Friday, December 5, 2014

Odisha's Buddhist Heritage

Even though Lord Buddha had never visited Odisha during his lifetime, the state has a rich heritage of Buddhism. In fact, Odisha is home to more than 200 Buddhist sites, scattered across its length and breadth. Here, Buddhism flourished from the 6th century BC to at least 15th to 16th century AD. After the death of the Buddha, his followers were divided into two sects―'Hinayana' and 'Mahayana'. The latest Buddhist phase is 'Vajrayana' which is believed to have been originated from Odisha. According to the Buddhist scholars of Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies, Biraja (modern Jajpur) was a sacred land of Buddha Padmaprabha and the cradle of 'Mahayana'. The presence of 'Mahayana' antiquities, stupas and relics in Jajpur district are a testimony to this. Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited these Buddhist sites in Odisha in the 7th century and between 8th and 10th century. Buddhism was the religion under the Bhaumakaras clan. The tantric form of 'Mahayana' Buddhism started during this period. One of the most popular Buddhist destinations in Odisha is the Diamond Triangle comprising Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri in Jajpur district. There are several places in the state where Buddhism is still practiced today. Trips To Roads Less Travelled gives you a look into the sites that would interest travellers on exploring Buddhist heritage of Odisha.


Explore the remains of a Buddhist centre of learning that flourished till 11th century at Langudi Hill, located 90 km away from Bhubaneswar. The site is situated in Salipur village of Jajpur district. There are a series of 34 rock-cut Buddhist stupas and several early medieval Buddhist monuments and shrines atop the hill. The most popular of these rock-cut stupas is the 7th century 'Smaudra Mudra' image of Lord Buddha. Historians say the hill also has the remains of Pushpagiri University or Puspagiri Mahavihara, a major Buddhist centre of learning that flourished from 2nd century BC to 10th century AD. Excavations by Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies revealed that the structures found on Langudi Hill are even older and larger than other Buddhist centres of learning like Nalanda and Vikramashila. The remains indicate that it was a centre of the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana sects of Buddhism. The northern part of the hill houses the country's oldest Ashoka stupa. Besides images of Buddha in various postures, there are sculptures of Hindu goddesses on the hill. Flowing below the hill is river Kelua, a tributary of river Brahmani. This is a centrally protected site by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Buddhist Sites in Balasore and Bhadrak

The districts of Balasore and Bhadrak have a significant number of smaller Buddhist sites. Numerous Buddhist relics, both small and big, lie scattered in Balasore district. There is a museum in Santikanan area which contains images of Khasarpana, Lokeswar, Avalokiteswar, Buddha and Tara. At the 11th century Marichi temple in Ajodhya area of Balasore district, the idols of Goddess Durga (Mahayana Goddess Marichi) and Lord Buddha are worshipped together. Besides these main idols, there are other smaller idols related to Tantric cult and Jainism. There is a small Buddhist stupa on the temple premises. Images of Buddha can also be found at Khadipada and Soro. The ideal base to visit these places is through the town of Balasore with the help of a taxi. Surrounded by hills on three sides, lies a quaint village called Kupari in Bhadrak district (67 km away from Balasore), where remains of an old Buddhist temple and a monastery have been discovered. Towards the west of the village, visitors can see a well preserved portion of the monastery―a long narrow hall surrounded by pillars. There is an image of Mayadevi near the site and an inscription on the back of it refers to 10th century AD.

Padmasambhava Mahavihara Monastery

Amidst the verdant surroundings in Jirang near Chandragiri of Gajapati district, stands the beautiful Padmasambhava Mahavihara monastery, reportedly the largest in eastern India. The colony which houses the monastery is Buddha Vihar (the land of happiness and plenty) and area is popularly known as a mini Tibet in Odisha. It is a part of the Rigon Thubten Mindolling monastery that was part of the Tibetan settlement near Chandragiri. The monastery is named after Acharya Padmasambhava, who was born in Odisha and is believed to have spread Buddhism to Tibet in 7th century. Driving through the roads of Jirang, visitors are welcomed to the Buddha Vihar with Buddhist flags on both sides of the road. Inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 2010, it has been built as per the 'Atanpuri style of Nalanda' and in the assembly hall, a 23-foot-high idol of Lord Buddha along with his two disciples have been installed. On the right side of the Buddha's idol is the 1000-armed, 1000-eyed Avalokiteswar. While on the left, is the large idol of Guru Nangsi Zilnon. The five-storey monastery has its interiors richly decorated with traditional religious paintings of Tibetan culture. The 70-feet-high monastery can house over 200 Lamas. Apparently, Jirang is considered one of the earliest Tibetan resettlement villages in the country; the Tibetans had arrived here on May 1, 1963. Visitors can also experience maize cultivation in the village, which is the main avocation of the Tibetans. Jirang can be approached by road through Berhampur.

Jaugada Hill

After Dhauli Hills, Jaugada Hill in Ganjam District is the second place where one of the famous rock edicts of emperor Ashoka is located. Located at a distance of 30 km from Berhampur, Jaugada was also an ancient fortified settlement that had boundary walls with four main gates each. It was a settlement similar to Sisupalgarh in Bhubaneswar. The fort is believed to have been built by Duryodhan. Inside the fort, there are five stone images worshipped in the temple of Gupteswar. Locals believe the five images represent the five Pandavas. Jaugada Hill, a part of the Malati Range of hills, has a large clean surface of granite where there is an Ashokan edict that provides valuable information about the pattern of administration followed by the Kalingan emperor. The site is preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. Few kilometres from Jaudaga, visitors can visit the ruins of an ancient fort and a temple at Kesarpali near Buguda. Here, there is a Biranchinarayan Temple with an exquisitely carved wooden 'Jagamohan' (prayer hall of a temple) and mural paintings on stories from Ramayana. Another site Buddhakhol is located just two km away from Jaugada where there are various images of Buddhist pantheon along with small Shaivite shrines. On the way to the site from Berhampur or Chhatrapur, one can also see the Tara Tarini Temple, which is one of the famous shrines of Shakti in south Odisha.


Located 10 km south-east of the popular Sun temple in Konark, is the ancient lesser known Buddhist site of Kuruma. It is said that a Buddhist monastery flourished in the area, remnants of which were found during excavations by the State Archaeology wing. In fact, in the pages of history, this monastery has been mentioned by Hiuen Tsang. The origin of the site is dated to be between 8th and 9th century AD.

At the site currently, there is a small temple which houses three Buddhist images―crowned Buddha seated in Bhumisparsa mudra, Padmapani Avalokitesvara and Revanta. These three images are jointly worshipped as 'Yamadharma' by Kuruma villagers. These images were found near a water tank called Dharma Pokhari (tank of Dharma), located at one end of the village, by a school teacher Brajabandhu Dash in the 70s. Later on, the archaeological wing started excavating the site. Historians say the length and width of the monastery is 34 m each and it also houses a shrine chamber, cells for Buddhist monks and a large courtyard, which is in the shape of 'Swastik', denoting tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana or Tantrayana). Visitors can hire taxis from either Puri or Konark to reach Kuruma.

Shanti Stupa

One of the popular landmarks of Odisha's Buddhist heritage is the Dhauli International Peace Pagoda (Shanti Stupa), located eight km south on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. 
The Peace Pagoda stands atop the Dhauli Hills, close to the river bank of Daya river. It was built as a collaborative project between Kalinga Nippon Sangha and the Odisha Government in 1972 to commemorate the famous Kalinga War that was fought along the banks of the Daya river around 261 BC. The war was won by emperor Ashoka, but the bloodshed that had happened, change his heart and he converted to Dharma Ashoka (peace lover) from Chanda Ashoka (fierce warrior). Emperor Ashoka subsequently turned a Buddhist and started propagating Buddhism to kingdoms in foreign lands. The Dhauli Shanti Stupa has four massive idols of Lord Buddha in various postures along with episodes from Gautam Buddha's life carved on stone slabs. Just behind the Stupa stands a Shiva temple, which sees a large crowd during ShivaratriOther major attractions of Dhauli Hills are the various rock edicts, which are a living testimony of emperor Ashoka’s change of heart. Historians say Ashoka wrote ‘Welfare of the Whole World’ in Kalinga Edict VI, depicting his concern about mankind. A rock-cut elephant located above the edicts is considered to be one of the oldest Buddhist sculptures in the State. The Dhauli Hills also provide a bird's eye view of the entire area, lush green agricultural lands and the river Daya. The heritage site is approachable from Bhubaneswar by buses and taxis. 


Considered one of the earliest Buddhist sites in Odisha, Lalitgiri stands between the hills of Parabhadi and Landa belonging to the Assian Hill range in Jajpur district. A huge banyan dominates the area that is home to a massive brick stupa. The site was excavated from 1985 to 1992, and from the stupa, a precious relic casket containing bones, believed by some historians to be of Gautam Buddha himself or one of his important followers, was found. The relic casket comprised four containers one inside the other, each layer made of khondalite, steatite, silver and gold respectively. These containers were arranged in the manner of a Chinese puzzle box. Being one of the most important findings of Buddhist heritage in Odisha so far, the casket has been shifted to a small museum nearby. The stupa can be accessed by a flight of steep steps. Hiuen Tsang had described that the stupa at Lalitgiri's highest point emitted a brilliant light due to its sacredness. Excavations also revealed the remains of four monasteries and sculptures of Lord Buddha in different postures belonging to Mahayanistic phase of Buddhism. Antiquities like gold and silver ornaments, stone plaques of Ganesha and Mahisasurmardini Durga, and a tiny figure of Avloketisvara is also found here. Excavated inscribed potsherds belonging to different time spans i.e. post Mauryan period to 8th-9th century AD suggest that Lalitagiri was occupied by both Hinayana and Mahayana sects. In subsequent period the site came under the control of Vajrayana faith of Buddhism patronised by the ruling Bhaumakaras (9th-10th century AD). Hence, historians say that Lalitgiri is one of the earliest Buddhist sites of Odisha having a cultural continuity from the post Mauryan period to 13th century AD without any break. At the site, there is a small sculpture shed where all the sculptures found from the spot have been kept. The site is open for tourists from dawn to dusk. Entry is free for Indians while foreigners have to pay `100 to enter the site. Lalitgiri is 90 km away from Bhubaneswar and can be approached by road.


Udayagiri or the 'Sunrise Hill' is another important Buddhist site located on the banks of River Birupa. It is just 10 km away from Ratnagiri. Votive stupas can be found scattered here. This site, dating back from 2nd century AD to 13th century AD, was divided into Udayagiri 1 and Udayagiri 2 for excavation purpose from 1958 to 2000. Excavations at Udayagiri 1 have revealed remains of a large complex―Madhavapura Mahavihara―comprising a Maha Stupa and a square monastery. Maha Stupa has four niches, enshrining a beautifully carved image of Dhyani Buddha Aksobhaya on the eastern side, Amitabha on the western side, Amoghasiddhi on the north and Ratnasambhava on the south; all inscribed with Buddhist creeds. Similarly, the square monastery has an ornate gateway leading to the shrine chamber that houses the image of Lord Buddha in 'Bhumisparsa' mudra. Excavations at Udayagiri 2 have also led to discovery of the remains of a brick-built monastic complex called Simhaprastha Mahavihara with 'Pradakshinapatha' (parikrama) around the sanctum. A large number of sculptures of Buddha and other Buddhist divinities like Tara, Manjushri, Bhrikuti, Hariti, Chunda, Avalokiteswara, Maitreya, Aparajita, Vairochona and Vasudhara have been discovered here.


Ratnagiri in Jajpur district of Odisha is often referred to as the 'Hill of Jewels'. This site is located on an isolated hillock of Assia Range between Birupa and Brahmani rivers. Many Buddhist remains, including a massive stupa (Maha Stupa), monasteries, temples and Buddhist antiquities―dating from 5th century to 13th century AD―have been excavated from this site. The ruins of the Maha Stupa can be seen atop the hill. The stupa, made of burnt bricks, is surrounded by votive stupas. Apparently, around 700 votive stupas have been found from this site during the course of excavations. A mound, locally called Ranipokhari or queen's tank, is located to the north of Maha Stupa. The remains of two monasteries, lying side by side with a narrow passage in between can be seen here. Both the monasteries face the Maha Stupa. Also, antiquities including the stone and bronze images of the Buddha and a host of other divinities like Tara, Lokesvara, Vajrapani, Padmapani Aparajita, Heruka, Sambhara and Hariti have been found from the spot. A visit to Ratnagiri will not be complete without visiting a Buddhist museum on the north-west corner of the site, which exhibits an impressive collection of antiquities that were excavated from the site. There are four galleries in the museum that remain open from 10 am to 5 pm and are closed on Friday.Ratnagiri is 100 km away from Bhubaneswar and can be approached by road.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Exploring Cuttack - Odisha's Silver City

Known for its rich cultural history, extravagance and brotherhood, Cuttack is a tourist destination par excellence. An island lying at the head of the Mahanadi Delta formed by rivers Mahanadi and Kathajodi, Cuttack is often referred to as a Millennium City owing to its 1000 year-old history. The City was ruled by Mughals, Afghans and Marathas before coming under the British rule, during which it became the capital of Odisha. In 1956, the capital was shifted to Bhubaneswar. The Mughals, however, ruled the city for the maximum period as a result of which, there is quite a number of Muslim monuments in Cuttack. Popular for its Baliyatra, Eid and Durga Puja, both Hindus and Muslims celebrate every festival in great fervour and bonhomie. Here's a look into places of historical and tourism importance in Cuttack.


Dhabaleswar is popular for the temple of Lord Shiva that stands on a hillock in the middle of river Mahanadi. Located in an island on the river near Mancheswar village of Athagarh block, 37 km from Cuttack city, the temple is embellished with stone carvings that date back to the early 10th and 11th century. It is said King Purusottam Dev established the temple in the middle of river Mahanadi so that his queen Padmabati could worship Shiva. However, the historians are silent over the exact timing of its establishment. According to old scriptures, this sacred place was known as Hariharpitha.
Far away from the madding crowd, the Dhabaleswar temple, both scenic and enchanting, is nestled amidst natural environment. Here 'Bada Osha' is considered the most auspicious of festivals. It draws devotees in lakhs and is celebrated with religious fervour. 'Bada Osha' is observed just a day before Kartika Purnima in November. The added attraction to the shrine is country's longest suspension bridge which connects the island to the mainland. Visitors can reach Dhabaleswar from Cuttack by using boats and ferries. They can also take the foot-over bridge route to reach the temple by paying a nominal fee.

Swarajya Ashram

The Swarajya Ashram at Telengapentha is synonymous with Mahatma Gandhi's relationship with Odisha, Cuttack in particular. The double-storey Ashram, located opposite the banks of river Kathajodi. was in the thick of the Non Cooperation Movement in the 1920s. This is where Gandhi spent his nights during his visits to Odisha; the first visit being on March 22, 1921. It is from here that the Father of the Nation went to the river bed of Kathajodi through the Ganesh ghat area in the mornings to address public gatherings.
After ages of neglect, the ashram that spreads over 1100 sq ft area has been converted into a protected monument by the Government of Odisha. There are around 200 photographs in the Ashram that captured Gandhi's visit to Odisha beginning with the one in 1921, the first of his seven trips to Odisha's 69 sites till 1946. A stone slab in the hall of the ashram, where Gandhi during his meetings, has been plastered and a statue of Gandhi installed on it. Historians say that Cuttack was the seat of the Freedom Movement is Odisha and the Swaraj Ashram played a pivotal role in paving the way for Swaraj Movement. During this period, the ashram was the place of meetings for all National leaders who visited Odisha during the Freedom Movement. The building has been developed into a tourism site by the Odisha Government and INTACH and it remains open round the year. Currently, INTACH is working on projecting the site as a freedom fighters memorial.


A large roof designed with beautiful images from Ismalic art and ornate minarets mark the 18th century Muslim shrine in Cuttack, Qadam-l-Rasool (Footprint of the Messenger). Located in the busy Jail Road area in Cuttack, the dargah was built in Indo-Islamic architectural style by Shujauddin Mohammed Khan. It spreads over an area of 57 acres and has a high compound wall with towers at each of the four corners. A large minaret in the centre of the dargah, bearing the crescent and the star, is complimented by nine small minarets that have been designed with wood carvings and lacquer craft. The Qadam-e-Rasool or the footprint of the Messenger has been placed inside a metal basin in the centre of the dargah, which also has a music gallery known as Nawabat Khana. There are three smaller mosques inside the shrine.
Cuttack-based historian Amal Kumar Mishra says footprint of the Prophet Mohammad engraved in a circular stone was brought to Cuttack by Haji Syed Alimullah, a close relative of Syed Hashim of Mashar of Persia, from Najab in Arabia with the signature of the Sheriff of Mecca. The sacred relic was kept under a tree at the remote Kukuriapada village in Cuttack district to testify its power and genuineness. "When people in the village and nearby areas started getting cured of many ailments, the then deputy nazim Shujauddin Mohammed Khan decided to bring it to its present location, which is Cuttack town," he says. A similar relic can be found in Dargah Qadam Sharif in New Delhi.


Naraj is a picturesque spot on the outskirts of the district headquarters town of Cuttack. Here, visitors can enjoy the scenic view of the river Mahanadi at the origin of its branch Kathajodi. The site, which gives a panoramic view of the vast expanse of the river Mahanadi, is also frequented by devotees for offering prayers at the temple of Lord Sidheswar that stands nearby. The small ornate temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is frequented by devotees during the annual Shivaratri festival.
Apart from the scenic beauty that the place offers, Naraj was also once a famous seat of Buddhist culture and learning. Excavations by archaeologists in the past had revealed presence of various small and big Buddhist images from the spot. Every year during the winter, thousands of locals visit Naraj for picnicking. The place is located 14 km towards west from Cuttack town and 28 km from the State Capital of Bhubaneswar. It can be approached through taxis and the nearest railway station is at Cuttack. Visitors can also take buses to the site from the Badambadi bus stand at Cuttack. Best time to visit is between October and January.

Jobra Barrage

The Jobra Barrage, also known as Mahanadi Barrage, is probably the most popular hangout for Cuttackians. Build over the majestic river Mahanadi, the Jobra Barrage carries a 2 km long road bridge connecting Cuttack and Jagatpur. The barrage is situated near to the longest river bridge of Odisha and one of the longest in India, the Mahanadi road bridge. Along the road bridge, there is a Jobra Park, a Deer Park and a sunset point.
Another interesting thing to see is the stone revetment on the banks of river Kathjhodi, a marvel of ancient engineering technique. The centuries-old stone formation bears testimony to the technical skill and logical thinking of Odias of 11th century. Built by the Keshari kings and having survived the test of time, the revetment safeguards the city from seasonal floods. In fact, it was built with a purpose of saving the Millennium City from the devastation of the floods caused by the river Mahanadi. A typical example of the ancient Odishan architecture, the stone pavement gets tourist footfall round the year. The place should not be missed by both architecture and nature lovers. The best time to visit is during winter when migratory birds can be seen in the river.

Netaji Museum

History buffs interested in Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose will surely find the Netaji Museum in Odia Bazaar at Cuttack interesting. Netaji was born in Cuttack on January 23, 1897 at the Janakinath Bhawan, named after his father Janakinath Bose. This ancestral house has been converted into the Netaji Museum by the Odisha Government and memorabilia associated with the great leader are being showcased through 15 galleries. A large gate with green sculptures of Netaji leading his Indian National Army (INA) stands at the approach road to the museum. The wall on one side of the road has been decorated with graffiti on the various stages of life of the leader and outside the house, is a beautiful garden and a replica of a horse carriage used by Netaji.
Inside, one gets to see his rare photographs, letters that he wrote to his family members during his stay in various jails and Netaji's INA uniform, among the various rare artefacts. The museum is a two storey house with 12 rooms and each room has been converted into a gallery. There is a study room that contains the table and chair of Netaji and book shelves, while in another gallery on his prison life, letters written by him from the prison have been exhibited. Netaji's rare letters that express his views about a strong and Independent India are the most prized possession of the museum. From 2010 to 2013, the Odisha Government added three more galleries to the museum which includes a special gallery that throws light on the spiritual aspect of Netaji. The spiritual beliefs of Netaji are not well known among people; not many know that Netaji always carried a copy of the Gita, a photo of Goddess Kali and Rudrakshya beads with him. Visitors have to pay a nominal entry fee to visit the museum.

Ravenshaw University

The Ravenshaw University evokes a feeling of pride and honour in every Odia. One of the oldest and the largest educational institutions of the country, Ravenshaw University is a witness to the history of modern Odisha. The majestic structure stands on College Square Chack, close to the Cuttack Railway Station. As per the records of the University, it came into existence on the November 15, 2006; it was an upgradation of Ravenshaw College established in 1868. During the freedom struggle, the Ravenshaw College played a vital role in promoting nationalism and geared up youths to take part in the fight against British.
The records also state that the university's hall was the venue for the declaration of Odisha as a separate province on April 1, 1936 and thereafter it housed the State's first Legislative Assembly. After Independence, the Assembly was shifted to Bhubaneswar, the new capital of Odisha. During Quit India Movement of 1942, students of the institution brought down the Union Jack as a mark of Nationalistic fervour. As far as its architecture is concerned, Ravenshaw University is an amalgamation of Victorian, Indian and Gothic architecture. The beautiful columns, capitals and designs give a lot of information about the architecture of the British era. The 95-year-old red building has been constructed over a sprawling area of 87.4 acres of land.

Chandi Mandir

The Cuttack Chandi Mandir, one of the oldest temples in Odisha, attracts more than 20 lakh devotees a year. Here, Goddess Kata Chandi is worshipped and she is considered the presiding deity of the Silver City. The fifth generation of the first priest of the temple still continues to perform the daily rituals of the Goddess. Although there is no written history of the temple, the story goes that the late Hansa Panda, who was the Purohit of the then Kanika Raja of Cuttack, used to graze cattle and sheep in the land. One day Panda was feeling tired and took rest there. On the same night, the Goddess Katakeswari Chandi appeared in his dream and requested him to take her out of the land. He narrated the incident to the Kanika king who ordered his workers to dig up the place.
Subsequently, 40 bullock carts of red sindoor and an idol were found. The idol is being worshipped as Goddess Katak Chandi since then. Locals worship the Goddess as a Living Goddess. Durga Puja is a major festival celebrated in the temple when the Goddess is worshipped in various incarnations of Goddess Durga. Durga Puja is celebrated in temple for 16 days starting from Ashwina Krishna Ashtami till Ashwina Shukla Navami and Vijayadashami. Only Hindus are allowed in the temple and the best time to visit is during Dussehra.

Silver Filigree Workshops

A visit to Cuttack, also known as the Silver City, is incomplete without witnessing its Tarakashi (silver filigree) craft. In fact, it is the silver filigree work that has put Cuttack in the world map. The city is home to nearly 2000 Tarakashi artisans who had inherited the craftsmanship from their forefathers. The filigree workshops can be found at Dolomundai, Nayasarak, Choudhary Bazaar, Balu Bazaar and Bania Sahi, among other places in the city. The craft, which dates back to 500 years, includes creating thin strands of silver wires that are used to make a wide range of jewellery, utility items and exquisite showpieces and utensils that are marketed globally. Artisans bend these silver wires into different sizes and create designs out of them. The silver wires are of extremely high quality. Ornaments like necklaces, ear pendants, brooches, anklets, hairpins, bangles and those worn by the Odissi dancers are some of the items manufactured. Some artisans have even made replicas of the Taj Mahal and the Konark Temple in Tarakashi. The beauty of Tarakashi craft can be seen during the famed Durga Puja of Cuttack when, the idol of the Goddess is put up against a massive backdrop that is designed with only silver filigree. Every Durga Puja pandal uses backdrops made up of silver filigree during the festival.

Maritime Museum

Cuttack, with the largest river of the State―Mahanadi, was the seat of maritime activities in the Colonial era. Three years back, Odisha Government opened the Odisha State Maritime Museum that showcases the rich maritime history of the state. Set up on the banks of river Mahanadi over four acres of land, the museum stands on the site of the ancient Maritime Engineering Workshop that was established by the British in 1869. Apparently, this workshop was set up for building, repair and maintenance of vessels from the provinces of Bihar, Bengal and Odisha under the Bengal Presidency of British India. It ensured smooth operation on the waterways―the major channel of communication then.
The workshop was set up by the then PWD department of British administration through the efforts of a Scottish Engineer GH Faulkner immediately after the 1866 famine in Odisha. The museum has 13 galleries showcasing maritime traditions, vessels, boats and other related artefacts from the ancient age to the colonial era. A library with more than 1000 books and journals has been included for researchers in the museum. Except Monday, the museum remains open for the visitors on all working days from 10 am to 4 pm. An entry fee of Rs 10 is being collected from the visitors. For group tickets for persons above 25 years (30 visitors in a group) Rs 200 is being charged. However, there is no entry fee for students and children below 10 years.

Barabati Fort

Barabati Fort, built by the Ganga dynasty on the banks of River Mahanadi, is one of the most sought-after tourist attractions of Cuttack. Located near the Baliyatra Ground, this ruined fort stands on the west side of the Millennium City. According to historians, Barabati Fort once housed a nine-storey palace. While the fort is spread over an area of 102 acres, it has a 20-yard wide moat to protect the structure. What stands at the site today are the ruins of the palace on an earthen mound, the hyacinth-filled moat and the fort. The area is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Historians say the entire site came up over a period of years and construction of the fort was started in 989 AD by King Marakata Keshari while he was building embankments on the shore of river Mahanadi to protect the city from floods. Later in the 14th century, Mukundadev Harichandan, a Chalukyan King, built the nine-storey palace. Excavations carried out by archaeologists have revealed that the fort was rectangular in structure and it was surrounded on all sides by a wall of laterite and sandstone. In the recent years, stone images of deities and dancing women have been found from spots around the moat. The gateway of the fort is minimally designed with large laterite stones. The best season to visit the spot is winter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

God's Own Garden

Road to Heaven: From Shillong to Mawlynnong
Mawlynnong is a paradise in its own right. Even before the term 'Swachch Bharat' was coined by the present Government, people of this village have implemented it in true letter and spirit. Far from the hustle bustle of city life, here is a destination that has everything that a tourist wants―tranquillity, adventure, nature's beauty―and to top it all, cleanliness. Unlike other tourist destinations that are often ill maintained, this is a village where cleanliness is a norm that every villager abides by. Yes, the village is extremely clean and has hidden treasures within. Read on to know more about the enriching experience that Mawlynnong can be.

Nestled barely four km from the Bangladesh border and 90 km away from Shillong - Mawlynnong - is the nearest I could get to paradise. A paradise in true sense of the word.
Even as there are many interesting places in and around Shillong, my choice of visiting the small, picturesque village of Mawlynnong was not random. For, the village has earned the reputation of being the ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’. It was accorded the status in 2003 by the Discover India magazine. After reaching Shillong, I and three of my friends set out for Mawlynnong on a Sunday morning in a taxi. The journey, I must say, was as beautiful as the destination. The road was relatively empty that day so we stopped on a ridge overlooking the Sohra plateau. We climbed onto top of this small hillock and got an eagle's eye view of the terrain below us. I wished I could get on a glider to enjoy the view.


After around three scenic hours of driving through meandering narrow roads, we arrived at Mawlynnong. ‘God’s Own Garden’ – the sign at the entrance of the village read. Inhabited by people belonging to the Khasi tribe, we were awestruck by Mawlynnong’s cleanliness and aesthetic beauty. The village was dotted with small houses each sporting a colourful neat garden.  Clean concrete walkways and beautiful flowerbeds all along marked the village that is home to 87 Khasi households. Interestingly, there were no fences between the houses and huts. The village was spotless with no debris on the ground and no littering of any sort. The paths were also dotted with dustbins made of bamboo. Plastic bags are completely banned and waste, at the end of the day, is thrown into a pit dug in a forest near the village where it is left to turn into compost. There is a small tea stall at the entrance of the village. We stopped here for a cup of tea and our guide Henry was there to receive us. He then took us to the Mawlynnong guest house, rather a tree house, which Carol Nongrum, a member of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum, had booked for us in Shillong.

Large rocks with deep craters in them can be found in every corner of the village. The name Mawlynnong actually means Cluster of Stone. These craters are used by villagers to store rain water.
The house, entirely made of bamboo, had two cosy rooms on both sides and a central area. Outside, there was a machan that looked onto the jungle and a small waterfall beneath. The machan was suspended at least 80 to 100 feet in the air, supported and constructed by bamboo on stilts. Connecting the verandah to the first machan, was a narrow bamboo bridge.
Staying in a tree house like this one was indeed a childhood dream come true. The rooms had comfortable double beds also made of bamboo, clean linen and blankets, mosquito-nets and squeaky clean bathrooms.
We quickly placed our luggage in the house and set out to explore the nature’s marvels that Mawlynnong had in store for us. Henry took us to Riwai village which was 10 minutes drive away from Mawlynnong. Riwai housed one of the most interesting and unique creations of nature, a living root bridge formed by roots of Indian rubber trees. It was a 20 minute trek to the root bridge from the village. About 150 years old, the roots of two trees have been entwined by villagers to grow into a natural bridge. A gurgling stream flanked by dense forest flows below the root bridge giving the finishing touch to the postcard picture setting.

The Living Root Bridge
The small stream beneath
Next, we proceeded towards Niriang Falls located amid thick forests on the outskirts of Riwai. The roar of falling water, butterflies fluttering around and the mist – the sight was astounding at the bottom of the falls. We were sweating after the difficult trek to the falls and dipped our heads into the water to get some respite. The trek uphill was the perhaps the most tiring thing I had done in the recent past.

The secret waterfall

Nature's Balancing Rock
Henry took us to another spot nearby which defied the forces of nature, The Balancing Rock or Maw Ryngkew Sharatia as it is locally called. A huge flat rock lay balanced on a much smaller rock and has been so for how many years, none knew. It is believed to have been an old Khasi sacrificial altar.
After the tiring trip, we went back to our guest house to freshen up and have a late lunch. The caretakers, whose hut was on the guest house premises, served us local chicken, fish curry, rice and fresh vegetables that were seasoned with Khasi herbs.
Our evening at Mawlynnong was spent in lazy walks around the village and a visit to another attraction – the Sky View Point or the Hanging Bridge. The bridge was made out of bamboos spanning across two trees. Atop the Sky View, we could clearly see the flooded plains of Bangladesh as far as the eyes could go.
Henry told us that Mawlynnong's reputation for cleanliness has even earned it a place on the State's tourism map. “Our village is a 100 years old, and we have learnt to maintain cleanliness for generations,” he said. There is a fine imposed by the village council for anybody found to be throwing litter around or cutting trees. Besides, children are taught to collect litter at an early age and regular inspections are carried out by village council on sanitation facilities in each house. True to his words, cleanliness seemed like a way of life for villagers here.

Our Lunch: Rice, Dal, Chicken seasoned with local herbs
Since it was a long day for all of us, we returned back to our house early and decided to relax at the machan under a star-studded sky with doses of Khasi beer till it was time to retire for the day.
The next morning greeted us with a sunny smile. The village looked like a colourful canvas decorated with flowers of various hues. We finally said bye to Mawlynnong with this mesmerising sight in our eyes.

Here's my quick guide on Mawlynnong:

1. Valleys of East Khasi Hills

The drive through cloud-kissed valleys from Shillong, nicknamed Scotland of the East, to Mawlynnong is a surreal experience. There's a saying that the journey is as beautiful as the destination in this part of the country. The meandering roads from Shillong are surrounded by hills with small cascading waterfalls on both the sides―a postcard picture setting. Mawlynnong is located 90 km south of Shillong.
There are a number of view points en route that provide a glimpse into the spectacular green valleys and the breathtaking landscape that accompanies the traveller till the entry point of Cherrapunjee. Here, the road bifurcates into two directions―while one goes towards Cherrapunjee (locally known as Sohra), another turns left towards Dawki-Tamabil route, which is the border crossing point to Bangladesh. Mawlynnong is only one hour drive from here. After crossing the hilly routes, the road to the village is a stretch of curvy plains covered with long grass. Visitors can hire taxis from Shillong and for those looking at budget options can take shared taxis to reach the village.

2. Mawlynnong Village

This small picturesque village, which overlooks the sylvan plains of Bangladesh, is unique in more ways than one. It has earned the sobriquet of 'God's Own Garden' and the Discover India Magazine had accorded Mawlynnong the status of being 'Asia's Cleanest Village' in 2003. The achievement might be an old one, but the village folks continue to live up to it. The lush green village, located in Pynursla block of East Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya, has around 87 environment-conscious families who make sure their abode is spic and span round-the-clock. Villagers take turns to clean the concrete roads, which are decorated with colourful creepers, natural stone structures and flowering plants of varied hues. In front of every house, there is a large rock with deep crater in it, which is used by villagers to collect rainwater.

At every 30 metres of the roads, there is a bamboo basket placed where people can throw in the garbage. The garbage collected throughout the day is thrown in a large pit on the outskirts of the village and left to turn into compost. Littering is a punishable offence and plastic has been banned here. The cosy houses on stilts are primarily built with bamboo and straw and all the households have a small garden of flowering plants and fruit-bearing trees. For tourists, the village has just one small eatery, Halathygkong, which serves tea, local noodles, puffs and pastries.

3. Experiencing Khasi Culture

Experiencing the lifestyle of Khasi residents is a must for every visitor to Mawlynnong. Here, the society is a matrilineal one where women take control of everything, from economy to managing household. The youngest girl in a household inherits the property and children take their mother's surname. Unlike other parts of the country, girls here are free to choose their life partner but within the community.
Interestingly, the village boasts of 100 percent literacy rate. There is a primary school in Mawlynnong which has maintained zero student dropout rate so far. Apparently, students are taught nuances of cleanliness in the classrooms from an early age. Agriculture is the mainstay and besides paddy, villagers grow cash crops like bay leaf, betel nuts and local spices. They also cultivate fruits like oranges, papaya and pineapples, which are sold in Shillong and often in bordering areas of Bangladesh. Their staple food is rice and fish, which is available aplenty in the local water bodies. While some villagers are also into fishing, there is a strict no to cattle and poultry rearing. Villagers reason that livestock rearing would create dirt in the village. While the entire village maintains a strict cleanliness regime, Khasi women can be seen either washing clothes or cleaning the village roads throughout the day.

4. Church of the Epiphany

Khasis in Mawlynnong are devout Christians. Surrounded by orange and palm trees, stands a 100-year-old church in the village called 'Church of the Epiphany'. Narrow stone paths with plants bearing orange flowers reach out to the Church, which is a black and white structure exuding an old-world charm. There are no houses that rise above the Church spire.
According to history, Welsh Christian missionaries came to Mawlynnong in the 19th century from Bangladesh and since then, the village has been following a strong tradition of Christianity. The government website of Meghalaya reads that the village was initially known as 'Ri Kharpangkhat' and it got the name of Mawlynnong during the Christian mission of Rev. G A Jones. Mawlynnong, meaning a Cluster of Stones, was derived from the fact that there are numerous rocks in the village that have craters in them. Interestingly, villagers link the tradition of cleanliness to Christianity. They say it is the missionaries that changed their lives and taught them ways to reach God through cleanliness.

5. Sky Walk to Flooded Plains of Bangladesh

Located a little away from the entry point to Mawlynnong, there stands the Sky Walk, a unique structure that gives a glimpse to the neighbouring country of Bangladesh. It is an eco-friendly ladder-like structure that has been made entirely of bamboo poles tied to branches of six trees using jute and bamboo ropes. No nails or any metal has been used in putting the structure together. A visitor has to climb four circular layers of bamboo ladders―stretching across the tree branches―that extends up to a height of 80 feet. Atop the Sky Walk, there is a square platform, again made of bamboo, from where the inundated Bangladesh Plains can be easily viewed.

Climbing the Sky Walk takes around 30 minutes. The entire structure is surrounded by large trees with a small water channel in between which is often used by locals for cleaning clothes and collecting water. The villagers charge Rs 10 per person who is willing to climb the Sky Walk to witness the Bangladesh Plains and have a bird's eye view of Mawlynnong. From the top, the village looks like a green carpet dotted with colourful flowers. The money goes into making the structure afresh every year to ensure safety of tourists. No eatables packed in polythene sheets are allowed in the area.

6. Machaan, A Tree House

The village has limited accommodation options for tourists but one of the most beautiful options available is the centrally-located Tree House, an eco-friendly guest house raised in stilts and made of bamboo. Resembling a Khasi hut, the guest house has a small rock garden in the front decorated with blooming marigold, orchids and wild flowers. Inside, there is a verandah, two rooms with four beds on both the sides, a living room, dining area and a Machan (an elevated rectangular platform on the branches of a tree). While the dining area overlooks a beautiful forest on the outskirts of Mawlynnong, a small waterfall is located beneath the Machan and one can hear the gentle gurgling of the water. The Machan is connected to the dining area with long bamboo poles that have been tied up with jute ropes. The interiors of the guest house have nothing fancy, all the furniture are made of bamboo and even all the knick-knacks in the house including the ashtray are made of bamboo roots.

The guest house is taken care of by the local guide Henry Kharrymba and his family. As far as food is concerned, Henry's family cooks authentic Khasi cuisine that includes local rice, chicken or beef prepared with local herbs, dal and salad. One can also enjoy the local rice beer. There is another similar but small guest house to the left of the main structure. The guest house is a no smoking zone.

7. Living Root Bridge

At a time when the nation is speaking about science and innovation, here lies a man-made wonder that is also an apt example of bio-engineering. In the Wahthyllong hamlet, 10 minutes drive away from Mawlynnong, hangs a large living root bridge over a gurgling stream. Only found in this part of the country, the living root bridge is the result of innovation by the Khasi tribals. Locals say the bridge was constructed to cross the overflowing stream during monsoon. The thick roots of a variety of rubber tree (Ficus elastica), grown on either side of the stream, have been intertwined together by villagers and flat rocks and mud placed on them to make a path. The roots have grown for several years making the living root bridge stronger by each year. No one knows the age of the bridge, but villagers vouch for its longevity and strength. Interestingly, when any villager witnesses a new root even today, he/she weaves it into the bridge structure.

One has to take a fleet of steps downwards to reach the living root bridge. At the entry point, the villagers charge Rs 10 from each visitor willing to see the nature's wonder. The money goes into development of the villagers. While the one at Wahthyllong is a single-decker root bridge, a double-decker root bridge can be seen in Cherrapunji (Sohra). However, the one at Cherrapunji requires the traveller to undertake an extremely difficult trek.

8. Secret Waterfall at Riwai

Mawlynnong has little beautiful secrets hidden deep within. One of them is Niriang Falls, located around five kilometres away from the living root bridge. It is created by the crystal clear water of Wah Rymben River that falls 400 m into a deep green pool located amidst thick green forest. Getting to the spot, though, isn't an easy task; one has to take a steep trek through a slippery stone pathway to reach Niriang Falls. The journey is arduous, but a sight of the waterfall can leave any visitor wonderstruck. One cannot hear any sound other than the roar of the falling water and chirping of birds and crickets. Nature is truly at its best here. The magnificent waterfall attains its full glory during the monsoon when there is a massive flow of water.
The waterfall is a "secret" one, as put by the local guide, because people rarely visit the place due to the difficult approach road to it. Below the main waterfall, there are two smaller ones located to its left. The only problem one has to take care at the spot is the leeches that are stuck to the rocks below the waterfall. There is no entry fee.

9. Balancing Rock

On the outskirts of the village lies a balancing rock, a must see nature's wonder for science freaks. Enclosed within a wired fence, the spot has two stones, a huge boulder resting on a smaller stone. The structure has remained like that for ages and no cyclone or storm has been able to disturb the formation. The place, which is surrounded by bamboo plantations, is called Nature's Balancing Rock or Maw Ryngkew Sharatia, locally.
While some elderly locals say that this was the spot where human sacrifices were made 1000 years back to appease the presiding deity of the area, the local guide Henry informs that it was an ancient shrine of the Khasi tribals that was no longer used after the advent of Christianity in Mawlynnong and Riwai. There is no entry fee to the spot and unlike the living root bridge and waterfall, it can be easily accessible in a four-wheeler. Maw Ryngkew Sharatia is one of the few places in the country where balancing rock can be seen. A similar structure is Krishna's Butterball, which can be seen in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu.


Getting there: Mawlynnong is situated 90 km south to Shillong, Meghalaya. Taxis are available to the village from Shillong round-the-clock at the price range between Rs 1800 and Rs 2000. It preferable to hire the taxi for overnight stay and visits to the tourists spots nearby the village.

View of Flooded Bangladesh Plains from Sky View
Where to stay: Mawlynnong guesthouse has two huts — the larger accommodates four persons and costs Rs 2,400 while the smaller sleeps two and costs Rs 1,000 each. To book, call Deepak Laloo or Carol Nongrum (0364-2502420, 09863115302). The caretakers prepare tasty meals that include some interesting local cuisine using meats, jackfruit and Khasi herbs. One has to pay an additional Rs 250 for the tourist guide and Rs 100 towards community welfare and upkeep besides the food and accommodation charges.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Of Tourism, Travel & Heritage

Greetings. Welcome to Trips to Roads Less Travelled. The blog will take you on a virtual tour of different places of tourism, heritage and culinary interests across the Country and Odisha, the Land of Lord Jagannath, in particular.
If you have any queries, do leave a comment, I will be pleased to help :) You can also contact me at -

- Diana Sahu
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