The Fourth Tale from the North East – Konark and Puri

By Nick Goslett
sun temple konark in odisha
The Wheels of the Sun Temple

Had a magical day yesterday, started by cycling to the fishing village to catch the sunrise over the sea and boats. A hive of activity. Six men at each end with poles through ropes struggle to lift the boat and carry it down to the water, with the boat careering down at all angles as some lose their footing (and I do wonder at the number of accidents there must be). Meanwhile, dotted here and there in the slowly-lightening dawn are figures crouching below the high water mark and scoops of sand like giant lugworm casts all over the beach. A few children are scampering around and women brushing their teeth as they stroll to the shop or start on the cooking. The women and children seem happy and smiley, the men more serious. I must have seen 50 boats launched,a few without engines, the single boatman wiggling his oars like Venetian boatmen, but most have motors. Some go many kilometres out for the big fish but many stay close inshore to catch the sprats which are left to dry and smell terrible! I had a minor panic when I found I only had one key and should have had two (room and bike) but when I checked the bike I realised that I had left the key in it … for anyone to steal … but who would want to steal that heap of junk. (The No 1 rule when you hire a bike is to check the saddle for comfort and after 20 kilometres my how I wish I had paid heed to that dictum. No 2 should be to check the brakes, and mine had virtually none.)

The Wheels of the Sun Temple

After breakfast (masalla omelette yet again) I peddled off in some excitement to the Buddhist Village with the “famous” Buddhist temple. This was a rural idyll, for me anyway. The single track road wound through rice paddies as far as the eye could see interspersed with spick-and-span villages kept cool by palm trees on each side of the road, cows quietly munching the rice straw, stretches of road covered in the rice straw where they must have beaten it to get the rice grains, those grains spread by the side of the road drying, milk churns awaiting collection,women and children only too eager to smile and wave at this odd man in shorts cycling slowly through their land. The conversation flowed as ever: “Hello” “What is your name” “Nick” “Where are you from?” “England”. That’s it, and I would peddle slowly on. After five or six miles I found the Buddhist village and in some excitement enquired where I might see the Temple. It seemed that the Temple had been undergoing some soil subsidence for all round it, all of six foot high by six foot by wide and four foot deep, were diggings and the “temple” itself encased in corrugated iron with a metal bolt holding the doors closed. I asked if I might see inside but they said it was too dangerous to get to it over the holes but I persuaded some young lad to have a go and a rather nice Buddha was revealed. Needless to say, no one in the village is a Buddhist!

The front of the Sun Temple

Cycling on, I attempted to buy a pillow for the saddle, failed, but bought a collection of safety pins for 2p which I would later use to descale the shower head jets. On the way back I dropped in to the biggest, richest house I could find and asked them if I could buy a pillow and they gave me a rag and said there was no charge. I gave his son two pens which seemed to please them all. Seeing a path leading out into the paddy fields, I parked the bike and started walking to be told by five boys that I was going in quite the wrong direction if I wanted to get back to Konark. Thus started a guided tour of the village led by a little, confident, 10 year old who spoke really good English, he and his mother having been taught by a South African couple. I asked the mother why the fields to the south were green with rice growing and the fields to the north were brown. The irrigation had failed and there was no one to mend it. This will affect hundreds of square miles of paddies and these farmers will only have the single monsoon crop a year for half of their fields. At one junction there were three roads but the decision was simple: on the bridge was an old woman, mad as hell and mad in the head trying to beat the boys and me with a large stick, on another road there was, apparently a mad dog, so the third way was chosen.

The famous Buddha statue

After a light lunch (fish, which I sure was farmed carp and tasted revolting) I went to the Sun Temple. A wonderful building with twelve enormous wheels being pulled by seven horses and one could just imagine waking up one morning to find it’s been driven away at last. I got a guide and we had a tremendous three and a half hours. This is the eastern temple famous for its erotic art and he exulted in showing me every position he could find. Each wheel is a sundial and tells the time exactly to the nearest three minutes. Look it up in Wikipedia and marvel that the temple part used to be even higher than what is left standing. Bhima really was a small smiling sweetie and we had many hugs during our afternoon. I have never hugged a guide before but it all felt really natural and fun … and I bet he could see a big fat tip on its way … and there was.

The boy at the front spoke good English

I asked whether there was any music at night in the town and he pointed me to the daily Music Fountain at 7 pm. What the heck, why not. At a few minutes before the start there was me and an Indian lady siting cross-legged and studying her mobile. I muttered, sotto voce, “Just the two of us” and quick as a flash she replied “Looks that way” and thus we nattered our way through the display (like Tribal dancing, a little goes a long way) and ended up having a curry. Shrutika is happily married with two children, head of Brand and Marketing (Liza!) for Outlook Publishing in Delhi and told me all about Indian politics and life in Delhi. A very pleasant end to the day and she has promised to show me lovely places in Delhi when I am there for a day. She is concerned that the big push to teach the farmers’ children will result in them fleeing the countryside for the mythical wonders of the towns and that there will be no one left to the grow the food for the 1.2 billion Indians. Hmmm …

Temple Guardians

This morning I went early to the Sun Temple to catch the sun’s rays catching the southern of the three entrances. I was far too early so stood and read my Kindle and the sweetest little puppy sat bolt upright on my left side looking straight ahead no matter which way I turned. The morning was cloudy so that was something of a washout. I could not have an omelette for breakfast but could have a boiled egg .. very strange. Cycled (on a better bike) to the fishing village to wish it farewell and a couple of the older girls waved and said “Hello Mr Penman”! Took the local packed bus for a couple of hours to Puri where I am now staying in an old Maharajah’s Palace at seven pounds a night! There is another gigantic temple here but only Indian Hindus can go in but there is a viewing space on the top of the Library for the rest of us to have a look. However, the Library is being rebuilt so access is forbidden which was not known to the Official Office of the Temple when I went in to ask how I could therefore see their wonderful temple. Shows how much they care about the rest of us!!

An erotic carving

Off cycling in the countryside tomorrow with a Canadian psychiatrist and a Dane which should be pleasant then will probably take a tour to Chilika Lake. Most of the birds have flown and anyway the Indians have little interest in nature (they just like to photograph each other posing in front of something or other) but it could be quite fun being the only Westerner if I can find a few to talk to. On the other hand it could be a complete waste of time .. but I have an abundance of that.

Down here the women’s teeth seemed really sparkly (as above, they seem to enjoy the brushing in the street in the morning) but the men’s are quite ghastly as a result of chewing the betel nut which gives them a high (and make them spit).

The man is closing up shop so by for now.

Love to you all


Sunrise in Konark

Sunrise 2


Musicians in Puri

Model yachting Indian style

Launching a boat in Puri

Food for the fire

Bhima at the Sun Temple

A typical village

A card game in the temple

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