Saturday, 29 June 2013

Travelpost: Bhubaneswar and Puri

 22 June 2013. 5:15 am. Kolkata. In front of sister’s apartment building.
“Will you come down today, at all?” I bark into the phone.
I hear sister suppress a giggle on the other side.
“Yes, 5 minutes e aaschi”, she says.
I repeat this to mother. She looks worriedly at the taxi driver.
“We will reach Howrah in time, won’t we?” she asks, seeking reassurance.
“What time is your train?”
“6. Dhouli Express”, father answers.
The driver looks into his watch, then sees our expressions. With noticeable relish, he says, “Can’t say for sure”.
I forgive him instantly. If I had been called at 4:30 in the morning and made to wait for 45 minutes subsequently, I would have said something to similar effect.

22 June 2013. 7:00 am. On board the Dhouli Express, making its way to Bhubaneswar.
“Breakfast khaben?”the Odiya train conductor asks in Bengali.
Parents opt for vegetarian fare. Sister wants an omelette. She eggs brother-in-law and me to choose chicken cutlets.
Apparently one can go wrong with chicken, we realise within the next half-hour.

22 June 2013. 6:00 pm. Bhubaneswar. In front of the Lingaraj Temple.
Sister screws up at her nose at the stench. Brother-in-law screws up his nose at the idea of visiting a temple.
She leaves him to guard our shoes outside while we make a whirlwind tour of the complex. It’s beautiful, but the floor hasn’t been maintained well. So walking bare feet is a pain, quite literally. The door of the main deity is scheduled to open shortly, but we don’t stay.

22 June 2013. 10 pm. Bhubaneswar. At the guest house.
Mother is pointing at the wall, her eyes glassy with fear.
She has just spotted a mouse in the room.
The care-taker of the guest house says unconcernedly, “kaatega nahi”.
He is lying, we realise a while later, as one of the other guests recounts stories of cable wires being destroyed and human ears being nibbled.
“There are only temples to see here in Bhubaneswar,” brother-in-law chimes in helpfully.
Our minds are made. We are going to Puri. (Famous for its Jagganath Temple, but nobody points that out).

23 June 2013. 9 am. Bhubaneswar. At the guest house.
Father is pacing the length of the room. He glances at his watch periodically, checking it with the wall clock in the room at the same time.
The car is at the gate. It’s supposed to take us to Chilka Lake first. Then drop us to a hotel in Puri.
Mother and I have finished packing.
There is no word from sister’s room yet.
Mother mutters under her breath. I think she is vowing to never plan a trip with her elder daughter again.

23 June 2013. 12:30 pm. Chilka Lake. On the steamer, on our way to a Kali Bari in the middle of the lake.
Brother-in-law is bounding about the boat, using windows to enter and exit at will. Mother watches him with a terrorised expression on her face. She glances at me sideways. I smile at her. I can see she is glad she has two daughters. Her gladness evaporates soon enough, as sister and I decide to climb up on the deck as well.
We have prawns and bhetki later for lunch. Odisha is the only place outside of Bengal, where the parents will allow this.

23 June. 8:00 pm. Puri. Hotel Dreamland.
“The name practically tells you that the hotel will be no good”, sister says while looking around the room in disgust.
It is a medium sized room, decorated in the style of a Bollywood film set from the 70s, I notice with considerable pleasure. Complete with a wall mirror facing the bed, and red velvet curtains. Plus the view of the sea is divine. The dogs and the cows on the beach, notwithstanding.

24 June. 2 pm. Puri. On board our mode of transportation- a battered old phatphat.
Our driver doubles up as the guide, tells us he will take us to a Gour Vihar and Mohuna.
He also informs us that the Jagganath Temple is closed for 15 days, a yearly period when the God is ‘sick’ and sees no visitors. Nobody says anything, but the glee in the atmosphere is palpable.
On the other hand, Gour Vihar, to nobody’s surprise turns out to be a temple-cum-ashram, dedicated to Shri Chaitanya Deva, a disciple of Lord Krishna. Father mumbles something about him also being an avatar of the latter. Then gets thrown off by the depiction of the two of them together, as also my persistent queries of how that was possible. I look to mother for clarification, but she quickly averts my gaze.
Father turns out to be right. It wasn’t Chaitanya Dev in the depiction.
It still seems improper to me, almost narcissistic that Chaitanya was pretending to be his own disciple.
Mother whispers to me to shut up. “Everyone understands Bangla here. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings”.
A very rough ride later, the phatphat stops in the middle of nowhere, and the driver points to a tree. I can see an orange coloured deity there, sitting in a tiny little shrine of its own.
“Mohuna is a temple? A tiny temple?”, brother-in-law asks, his voice straining to remain polite.
“No saab, walk up there, you will see”, the driver smiles, pointing at a slope.
We do. And remain spell-bound. If I were a better writer or simply less lazy, my fancy flowery words would let you know that it’s the most beautiful place I have seen. As the case is, you have to be satisfied with pictures, pictures that do no justice to the beauty on display.

Mohuna, the place where the Mahanadi and the Bay of Bengal converge

The entire trip is immediately deemed a success.

25 June. 10 pm. Kolkata. Grandparents’ place.
Grandmother stares at us. Her face betrays feelings of disbelief and pity at the same time.
“You couldn’t see the Jagannath temple?”, she asks aloud finally, with stress on the 'couldn’t'.
“Eeesh”, she commiserates.