27th September to 02nd October, 2016.
Odisha is a state with too many destinations to choose from. Beautiful forests, tribal art, waterfalls, villages and beaches. We decided to sample as much as we could in the few days we had. Our base for the night was a very unique guest house /dorm near Puri in a village called Raghurajpur. A few years ago, it was identified as a heritage village by INTACH. Since then, the village has set up a guest house with 3 rooms to accommodate guests.
Staying here was a very different experience. For one, as we approached the village, and asked for directions, the person decided to take his bicycle and ride in front of us to show the way. Soon he was joined by a couple of others and we were literally escorted to the guest house. The President of the village Panchayat and other office bearers waited for us at the guest house despite it being 8:00 pm. They asked us if any arrangements regarding food is to be made, and left only after making sure we were comfortably settled in. Each of us has a comfortable bed in a tastefully decorated room. The bathrooms were very clean and basic toiletries were provided. All this for around Rs. 200 per person.
But we really don’t think anyone there was thinking about money. They were just happy to have someone interested in their village and art. Here, we had the rare and precious luxury of being guests of an entire village.
The next morning we set about exploring this beautiful place. There are around 100 houses in the village, and everyone knew we were the people who arrived last night ( the fact that we had the only car in the place may have helped 🙂 ). We were invited into each home, but due to time limitations we visited only around half a dozen. This tiny village boasts of over 15 national award winners, and double that many state award winners. So practically every house you enter has at least an award winner. This village with Just about 500 people practices 20 art forms.
For example, at the home of Balaram Prusty, which is at the end of the village, we met his father who won the national award for Patta Chitra while his mother had a state award to her name for palm leaf painting. Patta Chitra and palm leaf painting are perhaps the most popular art forms in this community. The canvas for Patta Chitra is made by stacking cotton cloth in layers Using plant based adhesives. It is then coated with white chalk paste before painting. The colors are all derived from nature, and a combination of six basic colors are used.
Palm leaf painting is done on palm leaves using sharp pointed iron pencils. Soot is then used to enhance the patterns. The work themes are mostly based on mythology. Krishna leela and stories associated with Jagannath are very common.
The beauty and perfection in these works is beyond words. So here are a few more pictures to illustrate the point.
In addition to these two art forms, the villagers also paint on betel nuts, coconuts etc, making for some very interesting decorations. The most interesting art form we saw so far is perhaps the cow dung sculptures we found here. When wet, cow dung is molded into a rough shape by hand. Once dried, then intricate patterns and faces are carved out. These are perhaps the most eco-friendly sculptures in existence. Imagine having these for Ganesha Chathurthi.
While we could easily spend a week exploring this wonderful village, there were other things to explore. For example, no stay in Odisha is complete without exploring Puri. The beaches here are neat, and the ocean is every shade of blue and green. Beach shacks sell decent fish and people on the beach sell everything ranging from pearls to shells.
The Jagannath temple is certainly worth visiting, and partaking in the Mahaprasad distribution is an experience of a lifetime. But the best beaches probably are found along the Puri – Konark road. This road is also among the most beautiful we have driven.
The Konark temple, which made its way to the world heritage list will easily take up half a day to explore. Though largely damaged, the surviving carvings are intricate and detailed. The complex also contains a large collection of erotic sculptures. The giant wheels of the chariot of the Sun God doubles up as sundials which can still tell time with the accuracy of a minute. A significant amount of reconstruction is currently being carried out by Archeological Survey of India.
While the Konark temple is truly impressive, the most memorable sight we saw in Odisha was a work of nature. We stopped at some random stretch of the beach while driving to Puri. As luck would have it, the Sun God decided to throw a few colors our way. At Dharamshala, we were lucky enough to witness a rainbow over the Himalayas. Here, there was one waiting for us over the ocean.
The last place we explored in Odisha was the Chilka lake. This large brackish lake is every nature lover’s dream.
From Chilka we moved to Visakhapatnam and later Vijayawada before reaching Mahabalipuram. We had planned on exploring Andhra Pradesh for a few days. However, the state was facing some security alert and we decided to just drive through and directly head for Tamil Nadu.