Odisha, The Land Of Kalinga

by Kinjal Sethia (India)

A leap into the unknown India


I am forever ready for surprises when I travel. I am excited that when I reach home and unpack my luggage, all those surprises will peep out and strike my chords with nostalgia for the road. When I returned from Odisha, my bags were filled with Pattachitra, Sambalpuri scarfs, and promises of lifelong friendships. I met people who reminded me that the circle of goodness is very wide; and that it embraces me from India’s west to east coast. I was in Odisha to attend a friend’s wedding, and decided to extend the trip in the mysterious land on the eastern coast of India. A whirlwind of history caught me unawares as I first stopped at Udaigiri and Khandgiri caves enroute to Jagannath Puri. These rock-cut shelters were carved by the Kharavela rulers for Jain ascetics to meditate and seek abode in the 2nd century BC. The Khandgiri caves are etched with statues of Jain tirthankars. The Udaigiri caves are embellished with carvings of women, elephants and birds. As I sat on the storeyed Ranigumpha in Udaigiri, I had to only close my eyes to imagine the holy grandeur and noble simplicity that must have rendered this place and its visiting monks such heavenly joy and peace. Though it is only across the road, the steep short climb to Khandgiri showcases the other spectrum of religion, with its pot smoking self-acclaimed godmen and shrivelled women selling questionable looking herbal cures. I reached Jagannath Puri, and the flag with the Nila Chakra mounted on the shikhar swaying over the temple street greeted me in half-light. It seemed to acknowledge that I was overwhelmed to be in its livened presence. A significant Vaishnav temple, Jagannath Puri was built by King Anantvarman Chodaganga. As I perambulated around the temple complex, marked by many smaller temples and mandapas, I had to only raise my eyes towards the rising shikhar and the moon beyond to realise that I was indeed in the presence of divinity. If you leave the temple precincts, and enter a small market fair on your left, you will cater your taste buds to temple food and sweets like tanka pani, kakara pitha, malpua, gajja. After spending the night at a modest accommodation facing the Puri beach, Konark at sunrise was truly a magical sight. Though the temple has been pushed inwards, away from the Chandrabhaga river by the forces of nature, the first rays of the sun still light the Natya Mandap in its majestic glory. Built in 13th century by Narsimhadeva 1, the temple is in the shape of a giant chariot. Its colossal stone wheels are carved like a sundial. Built from Khondalite rocks, it epitomises Kalinga architecture in its orientation towards the eastern direction to face the rising sun. The carvings around the main temple are a rich repository of historical stories, lifestyle, culture and customs. After the history feast of Konark, I spent the rest of the day on a boat on Chilika lake. I knew we were in for a memorable ride when I spotted Irawadi dolphins, playfully jumping across our boat, its fins glistening in the afternoon sun. The boat forayed further into the lake to be greeted by large flocks of brahminy ducks, pintails, and solitary seagulls and white bellied sea eagles. The boat and its people fell into a lull as we steered further towards Nalbana island. It was indeed a watery paradise as I got out of the boat, waded in shallow muddy waters to watch flamingos in all their splendor. The flamboyance of flamingos was feeding, prancing, preening and my heart soared with them when a few took off, their coloured underwings shimmering against the water. The ride to Satkosia Tiger Reserve passed through transitory deciduous forests of Eastern ghats. The boat ride on the Mahanadi river to spot gharials was made mesmerising by the immense calm of the river as it gracefully meandered its way into the gorge and registered its age by building huge sandbanks. Such natural expanses always remind me of human insignificance.