Bhubhaneshwar, Konark, and Puri form a neat triangle in a travel itinerary (much like Mumbai, Pune, and Nashik but smaller) and can easily be visited in a day. But only if you manage your time well and are given strict time limits wherever you stop at. Given the famed Indian habit to linger and add to that, the different priorities of every individual in the 40+ tourist group and eagerness of the locals to show the best that the state has to offer within a span of 18 hours, you can imagine the frustration of the organizer. Ash’s dad was trying desperately to keep the schedule on track and apart from the occasional diversion and lingering, we seemed to do quite well. My dad is known to be a hard taskmaster and stickler for punctuality so the poor guests were being herded around from both sides. However, I don’t think they really minded it all that much; most of them were oblivious to any care and were throughly enjoying themselves.
After our brief stop at Pipili, we headed toward Orissa’s flagship monument, the Konark Temple. I must say that the roads are especially nice and even in the rural parts that we traveled through, we never experienced the moon surface-like experience that you normally associate with Indian roads. We passed along plenty of rice fields, flowing rivers, and villagers threshing grains on the roadside. Since I was seated right behind the driver, I indulged in what can be best described as windshield photography (perhaps I should start a Flickr group). We arrived at Konark at around noon and the crowds and profusion of commercial hawker stalls gave a fair indication of the popularity of the place; being a Sunday didn’t help either. All the vehicles were supposed to be parked a mile away and we could either walk it or take a rickshaw. Along with few people, I was game to walking while the majority choose the lazy rickshaw way. Well, they ended up missing the cool coconut water that we stopped for while walking through the bazaar. We joined our group near the entrance.
A little bit of history on the Konark Temple first. Built in the form of a chariot to the Sun god, it is one of the most extensively carved temple in India. The wheels that adorned the high foundation of the temple are its hallmark and are one of the most instantly-recognized symbols of Indian history. Built in the thirteenth century, the alignment with the celestial bodies was paramount in its construction. It was rumored to have been topped with a lodestone (magnet) that suspended the idol inside in midair. However, this lodestone disrupted the navigation of the ships and threw their compasses in disarray. Some say, the British removed the lodestone while others blame the Muslim invaders (Kalapahad being the likely culprit). Whoever did it seriously disrupted the perfect alignment of the temple’s architecture as the roof caved in and 200-feet shikhara collapsed. Some even blame Kalapahad’s systematic destruction of Hindu temples and his removal of the dadhinauti (archstone) in the Konark Temple to its destruction. What you see now is merely a pale reflection of the erstwhile grandeur of what may have been an excellent example of temple architecture in the entire world. And yet today it still is one of the most impressive structures in all of India. Today, you can merely go around the temple and at the most, walk around its upper plinth but you cannot go inside as it is closed. The quick whirlwind tour we got from our guide wasn’t enough to satisfy our curiosity and he was right in suggesting that in order to get the complete picture of Konark, we might need at least three hours. More on the Temple at Wikipedia.
Nevertheless, armed with our colorful Pipili umbrellas and cameras we walked around the Konark complex. We were given a fairly decent instructional guide in reading time from one of the wheels. I wonder if Titan is planning on launching a Konark series of wrist watches with the wheel in the dial; I strongly suggest they do. Of course, the other reason why Konark is famous is for the blatant display of Kamasutra-inspired statues (see image below) on the carved panels. Oh! That explains the sly comment made by one of the guests at the wedding reception asking me to visit Konark. Judging the ‘family’ nature of our group, our guide glossed over those images and instead focused on the much tamer ones depicting more mundane scenes from daily life in the thirteenth century. I’m sure although people were listening to him, they had their eyes on the sculptures above while avoiding all conversation of them. I had the strong urge of dropping a bombshell by insisting the guide explain what the heck where those two girls doing to that one particularly excited male. I even checked if the local ‘humari sankskruti bachao‘ organization was protesting outside but nope, no such luck. Those that blame western influences on corrupting our youth should visit Konark once and see the various ‘positions’ and awesome threesomes too. Mind blowing; No pun intended.
I found it strange that although everyone in our group was an adult including my youngest cousin sister who is 19, no one ventured talking about those NSFW sculptures although I could hear some snickering and smart-alec comments coming from couple of my uncles. I guess the older adults didn’t want to open the proverbial Pandora’s box lest they were found to be least knowledgeable in this regard :) But we were told that these sculptures were primarily made to deter young men from going straight from their gurukul stage of life to sanyas stage (skipping the intermediary grashtasham) and lure them toward pleasures of the flesh and ultimately toward familial life. You can consider them a historic version of pron with different intentions. I’m sure hiding a NSFW stone panel carving under the bed would have been difficult for a teenager in the middle ages.
We also visited a nearby structure behind the main temple which was supposed to be a test model for the actual temple. It had been grilled and locked and we could see a lonely statue of some god inside. Upon asking why was this tiny enclosure locked down, the guide sheepishly told us that previously when it was open people used to urinate inside. Bah! In spite of public toilets right outside the entrance to the temple, people simply couldn’t resist the temptation of marking their territory on even temple walls, eh? Thankfully, we didn’t see a whole lot of ‘Rocky loves Meena’ graffiti. Probably being a World Heritage site may have something to do with it.
Unfortunately, due to limitations of time we couldn’t visit the Nav Graha (Nine Planets) temple that is located a short distance from the main temple. The temple has a long stone slab intricately carved with depictions of traditionally-revered heavenly bodies. The reason it is located away from the temple was that the British tried carting it away to the museum in Calcutta but found it too heavy and cumbersome and dumped it in its current location. I wished we had more time to explore the Konark Temple and its precincts but such are the limitations of cramming everything in one day.
More on Puri later.