Now, who would've thought that the Navagraha temple complex in Konark would be the scene of such a cheesy post. And for me to be witnessing it at the Sun Temple is cheesier to the next level! (Karna is the mythological son of Surya, the Sun God and I happen to be named after him) Well, strange things happen all the time, don't they?
Konark is a small town in the Puri district of Odisha, famous for the Sun Temple, carved beautifully out of Black granite. Konark derived from the Sanskrit word 'Kona' meaning angle and Arka' meaning sun was designed as a gigantic chariot of the Sun God ('Surya') on 12 wheels drawn by 7 horses. Built in the reign of Narasimhadeva-1 in the 13th Century, it isn't really a temple in the literal sense of the word, there are no pujas performed there!
While on most journeys in a small rickety bus, jam-packed to its capacity, trotting along the road and taking about an hour and half to cover the 35 km distance from Puri, you are just happy that you reached, fortunately this wasn't the case here.
The NH 203 is pristine in every sense of the word and would easily go into my list of the best highways in India to travel on. I kind of re-lived my DTC bus college days by travelling on the foot-board of the bus. Instead of the hot, polluted air and car-spangled, tar-covered Delhi roads, the National Highway 203 weaves its way along the Bay of Bengal and greets you with tree-lined esplanades, salt-laden winds and the sun's light reflecting off the waters filtering its way through the thick foliage growing in abundance along the coastline. The bus keeps dodding through the Konark-Puri Marine drive when it reaches the Chandrabhaga beach from where it takes a sharp left turn to get to Konark.
You can choose to get-off here at Chandrabhaga. The sea here is untamed at its best, compared to the quiet, docile waters in Puri. And then walk the balance 3 odd kilometres through cashew plantations on one side and a wildlife sanctuary on the other. There is even a sign somewhere which asks you to drive slowly and lookout for crossing animals.
It was the first time I was seeing cashews growing like these. The junta there isn't worried about the cashews getting plucked by touristy folk like us. That's because the cashew fruit has a very intricate method of processing to make it the edible dry-fruit that we guys are so fond of gifting on festivals. And if you try and be all experimental and dig your nails into the squishy fruit, a gooey oil-like liquid oozes out which doesn't wash off with soap and over time ruins your skin. True story! Self-experienced. The cashew literally has to be smoked out of the fruit and dried.
When you finally get to Konark, you must walk across shacks selling the usual stuff like sea-shells, stones, temple souvenirs and 3-4 different varieties of cashews to get to the world famous monument. The sun temple is housed in a complex which is adjoining the Navagraha temple. The temple housing the nine planetary deities on a Navagraha slab has a prophylactic effect on the safety of the temple and is housed in many temples in Odisha. Since we were there on a Saturday and it was special puja day, there was a flea market in progress in the complex to cash in on the hordes of people visiting the temple to offer prayers. You could see two worlds out there, a flawless juxtaposition of ice-cream rediwalahs and hawan-samagri toting pandits.
After having exhausted ourselves admiring the temple and me photo-bombing a million snaps being taken by unsuspecting tourists, I remember us sitting under a shady tree and gorging on mangoes and water-melon. And since mum wanted to have some roti-sabzi, we went into one of the Marwari basas just outside the temple complex. These basas are exotic entities I tell you. You are served some very genuine home-cooked food within minutes of you grabbing a seat. Its a 'jaldi khao-jaldi niklo' kinda place. And it doesn't pinch your pocket at all.
As we were getting out of the complex, we found a hand-pump to wash our faces. The constantly humid weather does start getting to all the 'born-and-brought-up-in-a-landlocked-city' guys. I had already washed up and was chatting with an uncle who after seeing me trying really hard to get the cashew fruit oil off my hands, laughed at me and then started telling me tricks to hasten the process. And there she was, a few steps away from him, gulping a golgappa and chatting animatedly with her friend, a dupatta cleverly hiding her face. All I could see were her eyes, those Kohl-lined eyes!
" Those Kohl-Lined eyes... they take your heart away! Everytime.. everytime you see them. "