If you decide to go beyond Orissa's obvious poverty, it is easily amongst India's most fascinating states (and every state is so fascinating!). We continue with the second and final post of some nuggets from travel in Orissa from a couple of years ago (you can read the first part here).
Speaking of Emperor Ashoka, this rather garish stupa is situated on Dauli hill overlooking, the Daya ("compassion") river. The stupa (called "Shanti stupa" or Stupa of peace) was built a few decades ago. Legend has it that the Daya river turned red with the blood of the Kalinga warriors, who died without surrendering to Ashoka's invading armies. Seeing this carnage, the monarch renounced war, and became Buddhist. Near the foot of the hill is one of his carved-rock edicts proclaiming peace, and lasting for posterity. From the hill, you can see miles of Orissa countryside, with a grid of tiny fields spreading across the horizon. The fields look much smaller than those you see in neighboring Andhra, and you can easily see how impossible it must be for a farmer who's entire holding is this tiny plot of land (some smaller than a 2400 square foot suburban housing plot) to survive.
My parents and I were eating at the restaurant of the resort we were staying in. It was off-season, and there were only a couple of other tables occupied, so the waiters were cheerful and relaxed. We started a conversation with this pleasant waiter, who (like many other Oriyas we met) was quite happy to start a conversation. This lead to that, and soon my mother was asking him about typical marriage expenses in Orissa.
He said, "Umm......usually for typical middle class families like ours, a wedding banquet and celebrations would easily come up to 2 or 3 lakh rupees. Sometimes it's much more" (I lakh= 100,000)
Notice, he clearly thought of himself (earning around 6000 rupees a month, including tips) as solidly middle class, and he was right. Though many of us consider ourselves "middle class", we really are in the top 10% of the economic strata of Indian society, and he really was the middle-class! But middle class in India is definitely a mind-set, not an income bracket.
More strikingly, his statement showed how much people tend to spend in weddings. Three lakhs was five times his entire annual income. Imagine someone earning $70000 a year spending $300,000 for a wedding! Given this fact, it is easy to see why people start saving the moment their child is born, and why families go into debt or bankruptcy due to a wedding!
This wonderful waiter also complimented me on my Hindi. Given that these words were coming from an Oriya with an impossible accent and a complete confusion of gender usage (mixing up का and कि), I felt depressed.
We were at the Mukteshwar (Shiva) temple in Bhubaneshwar. This temple is much smaller than the Lingaraj temple, but you are blown away by the sheer beauty of the exquisite carvings and architecture.
I was standing and admiring a little Ganesha carved on the Eastern wall, when a dhothi clad gentleman (who I later learnt was a pilgrim from UP, on his way to Puri), and his teenaged son approached me. He walked up to me and asked;
"Kya aap videshi hain? Ham ne suna hai ke vahan ke log bhi Jaggannath bhagwan ko manthe hain" ("Are you a foreigner? I've heard that foreigners too believe in Lord Jaggannatha", probably thinking of the ISKON/Hare Krishna folks).
I was overwhelmed by acute embarrassment and shame. Mental reminder: the next time I visit temples in India, I'm going to stick to Indian wear.I can't survive this question again. I know the salubrious Pacific Northwest climate does nothing to help my tan, but this is embarrassing.
We're at the ancient Jain and Buddhist caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri. These little cubby-holes were carved into the sandstone by the austere Samanas/Jains, and it's hard to even imagine how a monk could have lived in a hole 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet high. But then, the Jains weren't known to go easy on the austerities. This place is swarming with monkeys; the ubiquitous Hanuman langurs. They were (as usual) fearless since the devout fed them regularly, and one couldn't dream of harming them. Unfortunately, that didn't help me because I was munching away on my peanuts, and they decided that by right it should be theirs. It was theirs in about 2 minutes, the moment I saw them heading my way.
At the base of these hills there were plenty of wonderful roadside food stalls, and tea stalls. My parents and I decided it was high time for a cuppa, and we bought our tea. It was served in disposable plastic cups. I looked around, and didn't find any trash-cans, but plenty of plastic litter on the street. So I asked them if they had some kulhars (little clay-pots) which used to be traditionally used to serve tea. When I had passed Orissa 15 years ago, the only tea that was sold was in these kulhars. You finish the tea, and then toss the clay pot back into the earth where it came from.
The shopkeeper said no one used those "old fashioned things anymore.
I felt a thousand eyes were watching me as I carried our three plastic cups back on to the bus and back to our resort, to trash in to a garbage bin. It was probably in vain anyway. I suspect the resort was just dumping it's trash a few hundred yards from it's walls.
I'll leave you and my Orissa travel memories with this picture of a beautiful sculpture from the Sun Temple.