Thursday, April 18, 2013

Paradise of Eastern Coast : Puri

It had been almost eight months since I started my MBA.  I was really tired of being in the campus and my last vacation has been around four months back to Gangtok.
So we planned a four day trip to nearby Puri and Bhubaneshwar. We boarded Kalinga Utkal Express from Tatanagar Station at around 8:35 PM. I had some assignment to be prepared so I stayed awake till midnight as the train travelled to Puri. Morning 6 O’clock I got due to some noise. It looked like the train driver was honking the horn quite a lot. I just peeped outside the window. It was all misty and may be because of that the driver was honking the horn so much. I could see that train was passing through paddy fields and some small colonies of farmers. Coconut trees and small ponds with lotus plants were ubiquitous. In another hours’ time we reached Puri station, where as usual a lot of auto rickshaw drivers started talking to us. After some time I spoke to one of the drivers. He assured me that he will show some of the excellent but cheap hotels in the city on the beach side. After visiting three to four hotels with him I realized that this man is not going to show any decent hotel so I took out the list that I had prepared from I asked him to take us to couple of places to which he agreed. First we went to Hotel Sea Palace. The hotel was bang in front of the Puri Beach. However at reception we were told that they did not have any non-ac room. As we were not interested in AC room, we thought of looking for some other hotel. However as we went outside, the roomboy asked us to wait and he told us that if we could wait for another hours’ time we would get the non AC room for Rs. 1500 + Taxes. We were fine with this. He provided us a room in the basement to get freshened. However as I made entries in the register they told me that the charges would be Rs. 1500 including taxes. I could not understand the reason behind this pleasant surprise. Looks like they had thought that we will bargain on the hotel charges which we did not.
As we checked in the hotel we prepared the plan for next three days. As it was already around 9 AM, moreover because we had travelled throughout the night, we decided not to indulge much in sightseeing. We decided to see only Chilika lake on the first day. We reserved the next day for visiting Konark Temple, Jagannatha Temple and Chandrabhaga Beach and the last day for visiting Bhubaneswar.
After enquiring at reception, we came to know that hotel has its car and we found they charged only Rs. 800 for Indica for visiting Chilika as against Rs 1200 by other private operators. The choice was obvious. We booked the car through hotel and left for Chilika by around 11 AM. The climate was pretty comfortable. As I have spent significant part of my life in Coastal Maharashtra, I always miss the moist and salubrious climate of Devrukh in Jamshedpur. As the road from Puri to Chilika is along coastal Odisha, I could enjoy the weather. Most important thing…Driver was nice to talk with. He did not try to cheat us at any moment although we were extra cautious. Finally in about hour and halfs time we reached Chilika lake at Satpada. 
Chilika lake has around 6 to 7 points on its bank from where the boat service is provided to tourists. Satpada is one of the most popular points due to its proximity from Puri. We booked a boat for four hours and we went for dinner in nearby shack as we did not know whether we would get decent food on the other shore. Fragrance of prawns is ubiquitous as far as Puri is concerned. Wherever you go the fragrance follows you and if you are a non vegeterian, then I would say it would be injustice to yourself if you don't devour Prawns. We enjoyed Prawns and Chicken with rice and then boarded our boat for sight seeing.
Our boat driver was a poor man of Odisha and he tried to strike some conversation with us through his basic  Hindi. He took boat straight inside the lake. The waters were somewhat muddy. Quite a few nets were built in order to catch the fish. We asked him where are we going. He said "Dolphins". After reaching distance of couple of kilometers from shore he showed us couple of Dolphins. We spent some fifteen minutes in watching dolphins. It was fun to trace and follow the dolphins. However our boat driver seemed to be more interested in showing dolphins to us than we watching them. We could not see them completely. We could see only upper portion of their body as and when they came to breath air. But these dolphins were certainly not as cute as we see in television or in parks. They were darker than the usual kind and we could not see beak of  single dolphin. Ashwini my wife doubted whether the driver had shown us real dolphins. As we returned to the City in the evening we saw some paintings of dolphins in Chilika on the walls of city.None of them had a beak and all of them were dark. We joked at painters saying that these painters perhaps have never seen a dolphin completely. However when I did internet search on Chilika after reaching hotel I realised that the Dolphins from Chilika are Irawaddy Dolphins the sweet water dolphins.They are generally darker and don't have beak !
After watching dolphins for around half an hour we started our journey towards Sea Mouth. This is the place where waters of Chilika lake mix with Bay of Bengal. It took almost little more than one hour to reach sea mouth. As we moved towards the Sea Mouth the water became more and more cleaner. The colour of the water also changed as we moved. Initially the colour of water was blue, then it became light green and afterwords it became dark green. It was pleasant to seat on the boat and enjoy the scenery and breeze as waters touched your legs.
At sea mouth there were few local restaurants. The most attractive dish in the restaurants was local crabs, prawns and fish. We ordered for a fried crab and prawns. He got those ready right in front of our eyes and served in fifteen minutes. After enjoying the prawns and crabs, we thought of visiting the beach on the other side of bank. However our boat driver suggested that it will take too much of time. But we persisted and told him that we will not linger there. It took another fifteen minutes to walk through hot sand to reach the beach. The beach was very clean and very lonely too. The water was beautiful. We really wanted to spend some more time there. But as we were getting late, we decided to move back. We got back to the bank of Chilika lake and boarded the boat so that we could leave for Satpada immediately.
By 7 pm we had reached hotel. We were happy with the service received from the driver. So we booked the same car for travelling to Konark the next day. In the evening we walked on the streets of Puri. We went to beach as well. However it was very dark and lonely. As a result we decided to relax in the gallery of the hotel where we could enjoy beautiful breeze coming from sea.
Ruins of Chaia (Shadow) Temple  at the Konark Complex

The next day we left little early for Konark. We had a lot of activities planned for the day. Visit to Konark Temple, Chandrabhaga Beach, Puri Beach and Jagannath Temple. The road from Puri to Konark is through reserved forest and you get a glimpse of sea intermittently. The climate was again comfortable and we reached Konark in almost hours time. As Konark is historical site, we hired a guide to explain us about the temple. He was pretty old Odisha man. As per him he was around 85 year old. However he appeared in excellent health. However his pronunciation of English was not good enough. At least I found it difficult to understand. Thankfully, my  wife could understand it very well. He talked about many things. He explained about history of the temple, the actual structure of main temple and other ruins around it as well as different sculptures at temple. I had always wondered about the design of the Konark Sun Temple. Because it is distinctly different from other temples in India. This visit helped me to understand the reason behind it. Less than half of the Sun Temple exists in its actual form. The Gabhara of the temple, the place where idol Sun God was kept has already fallen. This part of the temple was apparently much taller than the temple we see now. Today what we see is only frontal part of the temple. We spent about one and half hours at the temple. Clicked some photographs and then decided to move back. We came out of the temple complex. There were some food vendors selling variety of dishes. As it was noon, we thought of enjoying a gola. Near to us there was another vendor selling something new to us. When we asked him, we came to know that he is selling Dahi Wada. However when we tested Dahi Wada, its test appeared to distinctly different from the Dahi Wada we had tested. We did not find the Dahi Wada tasty at all. We did not eat it completely and went back to the place where our car was parked.
On the way back to home we took lunch at OTDC restaurant near Chandrabhaga beach. It was simple but tasty. Chandrabhaga beach was nearby. We spent another 15-20 minutes at the beach and then we moved back to the hotel. As we had planned to visit Bhubaneswar the next day, we had decided to visit Shri Jagannath Mandir on the same day. Some people at the hotel had advised us to visit after 6 pm as we could get darshan from closer distance if we went between 6 pm to 7:30 pm if we went during this period just by paying Rs. 20. As it was 4 PM only, we went to the Puri Beach and played in the water. It was exhilarating experience to forget the age and play in the water. We had a lot of fun at beach.After spending some time at beach we made a move towards hotel. After taking bath we went to Jagannath Temple.
It took another 15 minutes for reaching Jagannath Temple. The autowalla dropped us in some galli. The galli had a lot food shops all around Bhaji, Rasagulla, Chena Cake (Kharwas) etc. After walking for five minutes we reached near the entrance of the temple. The temple was not much crowded. There were some beggars inside the temple. We could see quite a few temples inside. The main temple, temple of Bhagawan Jagannath is largest among them. As we went inside the temple we could see the three idols (Krishna, Balaram adn Subhadra) from far distance. The idols at Jagannath are around ten feet tall and more importantly they are not made of stone, but of wood. The shape of the idols is also quite different. Even from distance of around 10 m we could see the idols quite clearly only because of large size of idols . Thus we did not choose to get into queue of Special Darshanam. While I was getting closer to the idols, one person held my hand took me to the front and one of the pandits tried to give one packet to me. I thought they were offering Prasadam (for free), but then I realized that they will charge me for this. I immediately moved back and told them that I am not interested in buying Prasadam. I think they believed us to be gullible as we appeared to be a newly married couple. Although we were a newly married couple, their first guess was wrong.
As I said earlier, there are quite a few temples in the complex. Almost all the temples were occupied by  pilgrims. In one of the temples loud bhajan of "Hare Rama Hare Krishna" was being sung. After having darshan at couple of temples. We started to move towards exit. However we came across a small area offering Bhog (Khichadi) inside the complex. Just out of curiosity, we had a stroll around the shops selling Bhog. There were around fifty shopkeepers selling Bhog and other edibles. However I did not feel like buying bhog as I perceived the place to be somewhat unhealthy. Finally I ate little bit of ras malai as I could not resist digestive juices in my mouth. As we came outside the temple we traced back our steps to the same lane from where we came. We bough some bhaji and Chena Cake and enjoyed it. Chena Cake/Kharwas was really delicious unlike the ones we get in Mumbai. The kharawas reminded me the olden days when I used to visit home my maternal uncle in Karambele near Devrukh and used to enjoy the Kharwas.