Odisha(Orissa), an artist’s haven

Our long-planned trip to Odisha or Orissa, finally materialized in January 2011. The weather was perfect, the destination was charming.

During the taxi ride from Biju Patnaik Airport, Bhubaneshwar, to our hotel, we remained rivetted to the windows.  In this city, arts and crafts emporia abound, beautiful sculptures adorn lawns and small gardens, vibrant paintings cover walls, bridges, flyovers. A veritable artist’s haven.

The next day, we were ready to set out and explore the state. Our unanimous choice for the day was the Sun Temple, Konark. The drive to Konark, a distance of about 60 km from Bhubaneshwar, was a pleasant one. The narrow highway passes through lush fields, little villages. The village of Pipli, on this route, is famous for its handicrafts, particularly applique work. Rows of shops exhibit this beautiful work, making a very pretty picture!

At Konark, we engaged the services of an ASI-authorized guide (Tip: There is a board at the entrance to the monument, displaying the list of approved guides). The first glimpse of the Sun Temple left us spellbound. An imposing stone structure, this World Heritage site is built in the form of the chariot of the Sun God. The intricate architecture covering every inch of the structures is stunning. As our guide explained the history of the temple’s construction, the details of the innumerable sculptures, the functioning of the sun dial on the wheels of the chariot and the story of the main tower’s destruction, we were mesmerized. In my mind, I pictured the famous Konark Dance Festival taking place here – it must be such an amazing experience. A few years ago, the venue of the festival was changed from the Sun Temple to elsewhere in Konark. We wanted to photograph every sculpture, every story told in the carvings – from the odd giraffe among the native animals, the beautiful anticipatory expression on a lady’s face (waiting for her husband to return, said the guide :)), the cute smile on a child’s face, to the scenes from mythology and the scenes depicting the construction of this temple. The tower that exists today is about 128 feet high. The main temple, which is believed to have been destroyed, is said to have towered at a height of 228 feet. What a marvel it must have been! After cooling our heels at one of the benches in the shade, we were ready to return to Bhubaneshwar.

The Nandan Kanan zoo, situated in the outskirts of the capital of the Odisha, has a sprawling campus. The maps and directions helped us to a great extent in getting our orientation correct every time. The toy train ride is an amusing one, as always :). It chugs through some scrub forest and passes by the banks of the picturesque Kanjia lake. The lion and white tiger safaris are other popular attractions here. I was impressed by the size of the enclosures here, among the biggest I have seen so far. Some are so big that it is very difficult to spot the animal in them.

On the way to Puri (around 60 km from Bhubaneshwar), we stopped at Dhauli, where the Shanti Stupa or Peace Pagoda is located. This monument, located on a hilltop, has a beautiful view of the surroundings – lush fields, the Dayanadi and a lot of greenery. Sculptures of Lord Buddha and scenes from King Ashoka’s life are depicted on the monument. It is said that this was the location where Ashoka renounced war and embraced Buddhism after the immense bloodshed during the Kalinga war.

At Puri, we visited the famous Jagannath temple. Several small temples (dedicated to various deities) and the main shrine (with idols of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balaram) are located in the complex. After the darshan we spent a long time admiring the architecture of the structure.  The elaborate sculptures took us back to Konark for a brief period of time :). As in most temples, cameras were not permitted, so the images had to be stored in our minds :). A massive kitchen hall in the complex is the venue for ‘bhog’ (food) preparation every day. An enormous quantity of food is prepared here for ‘offering’ to the Lord.

Besides these visits, we managed a quick shopping trip to Ekamra Haat, a handicrafts emporium in the capital city. A variety of stalls exhibit colourful art and craft work from around the state. Picking up a couple of souvenirs from here, we headed back to the hotel.

Our first visit to the state of Orissa was an enjoyable one. We still have trips to Chilka lake, Gopalpur-on-Sea, Chandipur pending, so we’ll come back for more :).