Monday, March 16, 2009

Peaceful Puri

Sorry to have been so slack on writing...Puri was a real holiday and I didn't nor managed to find the time to sit and do any updating on my blog. So where to begin...
I arrived in Puri on March 6 after staying one night in Delhi. My flight was delayed by 2 hours, so I arrived at half three and Martin met me at the airport. Upon arrival, the pilot announced that the temperature was 36C which was music to my ears as the airplane was beyond arctic and I was not prepared in anyway so I arrived quite frozen. The landscape reminded me so much of Kerala with the lush green landscapes, towering palm trees, and thick scented air. The airport was a tiny little airport (I landed in Bhubaneshwar) and was colourfully decorated with all sorts of Orissa handicrafts. The attitude in Orissa is also very laid back, nothing like the aggressive and desperate attitudes of the North...maybe because it is so hot that it just takes too much effort. The humidity was about 60%, so I started sweating immediately.
We stayed in a lovely hotel just off the beach front and had a lovely view of the slate grey sea. Puri is a beachside town on the Bay of Bengal that draws in a very eclectic mix of both foreign and Indian travellers. Puri is also a sacred Hindu town as it holds the holy Jagannath temple. The temple is unfortunately closed to non-Hindus but we had a good look at it from the outside. We spent an evening riding around Puri on rented bicycles which was actually quite crazy as the city of Puri was steadying itself for a holy festival in which 1 million Hindus were expected to arrive for the ceremony at the Jagannath temple then to bath in the salty sea. I had to bob and weave quite a bit through the narrow streets but it was really exciting with all the pilgrims arriving. The men here are mostly shirtless and wear a tiny little lungi wrapped around their waists. The women also wear little lungis tossed casually over one shoulder or else wear a thin sari quite often with no choli or blouse underneath so you do see flashes of bare breasts here and there. The humidity and the temperature was absolutely soaring and it made it very hard to wear many clothes. We visited the temple that sat on the beach and I did a little Shiva puja with the resident Baba (Baba Betal) who was very pleased to see me and Martin there.
I didn't spend as much time as I wanted in Puri as we spent most of the days that we weren't at the school just relaxing, and the main centre was about a 15 minute bike ride away. I wasn't really prepared to cycle into Puri on my own so I joined Martin on a few trips to the temple, and that was about all that I saw of Puri. I will definitely go back, it was one of my favorite placesto visit in India and the temples are sooo beautiful. They look slightly Mayan and stand very tall. They have brightly painted lions as guardians on the outside and everything wasjust so colourful.
The reason that Martin came to Puri was to check out this school that is set up in the jungle just outside Puri on advice from Babji Shibanada in Benaras. Martin was thinking about setting up an orphanage in Varansi but was coming up against a lot of problems. Shibanada knew a Spanish lady called Neneta who had set up a school and was looking for additional help and he told Martin to go have a look as perhaps this may be the project that Martin may want to get involved in. The school is a serious undertaking and man has it ever prospered. I will be writing a blog dedicated only to the school and my experience there so stay tuned for that.
There were afew other Spanish people that were also interested in the school: Manu and Dina from Granada, and Arthuru and Patri from the North of Spain. Arthuro was painting a beautiful mural in one of the classrooms and Patri was hanging out at the school getting to know the children and learning a few Orissa folksongs. The couples were absolutely lovely to spend time with and I got to practice quite a bit of Spanish as english was a rarity!
Manu celebrated his 40th birthday the night before Holi so we all met at the local restaurant ThePink HOuse and had a really fun fiesta for him. I drank about 5 glasses of beer (!!) so I got a bit tipsy but had so much fun. I am really glad to have made such nice new friends, and it gives me another incentive to go to Spain! We all ended up giving Manu Kama Sutra style presents under the advice of Dina, so there was much laughter as he unwrapped present after present (and some furious blushing from me aftre he unwrapped the soapstone statue that Arthuro helped me choose!).
The people in PUri are very lovely people, and were very pleased to us engaging in not only their culture but also in their religion. On the morning of the special ceremony Martin went to temple and I went to the beach to watch the bathing that followed the temple worship. Many people came to ask why I was there and offered my portions of their offerings to give to the sea. I did however have a classic Ashley moment when I was drawn in by this polio ridden woman Magla who took me back into her fishing village, was surrounded by loads of her family, drank sweet chai and was given quite possibly the worst mendhi that I have ever seen on my right hand. Of course after all this I was asked to help out Mangla financially so that she could buy medicine. I felt really angry and bothered but forked over 200 Rs/ and ran out of the village trying wipe the henna off my hands. Martin had a good laugh when he saw my face and then saw my mendhi and said thatI should never be allowed to wander off on my own again! The henna stained my hand for days and days and has stained my fingernails a garish red colour that will undoubtably have to grow out. Ahh well perhaps I will never learn my lesson!
We did visit Konark one hot day on our way to the school to see the infamous Suntemple. According to Wikipedia:
It is the site of the 13th-century Sun Temple (also known as the Black Pagoda), built in black granite by King Narasimhadeva I (AD 1236-1264) of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. The temple is a World Heritage Site. It takes the form of the chariot of Surya (Arka), the sun god, and is heavily decorated with stone carving. The entire complex was designed in the form of a huge chariot drawn by seven spirited horses on twelve pairs of exquisitely decorated wheels. The entrance is guarded by two lions, which are each shown crushing a war elephant. Each elephant in turn lies on top of a human body. The temple symbolises the majestic stride of the Sun god.
It was really incredible how intricate the carvings are and also how longthey have withstood the test of time. YOu can see some of it wearing away and much of it was under scaffolding. It was really really hot though and I felt very faint so we didn't stay that long.
Holi was celebrated in Orissa on the 12 of March but we didn't actually getout and see any of it. It turns bad quite quickly as many of the yuongboys get really drunk on cheap liquor and throw oil based paint everywhere. The streets were a rainbow of colour when we ventured out to the temple in the evening and many cows and bulls wore multicoloured skin! Holi can get really out of hand, and western women can quickly lose their clothes if they are out in the action. A bit disappointing really but it was fun to see the coloured faces in the aftarmath.
Baba Betal was really lovely at the temple and ended up giving me a beautiful wool shawl on the morning ofour departure. He really embraced us and let Martin lead the morning aarti which was quite the honour. It was very peaceful at the temple, and I hope to go back someday in the future.
Anyway I 'm off to run around Benaras a bit, so will update you later on the school.
much love...xxox

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