Athmallik – In the Heartland of Mahanadi Wilderness

Imagine 19th century Mahanadi, a river that formed the lifeline of Odisha and the only passage to commute between Sambalpur and Cuttack and further Puri for Jagannath darshan. Mahanadi looks pristine but at times could turn hostile for sailors, thanks to its floor filled with large and small rocks that could cause accidents if you are not a skilled and vigilant captain.

IMG_0498

Flat bottomed boats that float even today are well suited for Mahanadi navigation. The boatmen would carry racks and hoes with which they would clear a narrow passage just sufficient to let their craft pass, where there were chances of rocks impeding navigation.

Also, Read Here:

SPLENDOURS OF SONEPUR – IN THE LAND OF RAMAYANA’S LANKA

IMG_0500

IMG_0458

The people living on the banks of Mahanadi subsisted by river trading. They would carry salt, spices, coconut and brass utensils from Cuttack to Sambalpur in exchange of cotton, wheat, oilseeds, clarified butter, oil, molasses, iron, turmeric and ikat cloths.

Everything would go fine till they reach near Athmallik where Mahanadi would become a gorge, now flowing like a snake amidst densely forested hills of the Eastern Ghats in the south and Gadajat in the north. The river here is also infested with gharials, the Indian counterpart of American alligators. To gain courage and for safe passage in the gorge, the boatman would seek the blessing of Maa Binkai and Maa Konkai, two sister goddesses, whose abodes are separated by the river.

Also, Read Here:

BADAMBA – EXPLORING THE MIDDLE MAHANADI KINGDOM

IMG_0485

IMG_0507

IMG_0467

IMG_0479

IMG_0466

IMG_0464

Dramatic Setting at Binkhai

Today this may sound like a fairytale, but when you are at Binkai your soul is simply transported to yet another era of mysteries and courage of river people amidst the breathtaking collage of mountains and river.

Travel Tips

Athmallik is located at a distance of 192 km from Bhubaneswar and it takes about 5 hours of drive on a scenic highway. However, one can also take a train up to Boinda from Bhubaneswar (the best option could be Bhubaneswar – Bolangir Intercity, which leaves Bhubaneswar at 6 AM and arrives at Boinda at 9.30 AM). From Boinda if informed priorly, Anupam Dash can arrange a vehicle for pick up. His phone no is +91 9937412336.

Deep Forest Farmstay is about 40 km from Boinda Station. The drive is scenic, especially on the Ghat Road. On your both sides there are majestic Gadajat Hills and mountain streams in the western periphery of Satkosia Wildlife Park.

 

IMG_0448

IMG_0445

Athmallik located in the geographical centre of Odisha is the closet town from Binkai. Steeped in history, Athmallik was a princely state at the time of British Raj. Nestled on the foothills of Panchdhara Mountains and surrounded by the dense jungle of Hatidhara, the buffer area of Satkosia Tiger Reserve, the origin of Athmallik State is obscure.

IMG_0396

IMG_0324

IMG_0309

IMG_0319

IMG_0314

Glimpses of Panchdhara Mountains and Forest around Athmalik

In the 11th century CE, a jagir was established by King Pratap Deo of the Kadamba Dynasty. Pratap Deo was said to have found a Honda metal vessel which was considered an auspicious sign, after which the territory was named as ‘Hondpa’. Centuries later one of the chiefs divided the state into eight divisions and placed one sub-chief called ‘Malla’ in each division to suppress the unruly tribes. After this event, the kingdom’s name was changed from ‘Hondpa’ to ‘Athmallik’.

IMG_0567

IMG_0326

IMG_0304

IMG_0305

IMG_0313

Folklore goes: Pratap Deo was a royal scion of Amer (Jaipur) who had come to Puri as a pilgrim along with his six brothers and one sister. For some reason, he ran on trouble and lost four of his brothers in a battle against the king of Puri. As there was no chance for survival, he escaped to the jungle of Bonai. Here at Bonai after he settled down without any fear he arranged his sister’s marriage to a scion of Keonjhar royal family. But the marriage did not last long as his brother-in-law was murdered during a conspiracy.

Once again to overcome threats he had to look for a safe place. Fortunes brought him to Boudh on river Mahanadi and then to present Athmallik, further downstream of Mahanadi, which was ruled by 8 mallas or village chiefs during that time.

At the time of British Raj, Athmallik was one among the 26 feudatory states of Odisha. Today what is left of the erstwhile state are the Kishore Bhavan Palace and an older dilapidated palace on the periphery of the town.

IMG_0341

IMG_0516

IMG_0515

IMG_0530

Vestiges of Royal Heritage at Athmallik

The region around Athmallik also has the largest number of hot springs in Asia. There are 84 in Deulajhari, a holy shrine of Lord Shiva, out of which 24 are accessible.

IMG_0373

Deulajhari Shiva Temple

According to local belief before Pratap Deo arrived and when the tribal chiefs still ruled, the Lord Jagannath lived in a cave by a wide-eyed, limbless wooden statue worshipped by the indigenous Sabara people. But one day, Hindu priests arrived along the river by boat and kidnapped Jagannath, installing him at the main temple of Puri, where he has remained ever since.

IMG_0399

IMG_0401

Jagannath Temple Complex in Athmallik

At Athmallik, Jagannath is believed to have once been adorned by what was the largest diamond in the world, before becoming known as the Koh – i – Noor.

The Panchadhara Mountain Range covers a vast area of dense forest and is a prominent elephant corridor. A major watershed, the hills run in parallel to Mahanadi. The mountain range is named after being the source of 5 perennial streams that flow in different directions before forming tributaries of Mahanadi. There are splashing waterfalls deep inside the forest.

IMG_0609

IMG_0333

IMG_0332

IMG_0425

Oriental Scops Owl

IMG_0325

Deep Forest Farmstay

A major attraction of Panchdhara is Deep Forest Farm Stay, a destination itself for nature-loving travellers. Spread over a land of 4 acres the property has been crafted by Anupam Dash, an avid wildlife photographer and a passionate naturalist. The facility is located in the buffer area of Satkosia Wildlife Sanctuary in Hatidhara Forest. As you take the winding forest road with the mountain streams in the backdrops, the Deep Forest Farmstay welcomes you to its abode with open arms.

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.

IMG_3857

IMG_3822

IMG_3788

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).

IMG_3845

20190823_151053

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.

20190823_160756

Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

IMG_3831

IMG_3835

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.

IMG_3863

IMG_3853

IMG_3846

IMG_3849

IMG_3826

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

IMG_3790

IMG_3801

IMG_3829

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.

IMG_3810

IMG_3807

IMG_3808

IMG_3815

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.

IMG_3819

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.

IMG_3866

IMG_3868

IMG_3871

IMG_3875

IMG_3879

IMG_3881

IMG_3882

IMG_3888

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.

IMG_3919

IMG_3960

IMG_3964

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