Sunday, July 28, 2013

Trip to Konark-Puri : December 2012

In continuation from the trip to Dhauligir, Udaygiri, Khandagiri and Nandankanan.

After lunch at Dalma Restaurant in Bhubaneshwar, we resumed our journey for Konark around 2.00 p.m. The distance between Bhubaneshwar and Konark is 65 kms. After some initial slow movement of traffic in the outskirt of Bhubaneshwar where the road widening work was going on to make Konark/Puri a four-lane road, the journey was smooth. We took a break at Pipli, a small town famous for its appliqué works. There are shops selling appliqué works on both the side of the road making it a very colourful shopping centre. It is also a road junction for bifurcation to Konark and Puri.

A Short Break at Pipli – The Applique Centre of Odisha

The important feature of Pipli town is that each and every family has been associated with applique works for centuries. We entered one of the numerous shops in Pipli selling applique items. Our idea was to know from him the origin of applique crafts in Pipli and its surrounding areas.  According to the shopkeeper, the applique craft was as old as Jagannath temple Puri as the applique craft is closely associated with Jagannath temple and the rath yatras (car festivals). I have noticed from the pictures of Jagannath Rath Yatras that all the raths are covered with sheets (more like canopies) in combination with red and yellow/black/blue cloth  over which a lot of applique works have been done.  Over a period of time, the applique works were fancied by the local as well as tourists visiting Puri and Konark. The traditional crafts that were associated with rath yatras were wall hangings, canopies and umbrellas. Now, the craft has branched out into making pillow covers, lampshades, ladies bags, small purses or even frocks for small girls. 

The display of applique works in the row of shops would give an impression from a distance that some paintings on the main fabric are involved. But in reality, it is only the patch works of fabrics depicting gods, animals, flowers etc stitched on the main fabric supplemented by some mirror works. The miniature designs and borders are done by sewing threads of various colours.  Generally, bright and contrasting colours  of fabrics are used on the base fabric. 

It is obvious that the applique works depicting three gods of Jagannath Temple - Jagannath, Balbadra and Subhadra are in great demand. At the end of our discussion with the shopkeeper, we bought a couple of wall hangings, lampshades and small bags as souvenirs from Pipli.

Applique work on a wall hanging on display at Pipli on way to Konark-Puri
Applique works on a wall hanging with elephants and flowers
Applique work on a star shaped lampshade
Ladies bag with applique works
OTDC's Yatri Niwas in Konark. Kanark Sun temple is less than 1 km from here.

Evening and Night Views of  Konark Sun Temple

Konark Sun Temple is an UNESCO heritage site. Most of the tourists visit Puri and cover Konark Sun Temple either as a day trip while returning to Bhubaneshwar or Puri. We, however, decided to stay overnight in Konark in order to have an evening and night as well as morning views of the Sun temple. We stayed in OTDC’s Yatri Niwas which, in my view, is the best staying option in Konark. We  checked-in at the Yatri Niwas around 4.00 p.m. After some rest and freshening, we walked towards the Sun Temple which is less than one km from Yatri Niwas.

Sun Temple has been built over a model of a huge chariot having intricately carved 24 wheels, drawn by seven horses carrying the Sun god. Each horse is supposed to denote the day of a week and each wheel the hours of the day. It was constructed some time during 12th-13th century in a east-west axis of Sun so that the first rays of the Sun falls on the temple upon sunrise over Bay of Bengal. Sun temple and Nata Mandir (dancing hall) in front of it are made of  sand stones. Since the temple is very close to the sea shores (Bay of Bengal), over a passage of time, the main sanctum sanctorum has crumbled. The roof of the Nata Mandap (dancing hall) in front of the main temple has collapsed. What remains now is only the pillars and the raised platform. The Bhog Mandap (kitchen and dinning hall) on the southern side of the complex has vanished except the base.  Many sculptures and carvings have been eroded after facing vagaries of climate over the years. However, the Jagamohana (audience hall) adjunct to the sanctum sanctorum is almost intact with exquisite carvings.  Still, whatever has remained of temple and sculptures are still awesome and worth viewing before these  also fall victims to the sea wind and climate.

The broken walls of the collapsed structure of the Sun temple have three huge  black stone sculptures  of Sun god on the south, west and north sides each representing the morning, mid-day and setting sun respectively. The erotic sculptures are on the walls of the temple and Jagmohana but I could not locate a single erotic sculpture on the walls and pillars of Nata Mandap (dancing hall).

There was a moderate crowd in the temple complex probably like us to view  Sun temple architecture in the setting sun and also under floodlights in the night. While we took a round of south-western part of the temple to see the sculptures and carvings under the setting sun, regarding the eastern face, the light was not sufficient to take pictures unless one uses flash.  Of course, I could take some close-up pictures even under the poor light condition. After the sunset, floodlights focusing the Sun temple and Nata Mandap (dance hall) were switched on. However, to get the real impact of the floodlights on the monuments, we had to wait for some more time until it was pitched dark when the monuments sparkle in golden colour.

Some pictures of Konark Sun Temple taken in the evening and night are uploaded below :  

Sun temple, Konark seen from the gate in the evening.

Sun Temple Konark - Evening shot - Relief carvings on the southern wall of Nata Mandir.

One of 24 wheels at the southern side base of Sun Temple with relief carvings

  A close up of  an evening shot of  relief carvings on the southern side of Sun temple base.
Sun Temple Konark - Evening shot - Close ups of relief carvings on the southern side of the base of the temple. On the right are an amorous couple in naag-naagin form
Sun Temple Konark - A part of the Nata Mandir in the night under floodlight.

Entrance to Sun temple through  Nata Mandir under floodlight in the night.

Sun Temple in the night under floodlight

Morning View of Konark Sun Temple

We had thought of visiting Chandrabhaga beach, 3 kms from Konark for watching sunrise but in the previous night, we decided to skip it as this would have entail some loss of time for our morning visits to Konark Sun Temple. So we got up early, completed our breakfast and reached Konark Sun Temple by 9.00 a.m. mainly to photograph south-eastern side of the temple when the sun rays fall on them in the morning. We spent about two hours in the temple complex viewing the sculptures and carvings in details which was not possible in the previous evening due to low light and thereafter the floodlights. It may be noted that the intricate nature of the carvings get lost under floodlights. By 11.00 a.m., the sun became too strong for photography as well as for us. So we returned to the comfort of Yatri Niwas.

Some pictures of the morning view of the Sun Temple complex are uploaded below:

Morning view of Sun temple, Konark from the gate

Sun Temple Konark - Morning shot - Entrance to the Nata Mandir of the temple

Sun Temple Konark - Morning shot - The remains of Nata Mandir (dancing hall) with heavily carved base and huge pillars.

The southern side of the high rise platform of Konark Sun temple. On the top of the base is the majorly ruined back side of the main Sun temple.

Sculpture of wo of seven horses of the Sun Temple chariot

Exquisite carvings on the granite stone eastern door frome of Jagamohana (audience hall) of Sun Temple
Carvings  on the bottom part of the granite door frame of the Jagamohana (audience hall) of Sun Temple
Sculptures of two war horses adore on a raised platform on the southern side of the courtyard facing Sun temple

A pair of monolithic elephants on the northern side of the courtyard of Sun Temple

Idol with damaged hands facing the northern side from the sun temple.
The broken idol of Sun god deity facing the south side
Idol of Sun God with broken hands facing western side of the wall of Sun Temple
The intricate carvings on the pedestal of the entrance of now ruined Chhayadevi temple in Konark temple complex

Outlet for sacred oblations in the form of a crocodile holding a fish, attached to Chhayadevi Temple inside Konark temple complex.

To Puri

After a quick lunch in the restaurant of Yatri Niwas, we departed for Puri around 1.00 p.m. by hiring a Maxima van @ Rs.700/- for Puri drop. The distance between Konark and Puri is 30 kms through the marine drive (coastal drive).  After about 3 kms from Konark, we stopped at Chandrabhaga beach for some time. The beach was clean and there was not much of a crowd. At some distance, I could see rows of fishing boats parked on the beach. Probably, the beach is used by fishermen as base for their fishing activities.

After spending about 30 minutes on the beach, we resumed our journey to Puri. From here, the entire journey is all along the coast. The road is excellent with dense trees lined up on both sides of the road. I could see displays of some authorised picnic spots all along the costal side. We reached Puri by 2.30 p.m. and checked in OTDC’s Pantniwas located at the Puri beach. Because of its location and the value for money, Pantniwas gets booked well in advance especially during Rath Yatra and November-February peak season.

After some rest, we strolled on the beach until dark. Even in the night, there was some crowd as the beach is well lighted.  Contrary to my expectation, the beach was clean and sea was calm. 

Chandrabhagha beach

A fisherman in his boat is about to spread his fishing net in sea off Chandrabhaga beach

Konark-Puri Marine Drive

A beach island between Sea and back water somewhere off Konark-Puri Marine Drive

View of Puri beach from Pantniwas room
Puri beach after sunset

Visit to Jagannath Temple and Puri Beach

Today was the important day of our stay in Puri as we were slated to visit Jagannath temple of the east, one of the four dhams of India located in the four directions – the other three being Badrinath in the north, Dwarka in the west, Rameshwaram in the south. While we had already visited, Badrinath, Dwarka and Rameshwaram many years back, visit to Jagannath temple eluded us despite planning to visit Bhubaneshwar many times. Visit to Jagannath temple was always a tricky issuefor me because of a large pilgrim crowd that throng the temple almost throughout the year. I had also heard about the harassment of pilgrims by pandas of the temple. Somehow, I do not like to visit any place including the temples where there is a congregation of large crowd. But having visited Puri and not visiting Jagannath Temple can be an awkward situation for me. To make sure that we over come all sort of problems both real and imaginary, I had kept one full day exclusively for Jagannath temple.

In the previous day, I had apprised the Manager of Pantniwas, Puri of our intention to visit Jagannath temple the next day and was taking his guidance in having a smooth darshan at the temple. He said that one senior panda of the temple often visit Pantniwas to take the visitors to Jagannath temple in the morning. In case he comes, he would call me to talk to him. As expected, Panda came to Pantniwas in the evening and I met him. His plan was that he would buy the special tickets for darshan which opens just before the timing for special darshan starts and send an auto rickshaw at 7.30 pick up from Pantniwas. I agreed to his proposal. But having negative impression of pandas of Jagannath temple, I was apprehensive about  fleecing me for arranging the darshan under the guise of special darshan tickets. As I later understood from the Manager also from other employees of Pantniwas, our Panda would take dakshina (offerings) of whatever the amount we pay without any reservation on his part.

We got up early in the morning and completed our morning chores to be ready before the 7.30 a.m. As promised, two auto rickshaws came to the hotel at the appointed time to take four of us to Jagannath temple which was at the distance of about 2 kms from Pantniwas. At the temple’s main gate, our Panda was waiting for us with tickets to take inside the temple. After security check at the gate, we entered the temple complex which looked quite bigger than what one could imagine seeing it from outside. There was a big queue for darshan inside the temple complex. But according to our Panda, the queue was not as long as normally seen on most of the days. He virtually dragged us through the pilgrim crowd to the queue for special ticket darshan. I found that there were about 50 persons ahead of us.  After about 5 minutes, we were ushered inside the cave like round sanctum sanctorum of the temple. There were many deities inside the sanctorum with the deities of Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra occupying the middle part. There were as many pandas inside the sanctorum as he deities, each competing with others to take the visitors to their folds. Our Panda had cautioned us not to keep much cash in hand to place at the feet of deities as some of the pandas have been known to snatch all the cash in hand of pilgrims to place at the feet of the deities knowing very well that no pilgrim would take a part of cash back once kept at the feet of the deities.  I noticed that one of the Pandas actually did the same thing as told to us by our Panda.

Despite relatively less crowd, the atmosphere in the sanctorum was a bit chaotic more because of pandas than the pilgrims. Nevertheless, it was a smooth darshan for us contrary to our expectation. We were inside the sanctorum for about 10 minutes and completed the parikrama (round) of the sanctorum which itself was a luxury as in normal days, the security staff would just push the pilgrims out immediately after darshan to avoid  overcrowding inside the sanctorum. We could not believe that our darshan of Lord Jagannath was over in less than one hour from the start from Pantniwas and by 8.30 a.m., we were out completing a round of other subsidiary temples inside the complex. Photography inside the temple is strictly prohibited.

It was such a great relief for us when our visit to Jagannath temple ended with a smooth darshan without any fleecing by temple pandas. Our Panda did not take any money from us by saying that he would visit us in the evening. We return to Pantniwas by 9.00 a.m. We took breakfast in Pantniwas’s restaurant which was included in the room tariff. After some rest, we hired two auto rickshaws to market around Jagannath temple for some window shopping. In the event, we bought a couple of Odiya sarees and bed sheets  having the typical Odisha handicraft. We were back to Pantniwas by 12 noon. During our absence, our Panda had arrange to send us a packet full of exotic Odiya sweets Malpuri with Rabdi which were very tasty.

Post lunch, we rested in the afternoon. After evening tea and some snacks, we proceeded to Puri beach, this time actually to play in the sea water. The sky was clear and the chance of watching a great sunset over Bay of Bengal was cent percent. After sunset, we were to visit a sand artist’s place on the beach itself. However, the place was closed from all the four sides as the sand artists were still working on a theme befitting the Christmas. All I could see from outside after standing on a makeshift platform was a sculpture of a Chirstian saint and Santa Clause made up of sands.

As we returned to Pantniwas, our Panda came to our room bringing with him the prasad (Lord Jagannath's offereings) for all of us. He gave discourses on some important temples in Bhubaneshwar and Puri in general and about Jagannath Puri temple in particular. After the completion of his discourses, I happily paid Rs.1001/- to him as dakshina (offering) on behalf of our two families.

Glimpses of Jagannath temple seen from a narrow lane.
Jagannath temple seen from the road side. It is said that the Arun Kambha (the pillar on the left) belonged to Sun Temple Konark but it was removed and installed here during the Maratha rule.

A long shot of Puri beach
  Sun about to set in over Bay of Bengal off Puri beach

Sand sculpture of a Christian saint on Puri beach on the eve of X'mas.

Puri beach in the night

With this, our visit to Puri was almost complete, looking forward to a day visit to Chilika Lake on the next day.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Trip to Dhauligiri,Udaygiri- Khandagiri Caves and Nadankanan : December 2012

In continuation of Bhubaneshwar - The Temple City

Our plan for the day was to visit Nandankanan Zoological Park and while returning, to visit Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves.  It dawned to me as well as to our driver in the morning of our schedule visit that it was Monday and Nandankanan was closed on Mondays. For the next day, we had planned to leave Bhubaneshwar for Konark and on the way we were to visit Dhauligiri. With Nandankanan closed on Monday, we had to change our itinerary substituting Dhauligiri for Nandankanan which we would have to cover the next day before proceeding to Konark.

Dhauligiri – Shanti Stupa and Ashoka Rock Edicts

After breakfast, we proceeded first to Dhauligiri which is about 8 kms from Bhubaneshwar city centre off Bhubaneshwar-Konark road. Being working days, there was some traffic on the road preventing an uninterrupted drive to Dhauligiri. Also, the work of upgrading the Konark road to four lanes was also in progress. All these added to some traffic chaos on the Konark road until we took a diversion to a two lane road to the right for a further 3 kms of drive for reaching Dhauligiri.

After climbing some steps to reach on the top of Dhauli hill, there were further steps to climb to Shanti Stupa ( also called Peace Pagoda). The whole complex is so peaceful and serene that one cannot imagine that the bloody Kalinga war was fought  on the banks of Daya river flowing below the complex. Now, not only a Peace Pagoda here, one can have a spectacular view of Daya river from Shanti Stupa flanked by farms on both sides of the river.

The Shanti Stupa was constructed by Japanese Buddha Sangh in 1972 as a symbol of peace and non-violence. It was here that Emperor Ashoka, after the bloody Kalinga war, laid down arms and accepted the principle of non-violence as taught by Buddhism.  The Stupa has four idols of Gautam Buddha facing the four directions in different poses. There are also some motifs on the stone panels on the walls of Stupa.

At the base of the Dhauligiri, there are shops of curios, dry fruits and spices. We found that dry fruits and spices were sold here much below the market prices. These appear to be of rejected qualities at the factory and sold here in sealed plastic covers preventing the checking of the contents. The tourists should be circumspect about the quality of dry fruits and spices sold here.

While returning from Shanti Stupa, we stopped for some time to see Ashoka Rock Edict which is about one km before Shanti Stupa. Presently, this giant rock edict is protected from the top by a cemented slab and covered on its three sides by fixed glass panels. So inscriptions on the rock can be seen only through the glass.

Some pictures taken at Dhauligiri with captions are uploaded below:
Shanti Stupa at Dhauligiri which is about 8 kms from Bhubaneshwar city centre off the road to Puri-Konark

Shanti Stupa has four Buddha statues in different poses facing four directions. This one is facing the stone staircase leading to the Stupa.
Standing Buddha in Shanti Stupa

Reclining Buddha in Shanti Stupa

Sitting Buddha in Shanti Stupa
View from Shanti Stupa Dhauli. The river in the middle is called Daya river. It is said that during the Kalinga war, the colour of this river turned red due to blood of the many dead persons. With this the realisation came to King Ashoka about the magnitude of horror came with a war.
Rock edict of King Ashok on the side of the road to Dhauligiri. This rock inscriptions belong to about 250 B.C. and are about the principles of Buddhism of peace and non-violence.
Udaygiri-Khandagiri Caves

From Dhauligiri, which is located south-west of Bhubaneshwar, we had to travel about 15 kms to the north-west to reach Udaygiri-Khandagiri caves. Both these caves hills are located opposite to each other bisected by NH-5 though the entry to both these cave hills is through a town road off NH-5. Both these caves are maintained by ASI and there is a entry fee of Rs.5/- per head for Indians and citizens of SAARC countries and Rs.100/- per head for foreigners. Entry for children below 15 years is free.

As soon as we entered Udaygiri cave complex, we were greeted by a group of langoors. Surprisingly, they were docile and did not bothered the visitors. There are 18  caves in the complex located on a hill but for those who are short of time, caves like Ranigumpha, Hathigumpha, Ganeshgumpha are worth spending some time. While Hathigumpha and Ganeshgumpha do not have many carvings, they are important for rock inscriptions. Ranigumpha is the only group of caves which are double story structure and the largest among other cluster of caves with intricate carvings on the top of the doors of the caves as well as on the walls. In my view, Ranigumpha is the most impressive cave among the caves of Udaygiri-Khandagiri cave complexes. Many of the wall carvings have been damaged probably over a period of time as they are made on sand stones which are delicate stones. The caves are very simple as these were probably used as dormitories for Jain bhikshus (monks).

On the top of Udaygiri hills is the remains of a apsidal ( semi-circular part of the base of a structure) belonging to C.1st B.C. which was excavated in 1958. Hence, it is assumed that Udaygiri caves may have been constructed during 1st B.C. The apsidal base reminded me of similar type of cave structure I have seen in Karla Buddhist caves in Lonavala (near Pune). Hence, this place may have been a prayer hall for Jain monks. From Udaygiri hilltop, Digambar Jain temple on the Khandagiri hills is visible  but not the caves underneath it.

Khandagiri caves are located on a hill just opposite Udaygiri cave hill across the road. Unlike Udaygiri caves which can be reached on the stone stairs, Khandagiri caves and the Jain temple atop can be reached by ascending on a rocky/stony path after an initial short distance on a stony stairs. Here also, we encountered a big group of langoors at the entrance but they did not trouble us. 

Khandagiri caves are simple and its carvings depict stories of day to day life. On Khandagiri hill top is an active Digambar Jain temple which was reconstructed sometime in 19th century. From the hilltop, one can see the south-east part of Bhubaneshwar city and the airport. 

After the completion of our visits to Udaygiri-Khnadagiri, we took a break for lunch at Dalma Restaurant to try Odiya thali meals. It was first time for all of us to taste some Odiya cuisine. We ordered for vegetarian thali meals and liked it so much that  we repeated the same on the next day on our way to Konark.

After lunch, we returned to our hotel room around 3.00 p.m. With some afternoon siesta followed by tea, we were ready for some shopping trip in the evening. 

Some pictures taken at Udaygiri-Khandagiri with captions are uploaded below :  
Approach to Udaygiri caves

Ranigumpha Cave, Udayagiri

Carvings on the door head of one of the caves of Ranigumpha Cave

Ranigumpha caves seen from the roof of the caves.

Hathigumpha Cave. This cave has not much carvings but it has some very old inscriptions on the rock.

On way to the top of the cave hills there is Baagh cave (left) known as tiger cave (Cave No. 12) due to its resemblance of tiger's face.
On the top of the cave hills lies an excavated apsidal Jain Shrine believed to be of 2nd Century BC

A langoor with her kid in Udaygiri caves

Jain temple atop Khandagiri hills seen from Udaygiri caves. Below the temple on the right side are Khandagiri caves

Carvings on the top of a cave door in Khandagiri caves

A bird's eye view of Udaygiri caves  from Khandagiri caves. Both these hills are located opposite to each other intersected  by a road

View of Bhubaneshwar city from Khandagiri caves. Airport runway is in the background.

A typical vegetarian thali meals with Odiya cuisine in Dalma Restaurant, Bhubaneshwar

Nadankanan Zoo and Botanical Gardens

In the previous day, we had arranged for an Innova (instead of Indica) for taking us to Nadankanan and thereafter to drop at Konark. Next day, after breakfast, we checked out from the hotel and commenced our trip to Nadankanan at around 9.00 a.m. The 20 kms journey from our hotel took about 30 minutes to reach the destination. There was a big queue for ticketing as only one counter was opened. Fortunately, another counter was soon opened and we got the entry tickets quickly. The entry fee is Rs.20/- per head for Indians and Rs.100/- per head for foreigners. In addition, there is a camera fee of Rs.10/-. The zoo and botanical garden are open between 8.00 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. Those who do not wish to walk can hire the battery operated open van to see the zoo. We decided to walk and hired a guide (Rs.150/-) available from the pool of guides authorised by Nandankanan Zoo.

The Zoo is divided into two parts – animals in enclosures and animals freely roaming in the Zoo. After watching some caged animals, birds, reptiles etc, we got into the Safari bus (Rs.40/- per head) for watching lions and tigers freely moving in the park. At one place, we got to see a pair of lion and lioness very close to our bus. When our bus stopped for watching them, the lion started roaring as if to show his displeasure of our intrusion in his privacy! The only disappointment was that we could not see any white tiger while on safari though we did see one white tiger in an enclosure. All in all, we were happy to note that the zoo was kept neat and with natural paths. We also found that all the animal and birds’ enclosures were very clean. After completion of the safari tour, we visited the aquarium (entry fee Rs.10/- per head) having some exotic marine lives. All these activities took us about 2 hours 30 minutes.

In fact, one should plan a full day visit to Nandankanan  as the place has lot of things to do especially if children are accompanying. A round of botanical garden which is a part of Nandankanan Sanctuary may take at least one hour to complete. Then are facilities for boating, toy train and ropeway to cross the lake etc. I noted that most of the local visitors had come for a day’s picnic in the Botanical garden where there are designated places for picnic. There is a separate charge for day picnickers depending upon the number of people in a group. In addition, there are a few guest houses inside the Botanical Garden area.

There is a restaurant inside the Zoo. We thought of taking lunch there before proceeding to Konark. However, lunch order has to be placed well in advance. So we decided to skip the lunch here. Instead we took lunch at Dalma Restaurant on our way to Konark.

Some pictures of Nandankanan with captions are uploaded below:

Nandankanan - A fountain on the junction soon after entering the zoo set the positive mood for the visitors.

Nandankanan - A Battery operated mini van for those who do not wish to take a long walk to see the zoo animals, reptiles and birds. This vehicle is specially a boon to senior citizens and children

Nandankanan - Brahminy Kite

Nandankanan - Mandarin ducks

Nandankanan - Close up of a Painted Stork. Its beak is so sharp that it can crack bones.

Nadankanan - A lone chimpanzee, his mate having left him.

Nandankanan - A gharial is out of the artificial lake to have a 'sun bath'

Nandan Kanan - A lion and lioness resting just outside our Safari bus.

NandanKanan - This White tiger refused to give a pose for my camera.

Nandankanan - A tiger on its round

Nandankanan - Full grown leopard resting on a stone slab inside the enclosure.

Next Blog : Trip to Konark-Puri