Sunday, December 26, 2010


Let me begin the travelogue with some interesting, imaginary humour:As the winter is setting in,Lalu said "hit the west for fun n beaches" and traveled to Somnath.Being a great devotee of Shivji,he visited the Jyotirlinga temple and also found Modi in the magnificent sanctum sanctorum.Seeing him he grumbled to the Lord,"Why he got the Nano project when I can run even the train so efficiently for India,let alone Bihar".Laughing in his sleeves Modi said,"Lord,tell him that Nano doesn't eat chara".
It was an early,cool morning as we(myself and my wife Poonam) reached Somnath by a sleeper-couch(bus) from Ahmadabad,an overnight journey.Within sometime got a good room at a reasonable price though it was Mela(fair,Kartik pournima) time from the next day.After some rest,bath and nice tea, we started for the 'darshan' to the huge,beautiful temple on the shores of Somnath in such a place that there is no land mass between it and Antarctica(around South Pole).An aesthetically carved stone pillar with an arrow in the temple premises indicates the direction .Constructed by the vision and guidance of Late Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel in 1951,it was a sorry state of affairs to see that even today it was fully guarded by heavily armed men in uniform due to the present,hideous terrorist menace;creating unease and fear in the minds of people.
This historic temple at present,has a well known background of stupendous riches and ruthless plunders.The temple is said to have been built for the seventh time and the earliest mythological versions were: in gold built by Soma,the moon god;in silver,built by legendary Ravana;and in wood built by lord Krishna.
The present temple,Kailash Mahameru Prasad, in hard stone was designed by famous temple architect Prabhaschandra.157ft. high at the pinnacle,with a 10ton shikhar(top) and a37ft. flag pole,the temple is one of the most beautiful temples of India in Chalakyan architectural style,reflecting the skill of Sompuras the master masons of Gujrat,perhaps the richest state of India at present!Having 'darshan' and moving inside and outside around the temple seeing beautiful sculptures was a rare treat to the eyes and mind.
As we came out ,it was lunch time and we headed for a Gujju restaurant;straight away ordered thalis with chapatis and other dishes being served.And lo,we were clean bowled by the courtesy and affection of the young waiters even while serving water!But there was undheo(very special Gujrati curry with various ingredients like small brinjal,potatoes,yam,raw bananas,broad beans and a variety of spices and a very complicated procedure!),lasaniya batata
kadhi ,etc. too!The reason of Gujarati people's happiness and well being was evident!Went back to the room a bit drowsily, and had a great siesta.Early in the evening we were ready for the vast,lovely beach.
It was Mela time and the beach dazzled with bride like dressed up camels and ponies,glittering in the evening sun;and thelas(push carts) ,stalls of delicious chat ,panipuri and ice golas(shaved ice and syrup balls) attracted young and old, energized by the sun,the sea and the passionate mood of the promising sunset. No longer,holy places belong to aged pilgrims as many by now know that the most beautiful and scenic places in India are invariably the pilgrimage centers!We moved along the beach feasting the phenomenon of sunset.The shipping vessels and boats ( the historic fishing port Veraval is nearby) became more delineated as the hues at the horizon turned yellow,then orange and then scarlet with the drowning sun.Birds gracefully dived for their catch and playfully rested on the shores to take off again in the invigorating breeze.We walked and ran for 3 to 4 km. and returned at a slower pace,delighted by the surroundings.
We bought icegolas and relaxed looking at,commenting to each other about the camel and pony rides and the buzz we were seeing around.After spending some time,we got up and I put my hand in the pocket for the wallet to pay the money.I missed a heart beat as the wallet was gone,don't know where on the on the huge beach!Soon I realized that there was no point trying to search it; just some money, but credit cards and tickets of further journey were also in it.Reconciling,Poonam paid the money.Disappointed,but trying to be geared up,we started returning and when we were near the temple I thought of having 'darshan' and complaining(in a lighter vein) to Shivji like Laloo did!But there was another obese politician present in the temple and common people were not allowed inside.Then we straight away went to the small,insignificant office of the person who booked our further journeys and as I started mentioning about our loss,he produced my wallet wrapped in a paper and telling,"Yes,i know you have lost this;it was found and returned to me by a family.Here,take my cell phone and thank them as they were keen to know that you got your belongings back!"I gratefully shook his hands as my face shone like the moon with happiness and I blessed all the good people of Somnath and the world!
Next day, we had a tour of places like Bhalka Teerth(where Lord Krisha was hit in the heel by an arrow of a poacher),Dehotsarg Teerth(where Lord Krishna parted with his worldly body)at the confluence of three rivers,Veraval fishing port where you'll enjoy the stench of fish for Kms. together,etc...All the places are abundant with colorful mythology and history.Do visit them and add color, charm and the deodorant Stench(available at the stinking fishing port, for men only) to your life!Quite macho;Don't be dandyish and fool yourself buying fancy deodorants!
Raja Ram Atre.

Monday, December 13, 2010

From Puri With Love

From Puri With Love

From the City of Joy(Kolkata),I directly headed for Puri,the cultural capital of Orissa, by a convenient train at night and reached there on a pleasant morning next day.Through the main and by lanes around 3km.,I reached a hotel near the beach by an auto-rikshaw,experiencing cool breeze and then the faint rhythmic roar of the sea as the vehicle stopped before the hotel.Leisurely refreshing myself with a cold, powerful shower,I dressed up and went to the restaurant for breakfast;A plate of Rasgullas(originally a recipe of Orissa, normally made with cows milk) and then curds.Feeling light but well energized I soon reached the magnificent temple of Lord Jagannath,quite obscured by non-eco-friendly surroundings.

Before the main entrance of the temple,Singhadwara,guarded by two huge,lively crouching lions(of course beautiful stone sculptures) stood the stately,sixteen-sided monolithic pillar,Arun Stambha.Originally at the Sun temple of Konark,it was transported to Puri by the King of Khurda.But here only the curiosity of my 'anxious-to-shoot' camera ended as it had to be deposited with paid custodians before we entered the temple! The base of Arun Stambha
An enormous 37000sq.mtrs.complex fortified by a high wall all around; had about 120 temples and shrines and their pyramidal roofs(Mandapas) rose in steps towards the glorious main, curvilinear temple tower, 65mtrs. high built on a raised stone platform.The Baisi Pahacha,a flight of 22 steps led us into the main temple.A painted idol of Jagannath known as Patit Pavana(saviour of the downtrodden and fallen) on the right side of the entrance in ancient times was meant for the untouchables ( who were not allowed inside the temple) to offer prayers. Today,with our mind-set and social environ,I wondered whether I had the moral right to go in!Along with a large number of people I entered the spacious Bhogmandir, the first chamber of the temple where food and material offerings are made.This grand,well ventilated hall(with a high pyramidal roof) with beautifully painted,intricate sculptures on walls and sixteen pillars all round was a treat to pass through. I was particularly fascinated by the mythological Ratha(chariot) physically made by thousands of Gopis to carry their beloved Krishna.I forgot the people around me as I passed through to Nata-mandir,a similar chamber with a lower pyramidal roof and artistically sculptured pillars, for the purpose of dance and musicTill the early20th century,Devadasis,women dedicated to Lord Jagannath since their childhood regularly performed music and dance(mostly Odyssi) in the temple.They had a reputation to be puritanical and saintly but later on perhaps they too indulged in adultery or associated themselves with prostitutes.They became extremely despicable and the practice of dance as a ritual was completely stopped in the temple.Last surviving Devadasi (an extremely talented woman),Shashimani Mahri was 90yrs. old in 2003..Actually these two chambers have been extended later in the 15th(and 16th) century.As I entered the Jagamohana chamber I started feeling the heat of the crowd gathering there and forming a queue for the darshan of the stupendous deities in the sanctum sanctorum known as Deul.
Yes,the magnetic,unusual,colourful icons of Lord Jagannath(Bhadra),his brother Balram(Balbhadra) and his sister Subhadra were unique; having an aura and several myths behind them for a devotee to regurgitate,enchant himself and enjoy moods from spirituality to eroticism! Krishna the Supreme Being is Lord Jagannath at Puri.Hindu philosophy and mythology portrayed Him variously as a prankster,an ideal lover or a divine hero.According to a traditional story, Subhadra was instructed by the Gopies(cow herd girls) to keep a watch and see that Krishna could not eavesdrop on them as they talked among themselves about His pleasant deeds and their unprecedented love for Him.Subhadra was overwhelmed as they talked and did not see Krishna and Balrama also joining her from behind.As they listened to the Gopies with ecstatic delight,their hair stood on ends,arms retracted and eyes grew biggest.Hence
the look of the icons!

Not heeding to the harassing priests I had a wholehearted,satisfying time in the great sanctum sanctorum and came out with a lot of food for thought, again slowly trying to capture many more meaningful details of the chambers I already had passed through.Coming out into the open and just realizing the huge proportions of the temple ,I decided to go around and appreciate the beautiful sculpture all over it.

The fierce,but beautifully painted huge lions on the first two chambers and the lions in matching red stone on grand main temple at perfect heights enhanced the beauty of The White Pagoda(as the temple was known in ancient times) which guided the sailors in the olden days!Many attractive sculptures of gods and godesses with peculiar bodies due to their mythological background,also peacefully positioned themselves on the domes.And there were plenty of erotic sculptures all round the temple which perhaps indicated the regard in those times for good,healthy heterosexuality without inhibitions.Of course today sex is perverted in many advanced countries and to a great extent a taboo in India!Well, enjoying the temple to the hilt I came out and decided to have a round of the complex from outside its boundary wall appreciating the other three sculptured entrances Near the fourth entrance I came across a vendor , where I tasted a plate of chhaina poda (a baked cake in ricotta cheese )It was mildly sweet, delicious experience;the texture giving a satisfying spongy bite .Orrisa made a great veriety of sweets, vegetables,curries which are liked all over India.I walked through the bazar with many kiosks under big,white umbrellas for some distance.This was the route(Bada Danda) on which the great chariot of Mighty Jagannath rolled every year to the thrill of millions!

Early evening and I was right on time on one of the loveliest beaches in the world accommodating a large number of locals,tourists and also a sparing number of foreigners.The fine white sands which will shortly would turn into golden to the glory of the setting sun gave a cushion like feel to my feet as I removed my Hawaiis(slippers) to have fun!I was welcomed by a sand art piece;Mr. Crab was the artist!Crabs dug holes in the sand to stay safe and in the process artistic patterns were formed around the holes.Still there was plenty of light and the pleasant blue waters ran to the shores in mild waves with amicable roar, mock-threatening the crowds enjoying them.

Crab Art

I started walking west in the cool,exhilarating breeze enjoying several activities on the six to seven km. stretch at my disposal.There was a group of people playing cricket in the sands with a very well spread field!As I proceeded,I saw a group of fishermen releasing a small catch of fish from a very attractive blue net.Slowly,the shadows elongated and the sand and water started turning into gold. I felt like reaching the sun as it would set shortly towards the swargadwar(a sacred cremation place for Hindus) side of the beach.I jogged for around 2km. replenishing myself as if with elixir; and as the sun set very fast in the last lap,I started returning, exiting the beach in between.
The Monk,Children and the Sea.

I hired a cycle-rikshaw and ventured into the town as it was quite early to return to the hotel.There I met an N.G.O. worker who talked with me over a cup of tea(offered by him) about the type of social work he did..He worked without any modern amenities like a computer and with a very poor salary.As I wanted to have dinner with him, we slipped into a roadside Dhaba known to him.There we had a bottle of beer each and he saw that we got choicest fresh,fried Chilika lake prawns!Their sweetish,succulent taste lingered on my tongue as I drowsily,happily
returned to the hotel by cycle-rickshaw bidding the gentleman goodbye.

Next day morning again I reached the sea to watch the huge red rising sun;the live canvas of the catamarans being lithely pushed into the sea by fast,blithe fishermen as they simultaneously climbed them too!Ya...they went fishing deep into the sea!There was a fisherman by my side happily waving his brethren going into the sea;when I turned and saw him, it was the poverty of Orissa written all over him!
Fishermen with a Paltry Catch.

Raja Ram Atre.


Raja Ram Atre
3-6 687/102,St.No.10,