Raipur to Sambalpur is a scenic ride with villages dotted amid endless tract of paddy fields and occasional rivers. Enroute I crossed Mahanadi which is one of the most important rivers of the country and wide enough to deceive your sight. Sunset on the bank of Mahanadi looked truly spectacular and in some 2 hours I gotten down to the dusty little town of Mahasamund. It was already dusked and I had bleak hope of getting a connecting transport to Sirpur which was still some 30 km away. Finally a rugged bus with worn-out seats ignited its engine to make a final trip of the day to Sirpur. Yet again, I was the window seat passenger gazing out on the silhouette of endless terrain fringed with rippling rivulets, silent groves of Sal and pristine countryside of Chhattisgarh. Enroute, Bus stopped at some villages which gave me a chance to glance through the rural life of Chhattisgarh… It was the reason why I was visiting one of the disturbed states of the country. Pitch darkness outside tried to reach the solitude of darkness within but I interfered in order to avoid turmoil while being on the road.
Sunset on the bank of Mahanadi
Finally I got down at Sirpur village and soon after I realized that it’s going to be a memorable night. After such a long and tiring journey I was seriously not up for this adventure. Contrary to my notions, Sirpur was a very small village and had no accommodation options at all. I first tried to get a room in PWD Guest house but they required some permission from Raipur office which I was not having. Most of the locals recommended me to try some Patel Dharmshala which was one of the filthiest lodges I have even seen. Basically there is no room in the Dharmshala. It was just an open verandah mostly occupied by drunken CISF police. There was even no mattress and I don’t know why owner looked so happy seeing me as guest. All the police wala were also not comfortable seeing me there and they asked me to leave the place and find shelter somewhere else. It made me realize how hard life would be for those who slumber on the footpaths where nights never end. Doubted the atmosphere of Patel Dharmshala and I headed directly to police station for getting some help for overnight stay. Another option was to settle in a ritzy resort from Chhattisgarh tourism which was out of my budget. Luckily police inspector was really a helpful guy and he connected me with the priest in Kabir Ashram which lies on the bank of River Mahanadi.
Dreary night at Sirpur
Bought 2 bottles of mineral water, stuffed my stomach with 2-3 samosas from the T point and moved as a snail’s pace through the cobbled streets of Sirpur those were adorned with ruins and colorful temples. It was the festival season so streets were vibrant with loud music and continuous hymn. Finally I reached Kabir Ashram to spend the night when full moon veiled under the cloud-laden sky. Kabir Ashram is a perfect place for modern day self-deluded free spirits (like me) who think that randomness may lead to Nirvana or something much cooler which may make them a poster figure. I got a wooden bad with no mattress and was sleeping opposite to the main shrine. While turning sides on that hard, I was amusing myself with a thought of becoming Buddha next day. There will be swevens and night-mares and I will be awakened next morning. But in between drizzle, lightening within the clouds, sound of thunder, I had intellectually stimulating conversation with Mahadev das who is the priest in the temple.
Famous Red Soil of Chhattisgarh
Das ji was deeply indulged in cooking Dal and roti on chulha (clay hearth)... Here is the excerpt from that discussion (In Hindi)..
Das ji: kya naam hai aapka ? aur itni raat main kahan se aana hua?..
Hypocrite: Vishnu hai….Dilli se aaya hoon… mujhe laga ki yahan rehne ka kuch milega lekin…
Das ji: Dharmik (Religious) to nahi lag rahe ho.. fir kya talash kar rahe ho Sirpur main…
Hypocrite: Aishe hi Ghumne ka shauk hai tho Ghumte-firte yahan tak aa gaya
Das ji (more or less disenchanted): achha hai… Ghumna firna bhi ek talash hi hai… lekin kudh ki talash main mat lag jana warna jeevan bhar bhatakte rahoge… adhyatamik (Spiritual) to nahi ho kahin?
Hypocrite: pata nahi… in sabhi chhejon se farak kahan padhta hai itna…
Das ji: logon se alag rehna bhi ek nasha hai… bhatnaka bhi ek nasha hai… kuch alag karne ki chahat hai tum main yaa kuch naa karne ki… Bhag lo…thakne ke baad neend jaroor achhi aayegi…
Hypocrite: Sabhi bhag hi rahe hain…ek tarah se…?
Das ji: Bhag sabhi rahe hain…Lekin Dukh is baat ye hai ki bhagte log shanti ki khoj main hai… Man ki shanti agar itni asani se milti tho sabhi bhagne lagte…waise kya tumhe shanti milti hai bhatakne se?.. mujhe mat batana..kudh se punchna aur abhi mat punchna..… ye sabhi tho abhiman (ego-driven) ke karan karte hain log… kher.. yahan sone main aapko koi dikkat nahi honi chhaiye…
Colorful Sikhara of temples in Sirpur village
ostensible but a harsh slap on my delusional wanderlust which I usually boast a lot about. Most of the people I know endorse traveling as life changing experience. Traveling makes you a better person and all that bullshit inspired from travel literature/movies…But Das ji asked the toughest question which we generally avoid under the guise of absolute freedom. It was something against “On the road -Jack Kerouac” sort of deceptive stories from misled individuals. His remark took me back to early days of my wanderlust which was driven by curiosity instead by some fancy/ulterior notion. I was once the intended audience of the term “Yatri” at railway station’s announcements. Now what I have become… At time I use sentences like “Covering a place”, “doing a place” instead of using “visiting a place”. That sublime simplicity of traveling disappeared slowly slowly. It is difficult to articulate that realization but yes there was something wrong. In a way, I felt like traveling in reverse to become that “Yatri” or “Rahi”.
Raikera Talab Sirpur
Anyway, I climbed on the roof top to appreciate the October sky welcoming the storm which had just hit the coastline of Orissa. Pencil-thin lights from the households of distant villages were reflecting on the choppy waves of Mahanadi. Loud orchestra celebrating the Durga puja was engaging lively crowd of Sirpur. Moon was shining intermittently on the colorful Shikhara’s of Sirpur’s temples. Gloomy environ was the perfect setting to uplift soul but as Das ji mentioned it is not supposed to be that easy. Thoughts of here and there, rippling of the river, a cat sneaking around the temples, and I slumbered covering myself under my favorite blanket.
Balesvara temple platform with pillars and sculptures
Sun came up long before I expected and I felt myself much closer to eastern mysticism. It rained whole night and was still drizzling. After morning abulation, I touched feet of Mr Das and offered my final good bye. He grinned and said “you are old fashioned…fare well… share your stories but truthfully”…
Lotus fringed pool in Sirpur village
I shoved my backpack in police station… ordered 2 samosas and tea for breakfast before going for own your own heritage walk to Sirpur wonders. Sirpur is a closet treasure of monuments, ruins, temples and so much. All of these archeological sites are dispersed around the village and some lies on the serene shore of River Mahanadi. I have posted a comprehensive article on archeological heritage of Sirpur so will not rewrite these details. Initially I was confused how to start but then tourism boards helped me in navigation.
Remains of Balesvara Temple Sirpur
First I visited Teevardeo Buddhist monastery which has got a well preserved statue of Buddha under a tin shelter and doorways are beautifully ornamented with sculptures. Most of the sculptures are mutilated still it’s quite an engrossing site. Excavation is still going on and findings are exhibited on a raised platform. Main corridor of the monastery has got line of pillars partially broken. Rain from the last evening exposed stark contrast of these archeological findings. Later I moved to Balesvara Mahadev Temple which is a twin temple complex on stellar platforms. Currently there are just 2 open platforms without any roof. Both of the platforms are decorated with pillars and broken sculptures. These were once temples of Lord Shiva so you would also see Shiva Lingam in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Both of the Shiva Lingams were almost completely fragmented. Partially broken pillars attached with disfigured sculptures are a fascinating side of this complex. From the remaining outline (Platform and entrance), it seems that these would have been grand temples once… May be bigger than temples excavated elsewhere… ASI (Archeological Survey of India) has done a remarkable job with painstaking excavation and keeping the pillars intact on platforms. Temple sikhara (roof) might have been diminished centuries back but still remaining is sufficient to make you visualize the grandeur of these temples…. Spectate the existing platform, close your eyes, and visualize the temple till the towering sikhara with numerous miniature shrines on the roof, all adorned with intricate sculptures….Woow… soon you will realize that these stones have a life and narrate their glory obliquely.
Plight of Stairs to Surang Tila
Further troll led me to Rama Temple complex which is again twin temples on a raised platform. Major part of these temples is dilapidated and all you can see walled structure on the platform with a missing roof. In present time, remnants of the only one temple are visible and other is only in the plan with brick foundation. Remains of the brick temple are inflicted with layer of moss and occasional vines. Outer walls have got pillars, panels with fine carvings but sadly shrouded under the mossy layer. Plans of the monastery is also luring overgrown bushes and decaying with its own pace. Later I headed to Laxman temple which is the prime attraction of Sirpur and the only ticketing monument of the village.
Outer walls of Laxman Temple Sirpur
Laxman temple complex is beautifully maintained and comprises a museum, garden as well. Laxman temple has got an intact Sikhara densely carved panels and friezes. Sanctum sanctorum is closed for tourists so I could not offer my prayers to main deity of the temple. Carving on the outer walls held me for a while and I was fascinated with a door like brick structure in one of the panels. A flock of pigeons circled around the sikhara of the temple and interrupted that engrossed gazing. After walking amid lost
monuments of Sirpur, I took the road leading to countryside full of lotus fringed pools. Buddha stupa was the next destination which lies in the middle of paddy fields and can be approached by a dirt trail. In a short while, It started to drizzle and I put over my raincoat. Lotus fringed pool at Sirpur had 2 Ghats with concrete steps, one for males and another one for females. These Ghats are the bathing site for locals. Walking further throw paddy fields took me many other ponds and all hosting pink colored lotus flower with yellow in the center. Many were profusely blossomed and some of those were just buds. Intermittent drizzling slowed down the walk through dirt trail and also make it dreary all around. Overgrown bushes did not permit me to reach all the way till the stupa so I retraced my steps taking few random shots of the ruins scattered through the pristine countryside.
Shore of Mahanadi
Later I hit the market and walked towards the shore of Mahanadi which was swelling after monsoon. Besides ruins of archeological importance, Sirpur is a temple town with many colorful temples on the bank of Mahanadi. Unlike other rivers of India, Mahanadi is cleaner and offers scenic bank. Ghats have got stairs but those were submerged during Monsoon. Raj Mahal and Swastik Vihar are the prime attractions on the right bank of Mahanadi. Raj Mahal has only got foundations so it’s very difficult to make out anything without reading its history. Too much of red soil, relics, ruins and red brick started to hit my head so I slinked to the shore of Mahanadi, which is an ulterior attraction of Sirpur. While making my way back to the bus stand, I stopped at Surang Tila which may look the most prominent structure of the town. Surang Tila is situated in the heart of the village and may look bizarre from a distance. Made of white stones it’s a pyramid sort of structure and very different than any other archeological sites one sees in India.
Tri Junction at Sirpur
The last stretch of my time in Sirpur went waiting more than an hour for a bus, sipping tea, smiling absently when passing glances with locals, putting my rain coat over and putting it off and finally the bus arrived and I was on my way back to Raipur. From the window seat, I could see roaring clouds engulfing the eastern horizon. Another site was flood on the bank of Mahanadi, Red soil, paddy fields, Sal forest, intermittent drizzling and life…