5 Offbeat Travel Experiences in Kandhamal – Odisha’s Tribal Heartland

With no airport and railways, Kandhamal region can be viewed as Odisha’s untamed territory and a paradise for travellers of all kind. A highland mountainous region, 80% of Kandhamal is forested, perhaps the highest in India excluding Northeast. Home to Kondh tribes, this ancient aboriginal land has retained a beautiful mix of old-world charm and modern aspiration. For outsiders, Kandhamal is widely known for Daringibadi, an enchanting hill station nicknamed as ‘Kashmir of Odisha’. However, there are tons of surprises at every part this forested territory beyond the popular hangout points of Daringibadi.

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These are 5 offbeat travel experiences that are guaranteed to charm any curious traveller to this emerging destination in Odisha’s rural heartland.

Mandasaru

Kerala’s Silence Valley is well-known. However, very few know that Odisha has its own silence Valley in Kandhamal. The Mandasaru Silence Valley is an enchanting mountain gorge having splendid wildlife and dense forest. A destination for all seasons, the Mandasaru Silence Valley is also an eco-tourism hotspot. There are beautiful wooden cottages built by the forest department overlooking the mountain gorge. Surrounded by picturesque ethnic villages and rural charm Mandasaru also has one of Odisha’s oldest Catholic Churches built in the early part of the 19th century. There are also small waterfalls and trek options for adventure seekers.

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KANDHAMAL – HERITAGE IN WOOD

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Ludo Waterfall

Located at the heart of Kotgadh Wildlife Sanctuary, Ludo Waterfall is Kandhamal’s best-kept secret. Surrounded by scenic forest villages of Desia Kondh Tribe and enchanting turmeric and mustard fields, the Ludo waterfall is 3 tired having splendid views of nature. One can relax here for hours enjoying the tranquilly of the forest and listening to the musical chores of the cascading fall. The waterfall is worshipped as Mother Goddess by local villagers.

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

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Desia Kond Villages around Baliguda

Baliguda is your entry point to the tribal kingdom of Odisha. Located at a distance of 300 km from Bhubaneswar, Baliguda is surrounded by villages inhabited by Desia Kondh tribe, whose women have a unique tradition of tattooing their face. A visit to their villages will drive to a mysterious wonderland where you hear tons of stories of their hoary past when human sacrifices were a common sight. Isolated from the norms of civilisations there used to a strong belief that sacrificing a human life would yield a good harvest. Today the human sacrificed is replaced with buffalo sacrifice. In every village, you will discover the remnants of sacrificial posts depicting buffalo icons in wood.

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Belghar

Belghar located at a height of 1000 m is the territory of Kutia Kondh Tribe, one of the most primitive in Odisha. Inhabiting around thickly forested hills, the Kutia Kondhs have unique customs and beliefs. Until recently Belghar remained fairly isolated. Like Desia Kondhs the Kutias also sacrificed humans until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A visit to their villages will drag you into a prehistoric setting. To bring into control and expose them into the norms of civilisation the British also had made attempts. A beautiful wooden lodge from the British Era carries the colonial legacy. The elderly local will tell you how the British officials would reach Belghar sitting on elephant back through the dense jungle paths.

Travel Tips

Kandhamal is largely rural and one of Odisha’s largest districts. Phubani, the district headquarter and the largest town is located at a distance of 200 km from Bhubaneswar. Baliguda is the second largest town having staying options. However, for a unique Kandhamal experience try out the Nature Camps at Mandasaru and Belghar, both can be booked online. Keep a minimum of 3 nights and 4 days for your Kandhamal trip.

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Podapoda

Podapada is a small village on Phulbani – Baliguda Highway. The village is known for preserving one of Odisha’s unique wooden temples, the Nrusingha Temple. The temple was built in the 18th century by a Bhanja King from Ghumsar. The most eye-catchy part of the temple is the wooden beams and the parapet where along with conventional Odia icons there is the depiction of mysterious tribal and tantric rituals. The wooden sculptures and geometric motifs are intricately carved.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

 

Duba Valley – Ganjam’s Offbeat Sojourn

Ganjam, Odisha’s southern corridor is an exceptionally fabulous land for its enchanting rural life, forests and mountain valleys, exotic beaches and lakeside at Chilika, art and craft, music, fares and colourful festivals and many more.

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Yet amidst all these charming characters that attract tourists and travellers around the year there sets a hidden gem, the Duba Valley Retreat, a sprawling farm and fish ponds in the north-eastern part of the district. 

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Established in a tranquil setting surrounded by a large number of fish ponds, sal forest, mango orchards, lemon garden, herbal estates and many more, the Duba Valley Retreat (previously known as Sherton Ecoresort) is a destination by itself for the soul seeking travellers. 

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The nearby villages of Duba Valley are known for blackbuck, an antelope species, which is popularly known in Odia ‘Krusnasara Mruga’. The male blackbucks are especially attractive for their long ringed horns ranging between 35 and 75 cm and two-tone colouration, while the upper parts and the outsides of the legs are dark brown to black, the underparts and inside of the legs are all white. 

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ATHMALLIK – IN THE HEARTLAND OF MAHANADI WILDERNESS

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Blackbucks graze on low grasses in groups. They are active mostly during the day time. Due to their regular need for water, they prefer areas where water is permanently available. 

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Though once widely distributed in India today there are small pockets where blackbucks are found in small herds. Their population has gone down mainly because of hunting. However, in Duba Valley blackbucks are protected by villagers because of their significance in Hinduism and due to a local belief. 

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A popular legend goes: many years ago due to a perennial drought condition, the farmers of this part of Ganjam were going through farming stress. One day some of the farmers while wandering in a pretty grassland area saw blackbuck herds grazing undisturbed. It was a coincidence, immediately after this sighting the mother earth rejuvenated receiving adequate rainfall. The village folks started believing that the blackbucks are rain messengers. A symbiotic relationship developed between the farmers and the blackbucks and from then on they are not being harmed. 

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BLISS IN THE WILDERNESS – LULUNG ARANYA NIVAS

At Duba Valley, it is a delight to watch these innocent creatures under the protection of villagers. Incidentally, they are the second high-speed runners after the cheetah on earth. 

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At Duba Valley, you start your day listening to the musical chirping of countless water and tree birds. A short walk in the valley will lift your soul to nirvana enjoying the innocence of nature and the simplicity of rural life. There are 40 ponds, big and small developed for fishing. The biggest is of 17 acres facing the rowhouse cottages. If you are passionate for angling in a rustic setting, it is Duba Valley for you where you can spend a couple of days detoxifying all your mundane stress of city life. You watch fishermen in actions and part of the fresh catch become key menu for lunch or dinner or both. 

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Another key attraction of Duba Valley is relishing khani paka rice (mined rice), which is unpolished having high nutritional value. In Ganjam, a particular variety of rice is stored in underground pits. The rice matures in the heat of the earth. The rice takes very little time to cook, just as raw rice, but tastes like boiled rice. 

Travel Tips

Duba Valley Retreat is located in Jagannath Prasad Block of Ganjam District at a distance of 180 km from Bhubaneswar via Daspalla. Surrounded by pristine forest and villages, it is strategically located to access the other important travel destinations, such as Daringibadi and Satkosia on Mahanadi River. The retreat has 12 cottages and other recreational facilities.

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In the forested valleys near Duba lives Sudha Kondh, a branch of Kondh tribe who speak in Kui language. Having deep faith in nature, the Sudha Kondh communities are known for the simple lifestyle and warm hospitality. 

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Once used to be practitioners of animistic religions, the Sudha Kondhs, are now Hindus. However, until now, they have retained some of their traditions, such as tree worship, the performance of dance and music and living in mud houses having wooden posts fences.   

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KANDHAMAL – HERITAGE IN WOOD

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The nearby town of Bellaguntha is universally known for its unique flexible brass fish craft. Originated in the 9th century CE under the patronage of Bhanja rulers, the craft of flexible brass fish however received due recognition in the 17th century CE. In the past, it was considered as the symbol of Lord Vishnu’s Matsya (Fish) incarnation and was also considered as the symbol of peace. During marriages, traditionally the girl would be sent with a wooden box, which would include sindoor, kajal, money and a piece of brass fish as it is treated as a symbol of peace. Today, however, it is used as decorative items. The main attraction of this craft is the smooth movement. A flexible fish is split into 3 parts, head, torso and tail. 

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Today the idea of travel has travelled from the mainstream to offbeat. Hectic city life, detachment from one’s roots, the flow of information and growing sensitivity towards mother nature, sustainability and crave for fresh organic farm food are being most sought after travel experiences among new age travellers. 

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Truly Duba Valley Retreat spread over hundreds of acres of pristine farmlands and fish ponds in the heartland of rural Ganjam is a travel experience to desire for. 

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Chandipur – Beyond the Vanishing Sea

You are told and retold…Chandipur in Balasore is a unique beach where the sea recedes for 5 km twice a day during ebb tides.

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During when the sea recedes, the beach turns into a biodiversity hotspot.

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Hundreds of ghost red crabs crawl on its golden sands.

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There are swamps covered with thin layers of seagrass sheltering hundreds of tiny fish, gastropods and mollusc species attracting egrets and seagulls for grand feasts.

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Fishermen walk for miles to place wooden posts on the edge of the retreading shoreline only to return next day to bring home kilos of tiny fish that get trapped during the movement of tidal waters.

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DAGARA – ODISHA’S RED CARPET BEACH

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Children play cricket on the dry sand and tourists walk for miles enjoying the unique phenomena of nature.

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When you go on a leisurely walk in this nature’s Shangri La, you discover hundreds of tiny patterns on sand formed by sea crabs, many having holes. When you approach near them the shy red ghost crabs scurry into these holes.

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

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You are floored. Chandipur is perhaps the only beach in this part of the world where nature’s drama can be experienced at its best. Your day is made.

Travel Tips

Chandipur is located at a distance of 16 km from Balasore city which is a major railhead and transit point for travel into various parts of northern Odisha. Connected by a metalled road Chandipur can be reached both by public transport and private taxies from Balasore. Though Chandipur can be covered in a day visit however we recommend for a night stay to experience the complete tidal stories of nature and the nearby Balaramgadi Muhana and the maritime heritage of Balasore. The beach has a number of staying options for budget travellers including the property of Odisha Tourism, Panthanivas. Relishing seafood is a major attraction in Chandipur.

 

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However, beyond nature’s hide and seek games, Chandipur has much more surprises. The Budhabalanga River which flows nearby empties into the Bay of Bengal at Balaramgadi, only 3 km from Chandipur in the further north.

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A major fishing harbour today, Balaramgadi at any moment of the day is full of large-sized fishing trawlers and small fishing boats anchored in the jetty. And if you are in the morning hours you find them unloading tons of fish (hilsa, pomp fret, jumbo-sized prawns and many more) from deep-sea fishing for auctions. You also meet subsistence fishermen engaged in various fishing-related activities.

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The Budhabalanga River was a major maritime passage in the 18th century. The Danish, the Dutch, the French and the British used it as a maritime route to seek business and establish factories. In Balasore there are a few vestiges remained of Chandipur’s maritime past. The region was a centre of shipbuilding and ship repairing. Its natives were most resourceful for their knowledge and skills in navigation. So well-known was Balasore in the nautical circle around the world in 1872, a shipbuilding farm in Glasgow was christened ‘Balasore’. In those days Balasore was also a textile manufacturing hub. The muslin handkerchiefs of Balasore had the brand name ‘Balasore Handkerchiefs’. Because of its high quality and uniqueness, an English Man had established a factory in England to manufacture Balasore Handkerchief.

The French also had a tiny colony at Balasore called Loges. The oldest organised maritime service in India was the Bengal Pilot Service which used to lead foreign ships from Balasore to Calcutta through Balaramgadi near Chandipur and vice versa.

Ref: Some Vignettes of Balasore and its French Loge

Today in Balasore there are settlements like Dinamar Dinga, Farasi Dinga and Oladanj Sahi testifying Balasore’s link with Europe’s maritime nations.

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Within Barabati High school there are remains of two large Dutch Tombs from the 16th century.

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There are also remains of a British Cemetery in Damodar locality consisting of 33 gravestones from the 18th century. The graveyard contains the tombstones of Sir Hennery Rickett, the first collector of Balasore (1827 – 36), and his wife Lady Rickett, who was a doctor and had served people with missionary zeal when Odisha was reeling under ‘Nannka Durvikha’, the worst over famine in Odisha that had killed millions of souls due to hunger and diseases. The graveyard also contains the tombstones of Captain Morgante and Captain Francis Walter, a hero of British Royal Navy who led several battles in Madras, Goa, Harispur, Pipli Port and Balasore.

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Chandipur is fairly a meeting point of nature and history and a true representation of Balasore’s cultural identity.

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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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BIKANER – TOWN OF A THOUSAND SPLENDID MANSIONS

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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

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Udayagiri – On the Footstep of Vajrayana Buddhism

Once upon a time, King Indrabhuti of Odiyana had sat with his consorts and ministers on the terrace of his palace. He gazed up into the early morning sky and saw what appeared to be a great flock of scarlet cranes flying through the air.

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Indrabhuti asked his ministers: “What are those birds? Where do they come from?”

“Your majesty, those are not birds at all, but Arhats in their red robes. They are the disciples of the Great Sage, the Buddha. By following the Buddha’s teachings, his followers find release from the bonds of clinging that tie others to this world. Thus they may fly north and south to spread his teachings.”

When Indrabhuti heard the name of the Buddha, his heart melted with longing. He sat unmoving wordlessly and silently.

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Days later, the Arhats crossed the noon-day sky in a great migration that seemed like clouds at sunset. King Indrabhuti called out to them. He asked how they could be so unconstrained by the laws of nature; by near and far, by high and low. They circled above him but did not descend.

Later King Indrabhuti sat in his palace shrine hall. His mind was filled with longing. Calling out for the 500 Arhat attendants of the Buddha, he set out a vast array of offerings: pure water, flowers, incense, hundreds of lamps, perfume and food. He commanded his musicians to play and sing the most beautiful melodies known to them.

Soon, swirling downward through the sky, the Arhats descended there like an immense flock of red birds, and as they sat before him, the Great King asked them to show him the direct path to enlightenment.

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The Arhats then replied:

“Turn your mind from this mirage which is nothing but a prison and a torture house gaily painted like a palace to the entrance and deceives. Renounce the world and find the path to the enlightenment which does not change.”

Indrabhuti considered this in silence for a long time. He shook his head and as if seeing his palace and all around him for the first time, sang this song.

“Monks, you are indeed heroes and noble sons.

But I am a king, not a renounce.

A great world surrounds me.

When the sun rises, I wake to see it.

When the moon rises and the stars shine,

I feel the tenderness of their cool breath.

When my people sing, a child cries, or my consort calls out in the night,

I hear them and my heart moves to them.

When I smell the lotus blooming on the lake

Or the smell of the smoke from the charnel ground, my mind is still.

When I am caressed, I am joyful,

And when I drink wine, I am filled with delight.

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The Arhats were speechless. Again King Indrabhuti sat on his throne without moving for a long time. He surveyed the world of form as it arose from the mandala of the five lights. His senses expanded effortlessly. Opening through infinite space, free from the limits of emotional bias or conceptual structures, King Indrabhuti saw the limitless ocean of galaxies of realms.

King Indrabhuti sat before the Arhats on his throne, eating and drinking and smiling at his consorts, ministers, and generals, as at the same time he gazed on the infinity of realms and beings. Again the Great King asked the Arhats for the path to enlightenment which does not deny the realms of form. And again the Arhats answered:

“Oh Greatest of Kings, you must abandon all desire and craving. Cultivate morality, meditation and wisdom. Develop the Paramitas of generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation and prajna.”

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The King replied: “I wish to see the direct path of complete wakefulness which does not abandon the delights of the five senses and the bliss I share with my consorts.”

Then, King Indrabhuti reached out and took the hand of his consort. As the rays of the sun fill all the sky and illuminate all the earth, it seemed that King Indrabhuti embraced the entire world completely.

At that moment, some of King Indrabhuti’s attendants and ministers saw him as he sat before them as nothing other than a great cloud filled with light; others saw him in the form of Vajradhara.

Then, as he sat before all his court, King Indrabhuti clasped his consort tightly to him. His consorts, ministers, generals and all his courtiers saw him enter into the vast and pulsing flow of time. He appeared to them riding on the back of a golden garuda flying through the sky after sky, appearing in age after age, place after place, and form after form. He flashed through the swirling flow of cyclical illusions, sometimes entirely visible, sometimes in part, sometimes hidden and sometimes only glimpsed as a flicker, like a fish dancing in a golden stream.

In the time when he was first spoken of, Indrabhuti gathered all the tantras together in book form and instructed all the people of Uddiyana.

So it is said that at that time, King Indrabhuti together with all his consorts, all his attendants, every single one of his subjects including ghosts, animals, insects, fish and birds, attained the siddhi of a rainbow body.

Extracted from http://levekunst.com/the-life-of-king-indrabhuti/

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Thus was born Vajrayana Buddhism at Uddiyana. Scholars have tried to find out the modern location of Uddiyana at Swat Valley to the west of Kashmir. However, the recent excavations at Udayagiri in Odisha have led to confirm that the region was a major centre of Vajrayana Buddhism and perhaps had flourished at the heart of Indrabhuti’s Uddiyana Kshetra.

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Langudi – Odisha’s Miraculous Buddhist Hill

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Guru Padmasambhava, the son of Indrabhuti had established Vajrayana Buddhism from Udayagiri at Tibet in the 8th century CE.

Situated on the foothills of a horse-shoe shaped hill of the Assia Range overlooking the vast Birupa Valley in coastal Odisha, Udayagiri is the largest Buddhist complex in Odisha.

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Ajanta – India’s First Renaissance

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As you enter straight through the entrance of the monastic complex, after walking for nearly 300 m you reach to an excavated Vajrayana Stupa standing on a high platform. The 7 m high stupa is square in plan with four projected niches in four cardinal points, each enshrining a Dhayni Buddha of Vajrayana order.

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On its back, the foothill forming the backdrop is the remains of Udayagirir’s largest monastery. The major attraction of the monastery is its splendid gateway made out of sandstone. The gateway is richly carved with a number of images of the Buddha and other Vajrayana deities.

Travel Tips

Udayagiri Buddhist site is part of Odisha’s Diamond Triangle along with Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri. The site is located in Jajpur District at a distance of 90 km from the centre of Bhubaneswar. Surrounded by hills and rivers Udayagiri and the other two Buddhist sites can be covered in a day trip from Bhubaneswar. However, if someone has wished to stay can be also arranged at Ecotourism complex at Olasuni near Lalitgiri or at Tosali Resort at Ratnagiri.

You can also visit Langudi Hill and Mahavinayak Temple at Chandikhol.

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At any given point of time, you are simply drawn into its pristine artistic treasures amidst the tranquillity of peace. You may not find yet another soul for hours. You will be simply charged to sit for meditation without being distracted by any form of disturbances.

After an engrossing experience you walk down the southern cluster which has maximum concentration of excavated ruins, including brick and stone made circular stupas, yet another large monastery with a life-size image of the Buddha sitting inside the shrine and numerous images of Buddhist pantheons, such as the Buddha, Tara, Manjushri, Avalokiteswara and Jatamukuta Lokeswara. Excavations have also brought into light the remains of large apsidal chaitagriha.

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Another major attraction of Udayagiri is its rainwater harvesting system. A large drain was built from the monastery two located in a higher elevation and oriented on the slope connecting to a large rock-cut well on the plain. This drain tapped the rainwater flowing from the hills and stored for its use during summer.

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The Udayagiri Buddhist monastic site is an archaeological wonder of 8th-10th century CE. Today there may not be any traces of King Indrabhuti’s legacy, but what remains in its air and surrounding land are sufficient to transport an onlooker’s mind to the heydays of Vajrayana Buddhism in Medieval Odisha.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Bondas – The Lonely Survivors amongst Earliest Indians

This is the story of the land where Odisha meets Andhra and where the Machkund River has been rippling away for millions of years. Four thousand feet above sea levels, the Konda – Kamberu range, an arm of the Eastern Ghats surrounds this land. Locked on either side by mountains and interspersed valleys, here has survived an aboriginal tribe for thousands of years. Its children call themselves Remos, which means brave men. However, for people living in plains, they are known as Bonda, which means naked or savage.

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This is a magical land with waves of mountains leaning against each other. Clouds kiss their peaks. Singi Arko (the sun and the moon) disseminate their light below through the clouds, mists and sky-touching trees. There are plentiful streams dancing down from the mountains all around the year. Hidden among these creations of God are the settlements of Remos. Here they have roamed for ages, far away from civilisations, cradling their deadly weapons from one forest to another and one mountain to the next. Within this time frozen land Singi Arko plays their favourite game, creating day and night year after year.

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A story goes: it was time when there lived no humans. Dhartin was the first man on earth. Wherever he walked there was tubuk, the soil. Overhead, there was Singi Mahapuru, the Sun God, and on the ground, Tubu Jang, the Earth Mother.

Travel Tips

Bonda Ghati is located in the southern part of Koraput in Malkangiri District. However, tourists are prohibited in Bonda Ghati. To meet Bondas the only possibilities are various weekly haats or markets in different places around Bonda Ghati. Aunkadelli near Machkund on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh is the best option, which is held on every Thursday. Surrounded by hills and forest, the area is a traveller’s paradise. The nearest towns are Jeypur (60 km) and Similguda (80 km). Both have decent staying options. However, we recommend Desia Koraput, an award-winning ethnic resort (http://www.desiakoraput.com) located near Lamtaput. It is designed in traditional architecture.  The nearest airport is Visakhapatnam (180 km). Bhubaneswar, the state capital is 570 Km.

However, when the earth was born there was no soil, no rocks, only the waves rolled across the dark water. The world was a vast pond. And in it lived an enormous wild boar. With his tusks and snout, he raised the tubuk from the bottom of the pond and scattered it on the surface. Wherever the soil dropped down, the earth appeared and wherever it did not fall there developed rivers, streams and waterfalls. The boar stepped onto earth and jumped into the sky. Singi Arko did not exist then. Everything was lost in darkness. The wild boar turned to face the earth and made another huge leap, landing on the top of a young salap palm. He cut two tender branches of the tree and tossed them into the sky. They became Singi Arko. Then the boar took an armful of salap flowers and scattered them in the sky. The stars appeared and eventually the world was created. But there were still no men.

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Breathtaking Duduma Falls in South Koraput – A Cultural Sojourn

From nowhere appeared the first man Soma and the first woman Sanki. Each roamed alone through the jungles. Then one day, Soma and Sanki met. They wore no clothes or ornaments. They did not ask each other from where they came, because at that time the earth was one. The Earth Mother Tubu Jung had not been split into different countries, different villages. Hand in hand they wandered away through the jungle. Loves grew between them and from their union were born the first remos.

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Their land came to be known as Bonda Ghati which consists of 32 villages. Mudulipada is their capital.

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Deomali – Offbeat Wonderland

There is an exciting story of how Mudulipada became their capital.

After the earth was created, both men and women wandered freely in jungles feeding on fruits and roots. But there was a problem. The women had to find a private place for delivering babies.  Once, a pregnant woman saw a green salap tree on the gentle slope of a mountain. The tree was covered with thick branches.  Under her cool shade, she delivered a son and a daughter. A deer arrived around that time nearby. The hungry Remo ran after it with his bows and arrows and did not return for a long time. The woman waited patiently and finally doubted on her husband’s selfishness. She thought, her husband might have killed the deer and eaten its flesh without remembering her. She too was hungry. Without bothering about her two newborn babies she went in search of her husband and finally met him.

The babies cried aloud out of hunger. The salap tree under which they had sheltered had a soul. In those days the salap trees did not produce any juice. It had nothing to feed babies with. However, under cover of the earth, its roots had reached the ocean. The tree prayed with great devotion to the Ocean God for help. The Ocean God was pleased and gave the tree a little of its bounty of the water. The water spread through the roots, the trunk and branches of the tree and dripped into the open mouths of the crying babies. It was the juice of the salap that kept the babies alive. They grew old and strong. They became husband and wife and gave birth to 12 son ad 12 daughters. The 12 brothers built their huts in 12 villages and it was these 12 villages that made up the Bonda country. The eldest brother was Nangli Bonda. He established his home in Mudulipara, which became the capital of Bonda country. Some of their descendants became the Gadaba branch of the Bondas and spread into the foothills.

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South of Mudulipara is Pinajangar, a lofty mountain range hanging precariously above the Duduma Falls, near the weekly haat or market at Ankadelli.  On every Thursday both Bondas and Gadabas descend here in groups to buy and sell their daily needs along with selling the salap drink. Here the travellers meet Bondas who are distinguished for their colourful costumes and shaven heads.

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When a Bonda boy becomes 5 years old, he puts on a ghusi, a loincloth. At 5, a girl begins to wrap a short ringa around her waist, like a skirt. Her neck and chest are almost hidden under massive strings of beads. She wears beads around her head as well, and on her hands, up to the elbow, she has heavy metal bracelets. Long heavy metal earrings dangle from her ears.

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A legend goes: On those days the perennial Kingubodak Stream gushed down the hillside in the village of Mahulipara. The mango trees along its banks drifted in the cool shade. Sita Thakurani took out her clothes and ornaments and plunged stark naked into the stream’s flowing water. Just then a group of Bonda women descended from the nearby mountain. They did not walk naked then. They had worn clothes and their long hair were oiled and combed into sleek buns.

As Sita Tkakurani emerged from the stream, a hornbill flew overhead screeching as though laughing at her nakedness. The Bonda women could not ignore its call. ‘Phish,’ they burst out laughs. Sita Thakurani cried out in rage. “Can you being women, laugh out at the sight of a woman’s body? The whole world shall laugh at you in Kali Yuga, the evil times to come. Naked you shall be to everyone! And not a hair shall cover your heads, you shall walk with your heads shaven, bare from head to foot. But beware! If you try to cover up your nakedness or grow hair on your scalps, not a blade of grass will grow on the mountains! Bonda people will be destroyed”.

The Bonda women screamed. Their tears softened the goddess’s heart. She pulled out a single thread out of the border of her sari. ‘Take this a weave a garment for yourself, to cover up your shame in the Kali age. But let it be no wider than the length of this thread, and wear it below your navel and above your thigh’.

(Extracts from ‘The Primal Land’ by Pratibha Ray)

The Bonda tribe of Odisha are believed to be part of the first wave of migration out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. They were the first forest settlers in India, who sometime in the ancient past migrated and settled in an area of about 130 sq km in the wild Jeypore hills, in the present Malkangiri District.  The Bondas continue to speak in their language, Remo, which comes under the Austroasiatic language belonging to the Mundari group. Their children are named after the day on which they were born.  The women prefer to marry men who are younger by at least 5-10 years so that the men can earn for them when they grow old. In the past, the Bondas used to hunt and forage for food in the wild. However, now Bondas practice shifting agriculture in the hills not only for consumption but also to sell the produce in the markets.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

 

Langudi – Odisha’s Miraculous Buddhist Hill

Year 1995! I had just registered my PhD programme on Buddhist Archaeology at Pune’s Deccan College. I had come to Odisha for my initial fieldwork. On a fine late afternoon, I had stumbled upon Langudi Hill with my other companions Dr Pradip Mohanty and Dr Harish Prusty, both experts in Buddhist Archaeology.

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Remains of Rock-Cut Stupa Ruins

The hill was not far from busy Kolkata – Chennai Highway, but at the same time it was far from the maddening crowd of the hustle bustle of city life and surrounded by vast rice fields and small and large villages. It was awe inspiring. The site had not gone through excavations. But the exposure in a horseshoe-shaped rock-cut panel had confirmed its potential.

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Ajanta – India’s First Renaissance

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A couple of years later Langudi was excavated by Odisha State Institute of Maritime and Southeast Asian Studies based in Bhubaneswar. A fresh journey began with a new perspective after its excavations.

Travel Tips

Langudi Hill is located in Dharmasala Block near Jaraka Town in Odisha’s Jajpur District at a distance of 90 km from Bhubaneswar. The site is well connected by road and rail networks. When you are visiting Langudi also visit the nearby Kaima and Tarapur Hills for other Buddhist remains. You can also plan for a larger Buddhist trail around Langudi including Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri and the Shakti Peeth Viraja at Jajpur.
There are no accommodations at Langudi, however, Ratnagiri has a decent resort for the night stay. Alternatively, you can stay at Bhubaneswar and visit the Buddhist clusters during a day trip.

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Finding Shravasti (Sāvatthī)

Today standing atop Langudi Hill among its splendid archaeological ruins I became a time flyer and reminded of Huen Tsang, the Chinese monk who had visited Langudi in the middle of 1st millennium CE.

Looking at the plains of Brahmani Delta, I recall Huen Tsang’s statement: ‘In the southwest of the country was the Pu-Sie-P’o-K’i-Li (Puspagiri) monastery in a mountain; the stone tope of the monastery exhibited supernatural lights and other miracles, sunshades placed by worshippers on it between the dome and amalaka remained their like needles held by a magnet. To the northeast of this tope in a hill monastery was another tope like the preceding in marvels. The miraculous power of these topes was due to the topes having been erected by supernatural beings’.

Several attempts had been made prior to Langudi’s excavation to identify Puspagiri University. But most of them had failed.

An inscription found at Langudi reveals its identification as Puspa Sabhara Mahagiriya (Puspagiri). Archaeological excavations have also brought to light a large number of Buddhist caves, dilapidated rock-cut stupas and ruined monasteries in and around Langudi Hill. The area was a prominent Buddhist seat of learning from the time of Ashoka until 11th Century CE. All the three branches of Buddhism, Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana flourished here at different periods of its history.

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As you enter the hill what draws your immediate attention is the remains of a large square stupa of burnt bricks and laterite stone built during the rule of Emperor Ashoka in remote 3rd Century BCE. Supposed to be the earliest in Odisha, the stupa testifies the presence of Buddhism in Odisha in the Mauryan Era. An inscription found here also carries Ashoka’s name.

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Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Mauryan Period Buddhist Stupa – Earliest in Odisha

A passage in the rock edict XIII of Ashoka at Dhauli suggests that there were sramanas along with adherents of other sects in Kalinga at this time. It was during the rule of Ashoka thorough and systematic propaganda was carried out by protagonists of different schools, and Buddhism made considerable headway in Odisha. Ashoka’s brother Tissa had selected Kalinga for the place of retirement. Ashoka had constructed for him a monastery known as Bhojakagiri Vihara, which became the centre of activities of the Thera School. Dharmarahita, Tissa’s preceptor had come to Kalinga to spend his last days with Tissa and other monks in the monastery. Ashoka had also built 10 stupas in Odisha, the Langudi Stupa being one of them. During the time of his grandson, a wealthy Brahmin named Raghav from Odra had become a follower of Buddhism. Raghav had made arrangement of an assembly of eight thousand arahats in his house where they were entertained for three years.

To the further north of the Mauryan Period stupa, there are remains of 34 rock-cut stupas dated to 2nd-3rd centuries CE.

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The central stupa or the maha stupa in the series is shown with lotus medallion and flying vidyadharas.

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On its base are depictions of musicians and dancers, one of the earliest in Odisha showcasing ancient Odisha’s cultural life.

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In the southern part of the hill, excavations have revealed rock-cut images of various female deities such as Tara with her two arms and Prajnaparamita, both Mahayana deities and sculptures of Dhani Buddhas testifying the presence of Vajrayana Cult in the hill towards the end (9th – 11th centuries CE).

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The early Buddhism in Odisha or elsewhere in India was urban-based. The monasteries which were exclusively used as varsa vasa or rainy retreats were located in isolated hills for meditative pursuits, yet not far from their respective urban centres, which were the support base. Trade, both domestic and international thrived in this era.

Langudi Hill was not an exception. Close to the hill in its north is located Radhanagar, the ruins of an ancient city, which was part of my PhD topic in the 1990s. Excavations at Radhanagar have brought to light a large number of objects associated with aristocratic life and markers of domestic and international trade.

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The site of Radhangar and Archaeological Finds

Close to Radhanagar is yet another hill, Kaima on the bank of Kelua River. On its foothills is found a rock-cut elephant, the second after Dhauli, symbolically representing Lord Buddha. There are also caves in all nearby areas including Tarapur, where excavations have brought out yet another circular stupa of Mauryan era.

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Langudi and its surrounding hills are major Buddhist cluster yet to be explored by tourists. The views from these hills are breathtaking. You are simply taken back to the time of Ashoka and ponder to visualize how the bhiksus of Langudi had been responsible for the conversation of Chanda Ashoka to Dharma Ashoka or from Digvijaya to Dharmavijaya.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Captivating Kanha – A Journey through Two Worlds

It was the peak of summer and the peak of the day around 12 noon. During my epic drive from Ahmedabad to Bhubaneswar for about 2400 km (including several detours), I arrived at Seoni, a dusty small town at the middle of Nagpur and Jabalpur Highway in south-eastern Madhya Pradesh. This was where the Jungle Book of the 19th century by Rudyard Kipling had been set.

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Landscape around Seoni

I and my companion, His Highness Sri Somraj Singh Jhala, were in a fix, whether to drive south from here to Pench National Park or northeast to Kanha National Park.  Both were alluring. After much deliberation, we decided to head northeast, to Kanha National Park.

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Delicious Breakfast and Sweet Meats in a Road Site Eatery Enroute Kanha

The terrain of Seoni is undulating with most of the area is covered by small hill ranges of eastern Satpura mountains, steeply sloping on the sides.  Once covered with dense forest today the landscape from Seoni to Kanha (120 km) looks mostly barren and deserted. But throughout the drive of nearly 4 hours what had captivated me were the scenic Gond houses in villages that dotted on both sides of the road. Neat and clean, the houses made of mud bricks and plastered with wattle and daub, are amongst the finest vernacular houses I had seen anywhere in Central India.

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Jawai – Where Leopards are Locals

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Enchanting Gond Houses and Villages around Kanha in Mandla District

Madhya Pradesh is predominantly a tribal state with Gonds forming one of the prominent tribes.  There are over 50 sub-tribes within Gond Tribe, which are also concentrated in the neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh alone they are spread in Betul, Hoshangabad, Chhindwara, Seoni, Balaghat, Mandla, Dindori, Sagar, Damoh, Rewa, Satna, Shahdol, Raisen, Burhanpur and Narsighpur Districts.

Travel Tips

Kanha National Park is spread over a vast stretch of forest over Mandla and Balaghat districts in Eastern Madhya Pradesh. The nearest town is Mandla and city is Jabalpur. The park is well-known for evergreen forest and animals like tiger, leopard, sloth bear, barasingha, gaur and Indian wild dog. It is also home to over 1000 species of flowering plants. While the lowland forest is a mixture of sal and other mixed-forest trees, interspersed with meadows, its highland forests are tropical moist and dry deciduous.

Kanha Tiger Reserve abounds in meadows or maidans which are basically open grasslands. 

The best season to visit Kanha is between Mid-October and March. The safari timings are between 6.30 to 11 AM in the morning and 3 to 6 PM in the afternoon. The park is closed between 1st July to 15th October.  The buffer zone of the park near Mukki and Khisli Gates are a number of jungle resorts and lodges for accommodation, which can be booked through online. For a Gond tribal experience visit Khatia and Narna villages on the fringe of Kanha. 

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Gond People in a Village near Muki Gate in Kanha

The Gonds are known for building their houses using locally available resources which I could see during my drive to Kanha. Unlike us, the city breeds, the Gonds do not harm their environment while constructing their shelters. No external agency is involved in construction. Their houses become one with the landscape where they live. Their womenfolk take charge of decorating the walls and floors of their mud houses using clay and organic colours, mostly blue, earthen red and white. The main entrance of the house is mostly east facing and on the left side is kept the cowshed, which is supposed to be the sacred place in the house where auspicious occasions are celebrated and important rituals are performed.

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Kaziranga – Hydra of Conservation

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A Gond House near Kanha

When you enter to a Gond house, you are welcomed in a large drawing room (palta bangle), and then an open verandah (parchhi), which is adjacent to the courtyard, where implements related to cattle are kept. The kitchen (muhrat ghar) having enough space for storing grains, pulses and oilseeds, is located in the backyard. Remaining rooms are called Kuria. The family god is enshrined in a small platform in the front of the wall where the chulah or the earthen hearth is built. Though there is no image or idol or god, it is represented by food grains and coins that are placed in a pit.

Gonds are beautiful souls known for warm hospitality and gesture. When we entered Mandla District, I was simply drawn to one of their shrines dedicated to Shri Shambhu Mahadeo under a huge Banyan Tree made out of the earth. According to their folklore, when Gods were born, their mother abandoned them. The goddess Parvati rescued them, but her concert Shri Sambhu Mahadeo kept them captive in a cave. Pahandi Kapar Lingal, a Gond hero, who received help from the Goddess Jangu Bai, rescued them from the cave. They came out of the cave in four groups, thus laying the foundations of basic fourfold divisions of Gond society. Lingal is also responsible for creating a Gond kingship system and establishing a group of great Gond gods.

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Shrine of Sri Sambhu Mahadeo

Sacrificing a life before a new event is a common aspect of Gond life. Certain Many of Gond Goddesses demand chickens, goats, and sometimes male buffaloes during major festivals. Every nine or twelve years, Gonds sacrifice a pig to the god Narayan Deo in an important ceremony known as the Laru Kaj (Pig’s Wedding).

Gonds believe that evil spirits and the gods’ displeasure cause most diseases and misfortunes. Their shamans intertwine when there are such crises. They fall into a trance and give voice to the demands of an offended God or spirit.

By the time we had reached Mukki Gate of Kanha National Park, we had travelled through a dozen of Gond villages in Mandla District. It was dusk. Sun was going down against the western horizon over the Kanha sky. Soon pitch dark night shrouded all around us. We retired for the day at MP Tourism Jungle Resort close to Mukki Gate.

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The Buffer Zone of Kanha

Next day morning! It was 5 AM, the outside was still hazy. The noise of the forest and the chirping of birds helped us waking up from the deep slumber of tiredness of the previous day’s long travel from Panchmari to Kanha. Over a cup of hot chai, we chalked out the day’s plan. The first job was to get ready at the gate for the safari before 6 AM. We hurried and booked our tickets. At 6.15 AM we entered to the core of Kanha.

Kanha National Park is one of India’s finest wildlife parks and is geographically blessed with meadows and valleys apart from the dense evergreen forest. Spread over a thousand square kilometres. Here wildlife sighting is almost guaranteed.

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Enchanting Kanha National Park

As our safari jeep started navigating through the forest the drama of nature started unfolding at every short interval. A huge meadow at the magical dawn set against evergreen Satpura Hill was the first where we sighted a large colony of antelopes gazing in the mist hours. Soon a wild boar crossed running behind our vehicle. I was disappointed. My mobile camera was inadequate to capture its force.

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Soon we sighted a herd of bison, the pride of Kanha before us. Also, called gaur the Indian bison is the largest extant bovine and the tallest wild cattle service. They are active mostly in the nights and disappear before 8 in the morning.

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Our guide Girani Maravi, a man from Baiga tribe was constantly alert for a tiger sighting. It was close to 8 he succeeded in his morning’s mission. It was an expert like him who could judge the commotion of the forest against the backdrop of a tiger’s roam as the king of the forest. Monkeys are the best indicators before a tiger’s arrival. With his guidance, the driver turned the vehicle and entered to yet another trek road. It was less than 2 min, I arrived at one of the finest wildlife moments of my life. Before us, less than 100 m, a full-grown Royal Bengal Tiger was walking majestically on the dusty trek. He saw us. We saw him. There was an exchange of anxiousness between us. He sat almost for 10 min without doing anything. We were the only safari jeep. My mobile camera went on clicking pictures and shooting small clips. There was deep silence all around, not a single other creature, except birds could be seen nearby. After giving a 10 min pose he finally got up and started walking into the jungle. At this moment another vehicle arrived but alas, for them the show had pulled its curtain.

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Once you have the best tiger sighting your enthusiasm is largely over. Now it was the time to return back to the gate and proceed to your next destination on this epic drive from the west coast to the east of India.

It was truly a magic moment in my entire drive from India’s west coast to the east coast in the land of Kipling’s Jungle Book. It is the land of countless stories of human-tiger conflicts and love. The Gonds and Baigas have a deep association with the forest of Kanha and their traditional knowledge system and spectrum of ethnic life are not be missed by any serious traveller to Kanha.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Sahi Jatra – Puri’s Holy Carnival

12th – 13th Centuries India! While on one end India was witnessing a renaissance through emerging traditions of classical art and culture on the other end there used to be constant threats from invading iconoclast sultans of Delhi in pursuit of their political ambitions.  We all know how Devagiri, the wealthiest capital of Yadavas became Daulatabad in Deccan and how the great Shiva Temple built by the Kakatiyas in Warangal Fort turned from its splendour into shattered ruins.

The holy city of Puri and its famed Jagannath Temple was also in the wish list for invasions. The protection of the city and the temple had become prime responsibility of Gajapati King Chodaganga Deva, who was also the builder of the present Jagannath Temple in the 12th century CE. For this, the king had established many Kotas (fortress) and Jaga Gharas (gymnasiums) to train youths as safeguarders of Puri and the Jagannath Temple. Jaga Gharas were established in 9 of its oldest sahis (neighbourhood streets) which are continued till present though through several alterations made from time to time. Most probably, Jaga is derived from the word jagarana (to keep awake).

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Some of these sahis having Jaga Gharas are Bali Sahi, Dola Mandapa Sahi, Hara Chandi Sahi, Kundei Benta Sahi, Mani Karnika Sahi, Mati Mandapa Sahi, and so on. While Lord Hanuman (Mahaveer) is commonly worshipped, each Jaga Ghara also has a presiding deity of its own.

Also, Read Here:

Monks, Monasteries and Murals – A Photo Story on Puri’s Two Legendary Mathas

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The character of a Jaga Ghara is having a temple for its presiding deity, a gymnasium and a pond to perform various rituals. Men of all ages come here for bodybuilding, to bathe in the pond, gossip or playing a Ganjapa card game. In the temple, Lord Hanuman is worshipped along with the presiding deity of the respective Jaga Ghara.

Travel Tips

Puri is a well-known pilgrimage site for Hindus and celebrated as one of the four supreme dhams. The holy city of Lord Jagannath is well connected by rail and road and forms part of the golden triangle in Odisha for tourists world over, the other two places in the triangle are Konark and Bhubaneswar. The nearest international airport is located in Bhubaneswar, 65 km away. Puri abounds in sites for both spiritual and adventure seeking souls. Every street of Puri and its surrounding villages has something to offer whether it is food, craft, ethnic life, devotion or spirituality. Its sea beach is one of the most celebrated beaches of India on the Bay of Bengal and a drive through the Puri – Konark marine drive is one of the most memorable experiences for a traveller. 

Puri is full of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets. While at Puri don’t forget to eat mahaprasada, the food offering to Lord Jagannath on a daily basis. 

To experience Sahi Jatra in Puri, one has to visit here during Ram Navami in the month of March/April. Check out the calendar before you plan to visit.  

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Starting from the day of Ram Navami and continued for eleven days all these Jaga Gharas and the sahis celebrate a grand carnival every night, locally known as Sahi Jatra.

Also, Read Here:

Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

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The Sahi Jatra of a particular Sahi starts its procession to its competitor Sahi or Badi Sahi. For example, Bali Sahi is the Badi Sahi of Hara Chandi Sahi. Suppose today the procession of Bali Sahi goes to Hara Chandi Sahi and displays their performances on the next day the procession of Hara Chandi Sahi goes to Bali Sahi for the performance. In Sahi Jatra, all the members of Jaga Gharas take part.

Also, Read Here:

Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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Partly militant and partly religious, the themes of Sahi Jatra are the episodes of the Ramayana.  The non-winding procession of various mythological characters crawls through all major crossings, lanes and by-lanes of Puri’s major and oldest sahis throughout the 11 nights. The characters include Naga, Durga, Kali, Parasurama, Rama, and demons like Ravana, Navasira, Saptasira and Trisira, and various local deities.

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One of the main attractions of Sahi Jatras is the procession of Nagas and Medha dances. The performers go through rigorous training in their respective Jaga Ghahras for a couple of days before the commencement of the Jatra.

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Adorned with medhas, silver jewellery and masks of respective character and accompanied by acrobats, tumblers and drummers, each participant displays his valour and strength to fullest. Among these characters, the key attraction is, however, Naga.

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Naga is associated with the Nagarjuna Vesa of Lord Jagannath which is usually done in a leap year when the five days of Panchuka becomes six days during the holy Kartik month. In Nagarjuna Vesa, the lord is decorated like a warrior honouring Parasurama, the warrior incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  The Naga dance seems to have originated from this tradition. It showcases the martial or warrior dance of victory.

Usually young and energetic men are preferred for the Naga character. He wears a huge headgear profusely decorated with silver jewellery and false beard almost covering the face. Multi-coloured arrows attached in two bamboo sticks are tightly fitted to the arms. On his waist portion, several weapons like shield, dagger and knife are placed. He wears a rosary around the neck. On the back portion of the figure, a bamboo mat can be seen which is tied on his body. With the jerky movement of the shoulders, he dances in heroic steps. Sometimes he holds a gun. He moves at the front of the procession along with the drummers who provide rhythm to his movement.

People also encourage participants with clapping and cheering words. While the rehearsal is in full swing, some other community members, especially ones with artistic skills are engaged in decorating and painting fresh murals on street walls, community space and temples. Colourful and fancy street lighting is also arranged for the carnival.

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On the evening of Ram Navami, the procession of Rama and his three brothers along with their teacher Rishi Vishwamitra starts from Kalika Devi Sahi. In a decorated horse chariot the group first visit Lord Jagannath Temple for blessing and then proceed to Rajabati, the palace of Gajapati King located on the Grant Road (Bada Danda). Hundreds of people are gathered to witness and participate in the procession.

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On the 12th day, the Sahi Jatra ends with Ravana’s death. Even on that day Ravana visits Lord Jagannath Temple and offers red hibiscus flower to the Lord. Later that day after the Sandhya Dhoopa rituals, idols of Rama and Lakshman are kept on Ratnasingahsan and then carried to Jagannatha Ballav Math for Ravana Vadha Ritual.

Sahi Jatra of Puri is a unique cultural institution showcasing community participation. Apart from being fun and entertainment, it reminds us we are all equal before the Almighty and harmony should be the only motto for our living.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com