Postcard from Odisha – 2

January 19, 2023

The surreal beauty of Mangalajodi can be seen in this picture

I went on a 10-day well-earned holiday to visit the eastern Indian State of Odisha. Continuing from the last post, I take you on this trip which churned out lovely surprises every single day.

Day 3

We headed to Honey Bee Bakery and Pizzeria for breakfast based on the recommendation of one of Saurav’s dear friends.

Honey Bee Bakery and Pizzeria is on the main market road, a two-storeyed affair with a flight of stairs to the first floor – rooftop – from the inside. The ambiance on the rooftop was rustic with some old wooden and cane chairs and tables and some low seating on cushions with fading covers.

On the ground floor, the setting was again rustic but with a natural-wooden theme and cushions covered in Sambalpuri covers.

We were greeted by Prashantha who took our order. He had been in Muscat for 10 years before returning to his home in Odisha.

The breakfast was typical Western and aligned with the taste of Westerners. I gathered that the eatery attracted a lot of foreign tourists visiting Puri. The breakfast was sumptuous and delicious.

The main street was visible from the large glass windows on the ground floor of the eatery, and I was briefly transported to the Palmyra Pizza outlet in Edinburgh which I visited along with our son, Siddharth, when he was pursuing his Masters Program. My wife, Jyothi, had not accompanied me during that trip. I loved sitting at the Palmyra Pizza outlet, facing the main street, and observing the life happening there.

Incorrigible travelers are always connecting the dots across various travel experiences while savoring the new.


We were leaving Puri for Konark but before that Saurav wanted to take me to Raghurajpur, a 25-minute drive from Puri.

Raghurajpur is a heritage crafts village known for, among other art forms, Pattachitra & Talapatra.

As Saurav parked the car and we began moving into the village, I got a sense of what lay ahead of us.

Small row houses opened into the main street. Every home belonged to an artist family. I spotted young men – some in the porch area and some inside the homes – busy working on pieces of art. As we passed each home, the artists invited us in to show us their colorful art. We kept moving forward until we spotted a home with a middle-aged man at work. He did not make any serious attempts at inviting us home or selling his products which was the precise reason why we chose to enter his home.

Art-to-heart interaction

As I was interacting with this fourth-generation Pattachitra & Talapatra maestro, Sisira Kanta Satapathy, I was listening to him with rapt attention.

Saurav had a call to attend and got busy for some time.

I took off my shoes before entering the room – it was like a shrine. As I looked around the room, I saw that I was surrounded by art pieces. I got to spend more than an hour with the artist.

In this art-to-heart interaction, the maestro spoke about his life dedicated to art. I got to see the still well-preserved Talapatra works of his grandfather and his father and learned how his school-going daughter, Subhashree, and his son, Swarnashree, are taking baby steps following the illustrious family tradition. Although he was also speaking about his challenges, there was a certain peace about him that I have spotted in artists – a philosophical retreat in their demeanor that helps them coast through Life.

Artists’ struggle to survive

The maestro also gave me a demonstration of his art – both the Pattachitra & the Talapatra. He explained how the colors originated from Nature. For instance, the brown color came from tamarind seeds while the white color came from vigorously rubbing a white conch shell against a coarse surface. Apart from being blown away, I felt a deep sense of reverence for such artists who are so gifted but still struggle to make ends meet. What an irony!

Most customers haggle aggressively making many artists squirm. Many customers look at a piece of art and estimate its worth based on the cost of the materials used. Their argument: ‘how much would it have cost him to make? After all, it is just a piece of cloth, some paint, and a few brushes!’ Unfortunately, many of these gifted artists are not wired to negotiate which is why they end up feeling shortchanged.

I purchased a Talapatra work of art created by the maestro depicting the life of Lord Rama. In this video, Sisira ji is seen explaining this particular Talapatra work.

I considered this piece as the most appropriate one to buy as the grand Ram Temple is expected to come up at Ayodhya by the end of this year. It was to be my small token of contribution towards this ‘national movement’.

As has always been my approach with artists, I didn’t negotiate on the price.

Onward to Konark!

From Raghurajpur, we headed to Konark, a distance of 40 km.

I thought Odisha’s roads and highways are in great condition. The road from Puri to Konark ran along the Bay of Bengal. However, the water was not visible – blocked by vegetation – except in a few places.

I gathered that Odias are prolific picnickers. On the way, we passed Balukhand and near the Maa Ramachandi Peetha, we saw shops displaying cooking gas stoves, LPG cylinders, large vessels, and other related paraphernalia available for hire.

Large groups of picnickers would assemble and cook for themselves using these community-kitchen items. There were rows of parked buses and many men, women, and children had gathered in separate small groups. These were the picnickers having a great time.

Konark – the Sun Temple!

Before we reached Konark, we passed by some graffiti on the wall along the highway. Saurav slowed down and turned in that direction. He parked the car facing the wall. It turned out that the legend behind the Konark Sun Temple had been depicted on the wall. Saurav explained the legend to me which came in handy later as I listened to the tour guide when we were at the Konark Sun Temple.

At the Konark Sun Temple, we engaged the services of Rajkumar Behera, a senior-citizen tour guide. As Saurav had already explained the story behind the temple to me on the way to Konark, I was able to make sense of what the tour guide was telling me in his typical accent.

Konark Sun Temple is a 13th-century CE (the year 1250) marvel. Dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya, what remains of the temple complex has the appearance of a 100-foot (30 m) high chariot with large wheels and horses, all carved from stone. Once over 200 feet (61 m) high, much of the temple is now in ruins. Like in the case of all such historical monuments in India, facts and legends are intertwined. Nevertheless, what I heard was extremely fascinating.

The Konark Sun Temple is a sight to behold and not to be missed in one’s lifetime.

The Konark Sun Temple is depicted on the reverse side of the Indian currency note of INR 10 signifying its importance to the Indian cultural heritage and ethos.

We left Konark and proceeded towards Bhubaneswar, where I had landed – arriving from Prayagraj on Day 1.

On the way, we stopped at Annapurna Sweets and Aruva, Nimapada, to taste their famous Chenna Jhilli. Nimapada is the birthplace of this sweet.

It was so tasty!

We also could not resist their Singaada and Pakoda which were served to us with Ghuguni.

Ashoka the Great!

On the way, we managed to squeeze in a visit to Dhauli – also known as Dhauligiri. We saw the majestic Shanti Stupa or Peace Pagoda. A crowd had gathered there.

The Dhauli Shanti Stupa was built by the Japan Buddha Sangha and the Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangha in 1972. Built on the site where the famous Kalinga War was fought, the Dhauli Stupa commemorates the mission of peace that the Kalinga War achieved.

According to popular legend, the Daya River which meanders along the Dhauli hill turned red due to blood spilling on it from the battlefield. So fierce was the battle that it left Emperor Ashoka bewildered and he transformed from Chanda Ashoka (war-mongering Ashoka) to Dharma Ashoka (peace-loving Ashoka).

At Dhauli, we took a picture availing the services of a professional photographer.

From Dhauli, we drove to Bhubaneswar.

Saurav had arranged my stay at the Bhubaneswar Club, a prestigious address. Established in 1950, the Club is on the list of the top clubs in the country.

I settled down in my room and Saurav left for his Cuttack home.

My Day 3 had come to a close.

Day 4

It seems tipping is a culture quite prevalent in Odisha.

Having come from Bangalore where digital transactions are the norm, l was not carrying much cash. In any case, I wasn’t carrying small notes and change. Saurav handed over some small currency notes to me and explained the expectations and the process of tipping to me. It was a useful tip – pun unintended.

Based on Saurav’s advice, every time I availed of Room Service, I tipped the waiter – the waiters’ expectations here are modest. I was expected to tip them a tenner or at the most, a twenty-rupee note.

The area around the Bhubaneswar Club is beautiful. Wide, well-swept roads, colorful graffiti on the walls along the road depicting the different facets of Odisha, and applique cloth lanterns hung from the tree branches on either side sum up the view as I took a leisurely walk up to the gurgling fountain. Odisha was playing host to the FIH Hockey World Cup and that also explained the sprucing up of Bhubaneswar city including the proliferation of art as street graffiti.

I gathered that the idea of street graffiti was the brainchild of an IAS officer. It is now a widespread phenomenon that has spread to smaller towns. I spotted such graffiti in Cuttack and Balasore, the anglicized name of Baleshwar.

See below a video of the blur of street graffiti in Bhubaneswar taken from a moving car.


I recalled the Graffiti Tunnel (see the pic below) at the University of Sydney when Jyothi & I were visiting our son, Siddharth. At that time, Sid was pursuing his Ph.D.

Saurav met me at the Bhubaneswar Club and we left.

First, we headed to the market area. Saurav wanted me to taste some delicacies of Shree Cuttack Sweets Stall – a famous joint.

Sweets are a big thing in Odisha. I gathered that every home has some sweets always available to be served to the guests. When people visit each other, boxes containing sweets are exchanged. No wonder then that everywhere one looks, there are sweet shops. I also gathered that thanks to the fancy for sweets, even the boniest of Odias can be seen with an unmistakable paunch.

At Shree Cuttack Sweets Stall, we tasted their Samosa (here, it is not known as Singaada) and their Veg Chop – a variation of the Vegetable Cutlet. We also savored the Gud Sandesh, a delectable sweet with two raisins stuck on either side – more as ornamentation. But what was really special was the Sita Bhog made of sweetened rice with tiny Gulab Jamuns in it.

After this sweet treat, we left for Mangalajodi, a distance of 68 km.

Mangalajodi is a village located on the northeastern corner of Chilika Lake. It is a vast freshwater marshland that is home to an amazing diversity of birds, especially now, when avian visitors from Siberia, Mongolia, and China arrive.

We were met by our guide, Bapi Behera. With a pair of Nikon binoculars each, Saurav and I climbed onto the boat – the traditional variety with a single long and slender oar. The boatman’s name was Jogi Behera. I was recalling our family travel to Venice, Italy, and our sojourn on the gondola.

Bapi Behera was an expert with birds but he was not one of those licensed guides. The reason: he had not completed the basic qualification needed to be a licensed guide. Saurav being who he is was encouraging Bapi to progress on his academic path but Saurav’s encouragement was met with a tepid response. It was clear that Bapi was okay wherever he was. In this process, Saurav was also explaining to me the fact that the Odia man on the street is not very ambitious. Once the ‘minimum guarantee’ is met, further endeavors may be considered unnecessary.

Bapi was very excited to show us the birds. As Jogi steered the boat slowly through the water, we were surrounded by silence punctuated only by the cheeping, chirping, cawing, hooting, and clucking of the birds.

In the video below, you can see the Mongolian migratory bird, Ruddy Shelduck in action.

We saw many birds, some close at hand and others far away. The pair of binoculars came in handy.

Bapi shared with us a book of birds with colorful pictures. As he pointed out a bird, I quickly went to the index page, located the description, and read it to myself. Understanding Bapi’s accent in a way that I could locate the correct name within the book was not very easy. Therefore, holding the pair of binoculars in one hand and focusing on the phone camera while reading from the book was getting to be very cumbersome.

When I turned back and looked at Saurav, he was neither referring to the book nor wielding the pair of binoculars. He was savoring the present moment. I too quickly dropped everything and focused on being in the present moment. We were not engaged in an avian research project, so what was the big deal?

While both Saurav and I were focusing on the present, Bapi was getting uncomfortable. He kept drawing our attention to the birds and the stories about them. I could sense that he was feeling guilty – he was not offering us value commensurate to the fee. But beyond a point, when he saw neither me rushing to flip open the book nor Saurav training his binoculars, Bapi sadly gave up. To him, we were not too keen on ‘paisa vasool‘, the Hindi colloquial term for ‘value for money’.

Mangalajodi was a fantastic experience. Even for someone who has not pursued birdwatching as a serious hobby, the surreal beauty of Mangalajodi can have a profound effect. I recommend it highly.

Day 4 had drawn to a close.

Coming up in the next post: we turned cavemen albeit briefly, onwards to the sweet village of Pahala, the Chandipur Sea Beach, and some royal treatment befitting the kings.

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