A visit to Maa Kalijai Temple

25.06.2017:

On completing our visit to Konark, we headed towards Berhampur. We were uncertain about our next destination as my friends started worrying about my condition. I was running a fever along with cough and cold and we set out from Konark only at around 18.00 hrs! Though I wanted to stop at Pipli on our way to Berhampur, I couldn’t, as I was fast asleep in the car and my friends didn’t dare to disturb my sleep ๐Ÿ˜‰ Pipli is a place in Odisha which is famous for its applique work and artecrafts.ย  One can buy colorful umbrellas, bags, wall hangings and other decorative items.

I was woken up my friends only when we stopped at a restaurant for dinner and to my surprise, it was the same restaurant in which we dined the other day! ๐Ÿ™‚ Even the owner and the waiters were able to recognize us quickly and were more happy to extend their services to us! ๐Ÿ˜€ I slept again for the rest of our journey and woke up only after reaching our hotel in Berhampur. Once checked-in, I called it a day!

26.06.2017:

I woke up around 07.00 hrs and was surprised to see my friends who were already up and got ready! They asked me how I were feeling and they relieved a sigh when I told them that I was much better after such a good sleep that night! I quickly freshened up and we checked-out from the hotel. As it was only 08.00 hrs in the morning and none of us felt like eating and didn’t think much about our breakfast and headed towards Chilika Lake. Yes, it’s the Chilika – Asiaโ€™s largest brackish water lake.

Chilika Lake is situated at a distance of about 50 kms from Berhampur and is one of the most visited places in Odisha. Chilika is also one of the famous eco tourist spots of the state. On reaching Chilika Lake, we checked for a ferry service and there are multiple options available here. We can either go on a ferry which would carry around 20 passengers, or a boat which would carry about 10 people or a speed boat which would be sufficient for 6 passengers. The fare depends on the number of places which we choose to visit!

We chose a speed boat visit to the nearby Kalijai island which costed us around Rs. 3,000/-. Chilika is a brackish water lagoon which extends over an area of 1,200 sq km in the monsoon season and shrinks to an area of about 800 sq km in summers! It was declared aย Ramsar Wetland Site of International Importance in 1981 and is popular as a spot for both bird watching and finding Irrawady dolphins. As soon as we stepped into our speed boat, it sped off through a narrow channel which leads to the main lagoon! It’s a vast expanse of blue waters surrounded by low undulating hills. It wasn’t a sunny day and temperature was low which is perfect to soak in this magic! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

This lake is dotted with numerous islands and the Nalabana Island which is at the center of the lake has a bird sanctuary and the best time to visit this island is in between October and March when a lot of migratory birds from Afghanisthan, Iran and Serbia comes here. And Satpada which is near to Puri is the place where concentration of Irrawady Dolphins is more and chances of us getting a glimpse of this endangered species are more! We came across the INS Chilika Headquarters on our way to the Kalijai island.

It took us around 30 minutes to reach this island. Our boat driver also acted as our guide through the ride and explained us different things about Chilika. He told us that the Kalijai island is the abode of goddess Kalijai, who is revered as the reigning deity of the lagoon. There is a legend behind this temple too ๐Ÿ™‚ย It is said that Jaai was a girl who was going to get married in Parikud Islan, and the boat on which they are travelling was capsized in the storm and while everyone else survived in this tragedy, the girl died. And in later days, the boatmen and fishermen were to hear her speaking to them and guiding them in troublesome situations and became to be worshiped as Maa Kali. Hence the name Kalijai!

He further added that no boatmen would venture out into the lake without offering prayers to Maa Kalijai. The temple of Maa Kalijai was built by Sri Jagannath Mansingh (king of Bankad) in the year 1717. This is a small rocky island and houses a temple and few shacks selling food, soft drinks and other puja items. We offered our prayers and went around the island which hardly took 15 minutes! Apart from the priest and some staff in the temple, no one else lives there.

Back on the shore, it’s time for us to head to our homes – our loving parents are waiting for us! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Though we didn’t have our breakfast, we didn’t forget to make a stop at our now favorite eating spot – the Urvashi Paradise Restaurant in Palasaย and this time we tried our hand at the lip-smacking Gongura as well as Avakai Biryanis! ๐Ÿ™‚ Our next stop was at one of my favorite hang-out spots in Vizag – the coffee shop ‘Pasty, Coffee & Conversation‘, which is a 10 minute walk from my University in which I pursued my engineering ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ Good olden days and good olden memories ๐Ÿ™‚

Having a recap of our trip in our conversation over cups of coffee and some pastries and mud-pies, we headed to Rajahmundry ๐Ÿ™‚

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Playing our cards safe with Eshwar ;-)

24.06.2017:

Eshwar’s plan was to visit Gopalpur on Sea and return back to Vizag, spend a day there and head to Rajahmundry – our native! But, Bhojnadh and I had other plans for him ๐Ÿ˜‰ . Though we told him that let’s think about this on our way to Gopalpur, we didn’t get a chance to discuss it as we were quite occupied in rewinding our childhood and discussing our present lives! Once to Gopalpur on Sea, Bhojnadh and I planned how to persuade Eshwar with going on this trip further!

It was at this time, Bhojnadh reminded me that Eshwar is a bit religious person and the icing came as a phone call from Maithreyee saying that the Annual Rath Yatra or Chariot Festival of Puri is the next day ๐Ÿ™‚ The card which we need to play is in our hand and the only thing we need is to find the right time to play it ๐Ÿ˜‰ On our way back from Gopalpur on Sea to the NH 5, I told Eshwar that the Rath Yatra is tomorrow!

Bhojnadh took up from here and told Eshwar that it’s a matter of another 180 km and we would return back to Vizag after attending the ceremony. Eshwar, who was silent all this time surprised us by immediately saying an yes to the proposed plan :). So, there we go, the next destination – Puri! Reaching Puri is not a problem at all, but the issue at that point of time is our accommodation, as getting accommodation at the time of Annual Chariot festival is way too difficult ๐Ÿ˜ฆ We took a short break in the mid-way to stretch our legs and continued with our journey.

The signals were poor owning to the bad rain all through out the way and though I checked all the travel websites like makemytrip and goibibo, I couldn’t find any rooms available in any of the hotels in Puri. I called up Maithreyee and asked her to check in the other websites too to find some suitable accommodation for us. It’s 22.00 hrs when we all felt hungry and we were still to travel another 100 kms and it might take us another 2 hours owning to the traffic on that road because of the Rath Yatra.

We stopped at a roadside Dhaba, not a big one though, in fact we were the only customers during that hour. We ordered some roti, egg bhurji, aloo matar and some crispy fried mushrooms. The food is tasty, budgetary and hygienic too ๐Ÿ™‚ Satisfied, we started with our journey again and proceeded to Puri. The road leading to Puri is narrow and way too dark. Except for a village or two here and there, there is not even a small lamp flickering anywhere else except the headlights of our car! It is as if a sea of darkness had engulfed the entire area. The road is potholed, it was raining continuously and there were no street lights or any lights along the road – one of the scariest roads so far ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Maithreyee informed us that there are few rooms available; gave us the number of the person whom we should contact and asked us to call and inform him that we would be a bit late! In fact we were late, we reached Puri only around 12.oo in the night as it took more time than expected because of the road. We reached the hotel and the manager told us that he had only one room and a common washroom. We rejected the idea of staying there and went around the place to find out if any other accommodation was available!

Owing to the rush of tourists and pilgrims during this time, it became really difficult for us to find accommodation. After inquiring here and there, we reached a small hotel where two rooms were available and we checked-in to grab some sleep before going to witness one of the biggest festivals of India!

Once upon a time….. in Gopalpur on sea

24.06.2017:

Berhampur – the silk city of Odisha, is just about 30 kms from Icchapuram – the border area of Andhra Pradesh and we looked out for a right turn after crossing Icchapuram as showed by the Google Maps. Gopalpur on Sea is located at a mere distance of 15 kms from Berhampur and is easily accessible.ย  The road which leads us to Gopalpur on Sea from the NH 16 is a bit narrow, but enough number of sign-boards were placed along this road to show us the way to Gopalpur.

Gopalpur was once buzzing with maritime activities which Odisha is known for ages. It was one of the outlets through which early settlers of South East Asia sailed off. During the days of Kalingas, Gopalpur on Sea was known as the port of Paloura from which traders sailed as far as Java, Bali and Sumatra mainly dealing in silk and pearls. Later it became a prominent trading port mainly a transit point toย  export sugar and cheap laborers for the tea gardens of Assam in North Eastern India during the days of the British East India Company.ย Like Middleton-on-sea, the โ€˜on-seaโ€™ tag has been conferred on Gopalpur by the Britishers.

Gopalpur-on-sea is a small quiet town which is popular for its beautiful pristineย  sandy beach and a perfect beach destination for a tranquil holiday. We reached here around 16.30 hrs when it was drizzling a little. The beach is fairly isolated and there are not many tourists – the continuous rain may be one of the reasons! We parked our car aside and started walking towards the beach.ย The beach with its golden sand of the blue sea has its own sleepy charm and looked pretty during the drizzle! ๐Ÿ™‚ย There are no palm trees along the coastline and one get an uninterrupted view of the mammoth Bay of Bengal!

There is a light house which stand witness to the past port and also acts as the landmark of the place. This would be open only for a while in the afternoon and if you are lucky enough to visit this place during that time, you can get a sweeping view of the country side as well as the Bay of Bengal. But we were late that day ๐Ÿ˜ฆ We walked along the quite seashore which is undisturbed by the regular tourists or day-trippers. It was so serene that all we could hear is the symphony of the waves and our own heart-beats. And all that we could see is a vast stretch of blue waters with the fishing boats anchored on the sands of the beach by the fisher-folk with the crumbling walls and pillars of an ancient jetty together with some crumbling bungalows in the background!

The sea here is a bit rough and completely idea for sailing and surfing. And importantly, it’s comparatively a clean place to swim, but one has to take precautions as this beach is not that shallow! Once onto the road after a long walk along the beach, we went around the place to explore a bit. Once a favourite of British travellers during the Raj and home to retired British and Anglo-Indian railway employees, Gopalpur-on-sea still has several bungalows and mansions belonging to the Europeans and this gives the place still a colonial look.

Some of these buildings and bungalows were modified into small hotels and offers accommodation to the budget travelers. The promenade along the beach is filled up with small shacks selling a wide range of food products like prawns, fish, crabs, delicacies of mutton and chicken etc. Though we didn’t try any of these delicacies here, we ate few ice-creams and made our way further deep into the town. There is also a local market here which looked deserted at that hour of time and just about 3 kms from the beach, the local creeks in the vicinity of the sea have created a network of backwaters, which is an ideal place for a picnic.

Men were fishing; children were playing and boat-men were patiently waiting for the tourists who would like to go on leisure boat rides and others waiting for passengers who would travel across these backwaters to reach their villages on the other side. This is one of the most picturesque place in the vicinity, but one should be more cautious as these backwaters are quite deeper and the undercurrents more stronger! We returned to our car after clicking enough of photos without knowing what our next destination would be :-p ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you are looking for a perfect weekend gateway away from the busy city life, Gopalpur-on-sea would be a perfect choice, as this beach with her backwaters continue to spread its aquatic magic since times immemorial! ๐Ÿ™‚ There is also this 99 year old Mayfair Beach Resorts which offers luxurious accommodation for the tourists!

Let’s find our destination for the day….

24.06.2017:

I got a flight from Trivandrum to Vizag on the previous day, while Eshwar was already into Vizag. Bhojnadh too started from Nellore on 23rd to Vizag. By 22.00 hrs, each of us were into our respective places and decided to start our journey around 07.00 hrs the next day. Trust me, never ever would we make out on the exact time! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ I woke up around 06.00 in the morning and got ready by 07.00 and was waiting for these guys to pick me up from my uncle’s home. I tried to call them since 05.00 hrs in the morning, but none of them attended my calls and Eshwar called me only at 08.00 hrs!

He started with a sorry and told me that they would be there at my place by 09.30 hrs, but they turned up only at 11.00 hrs. Pappu (Krishna), a friend of Eshwar’s younger brother too tagged along them and I bid a bye to dad, mom and uncle, aunt. Once onto the road, Eshwar told me that as we are just 4, we would go till Srikakulam and return back. But, I told him that we will go atleast till Gopalpur on Sea – a good beach destination. All the four of us agreed upon this and the destination was decided thus – It’s Gopalpur on Sea! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Gopalpur on Sea can be reached easily from Berhampur in Odisha and is around 250 kms from Visakhapatnam. Vizag is connected to Berhampur by the National Highway 16 (NH16), previously NH5 and is a part of the Golden Quadrilateral Project. The weather was cloudy and cool. We took a 10 minutes break near Bhogapuram to sip the tender coconuts that were being sold on the roadside and got our bottles filled with sweet coconut water before we started our journey again. We reached Srikakulam within an hour and planned to have our lunch here. But then, none of us were hungry and so we continued with our journey.

In the meanwhile, Eshwar checked with couple of his friends about restaurants/dhabas where we can get some good food and few told him to have it in Srikakulam while few suggested to drive to Palasa. When checked online we found a restaurant in Palasa with some decent reviews on google. We decided to have our lunch there. Just after crossing Srikakulam, the weather changed drastically and it started raining heavily making the climate more cool and our drive a bit slow. The clock ticked 14.00 hrs! While Eshwar was driving, pappu was sleeping, Bhoje was busy answering his office calls and I busy in finding a gas station online.

Though we reached Palasa, we were not able to find the restaurant and after inquiring with few people, they asked us to take the Palasa – Kasibugga road to reach this restaurant. From this, we were able to conclude that the restaurant is famous in and around its surroundings perhaps! Wondering how could a restaurant could be so famous in such a remote place, we started driving on the narrow Palasa-Kasibugga road and reached there. To our surprise, the restaurant was jam-packed and we had to wait for almost 15 minutes to get a table ๐Ÿ˜ฆ While Eshwar, Pappu and I started going through the Menu Card, Bhoje went near to the ATM to do some business transactions!

A perfectly dressed gentlemen came to us and asked for our order and Eshwar inquired about the specialties of their restaurant. The answer came instantly – it’s Biryani! Ofcourse Biryani, especially the Hyderabadi Biryani is quite famous in the states of Andhra Pradesh and neighboring Telanaga, but this restaurant is famous of two unique variants of Biryani i.e Gongura Biryani and Aavakai Biryani! Gongura is a sour leafy vegetable that is available in Andhra Pradesh while Aavakai is a hot and spicy pickle Andhra Pradesh is famous for. Don’t think these two are as simple as they sound – they are the base of a small-scale industry in the state ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜‰

Without further discussion, Eshwar and I ended up ordering Gongura Vegetable Biryani for us while Pappu chose Aavakai Chicken Biryani for himself and Bhojnadh. We ordered Hot and Sour soup too along with Mushroom Tikka – a spicy stater of barbecued Button Mushrooms marinated with yogurt and spices. The food was served hot and truly it’s delicious. I never ever imagined that we could get such good food in this pocket of the state and Eshwar ended up ordering for Paneer Tikka too – a variant of Cottage Cheese, to munch on during our drive!

Once onto the Highway, we changed our driving turns! Clouds…Rain…Soothing Music…Childhood friends…A long drive.. What else could be an ideal therapy for a tired soul? ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ We made our way to Berhampur with a brief halt on the road-side just to stretch our legs and relish the cool weather. Ofcourse, munching some Paneer Tikka along with a hot cup of tea on the roadside while it’s drizzling is not such a bad idea. What would you say? ๐Ÿ˜‰