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March 9th 2013
Published: March 9th 2013
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Bhubaneswar – The Temple City of India

We arrive at Bhubaneswar at 6-40am after an overnight train from Shalimar station, Kolkata. We decide to travel light with rucksacks only leaving our main bags in the hotel in Kolkata – after a small purge of unnecessary gear – as we are returning to the Esplande Chambers Hotel on our return from our short foray into the state of Odisha.

On arrival we negotiate an auto rickshaw to take us to the “Ginger Hotel” some 4-6 kms outside town (R’s 100). The rickshaw breaks down 2 kms along so he does a deal with another to take us the rest of the way. It’s a boutique Hotel, part of the Tata group, and we got a reasonable deal online (but still more than we’ve paid in central Kolkata or Delhi!!). It has a restaurant area and a Café Coffee Day. The décor is a bit Ikea-ish. It’s a standard modern pod built hotel we see a lot of in Europe. There are a whole host of Eco statements and marketing hype statements around which makes one feel that someone ate and digested the MBA marketing book to get a job here. The reception staff are pretty inept – a frequent experience for us in the hospitality world – even the private sector. (As one smart arse once said – “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys” – which seems to apply to the hospitality sector in significant parts of India).

On arrival we are advised that we can pay a half day rate to have the room early, which we decline – we’ll leave the bags and return later. In the meantime we decide to try their breakfast buffet as the food looks good and the price at Rs 195 each isn’t bad. In fact the food is very good – idli’s, paratha, eggs, lots of fresh fruit (which we stuff with), porridge etc. We decide to go for it as we’ll be sightseeing later and may not find anywhere decent for lunch.

After breakfast we ask to complete the check in paperwork to save time later and are handed our room key (at no additional cost!). Other examples of the great customer service ethos here:- the reception staff couldn’t seem to get anyone to fix the TV or give us the free Wi-Fi code so we grab a passing room boy to sort the TV and C stands at the front desk until they give in on the Wi-Fi!!

So after a shower and freshen up we negotiate a deal with the hotel “Travel Manager” and head off. As we have only 2 days here, we decide to take a car to visit some of the highlights of the City sites. B used to have 7000 temples!!! (It’s known as the temple city of India). Now there’s only 500 and about half a dozen or so are supposed to be worthy of a look. There are also some 1st century BC Jain temple caves a few kms away which we decide to go to – Udayagiri and Khandagiri. They can’t compete with Ellora and Ajanta but all the same are a very pleasant surprise. The U caves of which there are about 13 are mainly simple but the Rani ka Naur is on two levels and has some nice carvings, there’s one with a tigers mouth carved entrance and another has some lovely elephants at its entrance. Across the road, K’s main feature is a Jain temple complex at the top of the hill – not much to write home about but the views over Bhubaneswar are interesting even when it’s hot (34 degrees). It’s a place where there are some unusual enterprises; who would have expected there to be a place to get weighed and measured at the entry to a temple!!

We then head off for the main 9 temples of Bhubaneswar –Lingaraj (which only Hindu’s can enter so we see the complex from a viewing platform specially built) & a smaller one nearby, Vaital, Parsurameswar, Mukteswar (the most famous in Odisha), Siddheswar (which has a small pool behind it) & Kedargauri very colourful and gaudy), Raja Rani (which is built of local stone and much appreciated by us as it had toilets!!). It’s the only one we have to pay to enter. Finally the Brahmeswar Mandir. Rs 1000 for the day, not too bad.

Next day we head off by car to Konark to see the Sun Temple (Rs 1500 for the day) - a Unesco listed world heritage site – which is one of the main reasons we came here. It used to be by the sea but is now 3kms inland due to global warming! This large complex has a main temple – built as a chariot for the sun god Surya, and some smaller Mandirs, together with elephant and horse statues – both trampling soldiers!! The carvings are very intricate – especially the chariot wheels around the 4 sides of the temple – many have “erotic” carvings (in some cases quite acrobatic & wholly impractical – one of the many defunct Kama Sutra positions we suspect!). Plus you can also spot a giraffe in one frieze.

On the way to Konark we take a small detour to Pipili which is famous for colourful applique craft – lampshades, temple cloths, wall hangings etc decorated with small mirrors. It makes for a lovely street scene with all the displays on the street. They also have an incredibly fine art of painting on palm leaf which they manage to cut so that one way it hangs showing all gods etc and the other various erotic images. Ingenious!! Indian init!!!!!

We decided not to continue down the road to Puri. Although it’s a beach “resort” it can’t compete with the Andamans, and whilst it also has a famous temple, non-Hindus can’t visit, so the trip seemed pointless to us.

The road journey through villages with rice fields being planted makes it look like Goa or Kerala – with palm trees everywhere. Along the road side are many workshops showcasing amazing stone sculptures in the local Raja Rani Stone. We also notice that many houses have names and drawings on the walls – markings to indicate the houses of newlyweds we think.

We get back late afternoon but go straight to the station to wait in the canteen, and tap into their electric supply to do the blog! We had so much breakfast we still aren’t hungry but instead buy some snacks for on the train journey.

The train to Koraput starts from Bhubaneswar and leaves on time in the evening. Unfortunately, we find we are sharing our section of the coach with the family from hell – joined by more “hells angels” (family members down the line) around midnight, & our section becomes initially the chatting spot at night. C is not impressed and ends up telling them to shut up and move on if they don’t want to sleep!!! And after some sleep it becomes the picnic spot in the morning! We are not sure why but they seemed to be the most inconsiderate (or obnoxious if you like) family or group of people we have come across in our entire trip. Ah well – some you lose! We are mightily relieved when they get off a few stops before we do & bliss is restored & nerves calmed!

Koraput

We arrive at Koraput – considered to be the central base for visits to the local Tribal areas and more specifically the Tribal Markets – the big one is the Thursday market at Onkadelli where the Bonda tribal people come down from their hillside homes to attend a market to trade goods and have a good time (apparently, as alcohol & drugs are on hand. The word is that without this incentive the men will not come and the market may not take place.)

We get a rickshaw to our hotel - the Raj Residency, which is pretty reasonable and seems to be the best hotel in town (a pretty small town). We had tried to book a cab for the day trip to the market with the driver acting as guide, however, despite the guide books & the hotel’s advice we are told we should visit the Tourist Centre first and then go from there to the Local Magistrates to get a Permit for the market. The permit is free and a mere formality but we need to do it anyway. The guide book says we only need permits to visit the villages and not the market – so wrong LP!

Well the visit to the Tourist office is eventful – despite being taken there by someone from the hotel we are led to the wrong office! After some chatting to locals in Hindi (the local language is Odia/Telegu), we are given advice via a phone call to the Manager who has gone home (at mid-day!!) to go to the offices down the road. There we are eventually shown into a little room where the local Tourist Officer resides. Customer Service at its best, having started a conversion with us about what we would like – he takes a phone call and ignores us for what seems like an age.

Eventually the facts: We do need a permit. It would be best to go with a guide or via a local travel agent. He makes a few phone calls and advises us that Photography at the market is forbidden – more news to us or we would not have made the journey here had we known this. Then the piece de resistance he finds us a guide, however, the guide explains that there is a general strike on in India for 2 days (today & tomorrow) and it’s likely that there will be road blocks in the tribal areas as they tend to be the stronghold of the Naxalite Political group. So the bottom line is we decide not to go as the risks outweigh the gain if any!!! (The strikes are political - called by the unions against the government’s plans for liberalising the retail, insurance and other business sectors to foreign investment in India, and reforms of labour laws which are archaic. It’s also a stand against recent oil and food price rises or reduction in government subsidy).

So in summary: we’ve spent two days travelling to go to a morning market that we can’t get to. Great!! C’est la vie – that’s travel for you!!!

We decide to make the best of Koraput instead – as it’s only a small town this won’t take long. The centre of town has many fruit and veg stalls that seem to be run by tribal folk from the tribes, Dongria Kongh and Koya, many of whom are happy to have pictures taken. The women are characterised visually by double nose piercings with either rings or studs, tattoos on the arms and legs, and wear more simple greek-tunic style dresses rather than sari’s. We find that people here are generally quite friendly, there are no beggars and pink is a popular colour in all folk’s attire. The fabric for many of the Sari’s we see is quite different – with striking patterns and often made of cotton rather than silk.

The highlight of the town is the Jagannath Temple, which is supposed to be very similar to the one we couldn’t go to see in Puri. A large area on the way up to the temple houses about 30 “stalls” in which images of all the deities are shown in all their forms, all in black stone and some cloth covered. Around the main temple are more stalls with slightly different versions of the deity Kali – which we have to skip to thanks to the hot stone flooring! No idea how the temple priests can walk so easily on it.

The temple is pretty busy with devotees who come and make offerings, get some blessings (crack open a coconut and light a small oil lamp). The women particularly look colourful in their saris which enhances the scene as the Temple is all white (with a small section of carvings painted black). The various priests look pretty impressive in their orange or yellow robes.

A short walk behind the temple takes you to the Tribal Museum, which is interesting for its info on the diversity of tribes and their categorisation - made by politicians and not reflecting any particular socio basis – though it has major impacts in terms of eligibility for funding support it appears. This has led to some feeling disenfranchised and given growth to the Naxalite movement among them for better freedom, recognition and support.

Our return train journey is at 5.30pm. It’s running thankfully and on time so not affected by the strike as in some parts of India. An even better stroke of luck is that the charger point for the laptop and mobile is actually working (our first such experience in 5 months train travel in India) so we use the laptop to catch up on blogs, plan our Japan trip as we can’t seem to get any accommodation in Kyoto for the dates we had planned (so back to the drawing board) and play patience to while away the happy hours. We are both given lower berths for this overnight journey to Bhubaneswar which goes off without any traumas and we arrive on time. However, we do have to comment on the lack of cleanliness on our journeys on Eastern Railways. So many cockroaches, and other bugs. They could do with going to have some lessons from Central Railways.

The time (5 hours before the train to Kolkata) in Bhubaneswar is spent having a late breakfast at a vegetarian place across the station and then at the “Upper Class Waiting Room” which is a bit of a wreck, but we get a few chairs that have survived and a charging point and we are fine. The train is an AC Chair class with seats as it’s a day time journey. We are pretty lucky again as we get another charger that works so we sort out our planning for Japan, do the blog, and play cards & patience. What a life eh!
What is different about the day travel is enjoying some of the countryside and we must say that Odisha has surprised us by how beautiful it is. It’s pretty fertile and has a few hills and a lot of greenery in places – it’s the palm trees all over that fox us – we did not expect this. The soil near Koraput is very red. The villages are lovely and small and typically Indian. There are many rivers we crossed which again was a surprise.

The journey to Kolkata takes about 7.5 hours, the last ½ hours was taken up just travelling about 1 km into Howrah station at a snail’s pace – however, we are entertained by a few salesmen and a magician who got on the train to earn a few bucks (as they call rupees here). Very enterprising.

Onkadelli – the market we never saw but what the fuss is all about

As we didn’t quite make it here you might wonder why we are writing about it? We feel the area could do with some positive PR. Perhaps the challenge for our next mini trip to India would be to try and visit the Tribal areas in Odisha, Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. This area alone has about 62 different tribal communities. The Kong and Bonda being two of the larger groups.
We have included a few pictures of the 2 tribes so you can get a feel for why we might be attracted to come all this way.


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