The above picture is of the Belgadia Palace, home to the Mayurbhanj royal family.
I went on a 10-day well-earned holiday to visit the eastern Indian State of Odisha. Continuing from the last post, join me as I take you through a mosaic of experiences.
Back to the Stone Age!
On Day 5 of my Odisha vacation, my friend, Saurav & I headed to Udaygiri & Khandagiri Caves near Bhubaneswar.
Udaygiri and Khandagiri Caves are partly natural & partly artificial caves of archaeological, historical, and religious importance. These are finely and ornately carved caves built during the 1st century BCE.
The caves are situated on two adjacent hills, Udaygiri and Khandagiri mentioned as Kumari Parvata in the Hathigumpha inscription. It is believed that most of these caves were carved out as residential blocks for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela. Udaygiri has 18 caves while Khandagiri has 15 caves.
There were some interesting features. The caves served as dormitories. Some caves were opening to the verandah while some others were facing the open space. Some had a sloping rise of the floor at the rear end serving as a pillow. In later years, some had been converted into shrines with decorative carvings.
As Saurav and I were walking around, I was astounded by the kind of history we were surrounded by.
In India, as we are surrounded by so much history in every city, town, and village, we tend to take such rich inheritance for granted. ‘So what? Big deal!’ We tend to normalize everything. During our trips to historical locations abroad, I have seen so much devotion and reverence for history. It shows in the way monuments and such locations are treated by the public at large.
I do see a sweeping but subtle change happening around us. As we get more proud of our civilization and our Indianness, I guess our respect for our own history will automatically follow. Of course, only time will tell.
At Udayagiri, we turned cavemen albeit briefly, and took many pictures.
In a way, during this trip, I had seen centers of significance of major religions. I had been to a Hindu center like the Jagannath Puri Temple, a Buddhist center like the Dhauligiri Shanti Stupa, and now the Udaygiri & Khandagiri Caves of Jain significance. Later, when we were in the old part of Cuttack town, Saurav also pointed out to me some mosques of great significance.
Off to Balasore
From Bhubaneswar, Saurav & I headed to Balasore (the anglicized name of Baleshwar), a distance of 196 km that was to take about 4 hours by car. This drive was to be the longest within Odisha for us.
Saurav and I have known each other for about two decades. Both of us are facilitators and Coaches. While Saurav has been an entrepreneur for decades, I switched over from employment to entrepreneurship 9 years ago.
Both of us have many things in common including our respective family structures.
As a writer in English, I consider myself entitled to coin a new word if there is no word in English to aptly describe the situation or activity in question.
Therefore, I have gone ahead and coined the word, ‘carversation’.
What is ‘carversation’?
a talk, inside a car, especially an informal one, among the members of a family or among friends, during which news and ideas are exchanged.
Usage: ‘Our family went on a long drive in our car and we had a great carversation.’
For a carversation, it is the journey that matters, and not so much the destination. In order to have a great carversation, there should have been a prior culture of conversation. In my view, that is a precondition.
With Saurav, with so many things in common, there was no dearth of topics for a carversation. The 4-hour drive each from Bhubaneswar to Balasore and back was a fertile ground for many topics.
A carversation works for three reasons. One, the audience is captive. Second, there are hardly any distractions which augur well for sharing and listening. Third, the sights and the sounds that we experience along the way also enrich our conversation.
As someone who was visiting Odisha for the first time, I had lots of questions relating to Odisha and its culture, and Saurav being an Odia and a patient listener at that, had ready responses.
We also had detailed carversations relating to our work – the Learning & Development and Coaching domains, the kind of work we do, the pre-Covid and post-Covid worlds, and generally about client expectations.
Then we had lots to talk about Life in general. Saurav is a keen observer and is on the path to writing a book on patterns – what he has been observing about people over the years. That was again something common as I was also in the process of preparing to release my next book, ‘Life in Small Bites’.
All in all, as the travel progressed, we seemed to have only expanded the list of topics to be discussed. During the carversation, we were only enriching each other’s points of view. There was nothing to prove and nothing to dispute or contradict. What a pleasure!
On the way, we passed by Pahala, Odisha’s ‘sweet’ village. On both sides of the highway, there are rows of makeshift shops selling only specific types of sweets. In these 400-odd shops led by an Association, they are allowed to sell only a few items like the Rasagola and the Chenna Podo. Just to further clarify, they are not permitted to sell anything else.
At the time when we were visiting, many of these shops were getting ready with small polythene packets containing these sweets to be sold to the highway bus passengers who would be waiting for their tryst with Pahala when their bus passes by.
Apart from taking pictures, I got a chance to visit their old-fashioned kitchen where they cook using firewood and charcoal, and of course, taste their delectable fare. Saurav also got some sweets packed for later consumption.
At Balasore, we stayed at Udyog Bhavan, courtesy Saurav’s industrialist friend, Sanjay. The Udyog Bhavan is meant as a comfortable transit home for business folks visiting this business town. It was a very well-appointed facility with Narayan, the ever-ready man in charge.
The vanishing beach!
The next day, early in the morning, we headed to the pristine Chandipur Sea Beach.
Travel is also about experiencing the unusual.
While I have visited many beaches during our travels, two experiences clearly stand out.
Piha Black Sand Beach is a well-known black sand beach on New Zealand’s North Island, west of Auckland. The sand is black due to the high iron content, which originated from Mount Taranaki and earlier volcanoes in the area. When we were there five years ago, the gathering rain clouds provided a stark contrast to the waters and the black sand. See the top part of the collage.
What is unique about Chandipur Beach is that the seawater retreats by up to 5 km during ebb tide, the time between the high tide and the low tide. The waters then magically ‘return’ at the time of the high tide. This unusual natural phenomenon happens daily.
When we were there at the beach, the water had already receded. We saw people walking into the sea or rather where the sea had been just hours ago. In the bottom part of the collage, you can see them as specks to the left.
Incidentally, Chandipur is used for missile testing. Strategically located along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, it has the advantage of providing a safe corridor for all types of missile and gun systems.
Reflected royal glory!
Next, we headed to the Belgadia Palace, home to the Mayurbhanj royal family. The palace was now a hotel and on the tourist map.
Saurav had booked lunch for us at the palace.
We drove down to the palace.
I had seen the palace at Mysore and some in Rajasthan before. In comparison, the Belgadia Palace was a modest affair. However, like all palaces, it too reeked of opulence – but understated – and royalty.
Upon reaching the palace, we were taken on a tour as part of the package. Himanshu, a smart Odia young man, showed us around.
We entered large ostentatious halls displaying hunting trophies on the walls, climbed spiral, creaking wooden staircases passing large portraits of royalty looking down at us lesser mortals.
Everywhere we looked, there were symbols of royalty whether it was in the palace’s library-cum study or the gigantic scrolls of religious significance that hung on the walls of the Living Room. We spotted crystalware of different shapes and sizes on antique chests of drawers and carved furniture. Large decorative mirrors were placed at strategic locations.
As we were walking around the palace, Himanshu narrated interesting snippets from royal life.
At the end of the tour, we were treated to a lunch of royal proportions, cooked by Chef Shirsendu Behera.
The Chef joined us to explain the 20-odd items that were placed before us on the royal platter.
Meanwhile, Soutam, the Manager, also joined us and gave us more insights.
As we sat down to savor the royal lunch in the palace’s opulent dining area, we were repeatedly offered more helpings. As if the variety was not enough, Himanshu placed jars of four different pickles on the table. Both Saurav and I being modest in our appetite quotient declined their generous offers. They did seem a trifle disappointed.
On our way back, we stopped at two temples – the Emami Jagannath Temple at Balgopalpur, and the Khirachora Gopinatha Temple at Remuna.
The Emami Jagannath Temple is dubbed Odisha’s second Puri Jagannath temple. The seventy-eight feet high scintillating shrine has been constructed by Emami Paper Mill Limited.
I saw the Emami Jagannath Temple as an architectural convergence of the Puri Jagannath Temple and the Konark Temple forms. It was fascinating to see how the features of these two structures had been combined.
From the Emami Jagannath Temple, we headed to Remuna for the Khirachora Gopinatha Temple. ‘Khirachora’ in Odia means ‘stealer of milk’ and ‘Gopinatha’ means the ‘divine consort of the Gopis’. The reference is to the child Krishna’s love for milk and milk products.
Saurav purchased a few small earthen pots containing the sublimely delicious Khira (inset in the below picture) which we got to taste several times over the next couple of days. It struck me that our traditional packaging methods were so eco-friendly.
I have always found such Prasad (divine offering) immensely tasty. I guess it has to do with where it is made, who makes it, and in what setting. Whether it is the Payasam at Kerala’s Ambalapuzha Temple or the Khadaa Parshad served at the Golden Temple at Amritsar or the Aravanaa Payasam at the Ayyappan Temple at Haridwar or the Puliyogare at the Venkateshwara Swamy Temple closer home, the taste is really uplifting and divine.
In the evening, Saurav’s friend, Sanjay, took us out to dinner. He took us to Yum Chinese, where we were joined by the owner of Yum Foods, Monasis Das, a foodpreneur. The restaurant was in a complex where his restaurants serving Indian food, Chinese food, and a bakery coexisted. We had a great conversation on the general business climate of Balasore and on Monasis’ novel Business Model of treating each of the food sections as a separate Vertical thereby creating healthy competition amongst them. The food of course was delicious.
By the time we returned to Udyog Bhavan at Balasore to retire for the night, Day 6 had come to an end.
What a splendid vacation this was turning out to be! I was so grateful to Saurav for his invaluable support in making my vacation memorable.
Coming up in the final Odisha post: ‘Small is beautiful’ – my stay at Cuttack, the honor of attending an engagement event in Saurav’s family, staying at the homely Hotel Bombay Inn, saree shopping, and memories of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.