Mystic Nilagiri – The Aboriginal Heartland of Balasore with a Royal Past

A legend goes: About 1000 years back two Rajput brothers namely Nila and Shankar who belonged to the royal family of Chottanagpur had come to Puri to seek devotion of Lord Jagannath. They were handsome and brave but were suffering from the family dispute at home. The Gajapati King of Puri was highly impressed with their personality and asked them to stay back.

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Both were offered the present Nilagri region in the western part of Balasore to rule. However, Nila stayed back and Shankar left for some other place. The kingdom was named after Nila as Gada Nilagiri.

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KHANDAPADA – A VALLEY AMIDST NINE MOUNTAINS

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It is believed that the present-day village of Gadadih, some 15 km away from present Nilagiri Town was their capital. However, there is no archaeological evidence to support this.

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Time moved on. Several of Nila’s heirs ruled Nilagiri than on. In the 16th century, one of his descendants who ruled Nilagiri was Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang Mandahta. He was a brave king and acted as a commander of Puri Gajapati King in his expedition against the Muslim invaders. Because of his skills and personality, he was offered to marry the daughter of Gajapati King, Princess Kalara Devi. From then on Nilagiri kingdom was influenced by the Jagannath Cult and culture of Puri. Because of his bravery, Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang was also awarded the title Harichandan by the Gajapati King.

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BADAMBA – EXPLORING THE MIDDLE MAHANADI KINGDOM

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Narayan Basant Bhujang was succeeded by Raja Uttareswar. According to sources, Uttareswar had assisted Raja Mansingh of Amer (the present-day Jaipur in Rajasthan) in his expedition against the Afghans in Bengal on the banks of Subarnarekha River. Like his father, he was also a great admirer of Gajapati King at Puri. His successor Raja Krushna Das was awarded the title of Mardaraj by the King of Puri and it is still continued.

Travel Tips

Nilagiri is located at a distance of 20 km from Balasore in the periphery of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary. Though it is a small town it does not have much-staying options. The nearby Panchalingeswra shrine located within Kuldiha has a number of staying options including the Panthanivas of Odisha Tourism. You can hire an auto or a cab from Balasore to travel around Nilagiri which can be covered in one day. Hotel Sagar and Hotel Tarini both located in the town serve decent local food in local style.

It is still not known what happened in the next two sanctuaries. In early 19th century, the capital was shifted to the present location under the foothill of majestic Swarnachuda Mountain and named it Nijagada.

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DASPALLA – A JOURNEY THROUGH ODISHA’S UNTAMED FRONTIERS

Today the star attraction of Gada Nilagiri is the 19th-century ruins and the added 20th-century palace built in the fusion of Rajput, Odia and Victorian styles. The main attraction of the palace is its high clock tower. Beside the clock tower is the beautiful chhau mandapa, an influence from Mayurbhanj introduced in the kingdom in the 19th century.

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Nilagiri lost its power immediately after India got independence and merged with the Indian union.

Like all princely states of Odisha, Nilagiri is also modelled after Puri. Beside the palace is the temple of Jagannath facing the Grand Road (Bada Danda), a wide corridor through which the chariot festival of Lord Jagannath takes place in every Asadha Month. Like Puri, the trinity of Nilagiri also goes through the new embodiment of bodies (nabakalebara) during the same period. Towards the end of Bada Danda is situated the temple of Mausi Maa.

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Nilagiri is surrounded by the wilderness of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, lush green forest and enchanting hills. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been inhabited from the time of Early Stone Age. At present, there are villages of Bhumija and Madia Tribes, both Austro-Asiatic speaking communities.

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Bhumijas are an agricultural tribe and do occasional hunting. They are fun-loving and deep believers in nature. Salabani, a small village on the lap of nature is a major Bhumija settlement near Nilagiri. A visit to Salabani is like a journey back in time where you relive yourself in the old-world charm of Karma dance and music.

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Babandha, a small village on the bank of Bugulibandha wetland in the periphery of Kuldiha Sanctuary is yet another hidden secret of Nilagiri. Inhabited by 350 Madia potters, Babandha is known for its unique earthen pot rafters. It is said that the community had migrated from Central India about 150 years back on the invitation of the royal family of Nilagiri.

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Apart from the pot rafters, the surroundings of the village along the wetland area known for its tranquillity and age-old fishing practices.

Nilagiri is mysterious. It seems the time has stood here still for a soul searching traveller. It is tranquil and is the best-kept secret of Balasore in North Odisha.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Dagara – Odisha’s Red Carpet Beach

As you near the tranquil beach of Dagara after a bumpy drive for almost 20 km from the nearest town of Baliapal, you receive a gracious welcome by nature through a long stretch of red carpet cropping out of the golden sands.

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Little wonder, these little creatures are the fastest runners among all crab species. They are not in hundreds or thousands but crawl in millions. As you approach nearer to them they scurry into their holes. These are ghost red crabs at Dagara Beach in the coastline of Balasore. Their eyestalks allow them to see 360-degree potential predators and prey.

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SAHANA BEACH AND DEVI MOUTH – ODISHA’S BEST KEPT SECRET

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Ghost crabs are commonly found on tropical beaches across the world, but there are few places where their concentration is more. They have a little box-like body, thick elongated eyestalks and one claw is longer than the other in both males and females for feeding and digging their burrows. The eyestalks are tipped with horn-like projections called styles.

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GOPALPUR – TRANQUILLITY ON THE SEA

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Ghost crabs are mainly detritivores but are also active predators and scavengers. They eat algae and animal detritus food among the sand as well as dead fish, insects and marine organism. They leave a large number of sand balls across the beach which they have searched through for food.

Travel Tips 

Dagara Beach is located at a distance of 60 km from Balasore City and 260 km from Bhubaneswar. The nearest town is Baliapal, which is 20 km away. There are a few staying options at Dagara but it is recommended for a comfortable stay at Chandipur or Talsari (both 2 hours away by road). There is also a PWD IB which can be booked through the official procedure. The best time to be at Dagara is when there is low tide, when the ghost red crabs appear in millions on the sandy beach.

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Dagara Beach near the mouth of Subarnarekha River is one of Odisha’s most unspoiled beaches with a wide expanse of sandy coastline. Fenced by long stretches of casuarina trees it is the only beach in Odisha where one can enjoy both sunrise and sunset. The beach is known for its massive concentration of ghost red crabs.

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The story of Dagara is incomplete without appreciating the rustic beauty of its surrounding countryside. The Subaranarekha River which originates in the high plateau of Jharkhand in the west was a major thoroughfare in the 16th-17th centuries CE. The Dutch and the Portuguese used this river estuary as the passage to seek their business fortune in the eastern part of India. It is told that the Dutch had established a factory at Baliapal, however, no trace of it can be found. Yet there are vestiges of British East India Company sheds, warehouses, canals and bunds that can be seen as one drive through the countryside.

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Yet one more attraction is the countless fishing boats of various sizes and shapes playing in the golden water of Subarnareka and the swamps. And if you are in September – October, the Subaranarekha blooms with vast beds of Kasatandi flowers, symbolizing the arrival of Maa Durga.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

With Sasanka Rath, Odisha Tourism

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Gonasika – Odisha’s Dreamtime Stories

The scenery is lush as far as your eyes can stretch! There are mountains of incredible beauty soaked with the floating clouds of the monsoon. You are reminded of Kalidas’s Meghadootam here, each rain-bearing cloud acting a messenger of love and passion. Numerous streams flow through them cascading the slopes and the valley floors. Mysterious forests of Sal trees once filled with tigers and leopards wrap this Dreamtime landscape. You hear countless elephant stories when you talk to country souls of this enchanting land.

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As I drive through this unexplored Shangri-La in Odisha’s Keonjhar, I am dragged to her myths – long ago, the land where I am now was floating for millions of years. However, with god’s grace, the hills of Gonasika and its neighbouring hillocks were stable. In good old days there lived a rishi in Gonasika. He was a bachelor. One day while he was resting he heard someone approaching him. There was a girl of Asur Tribe who had come in search of solitude. Both fell in love at first sight. In no time they got married and in course of time delivered seven sons and seven daughters. Now the problem was how to settle them. The hill of Gonasika was inadequate for their shelter and provides food. They required cultivable fields.

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With no other options, the couple prayed to the Almighty.

Dharam Devata appeared and instructed the rishi to slaughter the Kapila cow and sprinkle her blood to make the earth steady. The rishi brought the cow to Gonasika and killed her. Then he sprinkled her blood on the earth. The earth thus became stable making it suitable for rishi’s children. They were first Juangs on earth.

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After killing the cow, the first Juang family relished the meat and buried the head in the middle of the hill, but suddenly water sprang from the nostrils of the cow and gave birth to the sacred river Baitarani.

Travel Tips 

Gonasika is located at a height of 3000 feet from sea level in Keonjhar District of North Odisha. Surrounded by lush mountain valleys and majestic hills of Chotanagpur Plateau, Gonasika can be approached by road from Keonjhar (25 km) through the National Highway that connects Mumbai with Kolkata. It takes about 2 hours from Keonjhar through a leisure drive with a number of stopover in-between. There are no stay and food options at Gonasika. We recommend Nature Camp at Sana Ghagra near Keonjhar for accommodation, which can be booked through online.  While there are plenty of Juang Villages around Gonasika, we recommend the village of Kadali Badi which has retained some of the anarchic characters of Juang culture. It is situated at a distance of 7 km from Gonasika.

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The Juang, an aboriginal tribe of Keonjhar revere Gonaskia as their original mother and the place of their origin. Their villages are around Gonasika and Kanjipani on hilltops or slopes or on valleys amidst hills and forests all around. The Juang villages are located near streams and River Baitarani. Mostly settled farmers now they were portrayed very differently by the 19th century British historians and anthropologists as the wearers of leaf dresses. They are medium in stature with a long head, prominent cheekbone and broad nose showing affinity with the tribes living in the Mon-Khmer region of Mainland Southeast Asia. Their language is Mundari belonging to Austro-Asiatic language group spoken in parts of Eastern India and Mainland Southeast Asia.

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BONDAS – THE LONELY SURVIVORS AMONGST EARLIEST INDIANS

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During the time of Hunter’s visit in 1877, this account reveals – ‘the men wear a single cloth. The women had not even this, but simply strings around their waist, with a bunch of leaves before and behind. The life they live best is to wonder about the wood collecting wild products which they barter for food.’

Today, this may sound a fairytale as the Juangs have gone a long way of progress, thanks to various government initiatives.

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SITABINJI – A MYSTICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME AND SPACE

The central attraction of a Juang Village is the dormitory house, called Majanga or Manda Ghara, which also serve as a guesthouse and general assembly place. Their traditional musical instruments and weapons are also displayed here. In front of the Majanga, there is a spacious ground or plaza where the Juang boys and girls dance with their changu (circular drums).

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Believers of animistic religion, Juang offers sacrifices of fowls to the Sun God when in trouble and to the earth for a beautiful harvest.

Houses of Juang are small which can accommodate a married couple and their one or two children. Goats are kept in separate sheds made of wooden plants.

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A JOURNEY THROUGH KONDH TERRITORY, A TRIBE THAT ONCE SACRIFICED HUMANS

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Close to a Juang village live two or three Gouda (cattle and sheep/goat herders) families. They heard the cattle of Juangs and supply milk to them.

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A visit to their land will expose to the diversity of their agricultural practises. The valley floors and the mountain slopes are filled with varieties of crops like beans, millets and pulses. These add as supplements to their rice diet. They also are fond of eating the meat of all animals except sloth bear, snake, tiger and vulture. During Akhand Shikar or ceremonial hunting on Amba Nuakhai (new mango) eating ceremony they chase other animals in the forest. However, today most of the forest is gone, thanks to the population explosion, infrastructure creations and mining.

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Gonasika is Odisha’s own Dreamtime stories with its myriad beliefs and tales. It is truly a traveller’s paradise interested in people and the deep-rooted beliefs in their landscape, forest, rivers and wildlife.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Havelies and Jain Temples of Jaisalmer – Splendours to Devotion in a Fairytale Setting

Located in the heart of the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer, the golden city of Rajasthan was once a very prosperous city on the silk route that connected India and China with Arab, East Africa and the Mediterranean world. Once inhabited by Jain merchants, this frontier town has preserved a magnitude of palatial havelies and Jain Temples of majestic beauty. For an onlooker, they offer a mystical aura.

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The Jaisalmer Fort

It is said that the Jains of Jaisalmer financed over 50 kingdoms and had over 400 shares all over Asia, including Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan.

With the forming of Pakistan, the trade came to a standstill. With no other options of business, the Jains left Jaiselmer for elsewhere to explore business possibilities.

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From the Golden Fort as I strolled through the maze of lanes, I came across many havelies, some abandoned, others converted into middle-income group residential apartments and shops, but all showing beautiful jail works carved on golden stones.

Travel Tip

Jaisalmer is located in the western part of Rajasthan in the heart of Thar Desert. The distance between Jaisalmer and Jaipur is over 600 km (10 hours). Jaisalmer is however well-connected by rail and air beside road service. There are plenty of hotels ranging from basic to luxury properties. While at Jaisalmer also visit the Golden Fort, Kuldhara ghost village and the royal chhatris. The best time to visit Jaisalmer is winter.

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Nathmal Ji ka Haveli is a 19th-century structure built by two architect brothers. Built as two separate houses but with remarkable harmony, the palatial haveli has beautifully carved exteriors. Two yellow sandstone elephant figures guard the entrance to the haveli. It used to be the Prime Minister’s residence in the 19th and early 20th century.

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KULDHARA IN JAISELMER – A TRAVEL SHOT

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Nathmal Ji Ka Haveli

My next stop at Salim Singh Ka Haveli located at Ashani Road. Built by Salim Singh, the Prime Minister of Jaisalmer in the 19th century, what draws your immediate attention is its splendid arched roof with carved brackets shaped like peacocks. The haveli made of entirely in stone appearing narrow in the first floor, and then the top floor spreads out into a mass of carving with graceful 35 arched balconies surmounted by pale blue cupolas. The palace is also known as Jahaz Mahal.

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DUNDLOD IN SHEKAWATI – A TIMELESS HERITAGE

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Salim Singh Ka Haveli

Located in a narrow lane near Patwa Complex, the Patwaon Ji Ka Haveli is the most splendid among havelies at Jaiselmer. It is also the oldest built haveli in 1805 by Guman Chand Patwa, a well-known Jain merchant. It is not a single haveli but a cluster of 5 havelies, but for his five sons.

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The complex is also known as the ‘mansion of brocade merchant’ as the family dealt in threads of gold and silver used in embroidering dresses. The family also made a huge profit through opium trade and money lending.

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Inside the haveli, there is a museum and shop for handicrafts and antique objects. The walls are adorned with exquisite mirror works and beautiful paintings. Undoubtedly, it is India’s one of the best splendid havelies.

Within the vicinity of Jaisalmer Fort stands 7 exquisite Jain Temples built Rajput architectural style. The temples are decorated with intricate murals and stone carvings. Built between 12th and 15th centuries CE, these are dedicated to various Jain Tirthankaras.

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Chandraprabhu Temple is the first one in the series when you descend from the palace in Jaisalmer Fort. Dedicated to 8th Tirthankara it was built 1509 CE and the main attraction of the temple are its intricately carved pillars and a series of toranas in the mandapa. To the right of Chandraprabhu Temple is the temple of Parswanath which can be entered through a beautifully carved torana. On its south is the temple of Shitalnath, the 10th Tirthankara in Jainism. The image of Shitalnath is composed of 8 precious metals. A door in the northern wall leads to the enchanting dim chamber of Sambhavnath. The temples are open all days for worshippers.

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The Jain Temples and havelies of Jaisalmer are timeless classics, each woven with stories of wealth and devotion. In a nutshell, they form a fairytale wonder.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Khandapada – a Valley amidst Nine Mountains

Scientists call him a great naked-eye astronomer. When the west had the privilege of having the best of telescopes and other aids for astronomy, he took observations with indigenous and handy instruments, all fabricated by himself. He was Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar (1835 – 1906) from Khandapada, an erstwhile princely state in Odisha’s Nayagarh district.

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Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar

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The Ancestral House of Pathani Samanta

Pathani’s greatest contribution in the field of scientific literature is a systematic record of his lifelong research in astronomy. The treatise ‘Siddhanta Darpana’ has been written in Sanskrit and Odia in the lines of Hindu tradition initiated by Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara, Satandu, Sripati and many more at different periods of history.

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Chandrasekhar was born in the royal family of Khandapada. Nicknamed as Pathani by his parents (sources say that he was temporarily sold to a Muslim Faqir as a part of the local tradition), Chandrasekhar was initiated to identify stars by his father when he was a child. He received primary education from a Brahmin teacher. As he grew, he started mastering in subjects like lilavati, bijaganita, jyotisa, siddhanta, vyakarana and kavya using the resources available at the family library.

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Then on Samanta Chandrasekhar became an ardent observer throughout his life. He spent many sleepless nights for making observations throughout his life.

Today Chandrasekhar’s childhood town Khandpada has probably been forgotten by many of us. However, a leisurely walk through this little town surrounded by nine hills, forest and interspersed valleys, wetlands and soulful Odia villages is like transporting to yet another world. You are driven through layers of history and myths of this offbeat Gadajat land.

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Apart from the ancestral house of Pathani Samanta and the museum built to showcase his work, the star attraction of Khandpada is the palace. The 250-year-old palace, locally called Rajabati is a magnificent structure showcasing a fusion of Mughal and Odia architecture. The palace has two parts, the outer darbar hall overlooking a large courtyard and the inner Rani Mahal. While you can visit the Darbar Hall, entry to the inner chambers is restricted.

Travel Tips

Khandpada is located in Nayagarh District at a distance of 80 Km from Bhubaneswar via Baghamari. Both Khandpada and Kantilo can be covered in a day trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Khandpada also explore Sunamuhi wetland on the outskirt of the town towards Nayagarh. The Nila Madhav Temple gets closed for darshan by 1 PM. You can also have food at the temple by paying a certain amount.

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Khandpada State was initially part of Nayagarh State, founded by a former ruler of Rewa State in present-day Madhya Pradesh. It became a separate kingdom in the 16th century when Jadunath Singh Mangaraj, the first ruler of Khandpada received the title Mangaraj from the Gajapati King of Puri.

The state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India in 1948. The present Raja is His Highness Sri Bibhuti Bhusan Singh Mardaraj, who lives in Bhubaneswar.

The Jagannath Temple built beside the Rajabati is an architectural landmark of the town. Situated within a spacious courtyard, the temple draws a huge crowd during Rath Jatra and other festivals associated with the Jagannath Cult.

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A visit to Khandapada is incomplete without experiencing the darshan of Lord Nila Madhav located on a hilltop on the bank of River Mahanadi at Kantilo.

Lord Nila Madhav occupies a central position in Jagannath Cult.

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At the time, Puri became an established place of Jagannath Cult, here Biswabasu, a chief of Sabara Tribe worshipped Kitung as the God was known in Sabara dialect.

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The legend goes: once upon a time, Indradumyna was ruling as the king of Malwa. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Once he had a dream…Vishnu had reincarnated as Nila Madhav in the distant land of Sri Kshetra. The king deputed one of his counsellors, Vidyapati to travel to Sri Kshetra and confirm the presence of his lord.

Vidyapati travelled far and wide but was disappointed. One day he met Lilita, a Sabara girl, who was the daughter of Biswabasu, the chief of the Sabara Tribe. Both fell in love and got married.

Vidyapati noticed that Biswabasu would go into the forest every afternoon. Vidayapati was curious but the Sabara Chief refused to tell him where he goes every afternoon. After much persuasion, Lalita admitted that her father went into the forest to worship Nila Madhav.

Hearing this from his spouse Vidyapati was over joyous. He nagged his father-in-law to take him to the shrine. Finally, Biswabasu agreed with a condition that he would take him a blindfold. Vidayapati had no choice. When he saw the heavenly beauty of Nila Madhav he was mesmerized. He hurriedly left for Malwa to give the good news to his master King Indradummyna.

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Today, the locals still believe that Biswabasu lived in a nearby hill across the town and he would come every afternoon to the spot, where the present temple of Lord Nila Madhav stands.

Built-in the Kalinga School of Architecture, the Nila Madhav Temple resembles a miniature Jagannath Temple at Puri. From here one can have a sweeping view of the mighty Mahanadi River.

Truly Khandapada is a timeless journey shrouded in mysteries of time, culture and myths. It was a land which nurtured great souls like Pathani Samant. Here at every bit of its land, you will find the magical charm of rural Odisha.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Badamba – Exploring the Middle Mahanadi Kingdom

In 14th Century CE, the Gajapati King of Puri had recruited hundreds of archers, wrestlers and military personals both from within Odisha and neighbouring regions for safeguarding Odisha from the invasion of Islamic rulers of North India. One of his favourite wrestlers was Shri Hattakeswar Raut who hailed from Singhbhum. Satisfied with his valour, Hattakeswar was offered to rule two villages on the bank of River Mahanadi, Sankha and Mahuri. Both these villages during that time were under the control of Kondhs, one of Odisha’s most aboriginal tribes. Hattakeswar defeated their chief and established a new kingdom and named it Badamba or Baramba after the goddess Biradamba, the other name of Bhattarika, and the presiding deity of the area.

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Over the centuries, the state of Badamba was extended from Sankh and Mahuri to a large area surrounded by states of Narsinghpur, Khandapada, Banki, Tigiria, Denkhanal, Hindol and Athagarh.

At the time of British Raj, the state of Badamba had expanded to an area of 142 square miles consisting of 181 villages.

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Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

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The present palace of Badamba spread over an area of 3 acres on the foothill was built in the 1920s during the reign of Narayan Chandra Birabar Mangaraj Mohapatra. Closed to the palace is situated yet another building in an abandoned state that was used as the state guesthouse. Within the complex is built a sprawling Jagannath Temple.

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Before the state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India, Badamba had been known for excellent administration, jail system, court, high-quality education, promotion of art and culture and better health services including the establishment of an Ayurvedic Hospital.

During the rule of Birabara Mangaraj in the early 20th century, the weavers of Maniabandh had received royal patronage. This had led to the worldwide recognization of Maniabandhi Saree. He was also a great lover of nature and the environment. A large quantity of forest produces were exported to foreign shores from his kingdom.

Travel Tips

Badamba is located at a distance of 85 km from Bhubaneswar via Athagarh and 96 km via Ansupa. It takes about 2 and half hours to reach Badamba. It can be covered in a day trip.  From Badamba, Bhattarika is about 10 km and Champannath Temple is 22 km. Nuapatna and Maniabandh are situated on the highway before Badamba from Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. For food, there are a few dhabas found on the highway and for washroom and snacks, you can avail the facility at Wayside Amenity Centre near Ansupa and Maniabandh.

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Badamba is situated by picturesque hills of the Eastern Ghats on its right and Mahanadi on the left. Maa Bhattarika is the tutelary deity of Badamba State. Located on the bank of River Mahanadi in a pictorial setting, the temple of Maa Bhattarika was built on the foot of a low hill, Ratnagiri, beside the river, is a major attraction.

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According to a legend, Parasurama, facing certain defeat at the hands of Saharasjuna, prayed to Maa Durga who appeared on this spot to impart her divine power to his aid. Parasurama established the peeth and also carved the image of the goddess in the tip of his arrow.

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According to yet another legend, Rama, Lakshman and Sita on their way to Panchavati had offered prayer to Maa Bhattarika.

One more legend goes: during the visit to Bhattarika by Krishna and Satyabhama, Arjuna came to know and reached here to meet them. However, before he reached Bhattarika Satyabhama was abducted by a demon called Gosimha. Arjuna fought bravely and killed the demon. After she was relived, Krishna, Satyabhama and Arjuna prayed Goddess Bhattarika, the presiding deity of Badamba Royal Family.

The temple of Maa Bhattarika also has a strong Buddhist connection, especially Tantric or Mahayana Buddhism. Cooked fish is offered as prasadam to the goddess. She is also considered as the deity of navigation and the fishermen community.

Further west of Bhattarika, is the temple of Lord Champannath, a Shiva Temple built in the time of Somavamsi rule. The major attraction here is turtles reared in the temple pond. When they are fed the leftover temple prasadam they come out of the water and offer a great sight for tourists.

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For those seeking a little adventure and have a fun bath under a splashing waterfall, they will have to drive from Champannath Temple in the right direction through the mystic mountains and the forested corridor of Baramba Hills. The splashing water of Deojhar Fall is hidden deep inside a forest.

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A visit to Badamba is incomplete without experiencing the textile heritage of Nuapatna and Maniabandh. Over 5000 weavers of the area are engaged in ikat weaving, mostly sarees and dress material. A unique aspect of these weavers is that they are Buddhists, the only leftover traditional Buddhists from the historical time. They are vegetarians and also strong believers in Jagannath cult. You can meet them while they are at work, interact and learn the intricate methods of ikat weaving. You can also shop directly from the weavers.

Also, Read Here:

Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Badamba is undoubtedly coastal Odisha’s one of the best-kept mysteries wrapped in riddles of time, culture and heritage, both tangible and intangible.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

Who does not like dosa, the signature south Indian breakfast! On 16th November 2014! History was made in Hyderabad with the making of world’s largest dosa measuring 54 feet 9 inches and weighing 13.69 kg at a restaurant called Daspalla.

Today Daspalla Hotels and Restaurants have created a big brand in Undivided Andhra Pradesh for their unique food innovations and hospitality, however, very little is known about the brand itself Daspalla, a tiny town in the frontiers of Odisha’s Nayagarh district surrounded by dense forest and hills of Mahanadi Division of Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary.

Nestled amidst the pristine beauty of nature, this sleepy little town has a rich legacy of past though its present maharaja, his highness Digvijay Deo Bhanja and the chairman of Daspalla Hotels Limited have settled in the port city of Vizag from the time of his late father Sri Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja’s move after his marriage to a Telugu Princes in 1949.

Silence in Kuanria Wetland

The princely state of Daspalla was founded in 1498 CE by Naran Bhanja, a younger son of Raja Narayan Bhanj Deo of Boudh during the reign of Siddya Bhanja. At that time the present Daspalla was a part of the Baudh Kingdom inhabited mainly by Kondh tribes in the inaccessible jungles of this frontier region. During the rule of Bira Bhanja, there was a rift for power between him and his younger cousin Sal Bhanja. The dissident Sal Bhanja left Baudh for Puri to meet the Gajapati King for assistance. While resting with his followers at a place called Padmatola Ghat on his way to Puri through Jagannath Sadak, the king of Nayagarh came to know about the troop and arrived here to help. Both made alliance and the King of Nayagarh declared him as the king of the area, the present Daspalla region. In no time the news of this development reached Baudh. Bira Bhanja got annoyed and declared a war against Sal Bhanja. But the troop of Bira Bhanja got defeated thanks to the alliance between Sal Bhanja and the king of Nayagarh.

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River Mahanadi near Daspalla

As Sal Bhanja got yasa (fame) after defeating the king of Baudh he named his kingdom Yaspalla which later came to be known as Daspalla. It is also believed that Daspalla got its name from 10 villages that were combined to form the gadajat.

Travel Tips

Daspalla is located on the highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Bolangir via Nayagarh and Baudh. The distance between Bhubaneswar and Daspalla is 125 KM and it takes about 3 hours. Keep a day for exploration in and around Daspalla. If you wish to stay overnight either you can stay at Barmul Nature camp on Satkosia Gorge (50 km) or at Nayagarh, the district headquarters. One can also travel by train up to Nayagarh from Bhubaneswar and then take a bus or public transport. But the vehicle of your own is advisable. While at Daspalla don’t forget to relish Odisha’s signature sweet chennapoda (it was originated here).

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Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

The earliest capital was at Badmul on the bank of Mahanadi. However, at the time of Padmanav Bhanja, the 9th king of Daspalla, the capital was shifted to the present location. A legend goes: during a hunting expedition the king was impressed with a heroic action at this place, a wild dove chasing a chhanchan (bird of prey) and decided to build his new capital here.

Also, Read Here:

Splendours of Sonepur – In the land of Ramayana’s Lanka

After independence when Daspalla was merged with the Democratic Republic of India, the former Raja of Daspalla Sri Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja, the 18th on the line shifted to Visakhapatnam and since then the Rajabati (the palace) has become obsolete.

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Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

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Daspalla Palace

Built-in the colonial style of architecture, in the days of the British Raj, small banquettes were regularly thrown here by the royal family for the benefits of the Governors of Odisha and these banquettes used to be catered by the Grand Hotels in Kolkata.  Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja Ji had widely travelled during his young days and he was a great philanthropist having specific interest in the spread of Jagannath Cult. Of late, the abandoned palace is getting a new breath of life as it is being made a heritage hotel.

Also, Read Here:

Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

Travelling around Daspalla is like back in time. Laidback villages, farmlands, warm-hearted people, scenic wetlands, relishing mouth-watering chennapoda, fish and prawns from Mahanadi and trekking through its enchanting hills and forests make Daspalla a perfect weekend retreat.

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There are two ways to reach Daspalla from Bhubaneswar, one via Nayagarh, the shorter route, but with less interesting characters and the other via Kontilo on the bank of Mahanadi, the original abode of Lord Jagannath and then Gania, famous as the gateway to the Mahanadi Gorge Sanctuary.  We took the second route.

Also, Read Here:

Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

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At Gania, you relish the most authentic version of chennapoda and if you are on time, in the early morning hour you can experience its method of preparation. Try out the sweet at Jagannath Sweet Stall, where you get the best of the sweet anywhere in Odisha made out of freshly backed chenna, the country cheese.

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From Gania take the winding highway through countless farmlands, forested mountains on both your sides. The landscape is untouched by time. On your way, you meet warm-hearted Odia souls at villages surrounding the highway.

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At a distance of 7 km from Daspalla, there lies yet another hidden secret, the Kuanria Wetland, an irrigation dam project developed also to help local fishermen. Treks and resting places have been created surrounding the wetland by the forest department. A large number of migratory birds also flock to this reservoir during winters.

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You can sit here in silence for hours watching fishermen in actions. Even you can buy from the fresh catch and take home or arrange a barbeque meal onsite.

Daspalla is also a culture hub of Odisha. Thanks to the patronage and initiatives taken by its erstwhile rajas, here Ramnavmi is a big draw with carnivals telling the stories of the Ramayana through street theatres, lights and actions.

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Undoubtedly Daspalla is a great weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of Bhubaneswar. Come and discover the magical charm of this frontier land wrapped in mysteries of history, culture and nature.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Gopalpur – Tranquillity on the Sea

During the days of the French Revolution! There lived a man called Loraine in France, who always stood for a cause to help the distressed.

The French Monarch did not appreciate his cause and he became a soft target of the authoritarian government. As the French authorities launched a massive manhunt for him, Loraine went into hiding. With the help of one of his close friends, G.G.F Edwardo, a captain in the East India Shipping Company, he arrived at Gopalpur on the coast of South Odisha.

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However, for the entrepreneur Loraine, Gopalpur turned out to be a base to seek opportunities for lucrative overseas trade with Burma. He established a port and built the present lighthouse, the star attraction of Gopalpur. Loraine joined his hands with the East India Company and got involved in exporting cheap Bengali labourers, local spices and bidis (country cigars). Within no time he established his own shipping company Bengal India Steam Navigation. Fortune favours the brave. Loraine succeeded in his business building several properties, resorts and hotels at Gopalpur on Sea.

Also, Read Here:

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

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Imagine the early 20th century! When Europe was passing through a tough time fighting two world wars, Gopalpur on Sea was celebrating its glorious days.

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Named after the 18th-century temple of Lord Gopala, the laidback seaside town had its heydays during the period between two world wars. Allured by its strategic location, the British and Loraine’s successors had built massive warehouses and grand villas on the beachfront.

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The prosperity of Gopalpur had brought an Italian merchant from Sicily Signor Maglioni, who had built Palm Beach, India’s first beach resort in 1914. During the glory days of Gopalpur, a large number of rich Bengali families, British traders and soldiers frequented Maglioni’s Hotel. Gopalpur’s character changed over the years from a sleepy fishing village to a prosperous holiday gateway from Calcutta, the cultural heartland of the British Raj, though the capital had moved to imperial Delhi around this time.

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South Chilika Coast – Back in Time

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Built-in the Mediterranean architectural style, the Palm Beach Resort, the first of its kind on Indian Shore was a massive hit amused with exotic dines and elegant ball dances. There was gaslight, wooden dance floor and parties that would continue till the early hours.

Travel Tips

Gopalpur on Sea is a small town in Ganjam District of South Odisha. Gopalpur is located at a distance of 16 km from Berhampur, South Odisha’s largest city and a major railway station and 170 km from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 2 and a half hour to reach Gopalpur by road from Bhubaneswar Airport. The other major airport near Gopalpur is Visakhapatnam (4 hours). There are several stay options in Gopalpur to suit all kinds of travellers. However, for a unique experience, we recommend Mayfair Beach Resort and Swosti Palm Beach Resort.  Both are located on the beachfront. Besides Odisha Tourism also has a Panthanivas near the beach. One can easily spend 3 to 4 days at Gopalpur languishing on its beach. From here you can leisurely travel to Ganjam’s other destinations in day trips, such as Taptapani Hotspring, Vetnoi Blackbuck Sanctuary, Chandragiri Tibetan Monasteries, Taratarni Temple and Potagada Fort.

 

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Many Christian missionaries set up training schools and seminaries, some of them still exist today.

Gopalpur’s prosperity started declining after the end of World War II. After India became independent, most of its wealth dwindled to tickle as the British left the Indian shore. The busy waft crashed down and the sprawling warehouses crumbled.

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Rai Bahadur M.S, Oberoi, one of India’s first generation luxury hoteliers purchased Palm Beach from Maglioni in 1947 at a throwaway price. The hotel got a new identity ‘The Oberoi Palm Beach’. In 2013, the hotel was further bought by the Mayfair Group and now has evolved as the best luxury hotel in this sleepy fishing town.

Today, Gopalpur on Sea has again evolved a perfect gateway for laidback holiday seekers. Its long stretch of languorous beach with coconut groves, casuarinas and gentle sand dunes is deserted for miles. For hours after hours, Gopalpur is the place where you can stroll on the sand and relish on mouth-watering seafood. Watching the life of Nolia fisherman is also exciting.

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A little away from Gopalpur is the enchanting countryside of Ganjam. Cycling around here will simply drag your soul into an experience of a lifetime. You are drawn to the age-old practices of fishing and farming and the fishermen navigating the narrow channels of creeks.

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Barely 16 km away from Berhampur, South Odisha’s commercial hub, Gopalpur is truly a tranquillity by the sea.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Sitabinji – A Mystical Journey through Time and Space

Goddess Sita left the kingdom of Ajodhya in revolt when her husband Lord Rama asked her to prove her purity to the citizens of the kingdom to prove wrong the charge about her by a citizen of his kingdom.

Sita was pregnant by the time she left her husband. Wandering in the forest after forest, she finally took refuge in the ashram of Sage Valmiki. Finally, the goddess gave birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusha at the ashram. As they grew into young boys they were educated and trained in military skills under the guardianship of Sage Valmiki.

Unquestionably this is a story from Indian mythology, but historians have their own ideas for establishing the historical truth in the episode. According to them, it was on the banks of Tamsa River, a tributary of Ganga flowing through the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where the ashram of Valmiki flourished and Sita had sheltered after she left Ajodhya forever.

In contrary to scholarly speculations, the aboriginal tribes of Keonjhar in North Odisha have their version of the episode. Sitabinji located in the heart of this forested region according to local belief and folklore was the place where the ashram of Valmiki was located.

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Sitabinji, a small tribal village is located beside river Sita amidst dense forest and hills. The entire region is shrouded in mysteries from time immemorial.

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Sitabinji Village

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Sita River

Consisting of huge granite monoliths and half-opened umbrella-shaped rock formations Sitabinji is the place where Mesolithic (Late Stone Age communities) tribes roamed more than 10,000 years ago in search of food and shelter. The land filled with forest and hills was the perfect refuge for hunting wild games and gathering wild fruits. Millennia after millennia passed. In the process, the Mesolithic tribe evolved into farming communities. Migration of communities happened between lands and eventually, the primitive tribes came under the influence of Hindu mythology and started weaving stories for each of the rock boulders and hills that dot the landscape.

Also, Read Here:

Splendours of Sonepur – In the land of Ramayana’s Lanka

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The Stunning Landscape of Sitabinji

Today, Sitabinji according to local belief is the land where the episode of Goddess Sita’s detachment happened from her consort Lord Rama in the mystical past. The rock boulders are named after various events and character of the episode, such as bhandara ghara (the granary), the school for Lava and Kusha, the ashram of Valmiki and the cave where Sita had delivered her twins.

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Sitabinji continued to be inhabited by tribes and Shaiva upasakas (Shavite Monks) in the Early Historic Period. The finding of a Chaturmukha Lingam and sculpture of a moving elephant testify the presence of Shaivism in the early Gupta Era of Indian History (3rd Century CE).

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Ranigumpha – Rock-cut Romance

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Among archaeological relics, the most prominent is the shelter of Ravanachhaya, an half-opened umbrella-shaped rock formation. On the ceiling of this shelter, there are remains of tempera paintings, dated from the 5th century CE, the only of its kind in the entire Eastern and North-eastern India.

Travel Tips

Sitabinji is located at a distance of 35 km from Keonjhar, the nearest city. To reach Sitabinji one has to make a detour for about 9 km from village Khatrabeda on Keonjhar – Ghatagaon and Panikoili Highway. There is no public transport available for Sitabinji. One has to arrange own vehicle or cab either from Keonjhar or Bhubaneswar (200 km). From Bhubaneswar, it takes about 4 hours to reach Sitabinji. Though it can be covered in a day, we recommend for a two days trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Keonjhar you can also explore its spectacular waterfalls and Ghatgaon Tarni Temple.

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The paintings are mostly eroded. However, from its present state of preservation, it is presumed to be depictions of a royal procession. The key attraction is a royal figure sitting on an elephant. A band of footmen lead the procession followed by a horseman and a dancing woman. An inscription found below the character tells the name of the royal figure, Maharaja Shri Disabhanja.

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Though the painting is contemporary of Ajanta murals, there are significant differences in colour schemes and compositions.

There is no other information on Disabhanja from any other sources. However, according to historians, he was one of the members of Bhanja rulers in Early Historic Odisha, who had their capital at Khiching, further north of Sitabinji.

Yet another attraction of Sitabinji is a shrine in a cave formed by two huge boulders. Legend has it that Maa Sita used this place as a shelter when she was deserted by her husband Lord Rama. It is believed that she gave birth to Lava and Kusha at this very place. The present shrine is made out of mud and bricks containing the carved stone idols of Sita and her twin sons. Besides the shrine, there are a large number of terracotta horses of varying sizes and colours piled by the devotees seeking the blessing of the Goddess for their good fortune.

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At the entrance of Sitabinji archaeological complex, you are drawn to a huge boulder, which is believed to be the bhandaraghara (warehouse) and the hiding place of looted treasures by the famous dacoit ‘Ratnakara’ who later turned into Valmiki, and the writer of the epic Ramayana.

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The archaeological treasures of Sitabinji uniquely blend with its rustic landscape. Its rock shelters and boulders appeared to be the miniature version of Australia’s aboriginal site Uluru, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Millions of years old rock boulders of Sitabinji are also amongst earth’s earliest rock formations.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

Wetlands, small and huge, well-known and lesser-known are some of my favourite destinations for seeking bliss. What I enjoy in wetlands that I visit are the floating vegetation in tranquil water, watching fishermen for hours in actions and musical chirping of birds, both local and migratory. In addition to these, if there are archaeological treasures and intense local stories associated with lakes, they form icing on cakes.

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In Odisha, Chilika Lake often comes to our mind when we talk of wetlands. However, Ansupa, which I find more splendid and euphoric, is almost unknown to travellers except those living in Bhubaneswar or Cuttack.

Travel Tips

Ansupa Lake is located in Cuttack district at a distance 55 km from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 2 hours to reach Ansupa on scenic Banki Highway on the corridor of Mahanadi. While at Ansupa you can also visit Nuapatna and Maniabandh Textile cluster and Bhattarika Temple on the bank of Mahanadi. For accommodation, there are few bamboo cottages built on the hilltop. You can book through https://www.ansupalake.in/  

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Situated near the bank of River Mahanadi and surrounded by hills of the Eastern Ghats, namely Saranda Hill on the western side and Bishnupur Hill on the eastern side, Ansupa is a horse-shoe shaped water body and is the largest natural freshwater lake in Odisha. The lake was created by River Mahanadi and spread over an area of 140 hectors.

Also Read Here:

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

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After a drive of less than two hours from the heart of Bhubaneswar along the scenic Banki Highway what attracts you at Ansupa is its immense biodiversity. The wetland is home to 9 species of submerged plants, and 26 species of floating and emergent aquatic plants. It is also home to 33 species of fish, 3 species of prawns, 10 species of reptiles and 50 species of resident and migratory birds.

Also, Read Here:

Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

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Ansupa is linked directly with river Mahanadi by a natural channel Kabula Nala, which acts both as inlet and outlet, through which flood water enters the lake and excess water goes out after the flood.

Ansupa looks heavenly in monsoon when the Saranda and Bishnupur Hills and the surrounding marshes and paddy fields erupt into various shades of green.

Also, Read Here:

Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Saranda Hill also has a rich archaeological treasure. According to folklore, the area was ruled by kings and zamindars who had established their fort at the hilltop. A legend goes: during the rule of the Eastern Gangas, King Subranakeshari after being allured by the natural beauty of Ansupa had established a fort and village on the foothill of Saranda. Named after him is the present village of Subranapur. The legend further says: one of the brothers of Dhala Dynasty of Banki had established his kingdom on the top of Saranda Hill as Saranda Gada. The king of Saranda had married to one of the daughters of  king of Tigiria, which is located at a distance of 15 km from Ansupa. The armoury of the kingdom is located on the hilltop, which was built to store arms and ammunition and was known as Baruda Ghara.  At the foothill, the king had built a fort gateway made of bronze, which would make a loud cracking sound when it was opened and closed. According to local legends, the sound used to be heard for nearly 20 km.

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Besides the Baruda Ghara, there are remains of two stone wells, locally known as Bhai Bohu Kuan. There is existence of one more well, which is believed to be the remains of the king’s treasury.

The hills surrounding Ansupa on Banki Highway are also treasure houses for archaeologists and cave explorers. There are several natural and human-made caves found on the hills that surround the Chandaka Forest. Many of these natural caves were inhabited by Prehistoric communities, who have left their marks in the form of graffiti though most of these have disappeared now. The caves that were excavated during the historical era resemble single-chambered caved at Khandagiri and Udayagiri Hills. Though it is difficult to date them, it seems these were inhabited by Hindu monks for tantra Sadhana and mediation as late as 18th/19th centuries CE. In Pandava Bakahra caves, which can be accessed through steep climbing have remains of several red ochre paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddess including of Lord Jagannath. There are also tantric narratives in Odia script.

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Travelling to Ansupa can be made in a day trip, but it is highly recommended for the night stay in Ecotourism camp, built by the forest department on the hilltop and Saranda Gada for a memorable experience under the lap of nature.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com