Saturday, February 05, 2022

Odisha - Sambalpur, Bhubaneswar, Puri Jagannath

Bilaspur (CG) - Sambalpur (OD) - Bhubaneswar - Puri - Konark - Sambalpur (OD) - Bilaspur (CG) Drove around ~1400 km to the state of Odisha for pilgrimage over 5 days. Sambalpur is gateway to state of Odisha situated on erstwhile NH-6 on the banks of Mahanadi. The route from Bilaspur goes through a number of state highways which are all 2-lane average condition, going through towns till Saraipalli on NH-6. From there Sambalpur is 90km good highway all the way. From Sambalpur to Bhubaneswar, was expecting decent highway but first 150 km till Badekera is mostly broken and under construction concrete highway with patches of good stretch wherever built but have to keep transitioning to other side or bad patch. From there it is 2 lane MDR road all the way till Bhubaneswar. Overall this highway showed that Odisha is still catching up on road connectivity and doesn't seem to be in a hurry. Wonder, what is Nitin Gadkari's plan for Odisha.

Odisha has been a state which I had not been able to visit till now. It is a state which I recall from old era as home to Konark temple, Odisi dance or Puri Jagannath. But the state has always maintained a low profile. It is not much in news over the years due to stable state government, not meddling in national politics or any outspoken politician. For ages it has been governed by Pattnaik family earlier Biju Patnaik and now Naveen Patnaik. I have worked with people from Odisha in IT industry and they too have been gentle, friendly folks. 

Puri Jagannath is one of the char dham of India spread across four corners of the country. My parents had been to three of them and Puri was the one remaining. Since my sister got posted to Bilaspur, the option of visiting Puri from there was cropping up. Due to my recent readings on temples, heritage & civilization topics, I was looking for opportunity to do this tour. The opportunity presented in the end of Dec 2021. As my parents could not travel in train easily and having the luxury of moving in our own pace point-to-point, I preferred to go by car. I got my car from Pune to Bilaspur as part of my larger tour with stops at Hyderabad and Nagpur.

Odisha trip route

We set out from Bilaspur towards our first stop at Sambalpur. For that we had to pass through Chhattisgarh towns like Pamgarh, Shivri Narayan and Saraipalli where we meet erstwhile NH-6 or now NH-53 which is also marked as AH-46 (Asian Highway 46). It is the main diagonal highway of India running from Surat to Kolkata. I had not been so far on this highway beyond Raipur. Only recently I had made couple of trip from Nagpur to Raipur onto Bilaspur. From Saraipalli the road improved, Sambalpur was just 100km. I had a booking at OTDC PanthaNivas which we would have reached by 2PM so did not stop anywhere for lunch. Close to Sambalpur, the Maps directed to a road off from NH while we were still 15km from Sambalpur. Not sure what to do and skipped that diversion and drove all the way and then turned right onto so called Sambalpur Ring Road. which was a narrow long road towards our hotel. The other road which I figured was shorter and have us cross the Mahanadi river but missed it. On the NH, I could see signs to go towards Hirakud (yes it is Kud and not Kund as it is pronounced here) which I planned to visit later in the day. OTDC Panthanivas was decent and staff was cordial. In the lobby, we had darshan of Lord Jagannath which heralded auspicious beginning of our trip. After a long time I was going to a govt property. We went to the restaurant and ordered food. Tried to engage the person there but he wasn't in mood to suggest much. We had veg fry which was mostly not very well cooked and dalma which was dal with vegetables. Overall the property was decent, clean and gave feeling of old era with large rooms, high ceiling and other vibes. The booking for this property could be done online on OTDC website hassle-free. The Pantha Nivas is located in perhaps VIP area of the town as there were other official buildings.

View of Mahanadi from Sambalpur

Fisherman on Mahanadi

where do you wan to go?

our lunch at OTDC Panthanivas, Sambalpur

auspicious beginning to our trip

Panthanivas at night

After that I hurried to Hirakud dam alone as it is 25 km away and takes 40 minutes to reach and sun sets early in this region. Hirakud is a long dam and there are hills at both ends with couple of parks created with a Minar each named after Gandhi & Nehru on each side. It was build in 1950s during Nehru's reign, a large infrastructure project after independence so the nostalgia is there. Since I was closer to Gandhi Minar so went there. One has to pass through locality of Hirakud. At the start of climb to Gandhi Minar is ticket point. Parking is Rs 20/- but individual ticket is princely sum of Rs. 2/-. After being amused climbed to the Minar & park. Gandhi Minar is like a view point to have surrounding view. Surprisingly, the round view platform is also revolving with slow speed. Due to direction of sun, the dam and water from our viewpoint was glowing so could not observe much on that side. There were distant views of winding road beside the reservoir and islands inside. On the other side there was large industry complex, small hills panoramic view of parks & localities. There is ropeway as well but it was under repairs.
view of park at Gandhi Minar

Gandhi Minar

view from Gandhi Minar

View of reservoir

Gandhi Minar, Hirakud

Gandhi Minar

After taking in the view came back to Sambalpur. While coming back I went inside the town just to have a dekho. The town is urban squalor just like any other town with narrow roads and overflowing people and vehicles. Passed by Sambalpur railway station. I could not recollect the railway map of this area or Orissa as such and felt need to look up The Great Indian Railway Atlas. The town though is famous for saris of same name. There are many other visit worthy locations around like Ghanteshwari temple, Huma temple which is leaning (and cited as India's answer to leaning tower of Pisa) but alas did not have much time to visit these places.

Sambalpur station

In the evening we went to Samaleshwari temple which is revered deity in this region. I had seen the temple on Twitter on somebody's post and since then was keen to visit it. It was not the crowded. Liked the ritual of lighting a diya outside the temple on stands which is common in this region. After that we came back to hotel and had dinner. This time ordered a safe dish and retired for the day.
Samaleshwari temple in the evening

Next day we left OTDC by 7am as we had to reach Bhubaneshwar by afternoon. I had researched about the road from Sambalpur to Bhubaneshwar on the internet and youtube. There were a few and what I made out that road is under construction in parts so I was hoping that a lot of it would have been constructed. But my hope dashed as the good road did not appear for long time after leaving Sambalpur. We were on 2-lane, weather eaten and traffic beaten road for long time. Only later there were patches of cemented road. Most of the road it unmarked, no signs of destination or diversion etc. and no signs of active construction activity. Perhaps the road is being built for a long time and will remain in this state for long time. Later after coming back from the trip, when I searched for any news of this stretch of road, found that Nitin Gadkari or NHAI has no news associated to this stretch of NH which is NH-55. While we were proceeding we were also looking for any decent place to eat but there was no decent eatery or dhaba the kind we are used to in other places let's say in Maharashtra. This place seem to be an anachronism. There was a town Redhakhol, we passed it and after enquiring at one or two places, someone pointed to a Rajasthani place ahead. This eatery called Hotel Today which also had board for Chaudhury Family Dhaba was just waking up and they said they can make paratha. The person there said, this road is not meant for "chhota-gadi" as it is very bad and it caters mostly to truckers. Nevertheless, we had parthas and tea.

paratha and dal

This NH-55 has a fork before Angul, straight road goes to Cuttack whereas the other marked as NH-655 goes to Bhubaneshwar. I was wondering why maps was not showing route to Bhubaneswar via NH-55 through Angul, Dhenkanal and whether I could drive on it while coming back. It was clarified by dhaba person that the road is very bad, so dropped the idea while coming back also. The road beyond right fork just before Angul is good but mostly single lane going through towns. Its actually an MDR (Major District Road)! I took this MDR and though it was decent, but one couldn't go fast due to narrow width, oncoming traffic, towns and accompanied speed breakers. Bhubaneswar is around 120 km from this point. The scene outside was all farmland and pretty.
scenic beauty on the way to Bhubaneswar

MDR to Bhubaneswar

From a town called Athgarh road turned south towards Bhubaneswar. Here we crossed Mahanadi. There was a toll collection old style. Rs 20/- pink colour receipt with man holding the rope of boom barrier and quintessential eunuchs asking for alms. From there we went through some interior road and finally on Cuttack-Bhubaneswar highway to our eventual destination in Nayapalli which seem to be posh locality of Bhubaneswar.

In the evening we went ot Lingaraj Temple which is the iconic temple of the city. The temple is an ancient structure and good glimpse of what to expect at Jagannatha. The architectural style, the offerings and general vibes are different than the temples at other locations. Photography is not allowed inside the temple so had to leave phone and camera outside. From here went to Bindu sarovar which is a small lake. The priest inside said that there are some sava lakh (1.25 lakhs) temples in Bhubaneswar which makes it a temple town. Good to see that the temple culture well preserved in these parts of the country though aggressive priests for money is a little put off.
A small temple outside Lingaraj temple

Lingaraj temple

Bindu sarovar

From here we went back to hotel. I took off to experience night life of the city. How can one say that they have visited a particular city? Bus Stand, Railway Stations or GPO are considered the centre of the city but nowdays one more monument has come up. Visit the biggest mall of the city and one can say you have visited a place. So I enquired and found that Esplanade Mall is the biggest in city. Now I was driving through the city, first on the NH-16 which goes all the way to Kolkata and from there onto Puri road. The traffic was similar to Pune or any other big city, bumper to bumper and difficult to cross over. Thankfully made it without scratch. After a customary walk and relishing some food, came back to hotel and retired for the day.
Esplanade mall at Bhubaneswar

Next day again we left early at 7AM and drove towards Puri. Our first stop was going to be Sakhi Gopal (not Sakshi Gopal). At 8AM the temple & surrounding shops were just coming to life in the bright balmy morning sunshine. Went through the drill of offering for bhog, priest and prasad. My father who knows the backstory engaged the priest and they confirmed the story. The priest-ship being hereditary, he said that they are descendants of the original priests. But again temple had the vibes of being from bygone era.
structure of Sakhi Gopal temple

entrance to Sakhi Gopal

Entry to Sakhi Gopal

From here we went to Puri. After ushering into the Grand road saw the first glimpse of the temple. 800 years of history coming rushing. What the scene look from this point let's say 200 years back. The road was quite wide, difficult to imagine the crowd during Rath yatra procession. 

Grand Road of Puri, venue of Rath yatra procession

Dharmshala at Puri

We had booked at Niladari guest house which is affiliated to Jagannath temple Even though the other rooms were booked, luckily I had found a Triple-bedded AC room vacant which I booked just 3/4 days back. Perhaps serendipity of us visiting the place. Since I had old parents, I could take my car all the way to hotel and park inside. Otherwise private vehicles are not allowed. After occupying the room we went to have breakfast. The typical fare is Idli-Sambar and Puri-Bhaji. The Idli and sambar tastes different and people eat here by mashing Idli with sambar and then eating like rice. The person manning was a marwari who said that this time crowd is 4/5 times lesser for this time of the year (Dec end). Relieved as I was with this thought as I have old parents with me otherwise it would have been tense with so much rush.

We immediately went to main Jagannath temple. We were intercepted by a priest and his accompany who promised to take us around. Father was put onto wheelchair which is from temple administration. The fellow took care of carrying father around and I did not have to look after much. There was sizeable crowd inside. The priest was interested to have our Darshan but did not share much about temple. I was busy soaking in the atmosphere. Again photograph and phone are not allowed which we knew so had kept at hotel only. The main deity of Jagannath, Balbhadra & Subhadra are visible only for fraction as the crowd behind pushed forward. After that the priest and companion brought the bhog prasad to us and we had sumptuous food even though we were full from breakfast. The I took at tour of the temple complex. There were several other temples and there were groups being led trying to explain away the tid-bits. The priest also brought dry prasad which was nicely kept in the boxes made of leaves. I also gave the contribution to bhog. After some time we left and came to guest house. 

It was just 1 pm and with lunch done and my parents decided to rest, I was free to go around the place. I went for a long walk around the temple and watch the temple from all corners and vantage points. First I witnessed the flag changing ceremony where the flag fluttering at the top is changed EVERYDAY without fail and happens at 4PM everyday. Temple has 4 dwars on each side and the main one is known as Singh dwar which has lion motif. It is also faced by Arun stambh which is a tall pillar with sculpture of Arun who is sarathi of Sun god. The pillar was brought here in last 18th century from Konark temple when Marathas had occupied this region. There was quite a rush on grand road and nearby. The shops had their wares laid out. There was decoration items, models of deities and various religious items. The most common sight is Khaja being sold. It is a sweet made of flour pressed into layers coated with sugar syrup. I too bought few kilos to take back home.
Entry to temple with Aruna stambh in front

South gate

View from a nearby raised vantage point

Up close the temple

West gate

Mahaprasad being taken for feeding

Shopping scene with khaja being sold in plenty

More khaja and connection to Rama

In the evening I took out my car to go to Puri beach. I found an alley which was not crowded and opened upto the beach with empty parking. Most of the upscale hotels are located lining the beach. The beach is quite wide. Felt content to come all the way to the Puri beach and witness sunset. There was not much crowd. There were chairs kept around on which we sat and it turned out they are for rent of Rs. 60 for an hour. There was no tea-seller so had to settle for lemon tea. The sun set on the right side of the beach. One would expect that since we can witness the sunset on water so sun rise would not be visible but due to season and shape of the beach, sunrise was visible next day on the left side. Such a wonderful thing to be able to witness both sunrise and sunset from same place! There was cool breeze blowing and watching sunset was relaxing. We went back to our guesthouse in our car by showing pass which I had obtained from the hotel for our vehicle. I decided to come back in the morning to run at Puri beach and also to witness sunrise.
Puri beach

Sunset at Puri beach

Puri beach again

In the night, I went back to inside the temple this time being alone so not accompanied by any priest. A little interesting facts of Jagannath temple. This dham is for bhog or feast of Lord Krishna or Vishnu or Jagannath, so there he is given bhog 6 times in the day. Every time food is freshly cooked and after presenting to deity it is sold at the Anand Bazaar. In the afternoon when we came, we did not go to the bazaar but this time I went. The sight was to an experience. The priests of the temple sell the bhog which are kept in earthen pots with wide open mouth and good height. They are filled with white rice, sweet rice, dal, sabji and other items. One could get a plate of different amount like Rs 50/100 and the fellow would fill it up with so much food. You could get refill also. There are no benches etc so have to fit on the floor and eat with hands. There is no plastic or spoon there, all in the way it had been happening since centuries. There are videos on youtube giving insight into miracles of Jagannath temple and specially about its food, the way it is cooked etc. The food is also distributed free to destitute everyday. Keeping in mind that priests here thought seem greedy about money are serving the deity and some part goes to distribution of food, so didn't mind the amount contributed. How else one would see such a practice continue. The food of course was tasty and sumptuous.

Next day took my car to Puri beach and had a run of 5km going up & down. There is a fisher folks village with boats parked and some returning from the sea. The sunrise was equally great as sunset. Running on the beach was little tiering due to grip but it was worth having a record of running there.

farthest my car has come in India from Pune

While coming back to guest house I was stopped from going to guest house beyond a point even if I was staying. The policeman said that it is meant for convenience of old people and you cannot violate it. So, had to park in the parking and walk to guesthouse. While leaving got my mother to parking and brought the vehicle inside to guest house to load luggage and the left.

We were headed to the Konark Temple via marine drive. It is a decent road and lot of vehicles were headed that way. The sea was visible towards closer to the temple. The temple itself is a little away around 3 kms from seashore. It is believed when built, temple was next to sea shore. At the turn towards the temple, there is huge parking and eateries where we had breakfast. The fare was bland and disappointing. Till now I had not had tasty food except in Jagannath temple. The temple parking is a little away and one has to take auto to go upto gate. There was quite a rush and I was wondering how would be see the temple. Thankfully a guide and a wheelchair approached for and their charge was reasonable. The guide also bought tickets and we went inside. The Konark is one fascinating place which we have seen in pics since long time on Doordarshan and on every talk of culture, history & heritage in India. Finally I got to see it though I had not looked up the details about it till now. 

Konark temple was built by Narsimhadeva of Easter Ganga dynasty around 1250 CE. The dynasty had their capital at modern day Cuttack. The main temple Vimana has fallen off and only Jagamohan remains along with the platform of the temple. The temple is dedicated to Sun god and built as a rath or chariot with wheels and being pulled by 7 horses with Aruna as charioteer. The guide described all the usual sculpture, images & artistry which was visible. The entire saga showed that the lifestyle was rich at that time. Again I went into my thoughts trying to imagine how the scene would have been at this place. The temple used interlocking of stones for binding and how each piece would have been carved precisely to fit into each other. We have lost all that ancient knowledge and skill though we have progressed on many other fronts. Since visiting then I have been trying to find more information about the temple and one thing which came out is that temple was abandoned and took over by overgrowth before it was found again and in 19th century British administrators took some time to repair it. After independence, ASI took over and restored a large part of the temple with new construction and filled the inside of Jagamohan with sand to prevent it from collapsing. It is rumoured that there was a huge magnet which would affect the compass of ships in nearby sea. It seem portugese took away the magnet and since then temple became unstable however, there is no proof of it. The wheels are designed like a solar clock. There are total 24 wheels 12 on each side to depict 12 months. The model of entire original temple is kept at the museum nearby. What the sight would have been to look at the original temple being visited by devotees. The site got World heritage denomination in 1984 itself. Now govt organises Konark festival every year which is perhaps travesty to the grandeur of this place. Nevertheless, something is being done. It seem there was a river Chandrabhaga flowing near it and since then has been disappeared.

Nata-Mandap and Jagamohan in the background

Poetry in stone
Wheels of time

Remember the wheel from Mahabharata serial called 'Samay'

Information on site

World heritage plaque

Nata-mandap and Jagamohan

After Konark, we had to come back to Sambalpur for night stay, so by 11 am we were on our way. We made a small detour to Pipli which is famous for its home furnishing artwork. After buying few we drove to Bhubaneshwar. I was looking for a place to eat but on highway I did not spot any suitable place. Till now the food has been disappointment though we were never looking for a good place to eat. We bypassed Bhubanshwar, so I thought let's see if there is something on the way. On the way to Athgarh, found a place called Yuvraj Dhaba. There were a number of vehicles parked so I thought it may be good. Once I asked for menu was pleasantly surprised to know that apart from Odiya dishes, punjabi dishes like Kadhai Paneer is available and lo behold, no chapati but only Naan is available! I was still skeptical as name is not sufficient and whether the food really tastes like elsewhere. Thankfully, the food was good, Naan soft curry using kasoori methi and all to give that touch of North indian food. After satisfied it was back on the MDR road till Mahidharpur near Angul and then onto NH-55 to Sambalpur.
To Mahidharpur

At Mahidharpur

I wanted to go to Cuttack and give it a visit crossing Mahanadi and generally mark it as being visited but better sense prevailed as the road to Sambalpur is bad and I wanted to cover as much while there is till sunlight. Earlier I had thought of spending night at Angul as there is no other decent town till Sambalpur but then thought of going all the way to Sambalpur as next day would have been a longer drive. We reached Sambalpur well past sunset around 8pm. Thankfully, OTDC Sambalpur had suite room available which we occupied.

Next morning, we just had to go back to Bilaspur and I was targeting by 2PM so that we don't have to stop anywhere for lunch. So, we started again at 7am. We again went to Samaleshwari temple and it was glorious to look at in morning sun. Sambalpur ring road hugs the Mahanadi river and also has a small ghat. It was peaceful to look at the wide lake like river.

View of Mahanadi from Sambalpur ring road in the morning

Ghat on Mahanadi at Sambalpur

Samaleshwari temple in the morning

From here we got onto NH-53 and drove till Saraipalli. In between had breakfast at a dhaba. The fellow made really great plain paratha, dal and chai. From Saraipalli it was 170km driving till Bilaspur going through the usual district roads and towns of Chhattisgarh. Thankfully, we made it by 2PM.

After coming back from Odisha, I read the book "A Time Elsewhere", an english translation by J.P. Das.

This book chronicles the period from 1866-early 1900s which has been period of upheaval, reform and coming of age for Odisha from the shadows of Bengal, at least that what I could interpret from the book. It was interesting to read about a region which you have just visited and still fresh in the memory. I follow this technique of "superficial" reading before going to a place and "detailed" reading after coming back from the place to be able to relate to all facts, figures and imageries.