Konark – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

25.06.2017:

Odisha is popular for its architecturally celebrated temples like the Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneshwar, Lord Jagannath’s shrine in Puri and the Sun Temple at Konark and many more sacred shrines and heritage monuments along with the famous Odissi dance, fairs, festivals and exotic handicrafts. The first thing that comes into everyone’s mind when heard of the state’s name is either the famous Rath Yatra or the Konark Sun Temple. This itself proves that how heritage has become an integral part of Odisha!

As I reached the entrance, I could see the Kalinga architectural marvel standing as a living sonata in stone! This 13th century temple dedicated to the Sun God, is built in black granite during the reign of King Langula Narasimhadeva – I of the Ganga Dynasty around 1250 AD. This is one of the most important temples dedicated to the Sun God in India and is a leading Hindu pilgrimage centre. This place is now under the maintenance of Archaeological Survey of India and the entry fee is Rs. 30/- per person.

There was a queue of tour guides behind us by the time we entered the temple complex and we politely rejected their services! 🙂 The first structure we encountered upon entering the complex is the Natya Mandir (the Dance Hall) where the temple dancers once performed. A stone staircase flanked by seated lions led us on to the platform from where we can get a better view of the Sun Temple. Once upon a time, the temple dancers used to perform here as a ritual offering to the God, but now this ritual is no more!

The Natya Mandir had exquisitely carved pillars with various mythical figures, floral motifs and human creatures etc. I can imagine how the musicians might have seated there with their drums and other instruments and the temple dancers performed in front of the God here 🙂 , would have been good if I got back to those days 🙂 . Nevertheless, we can have the same experience now too; by attending the annual Konark Dance Festival which is held in every December, dedicated to the classical Indian dance forms. Why late, grab the tickets now! 😉

We walked towards the main temple which is visibly in ruins, corroded by time and sea air. Yet the temple shares the brilliance and dazzle of the sun with its fascinating architecture, exotic sculptures and intriguing social history of Odisha; which was also a beacon to mariners in medieval times. Konark has got its name from two Sanskrit words – Kona, meaning corner and ark implying the sun. And this temple which was dedicated to the worship of the Sun God holds the sun as the soul of whole manifestation, primal cause of this universe and its different cycles of manifestation and annihilation. The Suryopanishad – a scripture on the Sun God asserts that the Sun is the creator, protector and destroyer.

Though in ruins now, this place retained its rustic charm and serene aura. The mighty sculptures, beautiful lawns and gardens around the temple attracted me the most and I instantly fell in love with this place!

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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.  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 to  export sugar and cheap laborers for the tea gardens of Assam in North Eastern India during the days of the British East India Company. Like Middleton-on-sea, the ‘on-sea’ tag has been conferred on Gopalpur by the Britishers.

Gopalpur-on-sea is a small quiet town which is popular for its beautiful pristine  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. The beach with its golden sand of the blue sea has its own sleepy charm and looked pretty during the drizzle! 🙂 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 😦 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 😉

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! 🙂 There is also this 99 year old Mayfair Beach Resorts which offers luxurious accommodation for the tourists!

A day in the Land of Virgin Goddess – Kanyakumari (II)

Part-II:

After having a darshan of the Goddess, we were onto the streets of Kanyakumari which are packed with various shops selling a wide range of goods like clothes, antiques, toys for the children and souvenirs. We went to a shop where my friend bought a jewelry box for her cousin while I bought  a small sindhoor box for my mom. After going around few more shops, we headed towards another important tourist place of this town – ‘Gandhi Memorial‘, which is located near to the Kanyaka Amman temple.

From the outer view and architecture of this Memorial, one can find it different as this is not of the Dravidian style which is quite common in South India. Instead this was constructed in the Kalinga style or the style which is most common in Odisha. It is said that the urn containing the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi was kept at this place before immersing them in the waters here. This is a two-storied building with the roof-top offering some of the best views of the town. The ground floor has a meditation hall with it’s walls adorned by various photographs of Mahatma Gandhi and the height of the central dome is 79 feet which indicates the age of Mahatma when he died! Though they said that there is a library here, which will remain open on Saturdays, we couldn’t find any that Saturday!

Our next place to visit is the church which we saw from the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. It seemed huge from there, so we made a point to visit this church also. We took an auto-rickshaw asking him to leave us at one of the most beautiful churches I would say called the ‘Our Lady of Ransom Church‘. It is 15 minutes away from the Amman Temple and when we reached there, the church was indeed huge. It is a pristine and exquisite example of Gothic Architecture and the church is dedicated to Mother Mary. The church stands on the sea shore and this huge white structure with the blue sea in it’s background is picture perfect!

The height of this church is 153 ft with a cross on top of it which is made of pure gold. And a mast is erected infront of the temple, which was donated by a merchant who bought a foreign ship that got stuck on the seashore of Leepuram at Kanyakumari. This is an added attraction to the church! Having enough of photographs of this beautiful monument, we left the place to visit yet another significant structure called the ‘Mathur Aqueduct‘ or the ‘Mathur Hanging Trough’.