Two New Yorkers spend six months 18 months!?! in Bangalore and other places in India.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Konark and Puri

Orissa was really fun. I think a lot more tourists would visit if it wasn't kind of a pain to get to. You can easily tell it's a lot more rural than, say, Karnataka -- lots of people staring at the firangi (foreigners), even in the big cities, and instead of having to drive for 90 minutes or so to see lots of rice paddy fields, they pop up after about 30 minutes after you've gotten in the car in the city.

Konark's Sun Temple was monumental. It was hard to take it all in. As Don said, you have to love a theme, and making a temple that's a model of Surya the sun god's chariot is just a great idea. The wheels alone are astonishingly intricate -- and big! I'm afraid I might have annoyed our patient guide with my constant questions, but it was so hot, and both of us got a little impatient after being told about all the little carvings. After the guide finished pointing out one, he'd move eight inches to the right and talk about another. It's a big temple, so that ended up taking a while.

Many of the sculptures surrounding the wheels are, famously, X-rated (if you're writing a highminded travel guide, you call them "erotic" or "sensual" -- whatevs). There are lots of explanations for why this temple, along with many others, has many carvings that attract the titters of teenagers (and, OK, me). Some say they're meant to be a metaphor for the bliss that enlightenment can bring. Our guide seemed to hedge his bets by saying it was partly to show the temptations that a holy person should avoid, and partly meant to educate folks so that they'd make some more babies (!), who could grow up to harvest rice, wage war, and carve more sculptures. Well, many of the poses would not create babies, at least directly, but his explanations were as likely sounding as anyone else's, and at least they had the benefit of not minimizing the raunch of the sculptures, making them sound like something that would appear on the front of a romance paperback. (Side note: India's strict but not overly enforced code against obscenity has exceptions for "ancient monuments" and all temples).

And after Konark, on to Puri. I have to confess that although of course we wished we could have been allowed to see the famed Jagganath Temple (only Hindus allowed), it was also with a little relief that we realized we could instead just wander a bit through the town, hit the beach, and go shopping for Puri's amazing handicrafts. Next door to the temple is a private library that's mentioned in the travel guides. If you pay some cash, you can climb up two flights of rickety stairs and get a semi-OK look into one corner of the temple grounds. The folks in charge of the library (or possibly just renting the space) have adopted that peculiar habit (common to many temples) of having a book in which you are supposed to write down your donation. It's then that some not-so-subtle arm-twisting occurs. Everyone above us on the list had paid at least 100 to 200 rupees for their look, or at least that's what the book said (it's very common to cook the books, though I have no evidence that the library does. Those who do often add zeroes to the sums here and there in hopes that future suckers will pay even more. I recommend creating consternation by writing out your "donation" amount in words, as if it were a check, rather than just using numerals.)

We paid 50 rupees for the both of us -- they weren't super-happy with that, but it seemed like plenty. I'd have tried for less, or perhaps tried to give them a fluorescent bulb in exchange if I'd known that their stairs were unlit. I also gave them a couple used books, thinking they could sell them if nothing else, but the librarian and his helper looked at them as if they were alien objects. Few of the library's books (all locked up in cabinets) looked younger than the Nehru administration. I did see a couple people reading newspapers, so it's not completely useless, but all the same the institution seems like little more than a shell existing to shakedown foreigners. And the view? Decidedly meh.

Puri has a lot to recommend it besides the temple, but they're more in the "wander though town" variety rather than any sight in particular. That beach was very, very nice and clean, at least where we were.

SPECIAL NOTE TO HINDUS VISITING PURI: As we walked around the Jagganath temple's exterior wall, I could swear that in addition to the more understandable prohibitions (no leather, no mobiles, no cameras), there was also at least one sign that said "no rubber items"! Did I dream this? Have you ever heard of such a thing? A little lazy googling didn't turn up anything, so I think I misread.

8 comments:

Goutham said...

Regarding "No Rubber" - You can never be too careful with the hippies 8^) - BTW it was a very hilarious post, especially the comment about some of the poses not making babies LOL. I guess you must know that the word Juggernaut has its origins in Jagannath (The huge temple chariot specifically which used to go around the town and sometimes people used to accidentally fall under and be crushed under its wheels).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juggernaut

Scout said...

don't think the hindus have anything against rubber..

i will probably get to go inside the jagannath temple, maybe could tell you what lies inside :)

that is, if the cyclone lets up. :(

John said...

Goutham -- hahaha, no joke. Thanks for reminding me about the Juggernaut thing. I suppose that some people too may have thrown themselves under the car intentionally. Although it's probably impossible to know now.

Scout -- any intel about what it's like inside would be highly interesting (and look for the sign I probably imagined!). Looks like the cyclone is on the way back finally, too.

Scout said...

way back?? u mean back to puri or back to the sea?? :) i hope its the latter. i am really looking forward to it.

will check for the sign :)

John said...

back to the sea!

sushilsingh said...

Dear,Friend
Konark Sun Temple is located , in the state of Orissa near the sacred city of Puri. The sun Temple of

Konark is dedicated to the sun God or Surya. It is a masterpiece of Orissa's medieval architecture.

Sun temple has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Please Visit For More Detail
http://desidirectory.com/india-travel-guide/

Scout said...

hey, am just back from puri - didn't see any signs for no rubber! :) it was probably "no leather items" or something... anyway jagannath temple is absolutely mindblowing inside... its an ecosystem by itself. there is a small market, innumerable temples and what not. its small entrance belies its expanse inside. but the priests are very commercial, always asking for money and more money.

the high point was watching a priest drinking diet coke inside the temple. talk about globalization! :)

John said...

Scout, that sounds amazing. And you're right, I'm sure it was a leather sign I saw.

And the diet coke sighting if v. funny -- especially since it's kinda costly here.