Well, the summers are finally over and so are our riding blisters, thanks to the oncoming monsoons. People, we swear by our travels in Odisha that during the monsoons it is a sheer delight to venture on a road trip into the heartland. Yep! Odisha is Kerala killer on a budget. We have these marvelously beautiful hills which are just as picture perfect as Munnar and rivers like the Mahanadi flowing through a magnificent swathe of greenery. The winding roads of the state highway along with the many ODR’s and MDR’s that we take to reach our destinations coupled along with trees that provide a canopy of green on the sky is a phenomenal thing for a state which goes through a really rough patch of summer.
So, this month we recommend a very less talked about and quite interesting drive for a weekend- the Ansupa Lake and the Singhanath temple, an exact 100 kms from Bhubaneswar. The roads are driver/riders paradise offering stunning views of the Mahanadi and the low hills straddling the river. It is the onset of the monsoons folks and this road will give you that ‘Nelly Furtado- I am like a bird’, feeling at each turn. Sneaky playlist reference here.
If you are starting from Bhubaneswar then ideally you take the route from Patia to Cuttack and bank off to the left on the Barang – Puri Main Canal road which meets the Banki road at Godisahi ‘chaka.’ On a little side, note here, the Puri main canal also offers some really interesting points where one can take some lovely shots and if you are a cyclist then this is a must try route. The Puri main canal road is decent motorable road with some real twists and turns which one has to be careful though since it’s a single lane. So a strict no no to speed demons or you would be ‘sleeping with the fish.’
As one hits the Banki- Cuttack road the stretch widens up and it becomes very easy to drive since the road is quite congestion free and remains so till Ansupa lake, our first stop, on our 4 stop day trip. Ansupa lake is hardly 53 kms from Bhubaneswar and is a surprise for many. As you cross the bridge over the Mahanadi you get a feeling of how vast the Mahanadi river system is, straddled by hills which are a photographer’s delight. The lake is in a horse shoe shape and boasts of wetlands which attract many migratory birds during the winter months. The Odisha government has come up with a beautiful well looked after park right on the banks of the lake with its manicured lawns and lovely flower gardens near the shore of the lake Ansupa. The destination though has coupe-de-grace being called as Sarandagarh hill park which also boasts of a huge park and a few cottages developed and maintained by forest department which can be booked online at www.ecotourodisha.com And yes, a 12th century remnant of an ancient fortress built during the Ganga era with a few structures like a ‘Baruda Ghara,’ (Ammunition store), few wells along with a small gateway which was the entrance to the fortress. As one scours the landscape atop the tower on the Saranda hill you witness in 360 degrees the splendour of Odisha’s beauty. The Mahanadi, the mountains on the upstream of the river and the lake which looks spectacular at every moment of the day. Rarely does someone in India find all these 3 factors in one location.
Our next stop is Maniabandha village, a delight for people who are interested in the art of weaving for it is here that the famous Maniabandha sarees are made. These ‘Khandua Pata’ sarees have been fascinating people with a variety of eye catching colours and traditional motifs alongwith some imaginative designs. They have always appealed the wealthy and royalty who used to patronize the crafts. These Khandua sarees are woven with mulberry silk yarn and sometimes in combination with cotton or ‘tassar’ yarn. The fabric is also woven with calligraphy designs taken from the famous epic of ‘Gita Govinda’ written by famous poet Jaydev. These ‘Khanduas’ with calligraphy designs are reverentially offered to Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and sister Subhadra at Puri Jagannath temple as a ritual by the devotees too. ‘Khandua’ is very unique not only in construction but also for its colors, motifs and layouts woven with local soul and universal appeal. We hope that the government takes note and gets a G.I tag for this unique form of art.
As we move out of Maniabandha we finally reach our last destination the Singhanath temple. One has to take a left turn at Badamba near the hospital and proceed a good 7kms through village roads and reach the Gopinathpur village where you are in for a surprise. As one gets over a river embankment you can see a blue tourism sign stating just the words ‘Singhanath.’ As you gaze up what catches the eye is a island sitting in the middle of the Mahanadi and fair weather road leading up to it. Yes! folks, if you are on motorbike or a 4-wheel drive vehicle then you can do some dune bashing right there on the river bed. As the road snakes up to the island, the road ends just a few hundred metres off the temple ramp way. From here onwards you are on foot crossing the Mahanadi on foot or on a short boat ride depending on how much water is present.
What greets you as you step onto the island is a beautiful 12th century temple of dedicated to Lord Shiva built during the Ganga era (seems these guys have busy building all along the 12th Century) along with numerous other small shrines inside this petite temple complex. There is also a cave temple which is around 200 metres away from the main temple complex. Since the island is a rocky hill jutting out of Mahanadi with greenery all over the island premises remain quite cool and windy throughout the day. The not so tall cliff faces offer a great place for adventure junkies to do a little rock climbing too. (We hope the dudes at Odisha Tourism are reading this bit)
We also met with a few priests who told us that the temple has been a point of Shaivite and Buddhist confluence since ages and that people visit the temple on various Hindu festivals. Legend says that Lord Rama, Goddess Sita along with Lakshmana have visited this place and it is said that Lakshamana hewed the temple with his bare hands.
Nevertheless this is one 100 km road trip that offers a little of bit Odisha on every waypoint along the road. A little of adventure, a treat for the mother in law and a big dose of adventure sprinkled with a dose of Odia culture and arts. As the sunsets on the Mahanadi we return back and my travel companion a DJ and music producer by profession says ‘Bro,this place is calling out for a deep house music festival.’ Well thank god we had a blue tooth boom box with us in tow.
By Aditya Nag. Photos by Rocky