Sankranthi in the Circars is the time when Ludwig's family hosts and dutifully accompanies migratory friends and relatives on a tour of the Kalinga country. Hitherto, this perambulation was restricted to the fleshpots of Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark. In 2007, however, we did things differently. Follow closely. Ooh and aah at the photographs in a suitably coy manner.
Per usual, the party found itself cautiously detraining from East Coast Express at Bhubaneswar station, early in the morning. Quite precipitately, we allowed ourselves to be conned into being driven around town by the very first cabbie we found. Not sure what the deal with Oriya cuisine is, but when we asked to be taken to a good local place for breakfast, we were led to a somewhat seedy 'Udipi' joint. Regardless, dosais were polished off, coffees were gulped down, etceteras were etceteraed (i.e. the unspeakables) and off we went. First whistle stop, the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri.
We leapt like gazelles (not) from rock to rock, and frolicked amongst the age old ruins for a while, before heading out to the temple district. First up, the amazingly stupendous Lingaraj temple. It is quite a piece of work, no one in this day and age could pull off something like this. We wandered around the courtyard, and gawked at the gopurams, while successfully fighting off a horde of pandas who pluck at your elbow in that annoying manner (ref: Jerry Seinfeld's uncle). Alas, they don't allow cameras on the premises, ergo we did the next best (possibly even better thing). Scooted over to the Brahmeswar temple, which is a smaller scale Lingaraj type thingy. Only, much cleaner quieter, and altogether more hangoutable.
Next stop, Dhauli. This is apparently where "the Kalingas were completely massacred by Ashoka" (If you can, trying saying this as "Unit Vector" would've done in his class. If you have no idea what we're referring to, move on.) There's a Japanese built stupa on the hill, and at the bottom, some vandal named Ashoka had scratched some stuff onto a rock. The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has helpfully not provided any translations. Soon, it was too hot, and we were almost in a stupor on the stupa. Geddit? In a stupor, on a stupa? [Passersby pull him off the dead horse he has been flogging...]
Even atop Dhauli, we nautical types could smell the sea. The blue yonder was in the distance, and calling. Off we sped. Heigh ho for Konark. Checked into Yatri Nivas with gardens etc., right outside the temple. Evening walk to Chandrabhaga Beach was followed by a visit to the Sun Temple. If Lingaraj was impressive, this one is simply mind-blowing. More so when it is twilight, and the tide of day trippers from Puri and Bhubaneswar is ebbing its way out to the rows of buses parked outside. As the light fades, the massive, massive, massive, (did we say massive?) massive structure stands there and changes moods. Some of which we tried to capture using our very ancient Canon Powershot S45. One thing is for sure, one definitely, definitely, and absolutely needs to spend the night at Konark. Long series of pictures follows.
There's a dance hall type thing right in front of the main entrance. Many pillars, three corridors through which the rays of the sun fall on the deity in the sanctum sanctorum, depending on the position of the sun in the sky.
And this is what it looks like during the day. We got this ASI guide to do the walking tour around the temple and the grounds. Lots of gyaan imbibed, lots of "piligrims" dissuaded from pouring panchamritham on the pilasters etc.
Our time had run out. Hopped on bus to Puri. Hopped off at the bus stand. Took one look around. Screamed in unison. Rented car. Set off rectilinearly for Chilika. This brackish water lagoon is serene, beautiful, and many other good adjectives. Decanted into the Yatri Nivas at Satapada. What is it about rooms with views of water bodies? Huh? We loves.
Wash, lunch, prawn fry (mmm...) and then we rented a little phattphatti boat for a trip around the lagoon. You don't need to do much to be happy in Chilika. Rent a boat, head out, switch off the engine, and wait for the sun to set.
The icing on the cake though, is that Chilika is the home of the only lagoonal population of the Irrawady dolphin (oracella brevirostris) anywhere in the world. There are about a 100 or so of these johnnies in the lagoon, but they seem to be relatively easy to spot. Maybe they're tied to a large concrete block at the bottom. Maybe not. More likely, they apparently like to leave the lagoon every evening and head out to sea, and the only way they can do that is through this narrow channel between Satapada and a sandbar (Rajhansa). So all you have to do is park yourself somewhere in the channel in the evening, and you can see dolphins on the move. Look closely at the next photograph, which is a juxtaposition. Sun. Boat. Dolphin. Bottom left.
At one point, we even saw a dolphin and an osprey in the same instant. Double paisa vasool.
Update: space bar gently jogged our memory about something we'd meant to mention. The reason why we're going on and on about the oracellas is that we are big fans of Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide. The Irrawaddy dolphins are a very big part of the novel, in which Ghosh somehow manages to convey at least 4 different perspectives on the environment, human rights, conservation, and development. Rather nicely we thought. Somewhat tangentially, Princess Mononoke manages to do the same, we thought. Be that as it may, "The Hungry Tide" is up there in the Ghosh list along with "In an Antique Land" and "The Calcutta Chromosome", and perhaps "Shadowlines".
Night in Satapada after the day trippers have scooted is very peaceful and soothing. There was rain, and birds, and the morning was windy and gray, and beautiful. We got parathas packed at the hotel, and rented another boat the next day, for a cross-lagoon dash to Balugan, whence we had to catch the train back home.
On the way back, we stopped off at the Nalabana Bird Sanctuary in the middle of the lake. We waded our way through the muck and walked up to the watchtower, from where Caspian tern (baby turn...), bar headed geese, pintails, shovelers, thicknees and other mysteries were seen.
On the way back, some genius (i.e. Ludwig) dropped his precious Powershot S45 into the murky waters of the lake. It was fished out promptly, and pictures were recovered. But since then we've been terrified of turning it on. Ergo, no more pictures...
Ended up in the metropolis of Balugan, Orissa a full 7 hours before the train. Spent this time constructively playing cards. And next morning, we were home.
Reflection upon entering dotage: The Big Three-Oh happened today. Bah.