Most people who have been to Puri will always emphasized that they’ve seen Chilka, but sadly they miss the real beauty. From Puri everybody goes to Satpara, Chilka, to watch the dolphins but sadly that place is the most barren part of this beautiful lake. This is the second time we are here in Barkul Panthanivas and we bargained with the manager to allow us to check-in early. From the reception our unit was just 20 steps away, via a red tiled path, garden and a playground, till our unit. Each unit consists a total of four rooms, two on each floor. Flight of stairs bifurcates leading to two rooms on each side. The room was quite spacious with a large bed, side tables on both the sides, a dressing table, a center table with two wooden armchairs and most importantly, a great view of Chilka from the bed. On the other end of the room, there is a full length window and glass door leading to the balcony. While I was enjoying the vibe of the room and was in a conversation with Sharba then suddenly my best friend entered like The Flash and said, “Sayantan, something bad has happened, there is a ‘laash’ (dead body) below my balcony. Quick, come and see!” I got up instantly and followed him to his balcony. Oh my! I saw half of the body of a man, wearing blue jeans, lying ten feet below us. I looked at my brother-in-law, Junaid (he joined us from Bhuwaneshwara this morning itself) standing beside me and Sharba and Pathak behind, with blank white faces. Unbelievable! I looked down again and noticed that although I can’t see his face but I can see his stomach expanding. I shouted, “Oye, hello, get up”. I turned around and said “that’s a drunk person, pata nehi kab se yaha pada hai (don’t know from when he is lying here). Lets call the reception and inform them. I could see the white faces getting back their color. Later we found that a boarder at the ground floor of another unit went missing since this morning and that was him who fell unconscious below our balcony due to over consumption of alcohol and also his room mate had vanished with the room key.
Sharba was getting ready while I came out to the stairs and looked up to the lush green hills in front. Little blots of cloud floating in the sky and casting a shadow on the hills. How refreshing a bright sunny day could make you feel! One by one Sharba, Pathak and Junaid came out and we, the hungry young men (one women included) marched to the dining hall of Barkul Panthanivas to eat. I have been to a lot of places around Odissa, and stayed at Panthanivas and have found that their dining halls are large air-conditioned rooms with same the menu (except Chandipur) and the recipes are exactly the same in all of them. But I feel that Barkul’s is the best. I ordered my favorite lunch ‘fine rice, dal fry, jhuri kore bhaja alu, crab masala and chingri maach er malaikari with green salad and Thumbs up’. From service till satiety, there was total silence on our table, except “nun ta de”, “ektu bhat lagbe”, “uff”, “ota sesh kore de”, “daarun” and at last “aar parchi na”. The food was too good too be true and we all are stuffed. Somehow we managed to carry ourselves out and the weather changed dramatically. It turned cloudy and dark and seemed like the rain will bear upon us anytime. We dragged our heavy stomachs to our rooms..
I had a very clear idea about the islands situated around the beautiful Chilka , so I asked our manjhi to take us to the distant part of the lake where no other boats will be around, no noises from the tourists could disrupt our peace of mind and no island to restrict our view. Finally we found a place where wind blew softly and tickled my neck, my ears. The small waves of the vast Chilka breaks at the body of our boat giving a lively beat. The odour of the algae and the fishing birds gave the lake a marine smell. We found our perfect spot to anchor. The Sun was setting and with it the color of the sky and the tone of the lake changed with each moment. We were spell-bound and kept staring, as nature slowly lost her bright colors and wore the cold and misty cover of the darkness. We just sat there motionless, leaning back on our hands and feet submerged in lake water. Few dim lights slowly glows afar at some corner of the island and mildly saddened melody of a folk song intoxicated the air heavy…The manjhi slowly got up and broke our meditation by saying it’s too late to stay here and we should probably head back to the jetty; he started the motor of the boat. Slowly we came out off our trance as the boat headed to the jetty.
Junaid left at dawn the next day as he had to join work. I was awake since then. It was around 5:15 am and the sun started rising in the east, glazing the clouds and the lake. I witnessed another memorable sunrise of my life from my bed and then slowly sleep conquered me .Our next destination was to the other bank of the lake, another beauty spot named Rambha. The road to Rambha is beautiful by herself and we decided to visit Nirmaljhar, Narayani mandir and Salia dam to explore more artistry of Odissa.
Nirmaljhar mandir is basically a Vishnu temple but along with other gods like Lord Shiva, Jagannatha, Ganesha and goddess like Parvati, Vimala and RadhaKrishna. I was amazed to see the architecture and the structure of the temple- the brick-red colored exterior of the temple and the beautiful sculpture carved on them.
The temple was built on a hillock which extended behind the temple and there were narrow and short steps leading to different caves and separate wings of the mandir. Some are quite small to crawl inside while others big enough to bent down a little and get in and rest were high enough to be able to enter easily. But the main attraction is the underground natural spring, some 7-8 at least of them coming out from the bed rock. A square, decorated pond, cleanly cut out of solid rock is at the heart of the temple which accumulates the clear waters of all the springs.
Fishes of various sizes swam carelessly and the locals believe drinking this water cures diseases miraculously (consume at your own risk). We roamed about this magnificent temple, admiring its beauty and taking photos of this place when suddenly rain started.
We left Nirmaljhar quickly and headed for the Narayani temple which is situated at the top of Bhalleri Pahar, surrounded by dense jungle.
When we reached the foot of the hill, the rain started heavily so we waited there for the rain to stop, but it didn’t. When I had visited Narayani temple last time I was bit by a monkey while saving my friend’s kid. Sharba started calling me Monkey-god after learning about this incidence and teased me all though the way. After around an hour and we decided to head for Salia dam, a little known place of Odissa. Luckily when we reached Salia dam, the rain stopped and we bought Rs. 5 ticket for each of us to enter to another wonder.
We walked upon the dam halfway and were already amazed by the beauty of the landscape. I saw a beautiful green hilly islands far away from the dam with blue sky and water reflecting green, a hawk conquering the clean sky, dry side of the river with green land at the other side of the dam. We keep walking till the end of the dam where it seems that the water from the dam will spill to the other side even if I throw a pebble, The reservoir was completely filled with water. It was just 3 of us on the dam at that time; the beauty, the nature, the sky and the greens, befalling upon us….that was so relaxing so therapeutic.
We spent around 2 hours there and continue our journey to Rambha. Rambha is named after an apsara (dancer-angel) of swarglok.
It’s around 2 minutes drive in auto from the entrance of the Rambha Panthanivas up to the main wing of the hotel. We occupied 2 rooms at the 1st floor of the main wing. The rooms are smaller than Barakul’s room but having a huge balcony with 2 deck chairs overlooking most probably the best scenic view of Chilka, we sat there for at least an hour. There was an open semi-circular amphi-theater inside the premises along with beautiful gardens, trees, flowers, beautiful street lights all around and the twin cottages at the edge of the property, very near to the lake. The golden fried prawn from the kitchen of Panthanivas is what one would call god-food- salty, fishy, sandy and fresh, melt-in-your-mouth prawns and Sharba declared that she will never eat golden fried prawn ever again except at Rambha. The O.T.D.C special soup made up of shredded chicken, mutton, prawn, crab meat is ecstatic too. We savored every moment of our dinning experience but we were little tired from that stormy journey. We went for a boat ride in the evening. As Babla majhi (name of the boat man) started rowing the boat we realized we were not enjoying it as much as Barakul, reasons mainly that his boat was narrow and much smaller that what we experienced before. That fear of falling in the lake caught us tightly (you know how we urban people are!). On top of that Babla started bragging about himself and bored us to quite an extend. It was then, when we decided to head back. By the time we got down at the ghat and came back to the hotel, the lights of the garden were on so we directly went to the open theater and sat on the soft green grass. The weather was little cold at that time and we witnessed another beauty on the premises of Rambha Panthanivas and more over the Chilka lake…we just sat there blank mindedly looking over the lake……
P.C : Sayantan Pathak