Alone and loving it in Konark

Alone and loving it in Konark



For Konark is one of the 1000 places I wanted to see before I die, so I was all excited as I set off at 4.30 am, much before dawn, as suggested by my colleagues, who had worked out the whole trip for me. Although I wanted to catch the dawn at the Sun temple, my taxi driver insisted that I do Puri first, since the Jaganath Temple gets crowded as the day advances. With the driver maintaining an incessant chatter, we sped to Puri, 64 kms away. So what if I couldn’t catch the sunrise on the Sun temple, I was still treated to a spectacular sunrise with the sea in the foreground.  
We were at Puri by 6 am. Vehicles are not allowed beyond a point, so the driver went to park his taxi and I took a cycle rickshaw to cover the short distance to the temple. One pujari-cum-guide followed me on his bike and kept coaxing and cajoling me to take him on as a guide, until out of sheer exhaustion I agreed to a price of Rs 50. Now that I had got rid of my driver, it was his turn, it seemed, to maintain an incessant chatter and ask me intrusive questions. “The family, why aren’t they with you?”

High security
The Jaganath temple is a high security place and so visitors are not allowed to take in cameras or even mobile phones. There are stalls that store your belongings for a minimal price. I left my digicam and my mobile phone at one of the stalls. Having a pujari-guide meant he could go into the sanctum sanctorum and do a special puja for me, but it also meant that he would not allow me to stand and stare at the architecture, but drag me along to see the various deities. The Kalapavriksha tree, the Lakshmi temple and then the main deity — Lord Jaganath himself, his brother Balabadra and sister Subhadra. The deities are formless and made of wood. Built by King Cholaganga Deva in the 12th century, the whole temple complex has intricate carvings and is one of the Char Dhams, considered auspicious to Hindus. With no camera to record the images, I drank in the sights instead, etching them in my memory.

I was out of the temple complex by 7 am, but it wasn’t soon enough, as busloads of tourists were already making their way to the temple. There was no time to stop for breakfast as there was still the Sun Temple at Konark to catch before my flight, so the driver drove off to Konark, continuing chatter. I knew by now that he was waiting to get married, what his brothers and sisters were doing and why he was so fond of his mother. Would he have talked less, if I had “family” with me? Every once in a while, he would decide it was time to ask me questions about my family and get to know me better! Well it was part of the bonding process with your customer, I guess. As the taxi had been booked by my office, I wasn’t particularly worried about his intrusive questions, for he came with high credentials. I suppose, it was his innocent way of making me feel at ease, as I was travelling alone. 

The Sun Temple at Konark, 32 kms away from Puri, lies in ruins, yet it is magnificent in its architectural brilliance. Originally designed as a twelve paired wheeled chariot drawn by seven galloping horses, it is dedicated to Surya, the Sun God. Built in the 13th century, by the Ganga king Narasimhadeva, the tower has disappeared, only the porch or the Jagamohana remains, standing majestically on the sands of time, literally!

Being a world heritage site, the monument is protected and there are metal barricades running around the temple, guarding the world famous wheels and the exquisite and elaborate work on the body of the structure, —two lions guard the entrance, there are elephants, military processions, hunting expeditions, scenes from the Kamasutra, then ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, captured for posterity on stone. The intricate patterns on the wheels are simply striking, but you cannot get too close, because of the barricades.

A portion of the ancient Sun temple was under renovation and very few tourists were attempting the first storey, but adventurous as I was, I climbed the ramparts, only to be chased away by an aggressive monkey. The sanctum sanctorum is without its deity. A placard stands outside, stating that it has been closed by a Supreme Court order. Compared to the crowds descending on Puri, I was surprised to see only handfuls of tourists at Konark. There was so much to see and so much to take in - each sculpture had a story to tell.

Tucked away behind the Sun temple is a Navagraha temple, where all the nine grahas are etched in a slab of stone and are placed in a row. A quaint temple in a shed, a narrow barricade protects the monument.
One of the necessary evils at tourist places world over, are the hawkers, who trap tourists into emptying their purse for substandard wares. At Konark, beware of the guys, selling corals! I was hoodwinked into buying pretty baubles that a hawker passed off as genuine corals. (Well the sea was close-by, so it was natural to think the beads were genuine coral.)

After picking up some more trinkets, it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful Sun Temple of Konark, as I still had a flight to catch, but not before a simple breakfast of puri and sabji at a Marwadi roadside eatery outside the Sun Temple.
The drive back to the airport at Bhubaneswar was comparably quieter, as I had found a way to get my driver to concentrate on his driving instead.  I opened my laptop and pretended to work. Now I could actually hear myself think!
Travelling alone is loads of fun, why hadn’t I done it before? I am already dying to do it again!  

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