The First Tale from the North East – Bhubaneswar

By Nick Goslett
temples in bhubaneshwar odisha
One of the 1,000 temples

The journey has started after a lovely eight days in Kovalam. I was sorry to miss the Panchayat Sports Day on Sunday but I had to get up here in time for a four day tribal tour which had to start on a specified day and I am always cautious about delays on Indian railways.

A 17 hour, 1200 km train journey to Bhubaneswar went remarkably quickly. I arrived at the teeming station with three hours to spare (there’s contingency for you), had a meal on a banana leaf (which I washed with bottled water having seen my fellow eater do the same with his water, read the Dickens biography by Claire Tomalin which is rivetting, found the platform with ease (getting quite blasé about the Indian rail system so one of the next three 10-hour legs is bound to go wrong), found the carriage and my seat about three miles up the platform. I was sharing with one man who spoke no English, another who was in the wrong coach and two empty berths. So, not a soul to talk to. We were offered a meal but I was unsure about the loo situation and did not want a blow-up in the night, thinking of my bus trips on the previous journey. Took half a so-called “Pondi” (a valium bought over the counter in Pondicherry by British travellers), slept for four hours, took half a sleeping pill and slept for another four hours and hey presto, the longest night’s sleep for years!

Backdrop to the dancing

I was taken to my hotel (expensive at 1400 rupees – fifteen quid) and immediately pointed out that the bed was so hard that I would not sleep a wink. Four think blankets appeared and with smiling faces three of them asked me to try it out. What I did NOT try out were the pillows which on climbing into bed later that night were cement.What followed was a finally-successful attempt to watch Andy Murray win the Australian open. I knew it had started but my hotel did not have the right channel. Nor did the next, nor the next, the next might have had it in the bar … but it didn’t … I found a Sony outlet and they proudly showed it to me on one of their thousand inch screens but they wanted to watch the One Day cricket final and that trumped me. However, if I were to open a Tata account for 2500R I could watch it on a PC. Finally, I set off for a Bar / Night Club called 10 Downing Street and although I never found it I had happened on a very swish Indian 5 star hotel and in a tea Room (a golf-caddy journey from reception) they installed me in front of an excellent screen, I drank two Kingfishers (each about 1.5 pints) … and felt thoroughly dejected. The day got worse when I ordered a Lamb Rogon Josh and each bit of meat was totally inedible, and my room had those pillows.

Anyway, no mozzies and with the fan on low I was actually cold.

Today I set off to walk to the group of major temples along major roads, crossings being between cows, bulls, goats, people, tut-tuks, cars, motor bikes and cycles: a challenge which I find vaguely thrilling. Sometimes I tag along next to someone else.

The temples were excellent, of a style unique to Odisha and with most of the carvings (some slightly erotic) having large ears as in Buddhist temples – hedging their bets perhaps. Very few westerners (I saw five in the day) but one American girl who has been travelling for six months by herself (brave girl) and I got chatting and I am due to see some Odishan dancing with her this evening so must be brief. The heart-warming thing about Bhubaneswar is that it is rather clean.

Whilst walking along a main drag – Lewis Road – I ducked down a side road and immediately knew that something was different: the rubbish was neatly stacked in piles, seemingly ready for collection. Asking people in the street is pointless since hardly a soul speaks English (Kovalam is much better!) so I tried the Police Station. The thing to remember about a big town in India (and this is big) is that they get people from lots of other states visiting. As a result, and India having 57 separate languages (let alone dialects), everything is written in English, including all the police processes that I just happened to look at, but no none speaks a word of it! Perhaps they can read it but I doubt it. Anyway the police lady who said she spoke good English had no idea what I was on about. I found a large school with an English curriculum (which means lessons are in English) and by good fortune the gatekeeper was fluent. There has indeed been a Big Change in the last year since Modi took over India and they have a far-sighted city leader. The Municipality provides large green wheely-bins, they have road sweepers and people have changed (in a similar way to smoking in public places in England is just not done). Brilliant. Next stop Kovalam beach!!

Must stop and watch dancing.

Much love to all of you.


Women doing the heavy lifting

They were kidding

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