By Aditya Nag

“It’s quite cold out there even in the summer months, you know. I know these people who are working there in that area they say the weather is pretty decent throughout the year”, shared Animesh, my friend. I replied back “We should visit sometime, maybe ride down and probably have a drink to celebrate, when we get there.” Animesh snapped at once, “You think it’s absolutely necessary to have a drink each time you visit a new place?” “Well that’s not mandatory, but I am known as Captain Haddock, so we could celebrate you know.” I replied back with my typical grin and gusto. Travel in Odisha is something that is clearly underexplored. There are so many great places, waiting to be explored by travellers. One such place is the Buddhist Chandragiri Monastery at Jirang in Gajapati district.What’s more? It is the largest monastery in South Asia. Chandragiri is situated around 90 kms away from the coastal town of Berhampur. If you are approaching from Bhubaneswar, then you are in for a treat. This route is one of the most stunningly beautiful road, one can find in Odisha. Visiting Chandragiri is not a one day affair, so we at ‘Coffee Bytes’ would suggest that you take the plunge on a long weekend. Starting from the time the monsoons set in right upto February, Chandragiri has a superb climate and great sights too. With clouds literally strolling over the hills, it’s a photographers paradise. So if you are a budding film-maker

or a greenhorn photographer we are pretty sure, you would like the place. The journey from Bhubaneswar starts with a straight drive, (not in cricket parlance) early in the morning and head down to Balugoan, where at the main ‘bazaar’ one can have a sumptuous breakfast of idlli and upma, right on the road side and then go upto the ghat road just after INS Chilika. From the ghat one can have a stunning view of the largest coastal lagoon in India. A quick ten minute stop there and then you head down towards Berhampur. As you exit the ghats the roads widen up again and it is advisable to avoid the Berhmapur traffic, head towards Digapahandi and then onwards to Taptapani. Yes, as the name suggests ‘Taptapani’ is a hot water spring which is located on a hill range near Digapahandi and from here onwards driving becomes a little slower but even more beautiful because of the winding ghat roads that eventually lead to Chandragiri.

You could make a stop over there and dip your feet in the warm sulphur rich water and also visit the temple adjoining it. The hot spring water is known to cure a wide range of skin ailments. You can then take your lunch at the Panthanivas, just across the road at Taptapani. The next stop over is Mohana, a town saddled between the hills of the Eastern Ghats. A frontier town, abuzz because of a lot of reasons ranging from Mining to the presence of Maoists. While I have never felt anything different, you should not get startled if you see the odd red flag. Finally we arrive at ‘the land of happiness and plenty’, Chandragiri. It was settled back in the early 60’s by Tibetan refugees fleeing the Chinese occupation. Under a massive endeavour to settle the Tibetan diaspora in India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru helped these people find a second home. The huge influx of mostly nomadic people of Tibet were quickly relocated and settled in camps all across India. Keeping in mind their mountainous origin and lifestyle Nehru’s administration along with that of the State slowly and steadily resettled these people into farming communities. These industrious people made Odisha their second home which in turn transformed this land around Chandragiri into a beautiful menagerie of green step farmed hills, surrounded by lush green forests. Acres and acres of farms growing many kinds of vegetables, even corn fields. So next time when you are buying those American baby corns give a thought to those farmers in Chandragiri. Along with the Tibetan people, came their culture. The Tibetan form of Buddhism, an ancient Tantric representation of Gods through a unique form of art found nowhere except in Tibet. Even after so many years in India the Tibetan people have managed to retain the intricacies of their religion and culture to a great extent. Apart from agriculture the people are also engaged in carpet weaving and handicrafts.The carpets produced at Chandragiri are exported to many European countries. I bet, most of you didn’t know that! Chandragiri is not just famous for its monastery at Jirang. We suggest you find the time and go out on a lonely trail that takes you around Jirang, where one can find a few more ‘Gompas’ and small monasteries. One such Gompa which along with the Jirang monastery, is dedicated to ‘Padmasambhava’ or Guru Rinpoche, the 8th century Buddhist teacher who built the first monastery in Tibet. Tibetan refugees are not only conscious of the physical and economic condition but equally aware of protecting, preserving their own culture, tradition, and religion. Besides celebrating Independence Day, Republic Day and other Indian religious festivals, the refugees celebrate the Tibetan New Year(February 10th), the birth anniversary of Dalai Lama, Tibetan National Uprising Day and Tibetan Democracy Day.oarding could be an issue at Chandragiri, but one can put up at the Jirang monastery, where you can attend the morning prayers. The monastery is neatly laid out. It comprises of the main building that houses the monastery and around it, on both ends of the huge courtyard, is the hostel complex. Prior permission is required for clicking photographs at the monastery but one should be a little cautious when taking images of the monks and students as they are very shy and usually keep to themselves. Chandragiri is a world away from the din and noise of the city. It appears as if a portion of Tibet has somehow been air-dropped in Odisha and it has flourished and nurtured into something so beautiful and syncretic. Odisha and Tibet have an ancient bond and Chandragiri is testimony to it. What’s more? There is also a small waterfall near the monastery which must be a sight this monsoon. So, start packing….will ya?

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