Tuesday, April 21, 2009

When they go to the dentist and say it’s the jamun tree

When I told Mrunmayee I was going to Bhubaneswar, she invited me over to her place. However, I had just one day free for taking in the sights, and in a city crammed with Kalinga architecture, I had no intention of spending that precious day indoors. So I told her I was more interested in sightseeing, and invited her to tag along. As soon as I finished outlining my (admittedly rather hectic) itinerary, she suddenly remembered a dentist’s appointment. “Why don’t you come over after you are done with sightseeing,” she said. I ask you! Is this the famous Indian tradition of hospitality?

Most of my day was spent gawking at ancient temples. At 43 degrees Celsius, to walk barefoot on the superheated stone floors of temple complexes out of architectural and not religious interest takes a special kind of faith.

I had a relatively easier time at the twin hills of Udaygiri and Khandagiri, situated a few kilometres west of Bhubaneswar. The hills are honeycombed with caves carved out by Jain monks in the 2nd century BCE. When I went there, I found to my dismay that the overzealous Archaeological Survey of India had numbered the caves. I hate it when they do this to me. It arouses in me an uncontrollable need to start with Cave 1 and proceed in order, not stopping until I’ve seen every single cave.

The worst instance was at the Kanheri Caves in Maharashtra, where after a 9 km noontime walk through a forest in the height of summer, I reached the hill to find myself confronted with 109 caves, all numbered. These were meditation cells for Buddhist monks, so they were spartan and all rather similar. Still, I had no choice but to clamber all over the hill, visiting every last godforsaken cave. In one secluded cave, I came upon a young couple having sex. The bed-couch-table-kitchen routine must get tedious after a point. I suppose a 3rd century Buddhist cave is the next logical choice.

Udaygiri is also famous for the Hathigumpha inscription: a 2166 year old inscription in the Brahmi script on the brow of a cave, eulogising the Kalinga king Kharavela. There was a plinth with a translation of the inscription, which I liked better than the more commonly-cited translation. It had phrases like “he throws the city of the Musikas into consternation” and “with their coronets rendered meaningless, with their helmets cut in twain”. I like translations that retain the flavour of the period and context.

A monkey once wrote that a lawnmower takes 24 hours to go from Bhubaneswar to Calcutta. Being the canny traveller that I am, I took a train instead, and it took me 7 hours to get back.

7 comments:

Rahul Saha said...

Having no work is messing with your head and making you do crazy things. 43 Degrees! I ask you.

Rick said...

Nice photos. Special faith, eh? There are other more um, comprehensive phrases for "special faith"!
So, Sire, you have a spot for order and method, eh? No doubt thats why your trips are so, er, interesting and eventful.
Is everything you do this "bloggable"?!

Doubletake, Doublethink. said...

I kinda agree with Saha. You'd give Bourdain a run for his money as far as extremes go.

But, much as i love the ASI, cave-numbering is not my bone to pick with them (because I do not have OCD, you see). My pet peeve is that particular shade of blue that they put on their signboards. Complete eyesore.

Sroyon said...

@Saha: Says the man who tried to talk me into a 1 km swim in water that was a few degrees above freezing.

@Rick: What do you mean by 'comprehensive phrases'?

@Doubletake: Saha's a fine one to comment on other people going to extremes.
Also, I am in negotiations with blogger.com to figure out a way by which comments with the word OCD in them will not be accepted.

Indecision Personified! said...

OCD, OCD, OCD!!!! (This was just to check whether you had succeeded!) Hah! Also, I hiope you blogged this once you were out of Bhubaneshwar... and keep out of Mallu's way for a while. Two normal insults in one blogpost is quite enough...without you calling her a monkey in one of them!! :-)

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

"I suppose a 3rd century Buddhist cave is the next logical choice."
Haha,shotyi, what is this world coming to?!
Nice pics:-).

new age scheherazade said...

You know about the senior prank that involves naming four pigs 1, 2, 3 and 5 and letting them loose in school?
Think what would've happened if they'd missed a cave when they were numbering. No more blogging from Sroyon-lost-in-3rd-century-Buddhist-caves.
Thank God for small mercies.