Dreams penetrate both time and space. Traditionally, science was bound to the view that our brains diverted the baggage of daily bombarding sensations into the realm of the subconscious, and it is from out of the information detritus that dwells there that dreams are generated. Thus, scientists consider, some anyway, that dreams are just the accumulation of ‘junk’ DNA that remains deactivated in the course of evolution. Nicholas Humphrey, School Professor at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences at the London School of Economics, says that the role of dreams is to throw us into extraordinary social situations. But the rich and varied streetscapes of India offer stimuli enough, their extraordinary social panorama needing no assistance from the refuse packed away in the depths of my mind.
Some days, waking to the luxury of a clean sheet in a large bed, with the prospect of a fair to good quality meal waiting for you just down the hallway in the hotel restaurant, is not grounds for complaint. By my calculation Day 21 represents the approximate mid point of my journey, so in a sense from this day onwards, I commence my return to Hometown. It is the time, this mid point, when all journeys become increasingly preoccupied with the end, the end of all distractions; a preoccupation with the return to the world of the ordinary, of everyday work schedules and house chores, and obligations to people and matters disliked. It is the point at which the counting down of days erodes the sense of the exotic. You start to count in reverse, towards day one; the last day.
It is also the day when I begin to suspect that I am being herded, just ever so gently; the first hint that someone else is directing this road trip. The day starts off well enough, the tour car first pulling up at the Muktesvara Hindu temple, conveniently located in down town Bhubaneswar. The temple and the adjoining buildings represent a high point in the development of Orissan temple architecture, the guide drawing my particular attention to the temple’s “fully developed ‘gandi’ or ‘sikhara’ of the ‘rekha-deul’ and ‘jagamohana’ of the ‘pidha-deul’. The rekha-deul here is the ‘pancaratha’ type, with two extensions on each of the four sides. Both the rekha and pidha-deuls stand on a single low platform, the pidha-deul has a stepped pyramidal roof typical of the Orissan style.” However, he hastened to add that “the richly carved interior in this temple is not really characteristic of Orissan temples, the interiors usually being plain.” Well intentioned and learned as my guide obviously was, he lost me early on in my attempt to scribble his informed explanation into my notebook. I worked out later that rekha-deul means a straight or linear temple, sikhara or gandi means spire, and so it all should translate something like ‘the temple with the spire designed in a straight form’. In the pidha-deul type, it turns out the spire has distinguishing tiered platforms, the pidhas, of diminishing size, and after some further consternation, I came to the conclusion that jagamohana likely means a ‘hall’. Then I had an epiphany; rather than trying to decipher the cryptic definitions of Indian architectural terminology “wait till I’m back home, and if I’m still keen to enlighten myself on the intricacies of Indian temple architecture, buy an authoritative text book or two, ones with lots of diagrams and pictures, and a good Glossary”. Maybe I could talk my children into buying me the full set of the ‘Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architecture’, all two volumes in seven parts of it. Not cheap, quite expensive actually, but I figured they owed me serious money for all those years I ferried them back and forth to the school bus.
However, several things in the temple complex distracted me from my efforts in mastering temple nomenclature; firstly a beautiful carved stone arched gateway, or ‘torana’, that dated back to the 10th Century CE, second, a large grey stone sundial, a little knocked about but still in working order, then a flight of yellow orioles that swept past on their way to a fruiting tree, and finally a large storage tank of water. The tank was still in use by temple devotees but I was taken by the many fish that lived within its green waters, these gathering towards me in expectation of food. Sadly, at that moment in time I possessed neither crumb nor crust, even my beard being devoid of a stray and overlooked flake, hidden or still adhering from breakfast. Though they swam unrewarded before me the fish were a subject of prolonged fascination, me suspecting that here in the temple grounds they were probably safe from anglers and children with nets. Yet it’s the little matters of detail that lend intricate surprise to Indian temple architecture. There on the temple walls, amongst the wealth of carved scrolls, peacocks, monkeys and female forms, were two clever miniature plays on the illusion of human form; caricatures as was their intent. The first was a carving in which three figures shared but two heads, the heads and figures being juxtaposed in such a way that there was the illusion of three complete bodies, not an appendage missing. The second was a similar visual play but this time there was only one head, this shared between three bodies, each of which claimed legitimate and sole ownership.
Bemused by fish and craftsmanship I walk to the adjacent Parasurameswar temple. It is only a few minutes easy amble away, smaller and without other visitors, not even a solitary ‘Twice-born’ Brahmin priest inside, no burning incense, no ‘naga’ images for sale. A little blue sign with white lettering informs in English that the temple is assignable to the 7th Century CE, has a flat-roofed rectangular hall (Jagamohana) attached to a ‘triratha’ sanctum which carries a squat heavy-shouldered sikhara. Suitably educated, I collect my guide and return to the car. It is time to leave Bhubaneswar, and drive to the coastal enclave of Puri.
But somewhere along the highway, at a location indicated as Chandanpur Bazaar, I find myself, and the car, detoured sidewards. I am informed we are driving to an Indian village, a special one called Raghurajpur. There are lots of artisans there. But what I wasn’t aware of was that Raghurajpur has been developed as a tourist hub, a ‘tourist trap’ as more experienced and worldly travellers would coin it. Don’t get me wrong, it turned out to be a very friendly place. Every one smiled at me, greeted my ‘Namastes’ politely, and nearly everyone invited me into their houses; off memory all 120 or so of them, though I suspect the passage of time has conspired to exaggerate my remembering of their true number. The village is treed, narrow-laned, and consequently well shaded. There are groves of palms, jack fruit and mango trees in profusion, a large pond, and vegetable gardens enclosed by interwoven sticks and pieces of split bamboo. I guessed they had trouble with the wildlife eating their crops too.
It was like being in the subtropics, I was, but I was meaning ‘my’ subtropics; the ones south of the Equator. The houses were resplendent in bright paint and delicate floral motifs and scenes from Indian folk lore, and images of the Orissan deity Lord Jagannath displayed prominently on many of the walls. A sign proclaimed: ‘Heritage village, Raghurajpur – Patta painting, palm leaf painting and engraving, tusser silk painting, stone carving, coconut painting, wood carving, papier machie masks, cow dung toys, Ganjapa playing card’. A skinny white cow grazed contentedly on freshly laid out vegetable leaves, a portico painted in bright mauve and psychodelic green, walls of vibrant turquoise blue, an old wooden door with rusted metal hinges, its faded brown pilasters ornamented with worn out images of elephants, sun-dried blocks of laterite, and a post office, if only in name, with a sign declaring ‘No Admission’, a small rusty letterbox bolted to its wall. I forewent the temptation to entrust my most recent correspondence to its mouth. I walked the length of the village, spy my second mongoose, bowl a couple of mock ‘overs’ with boys playing at cricket, made sure I lost, then I returned by the same route; the only one available. I walked past every open door, and as I walked past every one from within came an invitation to enter. “Come inside, please, see my work. No need to buy. Just look.” It was heart wrenching, and there was no denying, they all, each one, did beautiful work, and they all did it at an unbelievable cheap price. But how to get it home, in one piece, and past the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service. Every delicate item was made from material that was a pest inspector’s nightmare; wood, leaf fronds, plant seeds, cow dung. Regardless of how gently I had been manipulated, and regardless of how well-intentioned that manipulation was meant to be, it was cruel. For all concerned. Maybe I am being too sensitive here, maybe each homely artisan had been coached in the universal marketing technique of supermarket ‘meet and greet’; out of necessity.
Though I could understand why Raghurajpur was an attraction; just 14 kilometres from Puri, on the southern banks of the river Bhargabi, turn off National Highway 203 at Chandanpur Bazaar, just like I did. I recommend you go there. The village is particularly known for its ‘Pattachitra’ painters, patta being paintings on pieces of cloth or a dried palm leaf. The art form dates from the 5th Century BCE, and traditionally features paintings based on Hindu mythology and is especially inspired by the cults of Jagannath and Vaishnava. Jagannath is a deity worshipped primarily by Hindus and Buddhists, mainly in Orissa. He is considered a form of Vishnu, and part of the Ratnabedi triad comprising Jagannath’s sister Subhadra and his brother Balabhadra. Vaishnava is a branch of Hinduism that focuses on the veneration of Vishnu. In 2000 the Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-government organisation, chose Raghurajpur to be developed as the state’s first heritage and craft village; a major tourist destination. And me being a tourist, I guess that’s how I got there.
I continue on to Puri. But here I was ambushed too, ambushed by the font size used to indicate the town’s location on my ‘All-of –India’ road map. Where I come from any coastal location indicated on a road map by a 6-point font size is either long abandoned, only has a population no more than 100 during the summer school break, or is a fisherman’s paradise trying to hide from the attention of real estate developers. I must admit I had no strong expectations of Puri, I hadn’t done my homework on the place, and at most I thought it would be a seaside town built as an afterthought around several, one in particular, prestigious temples. What I got was something concocted from a mixture of Queensland’s ‘Surfers Paradise’ and the English seaside towns of Brighton and Bournemouth. We drove through the city at rush hour, squeezed the car down through a bottleneck at a narrow bazaar, navigated a tight bend to the right, and then the road opened to expose an ocean vista that stretched to the horizon. Puri was a city of more than 200,000 people, and a city with a long open sandy beach, expensive hotels packed the length of the esplanade, a prominent black and white striped lighthouse at one end, and a giant Ferris wheel smack right down on the sand. There were food vendors to the north of it, and food vendors to the south and west. There were occasional fishing boats off-shore, on-shore there were thousands of people beyond count, but in-shore there was no one. Not a soul was in the water. The size and shape of the waves looked perfect, the colour of the water a promising blue-brown, but no one beyond the depth of an ankle in the water was to be seen. They just crowded on the sand, women in saris, men just as completely attired. Not an inch of flesh exposed between neck and foot. Not a surf board in sight. This was not Bondi, this was not Apollo Bay, and it certainly wasn’t Margaret River.
My accommodation turns out to be a palace by the beach. It has a floor plan of apartments set back from each adjoining apartment, the complex two stories high. I expect this city’s lodging will be the place of nobility, cinema celebrities, and visiting international political dignitaries. I have given up all hope of finding accommodation in a fibro-cement clad dorm. I can see that my tour company misread my request for something with a degree of comfort. If I’m to be the Jack Kerouac of India I need to be hanging out in ramshackle squats, abandoned railway cars and back alley hovels. But here I am in at seaside chateau, in India’s version of the French Riviera. I bid my guide a final and fond farewell. He suggests I try to order a copy of S. P. Gupta and S. Vijayakumar’s ‘Temples in India: origin and developmental stages’ on-line when I return to Australia. He assures me it is not overly expensive, and has kindly written its details for me down on a piece of paper. As a parting gesture he gives me a bundle of brochures from the Orissan government tourist bureau.
I retreat to my room, don a new shirt and exit to the beach via the esplanade side entrance. A security guard rises to greet me. My end of the beach is mostly deserted, the Ferris wheel just in view far to the north. An uninhabited life guard tower looks out to a beach without swimmers. There are beach deck chairs for hire with nobody sitting. I replay the last two sentences over in my mind, the making of a song from out of their words seeking birth. It is low tide and I wander the beach until the light starts to fail. It is 6.30 pm. There are no shells to be found, but a lone kangaroo-shaped rubbish bin, of the same kind discovered in the park at Kendujhargarh, stands sentry. It is empty. I return across the bitumen esplanade to the hotel, its ornate twin-curved street lights already brightly lit. The hotel gate guard is missing, but a solitary sacred cow in comfortable repose, its jaws moving contentedly back and forth at the chewing of the cud, has taken his place.
There’s an unimpeded view of the water from my balcony, it looks away to the south.