of every holy river in it. Between 7th and 12th centuries, thousands of sandstone temples were built around this lake. Of them, some 50-odd have survived, including the mighty Lingaraja Temple, whose rituals are closely associated with this lake.
The Lingaraja temple (to the left) towers the skyline around the lake…
The white-painted structure in the above image is the Brahma Temple sitting on the lake’s eastern embankment.
Three minutes later, the rickshaw stops near the Parsurameswar Temple, an ornate Shiva temple built around 650 AD.
It’s 6:30 pm, and dark with no lights around. A closer look at the striking carvings on the external walls makes me catch my breath. And they are so well-preserved!
Image of Lord Shiva…
Image of Lord Ganesha…
Compared to the exquisite carvings outside, the inner sanctum housing the shiva linga is very simple. A phosphorous bulb glows in the dark, offering a glimpse of the simplicity inside.
Two minutes later, I’m at the Mukteswar and Siddheswar temple complex. Like the Rajarani temple, these two temples are set amidst well-maintained gardens. The 10th century Mukteswar Temple is acclaimed as the gem of Kalinga architecture and is said to be one of the most refined and beautiful temples in Odisha.
It’s a pity then, that such a well-touted place is shrouded in darkness. There are plenty of people hanging around, so I’m unable to understand why the government hasn’t thought about illuminating the place. It’s disappointing not being able to appreciate the architectural beauty of the temple. There is just one bulb glowing in the doorway of the temple.
The highlight of the Mukteswar Temple is this beautifully arched and carved gateway in front of its entrance…
A priest invites me inside the temple and explains a bit about the intricate carvings on the ceiling and the doorway to the inner sanctum which houses the shiva linga.
Carved ceiling of the temple…
The shiva linga…
Hindu temples require visitors to remove their footwear outside before entering the temple premises. So I’m walking around barefoot in the dark, on the grass lawns. It’s totally dark at the close by Siddheswar temple. On the external walls of the temple is this beautiful standing figure of Lord Ganesha, coated in red…
I return to the autorickshaw complaining about the lack of lights. My feet have started itching. Ants, I think. On the way to the Lingaraja Temple, the driver points to a temple which he says is very old. It’s covered in darkness too, like many others that I see around. I’m miffed. These ancient ornate temples would look so gorgeous under night illumination. I voice my thoughts aloud, and the driver agrees. I wonder why the local authorities are turning a blind eye to it.
The last temple in the tour is the majestic Lingaraja Temple, one of the city’s most popular landmarks. A rare masterpiece, this 11th-century temple has been described as “the truest fusion of dream and reality”. Ferguson, the noted British art critic and historian, rated it as one of the finest examples of purely Hindu temple in India. Cameras and mobile phones are not allowed inside…as also, non-Hindus. Even the former Indian prime minister Late Indira Gandhi wasn’t allowed in, as she had married a Parsi. Foreigners can see it from a viewing platform, to the right of the main entrance.
The huge temple complex is encircled by a seven-foot thick wall. Near the entrance, there are a couple of pandas (who provide a guided tour of the temple premises) waiting for visitors. The temple hasn’t got a locker room to keep camera and mobile phone, just a manned – shoe stand where visitors can keep them in addition to their footwear. The place is crowded so I decide to return tomorrow morning. This way, I will get to fully appreciate the beauty of the place as well as take photographs of the temple complex from the viewing platform.
The temple entrance…
It’s 7:30 pm when I return to my hotel. A short distance away from the hotel entrance, there’s an exhibition of textiles and garments. After a quick look around, I walk back and notice a couple of lassi shops lining the road. The cool yoghurt drink looks enticing. There are plenty of takers for it but I satisfy myself watching its preparation. Although the lassi of Bhubaneswar is said to be one of the best, I resist the temptation to try it. The last thing I need is a bout of diarrhoea right on the first day of my trip. It looks as good as the ones served in Mumbai, but with extra toppings including grated coconut.
An hour later, I have a nice dinner of Odisha-style fish curry with steamed rice, and vanilla ice cream at the hotel restaurant. Around 10:30 pm, I’m off to sleep.
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
After breakfast at 7:30 am, I make an enquiry at the front desk for tourist car hire charges to Puri. It costs 1500 rupees. Ideally, I’d have preferred to take a bus. But I want to make a stop at the artisan villages of Pipli and Raghurajpur which are on the way to Puri.
I’m ready to leave when the car arrives at 8:30 am. On the way to the Lingaraja Temple, I stop for a few pictures of the Bindusagar. That’s when I realize that there’s something wrong with my camera. It’s giving blurry pictures. Disappointed, I can only hope that it doesn’t give up on me during the trip.
On arriving at the Lingaraja temple complex, I proceed towards the elevated viewing platform next to one of the boundary walls, to the right of the temple’s main entrance. Wow, it’s a huge complex of temples!
The main temple of Lingaraja towers the skyline at 55 metres…
There are more than 50 smaller temples and shrines in the complex…
Satisfied with the quality of pictures, I return to the parking area to give my camera and mobile to the tourist car driver for safekeeping. I keep my shoes in the car and walk barefoot to the temple entrance. As the name implies, the exquisitely carved main temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Luckily, at this hour, it’s not very crowded as last evening. People here mostly venture out in the evenings because during the day, the heat becomes unbearable. I have already begun to feel it, and it’s only 9:00 am! A panda invites me inside and I start to think that he’s offering his services for a tour of the temple, so I politely decline. He says that he isn’t charging me anything for it. I feel bad about hurting his feelings. Thankfully, he isn’t offended. He shows me the way through the crowded corridor to the inner sanctum which houses the shiva linga. A mix of water, milk and oil has made the granite floor very slippery. Walking gingerly, I step closer to the shiva linga and pay my obeisance. All the while it’s being bathed with milk offered by each devotee.
It’s said that certain parts of this 11th century temple complex are much older and date beyond the 11th century. Small temples and shrines are scattered everywhere. A walk around the complex leaves me enthralled. The beautifully carved ancient structures are so well-preserved, that I have to keep reminding myself that they are more than 1000 years old. And each time, I feel blessed to be here. Besides the main temple, there’s a temple of Goddess Parvati, the divine consort of Lord Shiva, and a chamber where the daily food offerings (“prasad”) are offered to 51 beggars and 51 priests. And there’s a beautiful standing idol of Lord Ganesha on one side of the walls. When I see the black granite idol of Lord Ganesha, I instantly fall in love with it. The shrine is reached by a staircase below which a man is selling ghee lamps. He offers me one and when I ask him for the cost, he merely smiles. When I repeat my question, he tells me to first take the darshan (glimpse or worship) of the Lord. I light up the lamp with the flame of one of the many lamps placed in a corner about five metres away from the idol. It’s a bit breezy, so the ghee lamp flame soon goes out. I return to light it, and then take a step towards the idol. Again, the wind blows off the flame. No wonder devotes have placed their lamps in the corner. After 7-8 failed attempts, I manage to get my flickering lamp close to the idol. The priest seated near the idol has been watching my efforts, and looks pleased. The lighted lamp at the feet of the Lord is nearing its end. So he tells me to place my lamp there. Yeah, sure. But first, I want to do aarti (ritual of worship) of the deity. So I wave the lamp in a circle around the captivating idol. I make one half circle with the lamp and… the flame goes out! Hmmm… A matchbox would have saved me the time and effort, but nobody around has one. So I repeat the exercise again, and again. After a few more tries, I’m able to do the aarti. Whew! After placing my lamp at the feet of the Lord, I climb down the stairs. I’m adamant on paying for my lamp so the lamp seller accepts my money.
I spend a little more than half an hour at this amazing place. It’s sweltering hot and the ground is burning under my bare feet. I hurriedly return to the AC comfort of the tourist car. The next stop before starting for Puri is Dhauli. Yesterday, the autorickshaw driver didn’t take me to the Rock Edicts of Ashoka, which are at the base of the hill opposite to the Japanese Peace Pagoda. I had told him to include it in the tour, but forgot about it in Dhauli. And I realized this only later in my hotel room when I was going through my printed list of places to see in the city.
The 3rd century BC rock edicts are a living testimony to transformation of Emperor Ashoka from Ashoka – the terrible to Ashoka – the compassionate.
On the rock above the inscription, is the sculpted forepart of an elephant. The 2275-year-old rock edicts are housed within a small structure with a see-through glass to view them.
It’s around 10:00 am. My hopes of taking a look at the applique work in Pipli are dashed when the driver tells me that the road leading to the village is closed due to the arrival of Lord Jagannath’s daaru. So, we continue along the highway to the crafts village of Raghurajpur, which is at an hour’s drive. The coastal area is surrounded by coconut and palm trees, swaying in the wind. A stretch of the road is lined by fresh coconut stalls. The driver suggests that I stop for a drink. I buy two, one for him. Each costs 20 rupees. With coconut trees everywhere, I had expected it to be 15 rupees. Still, it’s cheaper than in Mumbai, where the same size would cost 35 rupees.
Some time later, at place called Chandanpur, the car leaves the highway to turn left to drive along a scenic road that leads to Raghurajpur.
Read on here: The Heritage Crafts Village of Raghurajpur in Odisha
From Raghurajpur, Puri is less than 30 minutes away. The second-most popular attraction of Puri, after the Jagannath Mandir, is its “golden” beach. The most popular beach is “Swargadwar”. There are plenty of budget hotels around this place but I prefer a hotel facing a less crowded beach. Hmmm, beach resorts can be expensive…
A little past 12 noon, I arrive in Puri…
Coming soon: East India Travel -2: Puri