Rain stopped, clouds vanished, and sky was now filled with bright colors of moon and stars. It was that usual phenomenon when days are overcast and nights are clear. Sound of high tide sea waves was audible till the T-junction where auto guy dropped me. I was hunting an accommodation at Chakra Tirtha (CT) road which runs parallel to the beach and lined up with hotels, taverns, restaurants and souvenir shops. During cross cultural movements of 60’s, Puri was one of the favorites among hippies to kick-back, break journey before wending their way to tropical paradises of South East Asia or perhaps to drink Bhang (Legalized here) or to smoke pot. Glimpse of hippie influence can still be seen but now Puri largely attracts Hindu pilgrims or Bengali vacationers when its holiday in Kolkata. By the time I landed in Puri, it was reconnected with power supply yet aftermath of cyclone was still quite evident. Close by I heard of milling crowd splashing with dark tidal waves. At last I lodged in a room which I got only after making up the story in which I always play protagonist, the travel writer... Everything before midnight…
Long and Sandy beach of Orissa
Home of one of the holiest Hindu shrines in India, Puri is a coastal town which attracts all type of tourists. Jagannath Temple is the prime attraction for the pilgrims. Long and sandy beaches of Puri occupy Indian vacationers. Looking for spiritual high, Foreign hippies generally sit back in Ashrams and enjoy the readily available Bhang. Puri is also the most preferred base for day trips to Chilika (Satpada) and Konark Temple. With its overwhelming tourist facilities and good food, Puri is the best place to kick-back and rejuvenate backpacking spirit.
Chakra Tirtha Road Puri
Scene outside the Jagannath Temple
In the morning, I missed the coveted sunrise of eastern coast yet again. It was a dull morning, partially overcast with intermittent drizzling. Shops were yet to open and it took a while to find a place for breakfast. Soon after I headed to Jagannath Temple, one of the four temples in Chardham pilgrimages of Hindus, and a highlight of Orissa. Frequent city buses and shared Autos ply till the Temple gate which has stringent security due to its religious significance. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple premises and they generally peek from the rooftops of hotels nearby or from the Library which lies just opposite to the temple entrance. It’s a huge complex and employed thousands of people to perform daily rituals, to manage temple’s kitchen and other task. Like any other famous pilgrim site of the country, absolute reverence of the place also brought its drawbacks such as preferences in the queue on money basis, priests chasing devotees for some special rituals, insistence for tilak and then donation afterwards. Outside the temple complex, there are many baggage counters where you will have to leave your stuff (Camera, Cell phone, Foot-wears and everything else except wallet).
Jagannath Temple Puri
It’s a mighty temple with innumerous miniature shrines strew around the complex. Pillars are beautifully carved. I had to cross couple of narrow passages to reach the sanctum of main shrine where wooden idols of trinity of deities (Jagannath, Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra) are installed. These wooden figures are made of Neem logs and are replaced every 12 years. From its origin to founder, temple structure, deities, rituals, every aspect of the temple is tangled with myriad of legends and all are equally engrossing. Fortunately complex was not very crowded (perhaps due to non-prayer timing) so I could comfortably visit the main shrine and completed the holy circle in very less time. Inside the complex, many families were busy in complex rituals as I come out from the holy site.
Carved wheel at Konark Temple
Since the time I arrived in Puri, I started to mistake it with holy town of Dwarka which lies on the western coast of India. I visited Dwarka couple of years back and everything about Puri was reminding me of Dwarka. Déjà vu struck me more than often. Both of these towns feel so similar to each other not just because of proximity to the sea but for the spiritual vibrations and unflinching faith in the atmosphere. Existence of Superpower had always been an unresolved intra-contemplation and I always kept it open accepting it beyond my limited intellect. It all blows with the wind I guess. Later in the day I headed to the bus stand of Puri to visit the archeological quintessence of Indian Temples, Konark.
Puri Konark Road
Bus was as full as it can get and the only respite under the October Sky was view outside the window seat. It passed through picturesque villages close to the streams merging to the sea, backwaters adorned with fishing nets, casuarina line along the sandy shore and all against the lapping sea. Way before Bus arrived opposite the prodigious temple of Konark, I made up my mind to get down in between on my journey back and take a walk along the coastline. UNESCO World Heritage, the Sun temple of Konark is a paragon of Indian architecture. Built in AD 1250, during the reign of the Eastern Ganga King Narasimhadeva-1 (AD 1238-64), it was to enshrine an image of Sun (Arka), the patron deity of the place.
The entire complex was designed in the form of a huge chariot drawn by seven spirited horses on twelve pairs of exquisitely carved wheels. The sanctum symbolizes the majestic stride of the Sun-God and marks the culmination of the Orissan architectural style. The Vimana of the deul has collapsed, while that of Jagamohana and the nata-mandap are better preserved. The walls of the temple contain superb carving of divine, semi divine, human and animal figures amidst floral and geometric ornamentations. The Vivacious kanyas and danseuse are remarkable in their sensuous modeling, pulsating with human emotions which are absorbed in a variety of gestures and rhythmic actions. Such sculptures render the Orissan temple a class unto themselves. Mighty Simha-Gajas welcome the visitors at the porches. It is believed that originally temple of Konark temple was nearer to the coast but sea receded 3 km since then.
Erotic Carvings on the outer walls of Sun Temple
Konark is a marvelous structure and stirred the awe-within from its first sight. Statues of animals, stone carvings on the walls and pillars, motifs, friezes are so engrossing that one may easily lose track of time. Lately discovered, temple complex has got other minors ruins nearby. It was like reading poetry inscribed over the stones and all done with profound meticulousness. In my opinion, sculpturing is one of the underrated forms of art where artist needs to depict life over the stones and it had been done wonderfully in some of the temples in India. Many images, stone carvings are disfigured perhaps due to the collapse of main sanctum. Several theories go around suggesting the exact cause and date of collapse but nothing is conclusive yet. Similar to temples in Khajuraho, outer walls are adorned with erotic figures depicting various positions of love-making seemingly inspired from Kama sutra. But there are other figures equally enthralling such as a warrior riding a lion, dancing celestial nymphs, panels illustrating events from Hindu mythology, mythological figures, carved wheels, mutilated statues, sculptures of elephants and horses, all an intricate work over the stones. For history or archeological buffs, there is so much that Konark temple complex can easily consume a day. Entranced, thirsty, I retraced from the main site and gulped coconut water to cool off.
Simha Gajas at the entrance of Konark Temple
Later in the afternoon I boarded a bus to Chandrabhaga beach to partially quench insatiable desire to walk along the ocean. Chandrabhaga is much isolated and tidy alternative to the beaches near Puri which gets filthy with truck-loads of tourists. Beach line at Chandrabhaga is also deserted with very less vegetation near the shore nevertheless it’s a long stretch of sand ideal for apparently endless walks. I spent entire afternoon walking west towards Puri over the jumbled coastal sand dunes until I became completely drained… At last touched down the main road and hopped into a bus before it dusked…I reached Puri, haunting clouds formed just above the earth surface and incessant downpour began….Aah I forgot to mention that on the way back I met Maiko in the bus, gorgeous damsel, nearly perfect pick if I even consider a Japanese wife. Might be in mid-twenties, skinny, straight short silky hairs, small eyes, she stood beside me in awfully packed bus … and we started to chat… :)... censored… ;)... before midnight....
Lonely Shore at Chandrabhaga