Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Odisha odyssey II

The famous OTDC bus
Leaving the Chandrabhaga beach, we drove on the marine drive leading to the famous religious town of Puri. There was something special about the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) bus. It ferried the India and Australia teams to Cuttack.

The bus driver and conductor narrated the story to our Oriya friend. Then he translated the experience to us. They were kept in 24-hour scrutiny for days ahead of the trip to Cuttack. While driving the team to Cuttack, a cavalcade of security personnel accompanied the bus. Not only that, during the entire match period, they remained in the bus guarded by tight security. They were thoroughly checked before even entering the bus. The bus itself was checked many a times to ensure that nothing suspicious was lying around. Still they were happy to tell that they served the cricket players who are held as superstars in the country.     

I imagined – might be the helicopter shot hitter Mahendra Singh Dhoni or the prolific run machine Virat Kohli had occupied the seat I was sitting on.

Lord Jagannath and the largest open-air hotel in the world
While driving from Chandrabhaga to Puri, our host friend told us the importance of the Jagannath Temple. Being one of the major four Dhamas (the most sacred centre of pilgrimage and worship) for the Hindus, the temple and the surroundings remains crowded most of the time. And only Hindus are allowed inside the temple premises. Our friend also admonished us not to be trapped by the Pandas, the priests at the Jagannath Temple. They start following the pilgrims and dupe them in the pretence of leading to the darshan (sighting) and pooja (worship) of the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra in the temple.

The Jagannath Temple, also known as White Pagoda, has four gates – the east facing is called the Lions Gate and the ones facing north, south and west are similarly known as the Elephant Gate, the Horse Gate and the Tiger Gate respectively. The temple is said to have been built by emperor Anangabhimadeva, historically identified as Angangabhima III belonging to Ganga dynasty. Some historians are of the opinion that the construction commenced during the reign of emperor Chodagangadeva, the founder of the dynastic rule in Odisha.

As we entered the temple along with the sea of other people, we had to cross two barricades of Pandas to get the darshan of Lord Jagannath from a distance. In spite of the cacophony of the crowd peace and tranquillity prevailed in the premises. There was a feeling indescribable, the devotion overflowed from within. 

While I was doing rounds of the temple, a huge crowd had gathered at the eastern end of the temple. All necks were craned towards the temple top. A Panda was climbing the 214 feet and 8 inches tall temple to change the flag. It was a daring task and even more dangerous to climb the platform on top of the Shikhara (Sanskrit word for mountain peak, Hindu temples are either of pagoda style or shikhara style).

We waited for a while, watched the spectacle and then went to Anand Bazaar (Happy Market), the largest open-air hotel in the world, as described by our friend from Bhubaneswar. There are stalls everywhere having huge earthenware pots containing cooked rice, dal (cooked lentils) and different types of vegetable curry and sweets. The good thing about the stalls is that devotees irrespective of caste and creed eat the Mahaprasada (offered to Lord Jagannath) together. The blessed offering (prasad) is called Mahaprasad as it is believed that Lord Vishnu bathes at Rameswaram, meditates at Badrinath, dines at Puri and rests at Dwarika. Dry sweets are also available at the Anand Bazaar which are preferred by the tourists to carry back home.

Towering Lingaraja
Returning back to Bhubaneswar, I visited Lingaraj, the largest temple in Bhubaneswar. The 180 feet towering temple is dedicated to Harihara, a form of Lord Shiva. Harihara is referred as Tribhuvaneswara (also called Bhubaneswar), the master of three worlds – heaven, earth and netherworld. It's a must visit site in Bhubaneswar. But only Hindus are allowed inside the temple.    

The temple is believed to be built by the Somavanshi king Jajati Keshari in 11th century.

Missed Chilika
Luckily, I had to go to Aska in Ganjam district of Odisha. I had wanted to visit the place since the cyclone Phailin struck on 12 October 2013. On the way, I could estimate the size of catastrophe. Everywhere I could see huge trees uprooted. Houses were damaged and at places the destruction done could be seen in the fields.   

Returning back to Bhubaneswar, we stopped by a roadside tea stall. Like mango trees on planted along the highway in Nepal, cashew nut trees adorn the roadside. The tree was new to me and to my camera as well!

While sipping tea, I roamed around the small shops making a beeline along the National Highway. At the end of the shops few women vendors were selling fish. Seeing a horde of varieties I asked the source and to my surprise one of the ladies said Chilika.

Being a conservation enthusiast, I had heard a lot about Chilika Lake. Chilika is the largest lagoon in India and ranks second in the world. It is a Ramsar site of international significance and home to many migratory birds during the winter season. Covering an area of over 1,100 square kilometres, it is lifeline for many villages and fishermen residing in the area.   

When I clicked pictures of the catch, the fisherwoman requested me to take a snap of her as well. I obliged and showed her the photo. She smiled back and offered me a fish.     

Nearby another lady was selling crabs from Chilika. They looked so different from the ones found in our part of the world. I could not wait to get Chilika. So I asked the driver to take us to the shores of Chilika. However, it was already dark and there was no point visiting the site. With heavy heart, I had to return to Bhubaneswar. It was a missed chance. A precious one. After that I kept mum throughout the journey. 


Anuradha said...

so happy to tell u that i visited the Chilika Lake in July this year...its VAST n beautiful ! though i cudnt explore the whole lake, watever i cud see was really nice...hope u are able to visit it sometime in of luck !!!

Sanjib Chaudhary said...

Thanks Anu. Obviously I would pay a visit to Chilika.