Chandipur Beach to Vizag (Visakhapatnam) Thurs 6 – Tues 17 August 2010
Something about Kolkata seemed to have filled us with inertia we kept trying to go but couldn't do it - when we finally got out the hotel and off it was "pick up" time for the girls' school opposite so the whole lane was a seething chaos of cars and rickshaws with our car trapped in the middle -so we retreated round the corner to the air conditioned comfort of a coffee shop to wait it out. This always seems to happen -we plan to leave so that we can reach our planned destination before darkness but we never make it! The driving in Indian is crazy by western standards but seems pretty staid when cf Bangladesh save one thing -the cows!! We have had a few close shaves on the trip but this time was a shocker - we swerved to miss one that appeared from nowhere right in the motorway and Andrew watched in his mirror in horror (thankfully I couldn't see) as the lorry behind us ploughed straight into it stopping both of them. What I don't get is if the poor animals are sacred surely they should be in a nice field being pandered to not wandering the streets endangering their own lives and that of all road users! We were still a little jumpy when we finally got to Chandipur ('on-sea") that evening.
We parked at the branch of the Orissa state hotel called Panthanivas here which means welcome in the local lingo. Luckily for us they lived up to their name and let us camp for just 100 rupees - $2.50 Aus- a night. Hey ho - back to car camping - the month in Bangladesh has let me get a bit out of the habit. I generally don't mind but it is hard given the current weather conditions- it's very hot and very wet with high humidity - not good for camping. People often ask how we cope with the cold and we'd have to say -no problem -you can always rug up that extra bit but car camping in the extremes of heat/humidity -that's the killer - eughh!!! Camping on the coast and thus utilizing the sea breezes helps make it more bearable.
Chandipur is a little seaside village - cut into 2 parts one part belonging to the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) being India's oldest weapon testing area (which we were to hear all the time we were there) and the other a small resort with a sprinkling of hotels, & shops selling mainly coconuts & lampshades made of shells. We actually took a wrong turn and ended up in the heart of the DRDO area on the way in but when we were surrounded by men with guns we decided to move on! They were initially a bit upset by our camera which is mounted on the front dashboard but when they were convinced it was off they backed off and set us on the right road!
The main (only) attraction here is the huge beach which retreats an incredible 5km at low tide so you can walk out and then back with the incoming waves. It very much reminded me of childhood holidays at Southport (the UK one) where we seemed to spend most of the day walking out to find the sea to have a paddle! It was an interesting coast with lots of rock pools to explore. We stood and enjoyed fresh coconuts as we watched the tide come back in and the fishermen at work with their nets -nice to be at the seaside again.
We took a short drive out to a nearby fishing village - allegedly full of refugees from Bangladesh. As it is the monsoon season they were mainly doing r & r on the boats as it's too dangerous to go out to sea for a while, so not a lot of fresh fish around.
We are still having fridge problems despite Engel kindly sending us a new part it is still not cycling properly so we need to seek expert advice to get to the root of the problem. In the meantime we are having a DIY rather than a solar operated fridge by measuring out custom built chunks of ice - this involved opening up our car which was a bit of a shock for all those who saw it - sure we'll go down in the history of this little village - the day the crazy foreigners turned up in their "bed car"
Next day we headed on to a much busier noisier destination Bhubaneswar (B'war) the capital city of Orissa. We were just about due our Mobil1 oil change and so we were really lucky on the way in to chance upon the only Toyota in Orissa - they very kindly did our oil change for free and I sat in the welcome a/c and used their amazing Wi-Fi connection. Thanks for all your help guys.
B'war is a major centre for pilgrims mainly due to both the important temple Langaraj Mandir (of which more later) and the enormous annual 9 day festival Rath Yatra (again more later) at nearby Puri and we had arrived just a couple of weeks after it finished. This is the time of many festivals and we caught the tail end of one the Bolbam Festival where devotees honour the god Shiva by walking barefoot - some of them 200km - to bring him offerings. On the road in we passed many such Shiva devotees and it looked pretty tough walking barefoot in the intense heat particularly on the tar roads and some of them looked really footsore - we passed literally 1,000s of them over the next few days.
B'war is a very bustling go ahead city with attractive green leafy wide avenues and also a hell of a lot of traffic and pollution. The traffic is helped out by the nattily dressed police officers who are on stands at the centre of every junction -good for directions asking!
Again camping looked a bit off the agenda here and being a busy centre accommodation is a bit pricey. We ended up at the Hotel Upendra a guesthouse specializing in housing poor pilgrims. What it lacked in cleanliness it made up for in moral propriety -no alcohol, no meat no visitors etc - and from our little room (only 275 rupees or $ 7 Aus a night so what can you expect??) we could see the car which was good. We were blessed with very friendly neighbours - they were on a pilgrimage from somewhere and there seemed to be at least 10 of them in one room and they crowded around us shrieking and giggling whenever we appeared. More annoyingly they woke us up at 5am the next morning when they amassed in the corridor outside and managed to turn our light on and our fan off when searching for their light switches - all switches were on the outside walls a real masterpiece of design!!
B'war is known as the City of temples and we spent the next day seeing a great many of them. Dating from the 8th century onwards there were once literally 1,0000s but now only 50 remain. We went round many of them - all very interesting but probably a bit dull to outline here - if this is your thing you should see it! The gnat next to one temple was providing some relief for the local kids diving in and swimming -like having your own (somewhat grubby) swimming pool.
Mainly built of local sandstone there was some beautiful carving work including some erotic carvings which reminded us of Khajuraho. I got into trouble at one as I walked around the back where the priests were cooking dinner on a pot under some firewood. They got very upset and someone told us that as a non -Hindu my mere presence could pollute their food so they'd have to begin cooking again. Thanks for that guys! I kept well out of the way after that.
Similarly we were banned from the main temple here the Lingaraj Mandir. The guards at the front - next to the magnificent mustached lions which were on guard - made that very clear.
We didn't feel we could be too offended by this though as even PM Indira Gandhi wasn't allowed in as her Parsi husband was a non-Hindu.
The British Raj had thoughtfully put up a viewing platform so we could have a look. Dating from the 11th century it was an impressive complex -more like a group of temples. In one area food is distributed to 51 beggars and 51 priests every day and we saw in another temple what we guessed was the food being cooked and divvied up prior to distribution. I made sure I didn't pollute it!
We experienced another first for the trip, as, whilst it's not the first time we've been offered drugs on our travels, it's the first time by a priest! He kindly invited us to come and have a Bhang Lassie with him in the coolness of his temple! Bhang (a marijuana derivative) is used in some of the rituals in the temples so it is widely available though incongruously it's still illegal to possess it. Anyway we headed to a nearby café for a reviving cuppa instead -how boring are we!
That evening we had been planning to go to a sort of theatre tent -lots of flashing lights and pictures of gods -near our hotel. We assumed correctly it was to do with the festival and thought we'd go and have a look. Apparently it was plays in Hindi about the gods - which commenced at 11pm (yawn) and ended at 5am!!! We asked if we could leave early and the man appeared astonished so we gave it a miss as we didn't want to give offence and we thought it might be a long night! This was where our hyped up light switch meddling neighbours had returned from that morning no doubt!
Next day we went to see the Museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts. This was amazing. The interesting exhibits (tribal ornaments, weapons dress musical instruments pictures and other art works etc) were all well displayed and we were guided by very enthusiastic young people who were all PHD students in Anthropology and they really knew their stuff. No pictures inside but we could take some of the outside where reconstructions of the various tribal homes were set up.
Amazingly Orissa has 62 different tribal people all with different customs. We're keen to squeeze in a trip to the tribal areas but it's hard as it's the wrong season and can be pricy (you need a guide) but we'll try. We definitely recommend this museum either way and bargain of bargains it's free!!
That afternoon we headed out to nearby Dhauli (8km out of B'war) another religious site this time dedicated to Buddhism. The Hindu King Ashoka following a bloody vicious campaign repented and became Buddhist in the 2th century BC. At this time he composed various edicts - rules that should be practiced in his Kingdom - equality, no killing that sort of thing and these are inscribed in stone on rocks here well protected and in good condition considering their age. There is also a really lovely landscaped garden and a good carved elephant - the symbol of Buddhism - nearby.
There is also a Shanti Stupa or Peace Pagoda - built by the Japanese in 1972 - around the same time as the one we visited in Pokhara Nepal. It was a stunning building and a great spot to watch the sunset over the paddy fields. There was a small Hindu shrine nearby -but they annoyed me by insisting on blessing us and then demanding a (huge) payment. The Buddhists don't have this killer financial streak to their credit!
Before finally leaving B'war we took a trip out to see the Nandankanan Zoo. Generally we have a real rule not to go to Zoos but we'd heard good reports of this one and we really wanted to see the star attraction here -the white tigers. The zoo has 16 and is a centre worldwide for breeding them. It was a reasonable zoo - lots of open air enclosures and the animals looked to be well fed etc It was stinking hot so most of them were understandably keeping a low profile but we saw a sloth bear like the ones we saw in Bangalore, a leopard, a Hippo, a rhino some birds and elephants including a very cute baby!
Finally we also saw some white tigers as well as some regular "yellow" ones. The white tigers don't tend to last long in the wild so these actually have a longer life span and they looked in good shape but the one we saw was still pacing up and down in a way that seemed unnatural.
What else do you do in an enclosure - even a large pleasant enclosure?? We went on the tiger and lion safari - and saw a few Gir lions likes the ones we saw in the more "real "wild in Gujarat.
There was a full bus load of tourists who were VERY noisy (apparently this is nothing being the quiet season, so GOK what it's like in December!) - and when one was spotted a zoo worker went to throw a stone near it (not at it but to make it move) which wasn't great.
The zoo's saddest resident was an elderly female Orangutan who had been in captivity since she was 6 months old and at this zoo a few years. She was very lonely and for some reason identified with white people and thought we were her "tribe"! That's what the guide said anyway but she followed us up and down looking really sad when we left her which was awful. It's too late to get her company now as she's only a year or so of life left and but it must have felt like a life in solitary confinement for such a normally gregarious animal. All in all whilst it could definitely have been a lot worse we certainly wouldn't be in a hurry to see a zoo again. We'll hang out till we have the time and money to see animals in their natural habitat.
Next day we journeyed to the seaside again, to Konark home of the famous Sun Temple. On the way though we stopped off to see the nearby Yogini Temple at Hirapur. This was far easier said than done - it was out -only 15km admittedly - into the back of beyond. Undoubtedly it was the way we tell 'em -but no one seemed to understand us as we asked for directions and we were sent backwards and forwards across the rice paddies in a wild temple chase. Eventually we got there (2nd rice paddy down turn right at the old man with the stick and it's 3 buffaloes along) and we were so pleased we made the effort.
Dating from the 9th century and one of only 4 Yogini temples in India this circular open air temple was unlike any we'd seen to date. Dedicated to the goddess Shakti (a version of Kali I think) there were 64 carved chlorite goddesses symbolizing female energy.
Amazingly every one of them had a different hair style and clothes. It's perhaps surprising then that the temple guardians are male - 3 priests from the same family that've had the job for generations. It was really interesting in that a lot of the figures were female versions of usually male deities like a female ganesh the only one in India apparently -very unusual.
We got to Konark by mid afternoon and found a good camp spot easily enough through the Government Hotel - the Yatri Niwas or OTDC here. We chose to park nearer the beach where there was a restaurant operated by the same people - and a very clean toilet and shower complex so we were near the sea breezes -fantastic camp spot and completely free of charge!
We had a look around the museum which was well done - lots on display -including a ganesh back in male form!!- and a poster detailing the development of the Oriya alphabet over the last centuries.
Orissa is very famous for its dancing but it wasn't the right time of year to see all the tourists' displays. We headed to the temple where we were told the dancing practice takes place but it hadn't got going! No doubt the beautiful young ladies were the dancers of tomorrow but they hadn't got started with their training yet!
It rained very heavily that night and was very overcast so we skipped getting up to see the sunrise over nearby Chandrabhaga Beach as there wasn't one! We were outside the temple by 9am raring to go though it was already stinking hot. Maybe we left it a bit late and should have got there by sunrise when it opened to beat the heat!
We'd been advised that this was one place that it was really worth getting a guide and so we did. Kailash was a great choice as he'd been guiding here since 1977 and grew up playing around the temple - so it's in the blood if you like! He was an incredible treasure trove of information - no 8 guide on the list of government approved guides on display by the temple - he can be contacted on 0 9938 537737.
The Sun Temple -a Unesco World Heritage Site- is one of India's most impressive monuments indeed some people think it's more impressive than the Taj Mahal which is saying something. What remains is only a small amount of the original - the picture above shows an artist's impression of how it would have looked not when complete but when less damaged, so the back tower the sikhara is now completely gone. It was raided over the years successively by the Mughals and then the British and also it was bashed around by a few cyclones -this coast line gets them badly - so it's had a hard life!
Originally constructed in the mid 13th century by the King Narashimhadev to celebrate his victory over the Muslims, they got their own back in the 16th century when they removed the copper which caused the tower's collapse! Dedicated to the sun god Surya the temple once stood on the edge of the ocean which has now receded. Apparently the god once appeared in statue form with a huge diamond in his forehead which the sun struck at sunrise which would have looked amazing. This was taken by the British and chopped up and half of it is now (according to Kailash anyway) in the Crown jewels. Naughty!
Books have been written about this temple so I won't even try to describe it in detail -it was stunning. Go in the winter though it was very very hot and we dripped with sweat as we walked around. As ever there were teeming crowds and as ever we were in demand for pictures - which slowed progress a bit!
The temple was conceived as Surya's Chariot -half in darkness half in light with 24 wheels for the hours of the day and 7 horses for the days of the week. All these are carved with images of gods and people in awe inspiring detail. The temple is guarded by lions (power i.e.) the King) being crushed by elephants (wealth and religion). This image appeared again and again just to remind everyone who was boss!
Like in Khajuraho some of the carvings were a bit risqué - lots of "amorous couples" including "group sexual experience" and "lesbian happening" as Kailash described it. There was even a depiction of a lady treating her Venereal Disease in a very surprising way - don't ask!!! This was obviously too much for some people and we heard an Indian lady telling off her guide "look at the age I am and you speak to me of these things… I come to the temple for god only!!" We stuck with the x-rated version! Lots of interesting facts to be gathered i.e.) the presence of giraffes indicated trade with Africa; a lady's sandals were very Japanese. The large ornately carved wheels also functioned as sun dials.
All in all it's a fascinating place -definitely make the effort to go if you're in the area. We'd love to have seen it before the various thefts and natural disasters. Perhaps the Queen will give some of her diamonds back!
We drove the 30km on to Puri. This seaside town has 3 types of visitors and they stick to distinct "camps" the backpackers - who have created a little oasis of cheap digs, beer, filter coffee and banana pancakes, the loud Indian holiday makers who come in huge groups and really seem to be enjoying themselves and the pilgrims who base themselves in close proximity to the Jagannath Mandir temple.
We found camping at the Government hotel which put us in more company with group 2, but there weren't many backpackers round in their area anyway! As we had a receipt from the last Government hotel saying we'd paid 100 rupees fees to camp we were able to bargain them down and pay this here so another good priced camp spot right on the beach, which being very blustery and blowy was great for sleeping.
We had a few more campers next door the transitory workers on the building site. They worked very hard - the petite ladies amazingly going up and down ladders with 12 bricks on their heads! They were fascinated by us and really shocked that Andrew was the driver - we get this a lot -they ask me to send my driver in when I stop to ask directions but quickly realize it doesn't really help on a language front!
We took the opportunity to do some book swapping at the excellent book shop in town and I got rid of my old pile of read books and stocked up on new ones. We got chatting to the owner and (small world!) we finally found out he is the brother of our friend who runs the book shop of the same name Loknath in Varkala Kerala- his picture is on the relevant page of our site. Great shop I wanted to buy at least 10 more titles but Andrew frog marched me out!!
The beach is very rough for bathing so it is advised on signs in the hotel that you "don't enter the water without a nolia." This threw us somewhat, what was a nolia??- we later found out they are local fishermen acting as life guards. They wear great outfits with bizarre conical woven hats making them look a bit like pixies! The hotel had a "live in "one. We meant to get a picture but never did - we pass thorough here on the way back -we'll definitely get one then!
We had a bit of a relax here driving up the long beach and taking the sea air. This is a popular health spot and there seem to be lots of invalids in our hotel who stagger down (nolias in tow!) for their healthy dip every morning.
The poor cow in our picture had came to a sticky end in the main road. Not sure if she fell on that spot or had been brought there for a special funeral (a pyre was being built nearby) -we live in fear of hitting a cow, it's a big no no here and can allegedly lead to a jail sentence even if no fault is attached.
We treated ourselves to a special meal at the posh Mayfair Resort just next to our hotel. It was very up market but the restaurant was pretty reasonable, we had an Orissa specialty - fish in mustard paste -and it was superb. At the chef's recommendation we followed it up with another local specialty some Chenna Poda - a very rich baked cheese desert -you could feel your arteries hardening!! Thank god we only split one between us!
Next morning we stopped at the Mayfair for a "real " coffee and the place was festooned with Indian flags which was when we realized it was independence day- a year ago we'd been on our way to Ladakh up in Dharamsala-how time flies!
After our caffeine fix we headed on to see the Jagannath Mandir temple -dedicated to Jagannath the Lord of the Universe an incarnation of Vishnu. A curious looking (to us) deity Jagannath is very popular in Orissa though we'd not seen him anywhere else on our travels. The picture below was from the showroom in Toyota but you see his image alongside that of his 2 siblings everywhere in Orissa. At the yearly Rath Yatra festival (which we missed by a couple of weeks) the 3 gods are pulled down the main road here Grand Road on huge wooden carts. The main one carrying Jagannath is 16 metres high 2 metres wide and has 16 wheels and is interestingly the origin of the word Juggernaut. They are taken to another temple where they have a week's rest before going back again. Taking place in intense heat it is a huge spectacle drawing crowds of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists, with huge teams dragging the carts, an all female one pulling the female god. Afterwards the carts are broken up and used as temple firewood and the building of new ones commenced for the next year.
Amazingly the temple has about 6,000 employees who are involved in the various elaborate rituals concerning serving the gods. As non-Hindus we can't enter the temple but we found a nearby roof top where we could have a look for a fee. Dating from the 12th century the temple is a vast complex, guarded from outside by the now familiar mustached lions.
All around the temple and on the walk up to it are devotees, stalls selling offerings to the gods and delicious looking and smelling biscuits (covered in bees!) and of course beggars. These were pretty bad here. We usually give bad cases some rupees and/or food and they go away and we feel better. One lady wasn't content with this and just wouldn't back off which brought more in so we were swarmed. In desperation we went to a policeman who told us "they are poor you are rich you must give them" despite the fact we'd already bought her some food and given some money. You could just give all your money to the poor here and it'd be a mere drop in the ocean as regards helping the situation. Anyway after a while in the heat and with the stress of it all I lost it and screamed at her. The whole thing was very upsetting - you feel very awful after screaming at an old lady leper with no hands or feet I can tell you!! What to do though ….no easy answers to that one.
After this the plan was to drive on to Chilika lake spend the night (we'd already asked and been told that there was no through road on from the lake to the NH5 ) and come back to Purl the next day. Someone who stopped to ask us about the car threw us a bit though by saying it was unsafe due to Naxalite rebels and was thus off limits. We'd earlier asked the police directions and no one had said anything. Remembering an experience in Kashmir when we were directed (by the police!) straight into a riot we made sure we did our own research! Apparently there had been "some trouble" but all was fine now. Anyway we drove on -a very pretty drive - though we found ourselves checking every corner for Naxalites - though we've no idea what one looks like!!
We stayed in the (where else) Government Hotel in a small village Satapada and again we managed to negotiate our rate down on the basis of what we'd paid previously! The Lake is Asia's largest Brackish Lagoon and varies from 600-1100 sq km in size -as we're in the monsoon presumably it's at the larger end now. The lagoon is home to the world's largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins the same species we saw in Cambodia. This is a popular spot for tourists a bit of a mixed blessing for dolphins which get chased by boatmen trying to get tourists up close. This must be bad in the very busy season when there are loads of boats out. Sadly there was a dolphin fatality a few years back and after that there was a lot of education on treating the dolphins properly which is good. We saw them pretty well - they're very distinctive looking with a rounded head - but they were good at dodging the camera so our pictures only show water so you'll have to take our word for it!
After our trip we took a walk and stumbled upon a ferry wharf where we found out there was a car ferry crossing the river after which time you could drive on to the NH5 so we'd been told wrong -maybe we should have specified that we meant road or ferry! Thus we decided to carry on South and have a further look at Puri on the way back through avoiding back tracking.
We were up very early next day to book our place on the 7.30am ferry. Not for the faint hearted it was very full - a truck, many bikes a few cars and lots of foot passengers everyone squashed on- thankfully it was calm! When we arrived at Jahrunanda Andrew had to back off first (we were last on) up a very narrow steep gangway which was pretty scary, but we made it!
We were so glad we'd gone this way as the drive through the countryside back to the NH5 was gorgeous. A real slice of rural India we passed wallowing buffaloes rice workers kids going to school and loads of gorgeous bird life one of the better drives we've done on our trip -and we only did it by chance!
We had planned to stop off at the small seaside town of Gopalpur-on-Sea but somehow we missed the turn off -which we realized when we got to the state border into AP or Andhra Pradesh! Whoops! Never mind we were a bit mixed as to whether to go there anyway we'll maybe catch it one the way back.
On the way we passed a few toll booths. Often around India you have to pay "road tax" and we usually try to argue for an exemption on the basis that the carnet entitles us to exemption from all import/export taxes - a tenuous argument maybe but 9 times out of 10 we get through - we're just too out of the ordinary to categorize! We wondered if being in AP might be an issue as our car number plate is the same as their standard one, AP (Andrew's initials) and everyone in India seems to think that's where we're from.
However we were waved through with no discussion necessary which has happened since our return from Bangladesh and we have just worked out why. We are still flying the cross of St George from our aerial which we got in the World Cup to support the England football team (we tried to get an Aussie flag to support the socceroos too but couldn't find one) as we've not got around to taking it off. We might not bother -we heard "doctor wallah" being mentioned and worked out they think we're medicos from the red cross and thus in the exempt vehicles category!! So -the England flag was good for something after all! We're not actually lying about what we are - not our fault if that's what the toll men assume!!
AP really felt like we're back south -cashew nuts, coconuts and tropical heat! We once more saw the Ghats range of hills (from a different angle this time) and as the road was good and there seemed to be no towns of interest -which we knew of anyway- in between we headed on to Visakhapatnam. AP's 2nd city this is (mercifully for direction asking purposes!) also known as Vizag and this is where Tim O'Reilly our Aussie friend is based and where we'll leave our car whilst we're in Sri Lanka.
Vizag is on first impressions a large bustling go ahead city which feels like an over grown coastal town -not that we've seen a lot. We went to the small tourism office in the Railway Station -not much cop they didn't even have a map- tracked down a book shop got a map and headed to the beach. We were pretty tired (we'd been on the go 13 hours by now) and we were concerned as to how we'd find a parking spot in such a big city. We stopped first at The Park Hotel. As we drove in it was way posher than we thought and we nearly didn't bother to ask - but luckily we did and they couldn't have been nicer. They found us a spot made us very welcome and said we were free to use the gym and/or pool if we wished - all free of charge! Really it's an amazing spot check out all their other hotels on their site http://www.theparkhotels.com Best service we've ever had -they can't do enough for you.
The only downside is that we have to use their restaurant which whilst delicious is a bit more pricey than we're used to - we have to pick our way round the menu with care and lie a lot "no no we don't really want wine …a glass of water is what we like…" Yeah right… The ambience and gorgeous sea views are worth it though - and we ate enough at the buffet breakfast ($13 Aus each ...bargain and OMG…..REAL BACON!!!) to last the day!!
So as at Tuesday 17 August I sit in the gorgeous business rooms of the Park Hotel- gazing out at the sea and seeing how the rich live whilst updating my site. For the next few days we may try and fit in a trip out to the nearby Araku Valley - a beautiful hilly tribal area 120km to the north - or just chill out here. Either way we leave the car with our kind friend Tim O'Reilly at his crab canning factory and by 6 am on Friday we head by train for the 13 hour trip to Chennai where we spend a couple of days prior to flying to our next country Sri Lanka on Monday 23 August.