We began the year 2020 with a trip to the golden city – Jaisalmer. Little did we know what 2020 had in store for us. However, we still managed to close the year with a memorable trip to a hidden gem in the east – the state of Odisha! The first thing that hits you when you land in the capital city of the state- Bhubaneshwar is the neat and clean roads. Kudos to the people and the government for setting high standards in terms of hygiene!
Bhubaneshwar is rightly termed ‘City of temples’ and is home to close to 700 of them. What makes each one of them unique is their Kalingan style of architecture which is intricate, aesthetic and weather withstanding. One such temple is the Mukteshwar temple. This temple is considered to be a dancer’s delight, thanks to the intricate mudras on the temple walls.
Given that the emperor of the mighty Kalinga empire – Ashoka had turned towards Buddhism after seeing bloodshed during the Kalinga war, Bhubaneshwar is also home to the famous Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves.
These caves are partly natural and partly man made in the hills. They have a number of finely and ornately carved caves. It is believed that most of these caves were carved out as residential blocks for Jain monks. Each cave or ‘gumpha’ has been named as well – a few after animals and a few on popular charachters!
After a short trek into these 2000 year old gumphas it was time to satiate our taste buds with the famous ‘rasogollahs’. We visited an area – Pahala. At least 50 shops on either side of the road, each one selling hot rasogollahs floating in varied consistencies of sugar syrup welcomed us. The ‘Humsafar’ had reached his paradise and was confused seeing the sheer variety. Each one was a delight ! Unlike the rasogollahs we get here, each one had a unique taste, some had a flavour filled surprise in it’s center ! Some of them were spongy and some of them were harder. But all of them tasted great!
By the way we were told that Odisha won the war against Kolkatta on the topic ‘Which state does the rasogollah belong to ?’ Will have to make a visit to West Bengal to hear their side too!
On our second day in the city, we decided to visit the Mangalajodi Bird Sanctuary – on the backwaters of the vast Chilika lake. This part of the lake is swampy and hardly about 3 – 4 feet in depth. We spotted several migratory birds as we mendered through the narrow water ways in the lake.
We spotted Brahminy Shelducks, Open Bill stork, Purple Heron, Cormorant and Kingfishers among many others .
After a day and a half in Bhubaneshwar, we headed to the Amazon forest of India – Bhitarkanika. This is one of the biggest mangrove forests, home to crocodiles and alligators – some of them at least 22ft – 24 ft in length, home to a variety of migratory birds such as the Brown wing Kingfisher , monitor lizards and rare fish such as mudskipper. Enroute to this national park, we had a little pit stop at Salehpur – home to the oldest rasogolla shop – Bikalananda Kar!
We checked into our tents at Sands and Pebbles resort before going on a safari of a different kind! The tents were comfortable and cosy not to forget the mouth watering food!
A national park for the mighty amphibians and a safari through the deep mangrove forests to spot them. Strangely, these creatures are scared of boats, since the rudders hurt them. We managed to spot 2 Enormous CROCODILES ( maybe Roald Dahl made a visit here before penning his book of the same name 🙂 ) .One of them basked in the sun as we ‘ooooed ‘ and ‘aahhed ‘ in awe, the other one swished his mighty tail and went underwater!
Seeing these crocodiles in such close proximity made me a little cautious and a teeny bit scared too! During the safari, we hopped off at a little island and trekked for a kilometer inside the mangrove forest , walked on the roots of the Sundari tree and enjoyed observing the unique root system it had.
The last leg of our travel had a fair bit of history, mystery and intrigue attached to it! We were all excited to visit Konark – home to the prestigious Sun Temple. This temple was built almost 13 centuries ago. Literature says that the idol of the sun god used to levitate in mid air – thanks to a complex arrangement of huge magnets around the statue in the sanctum sanctorium – an idea conceived and executed by King Narasimhadeva of the Ganga dynasty. However , it is believed that the magnets were robbed off because of the strength of these magnets altered the magnetic compasses on ships back in the days causing them to get lost!
The Sun Temple in Konark exhibits the traditional Odisha style of architecture, also known as Kalinga architecture, on a grand scale. It is designed as a massive chariot mounted on 12 pairs of intricately carved giant stone wheels that are drawn by a set of seven mighty stone horses. Unfortunately, the ASI could help restorate only one of the 7 horses. Each wheel on the temple base apparently denotes an hour in a day. Depending on the shadow position, they were able to determine time! Math wayyyy ahead of it’s time!
The stories about the sun temple are certainly intriguing and make for an interesting read!
The sun temple had been built on the shore of the Chandrabhaga beach. Over time the sea has receded but the beach still has it’s own charm! However, the Puri Beach – the Golden beach is much better and perhaps the cleanest beach in India with not even a speck of dirt in sight.
At a distance of about 40 kms from Puri, a little village Satapada is home to the famous Irawaddy dolphins – an endangered species of dolphins . Unlike the courageous and friendly bottle nosed dolphins, these dolphins are very timid and shy. Fondly known as the smiling dolphins, they can be found about 20 kms from the Satapda coast in the huge Chilika lake. We were lucky to spot 3 dolphins at a distance of about 30 feet ( the government doesnt allow boats to go closer ). We saw the fins go in and out, up and down , saw one of them bob their heads right up. I was lucky to get a reallly long shot but nothing as good as the eye!
The Irawaddy dolphins usually attempt to go to the sea, but often get intimidated by the bottle nosed dolphins and return back to the lake! The government is taking all measures to ensure that these endangered beauties are protected !
Head full of memories, phones overflowing with pictures , we returned home safe and sound on the last day of the year that was! Praying to go for a fabulous 2021 and many more travels for the musafir and all other Musafirs!!!