Saturday, October 12, 2013

Juggernaut Braces For The Storm

Five years ago I was standing on the beach in Puri, Orissa, watching the fishermen bring in their catch and being awed by the splendor of Ratha Yatra festival. I was dancing in monsoon rains and touring the Konark Sun Temple on Odisha. I was enjoying floating in the pool reading a book and eating at a local restaurant down the street from my hotel.
As a cyclone prepares to made landfall in Orissa I remember all the wonderful people I met while I was there. The rickshaw driver who took me to the Sun Temple who later on became my body guard as people crowded around me to take photos.
The nice police woman who introduced me to coconut drinks on the side of the road when I stopped to admire the beaches of Orissa's coast. We took pictures together as I sipped on my coconut.
The young man who took me to his favorite temple in Bhubaneswar while I waited for my train. He introduced me to new cuisines and accompanied me to Aarti ceremony.
I remember the wise British woman who shared a rickshaw during a monsoon down pour as well as stories of traveling and romance over tea. She loved Orissa, she returned as often as she could to bask in the peacefulness and beauty of Puri.
Puri was a whirl-wind adventure. I had not planned to visit when I arrived in India, but when I was studying my Lonely Planet guide I decided to make it a pit-stop before I headed to Chennai. 
Alone I disembarked the train. I remember the memory of the rickshaw that took me from the train station to my hotel. I had picked it in the Lonely Planet guide because it was cheap. I was happy with the accommodations, despite being stuck in the basement with a bucket for a shower I was happy that their was a pool and it was located only a short walk from the beach. 

I remember walking to the beach by-myself. I sat on the beach contemplating what to do next.  I found a small restaurant to eat near my hotel. I decided to venture off to find the huge carts they built for Ratha Yatra festival. These towering structures were not hard to find. 

Every year during the festival, locals build huge wooden monuments on massive wooden wheels. They load the statues of Jagernaught gods into the cart and thousands of people pull these carts down the long street to a separate temple. They stay there a couple days and then are pulled back home. 

This elaborate ceremony brings in many spectators despite the monsoons. Chaotic masses of people pass by the carts waiting for offerings from the gods. I thew myself into the chaos hoping to feel the energy from the crowds. That's when it began to rain. 

The monsoons are not a light rain, the monsoons feel as if someone is pouring buckets of water on your head or if you were standing under Iguazu Falls. I scrambled with the masses to find cover. Most sheltered under small tarps set up outside of shops. I found a shop near by and stood with a group under the hole-ridden awning.

I turned around to look down into the shop to see another white woman inside. Privileged I ventured into the shopping, knowing that I would have to buy to take shelter. That's where I met the lovely British woman. I don't remember her name now, but I remember we struck up conversation immediately. She was much older and well traveled. 

She suggested we weather the monsoon and find our way back to the hotel, that we both conveniently were staying at. We ran out quickly, water up to our ankles, we wadded through the streets by the massive carts looking for a rickshaw to take us home. Finally after haggling down to what I thought was still an outrageous price we jumped into one and sped back to the hotel. 

We were both soaked down to our bones when we returned. The woman was nice enough to let me use her shower in her much more luxurious room on the roof. We sat near the pool the rest of the day sharing stories over tea. 

In the morning I ventured off to the Sun Temple with a rickshaw driver. It was about 30 minutes from my hotel. When we arrived the driver escorted me around the complex. The sun temple was a massive stone carved temple. Like the carts it had massive carved stone wheels along the edges. Along the teared walls were intricately carved depictions of sex. These elaborate yet very erotic carvings showed a glimpse into the past of Indian history. 

On the way home I stopped to walk on the beach. On the way I met a nice police officer. We began talking and she immediately bought me a coconut from a vendor. She said I could not leave Puri without trying fresh coconut milk. In front of me the vendor chopped off part of the coconut and handed it to me with a straw. I thanked the nice officer and went on my way back to the hotel. 

I was sad to leave Puri, it was such a short stop in my trip around India, but the two days I was there it was packed with many memories. Now almost five years later I can still see the massive carts surrounded by chaotic crowds. I can feel the cold monsoon water pooling around my feel. I can taste the coconut milk and can hear the motherly British woman's wisdom. 

One day I might return to Puri, and I hope when I do it brings many more warm memories. 

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