Of Beaches, Lakes and Temples

Last month, we took a one day trip to the Orissa coast. Near the end of our one month rigorous training program at Bhubaneswar (I work for a software company), we got a weekend free. So we all hired a cab, a not so comfortable Tata Sumo, and headed for Konark. Thankfully, we had planned a bit and we left at 3 am, in order to reach the beach before sunrise. It is 65 km away from Bhubaneswar and took almost an hour and a half to reach. So we hit the road in the middle of the night, half-asleep, hoping to watch the sunrise at the beach.

It was not a very good start to my journey. Firstly, I had to sit on the back seat, which is uncomfortable. Secondly, I couldn’t enjoy the ride because I was drowsy and could not sleep because the road was a little (I’m playing it down) bumpy. As soon as I got off the car, I realized that I was in shorts and it was chilly outside, because of the sea breeze. So I moved about shivering on the beach. After spending almost 3 hours there, watching the waves, the picture-postcard sunrise and a young couple walking barefoot on the sand (no, I wasn’t jealous), we moved towards the Sun Temple, which is just a 5 minutes drive from the beach. The early tea we had at the beach stalls and the scenic sunrise enthused us with enough steam to last till the breakfast, at least.

The temple, now a World Heritage Site, built in AD 1250, enshrines the image of the Sun-god. The entire complex is designed in the form of a huge chariot drawn by seven horses on twelve pairs of wheels. There were splendid carvings on the walls, especially of the Dance Hall, and on the outside of the Centre Hall structure. “The main temple structure was destroyed by the Portuguese”, the guide told us. “The temple pillars had lots of chumbak in them to support the structure. So their compasses brought them here. They went away with all the chumbak and left the temple in ruins.”

The guide glorified the Dancing Hall carvings and the chumbak story in such a manner that for some time, even I felt love for the carvings and hatred for the Portuguese.

Wooden replicas of the carved wheels that symbolize this temple, can be seen in the shops lining the narrow street up to the temple. There is a museum and a state tourist house nearby. The food in the nearby shops was cheap, though not really appealing to your taste buds (especially if you are a North Indian).

Our next stop was Lake Chilka. It is a brackish water lagoon, India’s largest and the world’s second largest. It took us about two and a half hours to reach. The fields by the highway were lush green with paddy plantations, and introduced me to the scenic beauty of rural India. I almost felt like I was watching a documentary on “Farmers in Orissa” or “Rural East” or “Paddy Power”, maybe.

We reached an island in the lake by a 30 minute boat ride from the coast. At first, looking at the locals cooking seafood on the beach itself made it look like some sort of exotic tourist location. I almost felt richer and more important. We raced up a hillock and had a look at the whole of the island. Watching a large lake merge into the gargantuan Bay of Bengal only a few hundred meters away, gave me goosebumps.

We ran towards the solitary beach, leaving our footprints on the warm white sand of the desert-like island. We spent hours there, walking on wet sand, looking at the clear blue water, the crabs and the birds. On our way back, we had some amazing prawns and crabs, cooked by the humble locals, who would try their best to overcharge you. On the return boat ride we finally got to see some dolphins that the lake is famous for. It is advisable to carry extra clothes as it can get very tempting to go into the seawater. Fortunately, I had some. Also one must carry extra batteries for cameras. It is important to capture such a once in a lifetime experience.

It took us 1 hour to reach from Chilka to Puri, where made a quick stop to visit the Jagannath temple. Apart from the hundreds of temples inside the complex, there is a large replica of the Sun Temple here. There were devotees all around, but what was most evident were the donation boxes and huge fluorescent boards stating that they accept Visa and MasterCard debit/credit cards for donations. Also, what was obvious was the competition among the pundits to earn a quick buck, trying to tempt the devotees with a “paas se darshan” of Lord Jagannath. It was upsetting. After all the beautiful things I had seen during the day, this was perhaps not the best way to end it.

Nevertheless, we “rested” during our ride back to our villas in Bhubaneswar, and got a sound sleep after the long tiring journey. If I were to prepare a list titled “1000 places to visit before I die”, just like a popular travel channel, I would certainly put this in the top 100.

Saahil Juneja

[Image source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrix99/2170787365/]