The joys of rail travel

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Thanks to the disruption of airline services due to inimical weather and strikes by pilots, I am once again able to enjoy a train journey. Ever since I became “eligible” for “travel by air” in my organisation, the only time I got to travel by train was while going to my hometown on personal visits.

With the advent of computerised reservation which facilitates even return reservation bookings well in advance, I began wondering why I gave in to the temptation of travelling by air. True, the air fare is borne by my organisation and therefore does not make a hole in my purse. But, should this be the only reason for travelling by air?

While travel by air may cut down on the actual time spent travelling, with most airports being a good distance away from the city areas, the whole thing works out to be an exercise in futility. Imagine cruising a distance of 35 km from my residence to reach Palam in a three-wheeler at some unearthly hour like 4 am and then travelling about the same distance upon reaching my destination for checking into a hotel or attending a meeting. Then, there is a long wait for checking the tickets, luggage, etc., coupled with last-minute announcements of delays in departure.

And, though not frequently, there is also the possibility that your plane might not be able to land at your destination due to inimical weather.

Imagine taking a flight at 10 pm for Calcutta for which you will have to start from home at 7 pm and by the time you check into a suitable hotel, it will be well past 1 am. And what if the grub served on the flight happens to be insipid and bland. You cannot come out on any ‘station’ platform to munch your favourite food items.

Instead, take a Rajdhani in the evening and if you don’t like the food served by them, you have the option to snatch some bites at the next station. You can have a nice sleep in the cosy AC compartment and by the time you reach Calcutta you are fresh, vibrant and energetic. You can change your attire in the well-maintained waiting room and you are ready for your scheduled meeting. If you are through with your work on time, you can catch the same Rajdhani in the evening.

In the process, apart from your comfort, you also save a few bucks in the form of hotel charges for your organisation. Ditto for Bombay.

Or if you are going to Kanpur, Chandigarh or Gwalior, catch the Shatabdi which appears like any Boeing from the inside. You have good music to immerse yourself in, newspapers to catch up on the latest and tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner, whatever may be the case will come at regular intervals. No intruder is allowed and you can peacefully dose off if you want to or you can utilise the time to catch up on some new book.

Take the case of my flying from Jaipur to Delhi about two years ago. The flight was at 9 am but we had to wake up at five in the morning to get ready, have breakfast and reach the airport. The flight was bang on time but it happened to be a Sunday and for the first time I missed the popular serial Mahabharata. And, when we reached Delhi airport, some snag developed and the cargo door refused to open for four good hours. By the time we reached home, it was already evening and the entire day was absolutely spoiled.

In contrast, if we had travelled by the Pink City Express, we would have saved on hotel charges for a day and would have reached home well in time and enjoyed Mahabharata.

 

 

Published in The Pioneer (newspaper) on February 10, 1994.

Temples of The Triangle

Published in the Day After magazine for the March-April 1992 issue.

 

Bhubneswar alongwith Puri and Konark forms the golden triangle of Orissa but it is the least preferred among the tourists. Tourists first like to visit Puri and Konark and then only if time permits, go around the city of Bhubneswar. And it was no exception with me, either.

Bhubneswar capital of an ancient kingdom and modern state, quintessence of the land of the past and the present that is Orissa, still reverberates with the echoes of the past amidst bustling modernity.

At one time, more than 7000 temples around the Bindusagar tank in the city of which about 500 survive today. No wonder, Bhubneswar is referred to as the city of temples. Perhaps, no city of the world can boast of having such a great number of temples or ancient structures.

Most of the temples located in this city follow a similar architectural pattern. There are basically two structures–the Jagamohan or entrance porch, and the duel where the image of deity is kept and above which the tower arises.

However, the design is more complicated in larger temples by the addition of one or more entrance halls in front of the Jagamohan.

Inside the temple, there are Bhogamandap (hall of offering) and the Natya-mandap (hall of dancing). The whole structure is generally enclosed by an outer wall and shrines.

The most notable aspect of the temple design is the soaring tower and the intricate carvings that cover every surface of the temple. The carvings may be figures of gods, men and women, trees, plants, flowers, animals and aspects of everyday life.

Of the innumerable temples in the city, the magnificent temple of Lord Lingaraj, also known as Bhubneswar, literally meaning the Lord of Universe, soaring to a height of about 54 metre dominates the skyline for kilometres around.

Though the presiding deity is Lord Shiva, there are more than a hundred shrines of other deities. Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu and Nandi, the mount of Shiva co-exist on a pillar in the outer precinct of the temple. Don’t hurry up.

Silently sit for a while and watch the temples in the changing hue of the daylight and watch the carvings closely.

Bindusagar, literally meaning “ocean drop” is so named because the tank is said to contain drops of water from every holy river in the country. Located just north of Lingaraj temple the centre of the tank has a water pavillion where, once a year, the presiding deity of the temple, is brought to be ritually bathed.

Mukteshwar–a cluster of temples on the fringe of the city–is known as the gem of Oriyan architecture and is unique in many senses. It has a beautiful stone arch at the entrance and is full of sculptures on its outer walls, the more interesting of which are those depicting the story of a monkey and the crocodile culled from the famous folk tales of Panchtantra which was written by the famous Oriyan pundit, Vishnu Sharma.

Parsurameswar temple is close by and is an ideal example of how best an ancient monument should be preserved. A small but lavishly decorated Shiva temple of 7th century, it has freezes featuring amorous couples, lions, crouching elephants, birds, human figures and floral motifs by what strikes the visitor the most is the ornate lattice windows and busts of Shiva.

The Rajarani temple (so called because of the Rajaranea kind of sandstone was used) set amidst expansive gardens is famous for its sculptural embellishments as well as for its unusual tower and absence of a deity although originally it was dedicated to Lord Shiva, ‘Indreswar’ when constructed in the 11th century. Here, the feminine form is the subject of glorious celebration and incredibly seductive figures spring to life from every niche.

Vaital, Sisireswar, Kedar-Gauri, Ananta Vasudeva, Brahmeswar, Megheswar–an almost endless chain of rich architecture and esoteric practices–will enchant you with beauty and rhythmic vigours of carvings.

Side by side with the great Hindu temples, one comes across Buddhist and Jain shrines.

Far from maddening crowd in a peaceful and serene environment and yet barely eight kilometeres from the city lies the great Buddish shrine of Dhauli, famous for the rock edicts of Ashoka.

It was here, after the victory in the battle of Kallinga in the year 261 BC, Ashoka converted himself to non-violence and took to Buddha’s teachings. Recently constructed Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda), sublime in its untainted whiteness, in the golden sunshine, appears as a continuing message of peace.

On the other side of the town at about eight km from Bhubneswar lie the Jain Caves of Khandagiri and Udaygiri. The rock-cut caves, built for Jain monks, are a rare specimen of Indian cave carvings and arts. While King Kharevade’s rock edict in Pali can be seen in Hathi Gumpha (elephant cave), one can see the origins of the Odissi dance as traced on the walls of Rani Gumpha (queen’s cave). It is supposed to be the first depiction of the dance in our country dating as far back as 2nd century BC.

Just 20 km away is Nandan Kanan (Garden of Gods), a sprawling wildlife park and botanical garden, picturesquely carved out of Chandaka forest with a beautiful lake intervening. It is one of the premier centres of crocodile breeding and is the largest lion safari in the country.

Bhubneswar has two good museums. Orissa State Museum has a rich collection of sculpture, coins, rare palmleaf manuscripts, lithic and bronze tools, natural history, geological objects, paintings, traditional folk and musical instruments.

The other is the handicraft museum which has a a large collection of the rich variety of Oriyan handicrafts like stone sculpture, patta-painting, brass castings, horn toys and silver filigree among others.

The city has many good modern markets and roaming through their lanes is by itself a delight. And don’t forget to savour Oriya sweets even if you don’t have a sweet tooth. Brown spongy rosogollas are highly recommended, they have a taste quite unlike the ones found in the rest of the country. Another speciality of Orissa is the chhenopodopitha–cottage cheese (paneer) steamed over a slow fire in sugar syrup. Then there are a number of sweets prepared from coconuts having a delectable taste.

Next day the plane was bang in time. As it took off, I was struck by the magnificence of the three ancient monuments that dominated the skyline–the soaring spire of the Lingaraj Temple, the white dome of Peace Pagoda of Dhauli hill and the pink marble of Mahavir Jain temple in the Khandagiri hills. Further off and they seemed to go into oblivion but their images were to remain etched in my mind and heart forever.

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Published in the Day After magazine for the March-April 1992 issue.