Konark and Puri, close to Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of Odisha, are a day’s hard drive from Kolkata. With a long weekend at hand, and a beautiful set of wheels in the Mercedes-Benz CLS, it was the perfect getaway.
Everybody loves the sea-side; the rhythm of the waves on the shoreline, the balmy sea breeze, the bounty of the sea at the table, and the endlessness of the horizon afar. And so it was, after mulling about where to go, we settled on the Odisha coastline.
The Konark temple on the Odisha sea front was constructed as Surya the Sun God’s chariot, so it was only fitting that the Mercedes-Benz CLS should carry us there. Mere mortals were we, but ensconced in the CLS’s plush interior, you couldn’t be blamed for feeling like a demigod at the very least.
Konark, which literally means “angle of the sun”, was constructed in the 13th century by an Odiya king. There are rumours aplenty about this temple, including about how the final stone was set by a young boy, who was the main architect’s son. Many talk of how the main idol was suspended by magnets, and indeed even today the iron beams and pillars used in the Sun Temple’s construction are visible. Apparently, the magnetic field of the temple’s lodestone was so strong, it caused errors in navigation, which led to ships running aground. Peeved by this repeated occurrence, the lodestone was reputedly removed by Portugese pirates, although there are no sources to verify whether this is true.
What is known however, is that the Muslim sultan of Bengal, referred to as ‘Kalapahad’, destroyed the Sun Temple in the year 1568, following which Odisha was annexed and became a part of his domain. Although parts of the temple still remain intact, what is clear is that this architectural wonder must have, at its prime, been a wondrously imposing structure.
Surya (the Sun God in Hindu mythology), had apparently cured Samba, Lord Krishna’s son, of leprosy. Locals believe the cure happened at the site at which the temple stands today, and Samba, ordered it built. While this is unlikely, what is known is that King Narasimha constructed the temple sometime in the middle of the 13th Century. Another local legend is that the temple took 1,200 workers 12 years to build.
The temple is constructed to resemble Surya’s grand chariot, with 12 pairs of wheels, drawn by seven horses. The central statue of Surya reputedly had a diamond where the heart would be, and the first rays of the sun would fall upon it, creating a wondrous chatoyance. Neither the statue nor the diamond remain, and indeed much of the temple had been destroyed by the plundering Kalapahad.
But the history lesson aside, the Konark Temple does remain an archaeological marvel indeed.
Our route was pretty straightforward, and along National Highways most of the time.
Map courtesy: Google
And so it was, with trigger-happy Jaydeep describing these legends in glorious detail, that we set off from Kolkata early in the morning. Our route took us over the new Hooghly bridge, or Vidyasagar Setu and on to the Kona expressway, en-route to Kharagpur along National Highway (NH) 6. Bearing left just before Kharagpur, we got on to NH5, driving south-west to Bhubaneshwar. Part of this road has been renamed as Asian Highway 45, or AH45, and while the road surface is better, traffic is still chaotic. The state border between Bengal and Odisha funnels into a single lane, and so it is tricky going for a few kilometres.
With the CLS’s height-adjustable suspension raised, we tip-toed on till we hit an open patch of road again, after the town of Lakshmannath.
After passing the border, the road and traffic conditions did improve enough for us to give the CLS free rein. There is something about the way a big Mercedes saloon rides, and the CLS is no different. It remains magnificently flat at speed, chewing miles with ease.
Balasore is another big town in Odisha, and although NH5 by-passes the main town, there is still plenty of traffic going in all directions to keep things interesting. We’d advise caution on this stretch of road, which has plenty of diversions as well. The locals have no qualms about using a National Highway for personal reasons either, with a stretch of the highway cordoned off and traffic diverted for a wedding celebration. Incredible India indeed!
From Balasore, it is smooth sailing till you get to Cuttack. Cuttack is a chaotic mess, and having driven on this stretch of road in 2006, then again in 2008 and 2009, I’m unhappy to report that the stretch of highway which is supposed to carry one over the town, is still not ready. Cuttack is today a suburb of Bhubaneshwar, and not a separate town like it once was, although they have distinct postal codes. Keep your eyes peeled for a nondescript left, which takes you to Gop via Adaspur and Nialli. If you miss this left turn, you will carry on straight into Bhubaneshwar city. Fear not, for there is a way from there as well, which will bring you to Puri first. Our intention was to stay near Konark, and then visit Puri later.
1. The CLS takes a breather just before Kharagpur. Heavy fog meant slow going. 2. Locals put grain stalks on the road. Passing traffic threshes them automatically. We did our bit in the CLS too!. 3. The road from Gop to Nialli is picturesque, albeit quite narrow.
State highways in Odisha are well-maintained for the most part, unlike Bengal, which can lay claim to having some of the worst roads in the country. Beware of the usual cyclists and local bus driver’s however, as they remain as unpredictable as anywhere else in India. The narrow roads limit your speed as well.
We checked in at the Tourist Hotel run by the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation, or OTDC. Situated a stone’s throw from the Sun Temple, the rooms are clean, albeit rather basic. Meals must be ordered up to half an hour in advance.
The Konark Puri Marine Drive skirts the coast, and is a beautiful road to drive on. With the sea breeze and the coast, with a fringe of forest to keep you company, it is truly idyllic indeed. The younger crowd would prefer the ‘nightlife’ (if you can call it that) at Puri, although in my opinion Konark is the nicer place to stay. Puri has more options in terms of restaurants, which stay open late, and alcohol is freely available too, unlike Konark which has a single wine shop.
Puri is sometimes called the ‘Goa of the East’ (tongue-in-cheek), so do explore and draw your own conclusions.
1. A foggy morning meant we didn't get to experience the sunrise we expected. 2. You mustn't miss the local fare on offer outside the temple early in the morning. 3. Erotic imagery adorns the walls of the Sun Temple at Konark. Parental Guidance is advised!
Konark and Puri make for a great weekend getaway, for young couples, families or a bunch of friends alike. Puri is commercialised to a great extent, and its proximity to Bhubaneshwar, Kolkata and Vizag has ensured that there is a steady stream of vacationers around the year. Hotel prices tend to seem a little ridiculous, when you consider what you’re paying for what you’re getting, with some of the “resorts” asking for more money than a business hotel in Kolkata!
We do recommend you explore the beaches of the Konark-Puri Marine Drive. It isn’t difficult to find a secluded stretch of beach along this road, if the hustle and bustle of Puri gets too much for you. The weather remains warm for much of the year, with only a slight chill during December and January, but that too only in the mornings.
Konark and Puri have a good mix of history, culture and touristy spots to make it a fun destination, either with friends, family or as a couple.
Sadhus like these are all over Konark town. They are willing to offer prayers on your behalf, for a fee.
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