Indian Travel Diary Chapter 5: Bhubaneshwar/Konark/Hirapur/Puri
February 3rd, Bhubaneshwar
I sleep OK in the train as it trundles through West Bengal. We pass through Calcutta around 4 a.m. but fortunately I'm not woken, since there is little activity at Haora Station at that time of the morning.
I wake around 8 a.m. Breakfast, consisting of an omelette and a couple of slices of white bread, is brought, and I get some coffee from one of the vendors roaming the passageway.
The day passes slowly as the train trundles from West Bengal into Orissa, past endless rice paddies, mostly not presently under cultivation. The man in the bunk opposite me is a doctor, and spends most of his time either sleeping or reading a large textbook on anatomy. I tell him about the deep cut to my left index finger that I accidently inflicted upon myself a couple of months previously, and how I must have cut a nerve because the tip of my finger immediately went numb and has stayed so ever since. He shows me the diagram in his textbook which has all the afferent nerves in the arm and hand, and identifies which nerve was cut (it has a long Latin name which I immediately forget). He tells me that the nerve will regenerate and eventually the numbness will disappear.
The mechanical engineer and I talk a bit with the old man in the upper bunk, the one who brought the chair onto the train. He's seventy years old, and belongs to an Indian organization which does social work, such as establishing schools and hospitals in various places in India. I ask why non-Hindus are not admitted inside most Hindu temples (though up to now I've had no trouble being admitted to make offerings to the deity in the temples in Kenduli, Kankalitali, Tarapith and Guwahati). The two men explain that it is not because non-Hindus would defile the temple by their presence but because they are unable to perform the puja properly. It is not enough, they say, just to offer flowers, incense, etc., but one must also have the proper mental attitude and understanding that only a Hindu has. I'm not entirely convinced by this. Surely the deity (say, Ma Tara) understands that a person may sincerely wish to make offerings even though they have not been brought up in a Hindu household and so don't know all the things that a Hindu does, and surely the deity would make allowances for this and not refuse the person the opportunity to establish the connection with the deity which they seek to obtain by the act of making offerings. If the deity does not object then why should the priests?
I'm told that even Indira Gandhi (neé Nehru) was refused entry to the temple at Puri. This was because she had married a Parsee (for the purpose, it is widely believed of obtaining the surname "Gandhi", so useful in elections), so in the eyes of orthodox Hindus she had ceased to be a Hindu. This seems to me rather bigoted. She was able to enter Hindu temples before she married, and presumably had the right mental attitude and understanding required for performing puja before the deity. After marrying she would not suddenly lose this attitude and understanding, so would still possess the ability to perform the puja properly, so why should she be barred from entering the temple at Puri? I suppose it was just snootiness on the part of the priests at the Puri temple, wanting to snub her because she had married a non-Hindu.
The mechanical engineer has a railway timetable, and he's told me that the train is about two hours late, so we should be arriving in Bhubaneshwar around 2:15 p.m. We make various stops and arrive at Cuttack about 1:15 p.m. Bhubaneshwar is the next stop. I'm chatting with the engineer about extraterrestrials and their influence on human history when we notice the train has stopped. It's only 1:45 p.m. but, unexpectedly, we're already at Bhubaneshwar. I hurried unlock the chain on my rucksack, gather my things, and get out. In the 32 hours since we left Guwahati the "Guwahati-Bangalore Express" has travelled 1434 km up to this point, at an average speed of 44 km/hr.
I've been studying the Rough Guide re hotels in Bhubaneshwar, and I have an idea where to go. It seems that any of the hotels called Padma, Pushpak or Bhagwat Niwas would be OK. I get a rickshaw to the first. It's across the road from the Hotel Pushpak, which looks like just a shell of a building, apparently being torn down (but later I find that they're apparently adding extra rooms to the front). I'm first shown a couple of grubby and unappealing rooms for 150 and 250 rupees, then a pleasant-enough room at the front for 350 rupees (there's even a rug on the floor and a couple of chairs). I bargain this down to 300 rupees, and am pleased to have got a decent room.
After a shit, shower, shampoo and shave I'm feeling quite human again after my 32 hours in the train. I give some laundry to Jena, one of the hotel porters. Now it's time for a bit of a look around the neighborhood.
It's a typical Indian city: grungy, with dusty streets crammed with tuk-tuks, rickshaws and honking cars and buses.
I look for the tourist office in this area, as indicated on the Rough Guide map, but can't find it. Night has fallen. The buses here go in for fancy neon light displays at the top of their windshields. I get a rickshaw to the station where I buy the January 2003 issue of the Indian Railways timetable, Trains at a Glance. This one is inferior to the older one that the mechanical engineer had, mainly in that it lacks a fold-out map with the railway routes (and even topographical detail). It beggars belief that such a useful item should be omitted from a later edition (which even costs five rupees more than previously). What possible reason could they have had to leave it out? Or has it been cleverly removed, leaving no trace that it was ever there?
I consult the Rough Guide to find a restaurant in the station area. It says of the Banjara: "Smart interior and reasonable prices ... specializing in tandoori dishes." Sounds good. I wander around for a half-an-hour looking for it, but apparently it doesn't exist anymore, at least, not where the map says it is.
I get a tuk-tuk back to Kalyana Square near my hotel and find a "bar & restaurant" which looks like a drinking place for the locals, but they also serve food, and I get a decent chicken tikka. I go next door to the "cyber parlour" for an hour. It's only twenty rupees but exceedingly slow. I wonder when I'm ever going to find a fast internet connection in India. Madras, maybe? Bangalore?
February 4th, Bhubaneshwar
I sleep well. I take breakfast in the hotel in the grubby "dining room" (with two tables). I order "fried egg" at eight rupees (17 cents). I figure this is so cheap it must be one egg only, so I order "two fried eggs". When it's finally brought it's two plates with two fried eggs on each. OK, I eat all four. Now I know. The table looks halfway-clean but when I take the paper napkin and run it over the surface it comes away black with dirt. It probably hasn't been cleaned properly for years.
Today it's off to see some temples. The Rough Guide says there are three groups, so I decide to do one group each day, then leave for Puri on Friday (and get in some time at the beach at last).
I go down the road to check the buses to Puri. Take a bus or take the train? The buses are crowded, and luggage goes on top, which is not where I want my rucksack to be. Still, if I pay extra I can take it inside.
I look for the Orissa Tourist Office, eventually find it. A helpful man gives me some brochures.
Consulting the Rough Guide map I head down a side street in the direction of what I think is the Mukteshvara Temple. Eventually I come to a main street, and see a couple of temples. I walk around these and take some photos. They are quite old but are not especially elaborate. They are not the temples I'm looking for. A man directs me down the road, away from the city center.
I walk on for some time and ask again for directions, and am told to keep going in the same direction. It's a dusty road. I pass a building construction site. Women are carrying eight bricks at a time on their heads. The floors of the half-built building are held up by what look like flimsy tree branches. Men and women laborers are carrying shallow containers of concrete on their heads. It's all rather primitive. It's a wonder that Indian buildings stay standing as long as they do. I'd like to take some photos of the women carrying loads on their heads, but when I get my Nikon out the laborers notice and they all stop what they're doing and want to be in the picture, all smiles at being photographed. I take a few shots just to humor them, but have missed the ones I wanted to get.
I keep walking. I'm joined by a young man who says he is also going to the Mukteshwara Temple, so of course he'll show me. We arrive at the temple, and naturally he expects a tip for his service. His attitude is that all Westerners are rich and he is poor, so clearly it is correct for me to give him money, say, a hundred rupees. I point out that I am not rich and almost every Indian is poor, but he persists. I give him ten rupees and he departs.
The Mukteshwara Temple was built in the 10th Century. It has scaffolding around it and seems to be undergoing restoration. I go inside and am joined by the resident Brahmin priest. I offer ten rupees at the Shiva altar, and the priest shows me around the outside of the temple, pointing out interesting images, such as male and female nagas, half-human and half-snake.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
I then go to the nearby Parasumareshvara Temple, which is a couple of hundred years older, built shortly after this region had been converted from Buddhism to Hinduism. Inside is a Shiva altar, and with the help of the same Brahmin priest I perform puja (well, sort of, as well as a non-Hindu can do) repeat an incantation after the priest and offer a flower and ten rupees. The priest recites some prayers on my behalf.
Altar, Parasumareshvara Temple
This temple also has numerous interesting images of humans and deities carved into its outer walls, which the priest describes to me. There are seven images of female deities (Varahi, Brahmani, etc.); these are the wives of various male deities. The priest and I have a discussion about the relations among the various deities. He explains that Durga and Parvarti, both wives of Shiva, are the same. But Kali is not the same as Durga. It seems that Kali is an emanation of Durga who comes forth to perform a particular task (namely, to slaughter the asuras). More curiously, Durga and Shiva are also the same. It seems that Shiva is the male aspect, and Durga the female aspect, of some common being (not named except in its manifestations). So also Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi are the same. But Shiva and Vishnu (along with Brahma) are not the same. I ask about Tara. Tara is the same as Durga, says the priest. He says that Tara is the wife of Vishnu, but I think he is mistaken, since at Tarapith I saw that Tara is associated with Shiva rather than Vishnu. Maybe in Orissa (in contrast to West Bengal) Tara is not a commonly worshiped deity. Ganesha is the first son of Shiva and Parvarti, and Kartikkeya, the god of war, is their second son. There is a prominent image of Kartikkeya carved into one of the outer walls of the Parasumareshvara Temple.
Having seen the temples I wanted to see today (and some I hadn't planned to) I get a tuk-tuk (the locals call these "auto rickshaws") back to Kalpana Square. I get dinner at a decent restaurant, the Yum-Yum (opened apparently after the Rough Guide was published, so it's not mentioned) not far from my hotel. Chicken tikka, dal and chapati. A pleasant surprise is that this place serves ice cream. I enjoy a passable imitation of a cassata. Then a half-hour on the internet (it's excruciatingly slow) and back to my hotel.
Jena brings my laundry. For eleven items he wants 72 rupees. This is considerably more than it should be, but I give him 80 rupees anyway. Jena seems to be skilled at wheedling extra rupees out of the Western tourists who fall under his influence.
February 5th, Bhubaneshwar
I wake during the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep. I get up at 8:45 a.m. and have breakfast consisting of an omelette and a pot of tea.
Late morning I get an auto rickshaw to the Rajrani Temple. I make it clear (I think) to the rickshaw wallah (who speaks no English) that it will be fifteen rupees (both by handsigns and with the help of some Indian passersby). We get to the temple and he wants fifty rupees. Fifteen is the standard fare, and this is another attempt at ripping off the Westerner (the same scam that the tuk-tuk wallahs tried to run in Tarapith). This temple (unlike the others I've seen so far) has a ticket booth, so we go over to it and after some discussion the rickshaw wallah settles for twenty rupees.
I'm about to buy a ticket to enter the temple grounds when I notice that a ticket costs five rupees for Indians but a hundred rupees for foreigners. A hundred rupees is only US$2, but I don't like this practice of charging foreigners twenty times what an Indian pays. Especially after the rickshaw wallah's attempted ripoff this seems like another attempted ripoff. I tell the ticket seller that I refuse to pay this, and I head off down the road toward the next temple on the day's itinerary.
It's about half a kilometer. I pass a "Chicken Centre", which is a stall with cages containing chickens, and a front counter heaped with chicken flesh, which is of great interest to swarms of flies. I take a couple of photos of the chicken wallahs gleefully holding chicken pieces aloft.
Eventually I come to the Bhaskareshvara Temple close to the road. This is said to be unfinished, and in fact it's not very interesting. I then head down the side road opposite toward the 11th Century Brahmeshvara Temple. This one is more interesting. The temple is surrounded by a wall and at each corner of the courtyard is a smaller temple. As with the Mukteshvara and Parasumareshvara temples this one has a soaring sanctuary tower and the outer walls are covered in carvings depicting deities, dancing girls, etc., though much of the carving is weathered or otherwise damaged.
Two young boys have accompanied me into the courtyard. The doors to the temple are closed, but secured only be some rope, and they open the doors and we go in. In the antechamber there is a kneeling bull (Shiva's mount) facing the inner chamber, wherein is a Shiva lingam within a wide lotus (symbolizing Parvarti). The lingam is covered with flowers, and several metal cobras are present (shown rearing up). The boys have brought me some flowers, and I offer these to the deity.
Outside I take some photos and give the boys ten rupees to share between them, which they are pleased to get. I then walk back along the side road to the main road and get an auto rickshaw back to Kalpana Square for twenty rupees, no problem this time.
I've discovered from one of the tourist office brochures that there is what they call a "hypaethral temple" of 64 yoginis at Hirapur, which (the hotel manager tells me) is only 20 km from Bhubaneshwar. There are only four of these in India, and they are about 1200 years old. There is one at Khajuraho, which I visited about 25 years ago. I'd read about this one in Orissa and had hoped to visit it. I ask a travel agent (a couple of men at a desk) about renting a car to visit this place, but they've never heard of it.
Another brochure informs me that there is a satipitha located 30 km. from Gopalpur, a beach resort which is 190 km. south of Bhubaneshwar, at a village where there is a temple dedicated to "the twin goddess Tara and Tarini". This sounds interesting.
Dinner of "chicken dum", chicken with two types of rice, not much to write home about. I am reminded of the "Chicken Centre", with its swarms of flies, seen earlier in the day, but try not to think much about this
I have trouble getting to sleep. I get up at midnight and consider my travel plans. I think after all I won't go to Puri, but try to do Puri and Konark in a day trip. Maybe I'll get a bus to Gopalpur, where there's also a beach, then take an overnight train from nearby Brahmapur to Madras.
February 6th, Bhubaneshwar
I review my travel plans. Travel in India is difficult, more so if you're carrying luggage. The easiest and best way to do it is to hire a car and a driver, but this is, of course, expensive. I decide not to go to Gopalpur but to stay a bit longer in Bhubaneshwar and take an overnight train to Madras, the same train I got from Guwahati; leaves early afternoon and gets into Madras mid-morning, quite good times.
I go to the internet place. It is very slow, as usual, and it's difficult to get anything done. So far the quality of internet connection I've encountered in India has been uniformly dismal, far inferior to what you find in Thailand and Cambodia.
I go to the railways station to buy my ticket. The man tells me that the train I want to go on, four days from now, is full. So are a couple of other trains that I ask about. Eventually I settle on an overnight train leaving about 9:30 p.m. on Monday night and getting into Madras at about 5:30 p.m. Not good times, but far better than the alternative of leaving at 3 a.m. and arriving next morning at 5 a.m.
The man tells me I have to return two hours before the train leaves to get my carriage and berth numbers. The same as I had to do in Guwahati. Why do passengers have to visit the station twice to get confirmed reservations? The railway systems of other countries manage to give passengers the details of their carriage and berth at the time they buy their ticket. But this seems beyond the capability of the Indian railway system.
It's 4 p.m., already and too late to do anything else such as visit a temple or a museum. I walk back toward the hotel along one of the main streets, then some side streets. I'm hoping to find an internet place which has a printer so I can print a couple of letters tomorrow. This is far from certain in this city but eventually I find a place, not far from my hotel.
Bhubaneshwar, like most Indian cities, is not particularly appealing. It's dusty, crowded, most buildings dilapidated with paint peeling off them. At least here you don't see totally destitute people living in the street as you see in Guwahati, though there are some women with a few pots and pans, down by the railway station, who apparently sleep in the street, and there are still plenty of poor people living in shacks along the railway line. And everywhere piles of rubbish. There's no conception of garbage collection. People just throw their rubbish on the nearest pile, and it stays there. Cows, goats, dogs and crows rummage through it, and manage to dispose of some by eating it. But plastic is not edible, and the plastic bottles and cups stay where they are thrown indefinitely, and waste paper and cardboard tends to hang around a long time too.
Dinner at the Yum-Yum, half tandoori chicken, dal and roti. One reason Indian food is spicy is that it helps to kill the germs.
I go to the internet place I found today. It's considerably faster than the other, though not fast.
On the way back I hear music from across the road. I go over, and it's a bunch of Indian men singing, dancing and playing various musical instruments. Not high culture, but they're enjoying themselves. It's some kind of party. No women present. In puritanical India any woman at a gathering of men having a good time dancing and singing would be regarded as a whore.
February 7th, Bhubaneshwar
I order scrambled egg for breakfast, even though the scrambled egg I had in Guwahati was not especially appealing. I want to see if the cook does better here. He does worse. It comes in a small dish, looking as if it's mashed boiled eggs, though the cook later says "not boiled". Worse, it's in some kind of cloudy liquid and it has a sweet taste. Yuk. Inedible. It's not difficult to cook scrambled eggs; you break the eggs, thoroughly mix the egg white and yolk, then fry the mixture. What could be easier? But Indian cooks seem unable to comprehend this.
The hotel boy brings my laundry. "How much?", I say. "One fifty", he replies. One hundred and fifty rupees? Impossible. I get him to write the amount: "12". Twelve rupees for six items is a good price, and I give him twenty. He's pleased.
Although I need to write and post some letters, I decide I'd better visit Puri and Konark today, since they are less likely to be full of Indian tourists than on the weekend. I'll have to get a bus to Puri, then a bus to Konark, then a bus back to Puri then a bus back to Bhubaneshwar, hopefully not more than five hours total travel time. But I'd better be leaving soon, since it's already 9:45.
As usual in India everything takes longer than expected. I go to the place where the Rough Guide says you can get minibuses to Puri which take one hour. No sign of minibuses, but there are ordinary buses. One finally leaves at 10:15 a.m., then gets stuck in a traffic jam down by the Lingaraj Temple. It's a boring two hours to Puri, arriving 12:15.
Since I haven't had anything to eat this morning I get a rickshaw and head for a restaurant in Puri mentioned in the Rough Guide, the Wild Grass. Surprise! It's set tastefully in a pleasant garden and the tables are clean. I order grilled fish and chips. The fish, when it arrives, looks a bit dodgy, but tastes OK, and the chips are not bad.
I'm thinking of visiting the Jagannath Temple, Puri's showcard. Non-Hindus are not permitted entry, but the Rough Guide informs me that there's a viewing platform atop the library opposite the east entrance. Unfortunately it also tells me that this is open only before noon and after 4 p.m., and it's now 1:15 p.m. So I decide to catch a bus to Konark to see the Sun Temple, figuring that it's an hour there, an hour to look around and an hour back, so I can be back in Puri by 4:30 p.m., time to visit the Jagannath Temple then get a 6 p.m. bus back to Bhubaneshwar. But, as I should have known, this is India.
I get a rickshaw to the bus station and find a bus for Konark. At least the ticket-seller says it's going to Konark, but he's lying. After an hour, the first half along a dirt road, it terminates at a place near the beach with a bunch of shops. Everyone gets out, so I assume we've arrived at Konark. But I see no sign of the Sun Temple. I go down to the beach, and notice fishing boats a few hundred meters along the shore, so I wander down and get a few photos, then walk inland to the fishing village, which is a collection of shacks amidst fishing nets. Still no sign of the Sun Temple.
I walk back to where the bus stopped. There's a mela happening, the Meghamela; lasts for a few days. There are plenty of policemen around, so I ask one where the Sun Temple is. Down the road, he says, indicating a road leading inland. Three kilometers. What? It seems this place is not Konark after all. Buses from Puri don't run to Konark, they stop at this hamlet. Insane. Why run the bus 30 km from Puri and not go the extra 3 km to Konark? Because this is India.
So I get a rickshaw to the village of Konark, close to the Sun Temple, which is clearly visible from the road, quite a large structure. An official tourist guide approaches me, offering his services. He tells me I have to purchase an entrance ticket. Tickets cost ten rupees (20 US cents) for Indians but 250 rupees (about US$5) for foreigners. Another attempt by the Indian government to rip off foreign tourists! I refuse to accept this. I walk along the avenue of stalls selling the usual local religious trinkets and come to the entrance, where there are security guards checking tickets and making sure no Westerner enters without having paid the Westerners' price.
The Sun Temple is set in a large park surrounded by a wall with a wide flat top, and it's possible to walk on this around the temple, which I proceed to do. It's certainly an impressive structure, but much of it is surrounded by scaffolding. From this distance it's impossible to see the carvings on the wall, many of which are erotic carvings, for which the Sun Temple is famous, as these are similar to the erotic carvings on the walls of the temples at Khajuraho, which I visited 25 years ago. At the entrance there are hawkers selling postcards of the erotic carvings, and although they are of some interest much of the detail has been lost by erosion. The Indian government apparently believes that Westerners, presumably sex-obsessed, will be willing to pay 25 times what an Indian pays for the prurient pleasure of seeing these erotic carvings close up.
Having circumambulated the Sun Temple I come to a small building called the Navagraha. This is a "nine planets" temple, the same theme as the temple I visited in Guwahati. But this one is nothing in comparison, and I don't bother even to go inside for a look.
Back on the road I'm looking for transport back to Puri. No sign of any jeep or bus. Finally a man tells me there are no buses from here to Puri and that I have to take a rickshaw back to the hamlet I came from, where I can get a bus back to Puri. I get a rickshaw, and fortunately find a minibus leaving immediately. The Sun is setting and it's 6:15 p.m. and already dark when I arrive in Puri.
I consider visiting the Jagannath Temple but I'm not sure when the last bus leaves from Puri to Bhubaneshwar. Also it's starting to get cool, and I have forgotten to bring a pullover. I don't relish the prospect of sitting for two hours in a draughty bus at night. So I go immediately to the bus stand and find a bus leaving right away for Bhubaneshwar. It's full, but I get a seat. It's another boring two-hour ride, this time with my knees jammed against the seat in front since there's little space between the seats, and I arrive at 8:15 p.m.
Dinner of mutton rogan josh with rice, which is quite tasty, followed by a cassata ice cream. As I'm picking the meat from between my teeth another large piece of tooth breaks off. I now have two teeth, one on the left and one on the right of my lower jaw, which are each missing two-thirds to three-quarters of the original above-gum tooth. Fortunately neither is giving me any trouble. But it may be advisable to visit a dentist in Madras. Preferably one trained in Britain.
February 8th, Bhubaneshwar
I get up at 8:30 a.m. There's no power, and the bathroom is so dark that I can't see enough to shave, and there's barely enough light to take a shit.
After breakfast there's still no power, but I'm able to write a few letters on my laptop before the battery gives out. I want to print them at the internet place and get to the post office before it closes at 1 p.m. I go to the internet place but, of course, their PCs are not working because there's no power.
You know you're in a primitive third-world country when the city engineers can't even supply electricity reliably. The power comes back on about 1 p.m., by which time it's too late to print the letters and get to the post office.
I decide to visit the two remaining temples recommended in the Rough Guide, the Lingaraj and the Vaital Deul. Non-Hindus are not permitted to enter the Lingaraj, which is Bhubaneshwar's principal functioning temple. Apart from the entrance gate, surrounded by brightly painted pictures of deities, there's not much to see except for the 45-meter deul (tower) visible beyond the wall which surrounds the temple complex. A brahmin priest tells me (what I already know from the guidebook) that around the corner there's a viewing platform.
Lingaraj Temple Gate
I wander around to it, and as I approach another brahmin priest comes up with his book of contributions and demands twenty rupees as an entrance fee for the viewing platform. This is an obvious fraud and I become pissed off at this and tell him his mother was a prostitute. Fortunately he knows enough English to understand. I walk away, feeling very annoyed, but soon return. The priest has gone off, and I climb the steps to the platform. From the platform one has a good view of the various parts of the temple, the tower and the three "halls" in front of it, all constructed of stone and covered on the outside with carvings. Quite impressive, but if you're not an expert on Indian temples and you've seen one Orissan temple then you've pretty much seen them all.
I wander further on down the road, looking for the Vaital Deul temple. It turns out to be quite a small affair, standing next to another temple of similar size by the side of the road. Both have some interesting figures of gods, dancing girls, etc., carved into the outside walls, but quite a few of them have been damaged, perhaps at the time when the Muslims conquered Orissa and went on their temple-destruction sprees (during which thousands of temples in Orissa were destroyed, which is one reason why Hindus dislike Muslims).
Unfortunately neither temple is open. I peer through the locked gate of the Vaital Deul, hoping to see the tantric images which the Rough Guide says are visible on the inner walls, but can't make out much in the dim light. Visible at the far end, however, is the image of Chamunda, draped in red, who looks, even from this distance, to be rather ferocious.
I get a rickshaw to the State Museum. The guidebook says it's open all days except Mondays (later confirmed by a man at the tourist office) but it's closed today, even though today is Saturday.
I get another rickshaw to the railway reservations office, since I'm thinking about going to Puri on Monday, to see the Jagannath temple and the surrounding bazaar, and catching the 7 p.m. train from Puri back to Bhubaneshwar, but that leaves just 45 minutes between the scheduled arrival of the train from Puri in Bhubaneshwar and the scheduled arrival of the train I plan to catch from Bhubaneshwar to Madras. What if the Puri train is late? A couple of people in the reservations office assure me that there will be no problem. I expect the train from Puri will start on time and that the train to Madras, which will be arriving from Howrah, will be late, so it should be OK.
I get a haircut, get my hair cut quite short, since the weather is starting to get warm. This also means I can dispense with (give away to some Indian) the large bottle of shampoo that I brought with me.
Back at the hotel I talk to the hotel porter, Jena. His English is poor and it's difficult to understand him. He tells me that he earns 800 rupees a month (US$17), hoping I'll take pity on him and give him some money. I don't. It seems every Indian sees Westerners as walking charitable institutions with plenty of cash which they could, if only they wished, give to the deserving poor, such as themselves.
India is full of poor people, but the Indian government can afford to spend zillions of rupees on the development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, not to mention the maintenance of a million-man army. Or rather, it chooses to spend zillions of rupees on its military rather than on health, education and social infrastructure such as water and electricity supplies, which partly explains why most Indians live such wretched lives. In this respect, squandering money on military forces, India has a lot in common with many other countries around the world, and not only third-world countries.
February 9th, Bhubaneshwar
I go out to the internet place and spend two hours there. It's slow but I get done most of what I want to do. Should I get an auto-rickshaw to the 64-yogini temple at Hirapur today, or go to the Orissa State Museum? I head for the museum, which is near the bus stand for buses to Puri. I ask about getting a bus to Hirapur (thinking I might do this tomorrow on the way to Puri). There's some interest among the men standing around in this foreigner who wants to go — where? Eventually they understand where I want to go, and tell me there's no bus to Hirapur. But I can get a bus to Balkati, then a rickshaw to Hirapur and back to Balkati, then a bus to Utarca, then a bus to Puri. I might try this tomorrow.
I go into the museum. The entrance fee is only one rupee, and — a pleasant surprise! — the same for foreigners as for Indians. The museum has some interesting large stone sculptures, dating from the 6th to 10th Centuries, of the Buddha, various bodhisattvas (with Manjushri clearly similar to his Tibetan Buddhist representation), Tara (also similar), various Jain images and numerous Hindu deities. Among the latter are four of the saptamatrakas, the "seven mothers", consorts of seven male deities (also to be seen on one of the outer walls of the Parasumareshvara Temple), including the sow-headed Varahi and the fearsome Chamunda, portrayed as a repulsive hag with a necklace of skulls, holding a severed head and a skullcup filled with blood. No doubt there were real-life Chamundas when tantric practice was common in this area; it must have been rather hair-raising at times, what with drinking blood from skullcups and other unmentionable practices (but, of course, all Tara from the perspective of the enlightened).
The other rooms on the two floors of the museum hold coins, inscriptions, musical instruments, agricultural and hunting tools, Orissan paintings (mostly illustrating scenes from Hindu mythology with Radha, Krishna, Rama, Ravana, Ganesh, etc.), swords, guns and cannons, smaller statues (including some exquisite, though dusty, soapstone carvings of deities made by Orissan craftsmen in the 1960s), stuffed animals and birds (including a couple of sulphur-crested cockatoos who have seen better days), palm-leaf manuscripts (including a dozen illustrating positions from the Kama Sutra), silver jewelry, rocks and minerals, portraits of distinguished Indians from the last two hundred years, ceremonial costumes and a series of dioramas showing scenes from village life among the various tribes of adivasis (indigenous peoples) still inhabiting large areas of inland Orissa (the Santals and others).
Dinner of mutton rogan josh and rice. Another small piece of tooth breaks off, from the same tooth as on Friday.
February 10th, Bhubaneshwar
I pack my things in preparation for leaving my rucksack and laptop at the railway station all day while I go to Puri, perhaps visiting Hirapur on the way, then returning on the 7 p.m. train in the evening to catch the 9:30 p.m. Coromandel Express to travel overnight the 1223 km. from Bhubaneshwar to Madras.
I take my rucksack to the station and leave it in the "cloak room" along with the laptop (both chained to an iron bench).
It's noon. Do I have time to visit both the 64-yogini temple at Hirapur and Puri and get the 7 p.m. train back? I talk with the auto rickshaw drivers. Finally I agree with one to pay him 200 rupees if he can get me to Hirapur and back to the Puri bus stand in Bhubaneshwar by 2 p.m. We set off.
In forty minutes we're at Hirapur. It's a little village far from the main road. On the far side is a compound containing the 64-yogini temple. A man meets me, he's the guard/caretaker, and also proves to be knowledgeable about the temple. It's circular, not big, about 8 meters in diameter, without a roof (much smaller than the 64-yogini temple at Khajuraho).
According to an article by Sri Kedernath Mahapatra ("A note on the Hypaethral Temple of Sixty-Four Yoginis at Hirapur", Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol. II) the temple was discovered only in 1953, is one of only four 64-yogini temples in India and dates to the 12th Century CE.
One enters through a short passageway, and around the inside wall are sixty niches, about 80 cm. high, each with a statue of a yogini, all different. Despite some damage, most of them are quite well preserved. Each yogini stands on her "mount", usually an animal of some sort. In the center is a square structure with a platform and four columns at the corners. These contain eight niches, with four statues of male deities and three statues of yoginis, with one niche missing a yogini statue. The yoginis in the 60 niches and the four at the corners of the central structure make up the 64 yoginis.
Inside the temple
The caretaker takes me around the statues, naming each in order. Many of the statues are damaged (perhaps by Muslim invaders, centuries ago). He explains that this was a tantric shrine, and that tantric rituals are still performed here, though I am not able to find out just in what these consist. One certainly gets the impression of a remarkable place with no doubt an interesting history, now almost entirely unknown.
The yogini Aditiya
I give ten rupees each to the caretaker and the two priests (one is just a boy, but he proudly displays the brahmanical thread that all of the brahmin caste wear). I head back in the auto-rickshaw to Bhubaneshwar, stopping on the way for a cold drink for me and the driver.
I catch the Puri bus just as it's leaving at 2:10 p.m. The conductor finds me a seat with three other men on a bench just behind the bus driver. It's cramped but not too bad. A man sitting next to me engages me in conversation during the journey. It seems he's a teacher or a researcher at some institute in Puri in the department of physics. Tells me he's 52 years old and earns 6000 rupees (US$125) a month, a good salary for India. He also tells me that he's a devotee of Lord Jagannath, the creator of the world. "When you die," he says, "you must go alone, completely alone. You cannot take your wife with you, cannot take your sons." "That's right", I reply, "you can't even take the clothes you're wearing."
At Puri I go immediately to buy my 2nd-class train ticket back to Bhubaneshwar (29 rupees) then get a rickshaw to the Jagannath temple. Puri is certainly a more pleasant town than Bhubaneshwar. As one of the main pilgrimage centers in India it's full of yatris (pilgrims) spending three nights in the company of Lord Jagannath and his comic-book brother and sister.
The broad road leading to the Jagannath temple has lots of stalls selling both religions and non-religious items, all quite colorful, and looks good in the light of the setting sun. Non-Hindus are not allowed into the temple, so it's usual for Westerners to ascend to the top floor of a library across the road for a view into the temple courtyard. But today the library is closed, in memory of the anniversary of the death of some distinguished gentleman, so I can't go up for a look. Down the street there's a 3-storey hotel and they're offering a look from their roof for thirty rupees, but I say I'll only pay ten, which they don't agree to, so no deal.
It's 5:15 p.m. already and I want to eat at the traveller's section of Puri, where the budget travellers' hotels are, so I get a rickshaw to Chakra Thirta Road. It's a relaxed place, a few hotels, a couple of internet places and some shops selling art and handicrafts. I find a restaurant recommended in the Rough Guide, the Xanadu. It's set in a garden, and as it gets dark the manager comes and lights some braziers, and also some mosquito coils. I order fried fish and chips. When it comes I eat it by the light of a hurricane lamp. It's OK.
At 6:30 p.m. I get a rickshaw to the railway station. The Bhubaneshwar train is there and I find a 2nd-class carriage. The seats are just wooden slats. I get a few photos of my fellow passengers, who are delighted to be photographed.
The train leaves on time. It's fairly dark outside, with the moon at first quarter. Just a couple of lights visible on the horizon. There's a part of the journey where fireflies are visible, flitting about in the fields beside the train, each flashing for just a fraction of a second. It's delightful to see these brief flashes of light flitting about.
We reach Bhubaneshwar on time. I check the reservations chart posted on the wall and find my carriage number, HA1, berth, and platform number, 4. The train is only fifteen minutes behind schedule. After I buy a bottle of water and some biscuits for the journey I lug my rucksack up the stairs to the passage over the tracks and down to platform 4. There's an announcement over the loudspeaker, something about platform 3, and a lot of people start moving. I gather that my train is going to arrive on platform 3 instead, so I lug my rucksack up the stairs again and down to platform 3.
The train arrives. It has many carriages, and as they pass I don't see any marked "HA1". As the train pulls to a halt I see that I'm standing next to a smartly-dressed man, whom I take to be a railways employee, and I ask him where to find "HA1". This is a mistake; I should simply head down the line of carriages toward the rear. Instead the man takes my ticket and says, "This way! This way!" and leads me in the opposite direction to where there is a conductor. The conductor says that HA1 is toward the rear of the train, as I suspected. So the man and I walk quickly in that direction. But the train's been at the station for five minutes now, and the man is afraid it's about to leave, so he says "Get on! Get on!" I climb into a carriage. The train does not leave. I know this is not my carriage, but I can't easily move through the train because the passageway is full of people finding their places. The man comes to the door of the carriage and I get angry with him for putting me in this situation, though of course I have only myself to blame by allowing myself to be guided by him. It turns out that he doesn't work for the railways, he's just here meeting someone, and was simply trying to be helpful. He motions to me to get down and we proceed further down the platform. He asks another conductor, who tells me to keep going. We're going further toward the rear of the train when it starts to pull out. "Get on! Get on!", he shouts, and I manage to climb into a carriage as the train is pulling out. I'm carrying my rucksack, laptop and shoulder bag, and sweating profusely, and I'm pretty pissed off. I ask a passenger if he knows where "HA1" is. He sends me in the wrong direction. Finally I find my carriage, a couple of carriages down, and find my berth.
I'm sharing the compartment with a family from Calcutta; looks like mother, father, daughter and son-in law. My pillow, sheets, blanket and towel arrive (this is first class). I have a quick wash, make my bed, and soon the light's out and we're settled for the night as the train rumbles slowly along.
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