Made in Sheffield

If you have an appetite to trek hills and being called ‘love’ and ‘fam’ (short for family) warms you heart then Sheffield is the place to be. Globally referred to as the ‘City of Steel’ for producing the best quality steel, Sheffield owes its name to River Sheaf.

Sheffield’s gothic buildings showcase the British architecture at its best. And if you get bored despite of everything the city has to offer then I suggest you have Henderson’s Relish with fish and chips to spice it up for you.

I have learnt and gained so much from this city and the people I have met here. I started my journey with being homesick but then I struck the right chords and all of a sudden, everyday was an adventure. I was a student at #Sheffield Hallam University and let’s just say it was a great 2015/2016. Now I am at a stage where my heart is going through a rollercoaster of emotions as I realise that Sheffield is home too.

It will be etched in my memory because I achieved some great things, failed at some, loved a boy, had some great teachers and above all, witnessed the first snow of my life.

I have compiled some of my favourite moments and places here –

First Snow

Like many kids, I too have yearned to witness a snowfall and make snowman out of it. While there wasn’t enough snow to build a snowman, I took it upon myself to fulfill that dream. I was outside my house the entire time it snowed and it remains one of my most beautiful memory.

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Sheffield Hallam University

One of the finest modern university in UK, it is also one of the most friendliest. I have had some great moments and met some great people here. There have been ups and downs but everything was worth it. It helped me mould into a more confident and hard working individual and literally inflated my mind with wonderful things.

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Crucible

The iconic Crucible Theatre or “The Crucible” is a theatre built in 1971 and is situated in the city centre of Sheffield. It hosts the most prestigious event in professional snooker, the World Championship. Being a sportsperson, this was one of my favourite place to go. I was fortunate enough to cover the World Championship in 2016.

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Graves Park

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Norfolk Park

I was, am and will always remain in love with this place. In my head, I feel like I was dating this place because I would run here to clear my mind and would just lie down, run across, sit and stare at the endless sky and the hills . I have seen the leaves turn from brown to green to yellow. It will rejuvenate your mind and soul. Very inspiring!

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Victoria Quay

My second most favourite place. I would alternate my runs between Norfolk park and Victoria Quay. I used to sit here eating fish and chips and also, fed the ducks. I have had interesting conversations with boat owners who lived here as well. The serene environment energizes you. Perfect place for an evening walk.

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Peace Garden

Everyone loves Peace Garden. From kids to grandmothers. Its a treat to the eyes on a sunny day with amazing fountains to soak yourselves in. In the background of this picture is Sheffield’s Gothic town hall.

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Sports 

I chose Sheffield because I knew it was one of UK’s most sportiest city. Of course, there is always Jessica Ennis Hill (Olympic Gold Medalist) to be in love with.  The football club culture began in Sheffield as the world’s oldest football club is situated here. Sheffield has two major football clubs namely – Sheffield United Football Club and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club.  Fortunately, I got the opportunity to work with both the clubs.

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City Center and Food

My happy, shopping place. It has everything from high street brands to great food.

 

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Sheffield has given me a lifetime experience of both good and bad and will always remain an integral part of me. I had the choice to live in London but I stayed put in Sheffield. The slogan of the city is”Deo Adjuvante Labor Proficit” (English : “With God’s help our labour is successful”) and that’s exactly what the city has taught me – to work hard to achieve my dreams.

 

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Postcards from a Road Trip in Odisha featuring Chilika Lake, Behrampuri Silk and Monks of Jirang Monastery!

At the outset, I would like to mention that I understand we are living in unprecedented times due to an ongoing global pandemic situation ( COVID-19 virus) because of which the hospitality industry has taken a brutal hit. However, a life lived in fear and without traveling isn’t worth living and sooner or later we shall overcome this. Government’s will lay down uniform SOP’s for the hospitality industry to start functioning. Odisha will soon be easing down on the travel ban and therefore, I hope to spark in you the urge to travel again because in the current scenario, many stakeholders from the tourism industry are dependent on us and ‘Staycations’ will serve as the most immediate demand.

I believe that we don’t have to travel far for a break and a change of scene – by supporting local businesses and local economies in a sensible and phased approach, we can start to help them with the rebuilding process of the tourism realm when the time is right.

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The more you traverse through Odisha, you will realize why Odisha Tourism’s tagline affirms it as “India’s best kept secret”. From iconic temples to architectural wonders, from tiny art settlements to vibrant water bodies Odisha cocoon all that a curious and adventurous traveler could ask for. If you drive the state’s entire coastline, you’ll get the best of both worlds – sunny beach life and the breezy forests.

Just before the nationwide lockdown due to Coronavirus, I had embarked on a three day ‘solo turned into soul’ roadtrip to my favourite ‘Travel Triangle’ in the state i.e. Chilika, Gopalpur/Behrampur and Jirang Monastery.

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Day 1 – The first layover for me was the Rambha side of Chilika in Ganjam district of Odisha which is a major cultural and economic hub. Just a couple of hours away from Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, Chilika Lake is Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon, spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Odisha. The landscape of Chilika offers the ultimate escape and is a destination where you can discover genuine solitude.

I decided to check-in at the Rambha Panthnivas ( Government owned hotel chain) whose cottage offers the most stunning scenery of the Chilika lake. The price of the cottage is quite reasonable considering its location and the food (especially sea-food) is worth a try too.

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Cottage at Panthnivas

Evening brings extravagant views of the lake with migrant birds scattered all along its shoreline and silhouetted figures of fisherman drawing their nets for fresh catch. It indeed is the perfect time to hitch a boat trip to ride into the waters and travel to the Breakfast Island inside the lake. The Breakfast Island is a small monument with just a room surrounded by water and I like to call it as my “Serenity Spot”.

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Sunset at Chilika Lake

According to history, the Breakfast Island or ‘Beacon Point’ was built by “Thomas Snodgrass” in 1791 and was used for discreet meetings and as his fishing spot.

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No one knows Chilika waters better than locals and I made a new friend in my boatman plus guide Mr. Maheswar Behera. I could see the twinkle in his eyes as he explained to me about life on the island for the communities currently settled there. Chilika Lake is also an archipelago and many people reside on isolated islands. Their only way out of the water in via boats.  Chilika community is globally known for being self-reliant. In case, you decide to travel on this itinerary,  which you must, you should definitely give Mr. Behera a shoutout and seek his seamless assistance. He can be reached on +919937471522

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Boatman and Guide – Mr. Maheswar Behera

DAY 2

Situated only an hour away from Rambha, is the vibrant yet laidback hamlet called  ‘Gopalpur’. Once you get rolling to the beach vibes of the place and the delicious road side treats like ‘fried crabs and fishes’ , you’ll never want to leave the city’s ocean view behind.

The ideal thing to do at the beach is unwind and gaze at the horizon. Luckily, the beach has just about the right numbers of tourists which helps you to maintain the distance and enjoy the panoramic view. Also, if you have some beachside cravings, you can further indulge into some freshly made ‘Bhel’ ( puffed rice with onions and spices). My advice to the swimmers and surfers is to take advice from the lifeguards deployed and only then venture out into the sea.

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Fisherwoman walking by the beach in the morning

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DAY 3

Ganjam’s capital Behrampur ( 30 minutes from Gopalpur) is well known for its ‘Behrampuri Silk ‘ and that was the focus of my travel inland.  The Berhampuri silk saree is unique due to its typical Odissi style of weaving and kumbha, particularly phoda, temple type design. The zari work border design is different from others. The weaving technique is said to have originated over 200 years ago. The finely woven sarees were known to be exported to southeast Asian and other countries through the Gopalpur port in the days of yore. The sarees also adorn the deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra at the Jagannath temple in Puri.

I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to visit several artisan’s house and see/learn part of the process of creating a ‘Behrampuri silk saree’ which at the outset I must admit is both strenuous and tedious. Local families have been involved in the making of Behrampuri silk since eons and they pass on the skills to their kids as young as 8 year old. It takes around 15 days for them to create one single saree which is valued at starting from Rs. 15K in the market. If you wish to explore buying authentic ‘Behrampuri Silk sarees’ , you may get in touch with Mr. Bheemraj , President of the Silk Society in Behrampur.

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Artisan at work

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The final part of my trip was the visit to the peaceful Jirang Monastery also known as the ‘Tibet of Odisha’. Its usual compliment of visitors is an eclectic mix of international visitors and those seeking a chill, calm vibe. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to step inside the temple as it was closed for a week long ‘World Peace’ prayer session where hundreds of devotees participated. Regardless, the chants of the prayers were quite soothing and the beautiful garden opposite the temple provided for a good space to just sit and absorb the positive energy of the place.

The Tibetan refugees who stay at Jiranga or which is also popularly known as Chandragiri call this place as Phuntsokling, which in Tibetan translates to -“Land of Happiness and Plenty”. Accord for the monastery was given by the Dalai Lama in 1998.

 

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Built in the magnificent Atanpuri style of architecture of Nalanda by architects from Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan assisted by local masons. It is 70 feet,  five stories high, and is built on 10 acres of land surrounded by lush forests. It features a 23 feet  high Buddha statue and a 17 feet  Buddha Padmasambhava.

Around 200 monks are resident in the monastery, which is named after Acharya Padmasambhava (who was born in Oddiyana), who is believed to have spread Buddhism to Tibet in the 7th Century. This is a school for Tibetan studies and there are students staying and reading different courses here. The five-storey monastery has a huge meditation shrine hall and other small temples, institute and hostels inside the well spread-out complex. There is an old temple located at left side of main entrance of the temple.

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The monks are quite friendly and have a strict routine of waking up at 4am for their prayers and daily chores and devoting most of their time learning Buddhist values. However, its not just all work and prayer for them as they also play football on weekends. The spiked shoes kept outside their rooms gave that away and later my conversation with the caretaker of monastery Khenpo Pema confirmed the same.

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The main source of income for the Tibetan community living around the monastery is agriculture and this is ( below pic) how they store their maize.

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When to Travel : With the ongoing situation, keep checking for SOP’s laid down by Odisha Tourism – https://odishatourism.gov.in/ . Weather wise, summers and winters are advisable as during monsoon its not safe to venture into water bodies.

Where to Stay – Odisha Tourism has prime properties situated in prime locations and at reasonable prices ( starting from Rs. 3,500 per day) . Log on to – https://www.panthanivas.com/

How to Travel : My advice would be to use your own vehicle but if not, you can hire via OTDC. Log on to https://odishatourism.gov.in/content/tourism/en/plan/food-accommodation/otdc.html

 

P.S. We can still travel maintaining the ‘social distance’ norms and being cautious and careful 

Swosti Chilika Resort – The éclat of a luxury weekend stay

Swosti Chilika Resort (www.swostihotels.com/swosti-chilika-resort) is an experiential luxury traveller’s dream and a nature lover’s paradise. Its a haven for stressed and burnt-out guests, who are drawn to the cool breeze from the Chilika lake gushing through the resort. Chilika lake is Asia’s largest brackish water lake and is also the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent. Its always good to be by nature’s side on a weekend if you are in Odisha.

Situated an hour and a half away from Odisha’s capital city of Bhubaneswar, the  subtle decor and the pastel shades of the buildings reflects a contemporary vibe which is quite refreshing. A private resort, with a gateway to Chilika Lake, it provides every facet of a five-star getaway. In contrast to its rugged coastal landscape, the resort is sleek and ultramodern with lush greenery.

 

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I checked into my room at the very spacious Quad Villas, the Windchimes. Close your eyes and you’ll hear the winds from the Chilika Lake outside your window. Open them, and you’ll see the rustic-chic indulgence of the room.  Rich woods, chic furniture and some Spring-like flowery designs on the cushions and bed cover makes for quite a luxurious setting.

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I then headed to eat as a special dinner awaited me at the Orana restaurant.  It offers the spark into this idyllic resort, complete with a thoughtful, local produce-driven menu but also has international culinary options. The glorious Crab fry and grilled fish (both procured from the lake) is what I opted for to satiate my palate.

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Early morning, I woke up and made my way to the jetty to soak in the virgin air and the breathtaking scenery. Even in the non-migrating season, one can spot an array of birds in the lake. ( P.S. The boat ride in the lake is only available in the morning due to unpredictable weather during evenings). If you have enough time, you can also hitch a boat ride to the Kalijai temple which is located on an island.

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One of the best thing you can do at the Swosti Chilika Resort is to spoil yourself a bit at their Ekkaya- the Spa which is one of its kinds and will truly make you go spa-aah. I got the royal Ayurvedic  treatment which had oiled dripping over my forehead to soothe and relax my nerves  . Indulgent travellers could easily craft a full itinerary around day spas, and find themselves floating from oiled-up acupressure massage to flower petal baths and mani-pedis. A dip inside their small Jacuzzi kind pool will be worth it to finish it off.

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It was time for some wine. Its on very rare occasions that I drink wine ( I don’t drink any other alcohol FYI). The Harbour- the bar has to be Odisha’s most chic bar I have seen and I would like to believe I have seen most bars. The relaxed and genteel atmosphere of the bar with some Jazz playing in the afternoon is quite soothing. Never expected a bar near Chilika lake playing Jazz but well. For a solitary kind like me, sipping on wine while reading a literary classic – Anna Karenina is pure bliss and a perfect definition of a Sunday evening. I signed off my evening with the Chef’s signature Grilled fish.

A befitting quote from the book for the moment : “If you love me, as you say,” she whispered, “do so that I may be at peace.”

I was more like in Zen -mode

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I kickstarted my morning with a healthy Indian breakfast as cool, fresh breeze pampered my face. I packed myself some delicious Apple Pie for the way back from their cute little cafe – The Bean Hive. My favourite place to hang out at the premises after the bar. If you do plan to visit this lovely resort, make sure to say hello to the General Manager Mr. Jagannath Mohanty who is a delight to speak with. The staff of the resort if quite warm and friendly and readily available at your service.

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How to Reach :

  • Book a cab from Bhubaneswar ( You can book via OTDC https://www.otdc.in/vehicles.htm)
  • If you reach Behrampur by train, then can book a cab from there as well.

 Local things to explore :

  • Kalijai Temple
  • Gopalpur-on-sea is just an hour’s drive from the resort
  • The Silk town of Behrampur which is 45 minutes form the resort is good to shop some silk sarees to take back as souvenirs.

What’s Special about the resort: Location, hospitality , Spa and Sea-food. Basically everything.

Tariff: They have different packages available starting from For 2 Nights/3 Days :- Rs.14999+ Taxes .

 

KORAPUT – A Cornucopia of Majestic Hills & Waterfalls, Culture And Aromatic Coffee!!

Koraput is in true sense, love at first sight. It has many treasures crammed into its compact territory – big skies, majestic hills, spectacular wildlife, superb organic food and hospitable, down-to-earth people. It is for those who have adventure in their hearts.

According to Mr. R.C.S.Bell who was the first collector of Koraput district, the town gets its name from ‘Kora-Putti’ or “the hamlet of the nux-vomica” and it is derived presumably from a tree or trees that must at one time have been prominent near the site. However, currently one can’t spot any nux-vomica which means that Mr. Bell’s theory is up for debate.

Nestled between the Eastern Ghats and some breathtaking scenery, Koraput has some of the major rivers of Odisha pass through it namely Machhakunda, Vamsadhara and Kolab. The district is primarily dominated by the indigenous or Tribal communities.

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KOLAB DAM

On my first day, I visited the picturesque Kolab Dam which generates Hydro Electric Power sitting at an altitude of about 914.4 m (3,000 ft) above sea level on river Kolab, a tributary of Godavari river. The tranquil setting only adds magic to the fairy tale experience.

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The botanical garden called Kolab Park built near the dam is well maintained and very Greek-looking. It boasts of around 200 varieties of flowering plants which further adds to the surrounding’s magical mystique. It is quite a popular spot for everyone to hangout with their families.

 

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KOLAB RESERVOIR

Located less than 20 minutes from the dam is Kolab Reservoir which is a slice of pristine wilderness and is wholly accessible. It’s an easy and refreshing destination for a mini-break. On a clear day, one can see the cloud’s reflection in the water with the greenery around and the lonely roads making for a perfect country side view.  Sitting here, soaking in the clean air and the view of the clear water with not a single soul around, time seems to stand still. The route is very well signposted, with well-maintained paths and tracks throughout.

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RATHIBALI WATERFALLS

The agenda on Day 2 was to see the Rathibali waterfall and climb up Odisha’s highest peak – Deomali. My first stop was at the pristine Rathibali waterfall gleaming in sunshine. The watchtower constructed by Odisha Tourism makes for a good spot to sit and enjoy the epic rumble of this waterfall which is incredibly relaxing. The soothing ambiance of nature white noise is just what I needed to calm and rejuvenate myself.

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ODISHA’S HIGHEST PEAK – DEOMALI

Next up for me were the Deomali hills. A two hour drive from the main Koraput city, I felt like we were going through the clouds. This hill range is rich in mineral resources such as bauxite, limestone and gemstones and the hills are dotted with brooks and deep valleys, and inhabited by tribes such Kandhas, Parajas, Bhumia, Malis and Bhotias. Also, don’t forget to always carry some sweets as you will encounter lovely kids working in the hills with their parents. I made a pit stop to spend sometime with them as well and it was heartening to know that they all are pursuing education in nearby government schools.

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The view of the valley from the peak of Deomali is the quintessential Odisha’s surreal magnificent beauty experience one can get. I watched the sunset spread its orange and pink hue over the valley at dusk with the birds chirping as the background music.

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JEYPORE KING’S PALACE

On Day 3, I stopped by the city of Jeypore to visit Jepore King’s Palace. The palace, built by King Rama Krushna Deb, is the pride of the town and its main gate, a centre of attraction. Unfortunately, the main entrance of the palace collapsed in 2013 as the royal family was unable to maintain the structure properly. But one can still visit the site to see the backside of the palace.

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GUPTESHWAR LIMESTONE CAVES

We then made our way towards Gupteshwar Caves. The limestone caves are dedicated to Lord Shiva as there is a lingam inside the caves. According to mythology, the lingam was first discovered by Lord Rama when he was roaming in the then Dandakaranya forest with wife Sita and brother Laxman, and later worshipped it calling it “Gupteswar”. The poet Kalidas too, described the scenic beauty of Ramgiri forest where the cave temple is referred to in his famous Meghadutam.

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The place is quite popular among the people of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. Around 15 years ago, tigers used to inhabit around the caves but not anymore, sadly. After seeking blessings from Lord Shiva, I explored other caves behind the Gupteshwar caves. Surrounded by Sal and Champak trees, the scenic beauty of the place is unparalleled. Also, you can buy some of the world’s most delicious mangoes here at dirt cheap price. And if you have a sweet tooth like me, then you can further indulge into locally made Aam Papad or mango candy and some refreshing curd. Trust me, post the climb to the caves, you will need both.

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I was gifted these Lotus flowers by a local kid in exchange for Hide &Seek biscuits. Good barter I suppose.

RANI DUDUMA WATERFALLS

I believe I can’t get enough of waterfalls and fair enough, since I am in the hub of nature. So another  go to place was Rani Duduma waterfalls which literally means Queen Fall. The way to the waterfalls offers a tantalizing taste of the unique green wilderness of the Eastern Ghats. The second layer is the safest to sit around and enjoy of this three tier waterfall. There is a not-so-defined way up to the first tier through the forest but I would advice one against it as its quite dangerous. A park by Odisha Tourism is coming up soon and it promises to be a delight for tourists as the view the spot offers is quite serene and peaceful.

DESIA ECO-RESORT

I decided to venture a bit far from Koraput and checked into an Eco-resort called Desia (http://www.desiakoraput.com/).  A perfect getaway into nature is what Desia is. My cultural sojourn of Koraput would have been incomplete without some warm Tribal hospitality and bike riding in the hills. The ecotourism facility is equipped with modern amenities and spacious rooms decorated with local handicrafts and traditional tribal motifs based on sustainable means.

Local artists, with help and guidance from artists from Shantiniketan, have designed the entire set-up. There might be times when there is no electricity here as the power is run on solar panels but infinite network of constellations sparkling in the sky light up the entire hamlet and its magical. Its one those things which I was unable to capture in my camera and would highly recommend all to go and experience it first hand.  Also, don’t forget to order their finger licking local delicacy – ‘Bamboo mutton’ . If you are an experimental person like me, you can go a step ahead and sample the local drink called Shalabh which when fermented turns into alcohol. A bonfire with barbeque chicken and locals performing Dhemsa (traditional folk dance of tribal people of central India-Southern Odisha) made for a perfect evening.

Moreover, the facility is also empowering women by providing them with opportunities to sell their local products like handmade turmeric and chilly powder and some antique pieces made out of coconut shells.

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The Cottage where I stayed

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My simple, organic lunch ( Spinach, Chicken, Sambhar, Sesame Poppadums, Rice and Salad) with an extra dose of love and care by its makers

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With the Lovely ladies of Desia

DUDUMA WATERFALLS

Just 15 minutes away from Desia, nestled among the hills is the spellbinding Duduma Waterfalls. The horsetail waterfall is 175 metres (574 ft) in height and is formed by the Machhkund river.A place I can spend hours just being enchanted by how beautiful mother nature is. These spectacular sights may be beautiful, but like all fairy tale settings, there is danger lurking around every corner. One must be careful when going towards the main waterfall as the roads aren’t well defined. Only my encyclopedic local guide Mr. Niranjan Tripathy (9937712040) and Odisha Tourism statistician Mr. Bhuddhadeb ( 9937773507) could lead me safe and sound to the mouth of the Duduma fall.

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                                                        At the Duduma waterfalls

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At the Macchkund Resrvoir

ONUKADELLI MARKET

Now comes the most exciting part of my visit to Koraput – the weekly (Thursday)  Onukadelli Market of the indigenous  people. The most prominent tribes you get to see here are the Bonda and the Gadaba tribes. The Bondas continue to speak in their language, Remo, which comes under the Austroasiatic language belonging to the Mundari group. Bonda women are a sight to behold. They appear to be both bold and fragile at the same time.

They have their heads shaved and adorned with two types of headbands, called turuba and lobeda. The turuba is made of grass and the lobeda made of beads. Worn together the turuba secures the lobeda by preventing the beaded headband from slipping off the woman’s head.

Bonda women wear metal bands adorning their necks, which are called khagla and are made from aluminum. Including the bands around their neck, necklaces made of beads are also worn, these are called Mali. Due to the culture surrounding their ringa cloth which covers the waist down, the khagla and Mali act as a sort of clothing for the upper body of the women.

Both men and women of the tribe wear earrings called limbi made of brass, and rings on their fingers called orti made of aluminum. For bachelors or newly married men, it is customary to wear their own set of ornaments. Beginning at the ages of eight or nine, males will adorn their bodies with headbands called ornaghboh, bangles named sungrai, necklaces named thangimali, earrings named unsurul, and rings called sanbah. Once married, men typically do not continue to adorn their bodies with more ornaments.

The market sells local produce like vegetables, clothes, drinks among other things. I bought a bead necklace for Rs. 200 and a pair of earrings for Rs. 200 as well. There is some scope of bargaining but considering that this is their only source of income, its best we splurge some money buying from them rather than high-end shops.

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Gadaba women wearing metal band around her neck which is sustained with a metal belt at the back.

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To do and Not to do at the Onukadelli Market

  • Its always best to go with a guide to the market. At Onukadelli Market, you will always find Mohd. Chotte who is an excellent guide. His contact number is 09438376098 and he charges around 500 Rs. and its worth it.
  • Always politely request the Bonda/Gadba tribals if you want to click their pictures. Also, they charge for the same. So you need to carry enough change to give them every time you click them.
  • Best is to carry a shopping bag (jute bag and NOT PLASTIC) from your end.

KORAPUT COFFEE

On my last day in Koraput, I decided to explore the coffee estate of Koraput. The very kind and knowledgeable Mr. AK Raut who is officer in charge of the Coffee board gave me a quick tour around the estate, enlightening me about the process of coffee plantation and black pepper as well. I believe the best part was Mr. Raut, inviting us to his house to drink the coffee procured from the estate. I am a coffee-holic and that aroma made me go like – don’t need no Starbucks here.

 

I believe every time one travels, something changes – actually a lot of changes occurs in ones personality, perspective and potential. I was never acquainted with the Indigenous way of life, which is all about sustainability and taking care one’s surroundings. It has taught me to be more responsible and aware of the nature. The trip for me was all  about chasing rainbows, running into sunsets, watching butterflies flutter around, looking at the sky awestruck as infinite stars sparkled and the fresh air hitting my face and soothing my nerves as I drove past the Eucalyptus trees on a bicycle.

Oh and you will hardly find any network or WiFi connections in most places but I can guarantee, that you will be most connected with yourself here. The place is quite safe to travel around but like with any place, one must be careful.

Where to Stay in Koraput 

  • Hotel Alishan
  • Desia Eco- Resort
  • Chadoori Sai Resort

How to Reach Koraput 

  • From Bhubaneswar ( by Train) – Hirakund Express or By car – 12 hour drive
  • From Vishakhapatnam by Train or Taxi

To travel around the Koraput district, you will need to hire a cab. You can contact –

Grace Tours & Travels ( Govt. of Odisha approved) – 9437102653

When to Visit Koraput

June/July and November- Feb is the best time to visit Koraput.

Hope you visit Koraput soon.

With love,

Taruka

William Dalrymple: “I adored my time in Odisha and was bowled over by the richness of its history”

It was a great pleasure and an enlightening experience to tail William Dalrymple on his ‘Temple Trail’ for Odisha Tourism. William, if you don’t already know, is the author of nine books about India and the Islamic world, including City of Djinns (Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Prize), White Mughals (Wolfson Prize for History and SAC Scottish Book of the Year Prize), The Last Mughal (Duff Cooper Prize and Vodafone Award for Non-Fiction) and Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (Asia House Literary Award).

He writes regularly for the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and the Guardian, and is one of the founders and a co-director of the Jaipur Literary Festival. On the final day of our journey, I did a quick rendezvous with him

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William during his Book Reading session organised by Prelude, Bakul Foundation and IBI

Describe your Odisha experience.

I have had a very good trip and I am thankful to Odisha Tourism and Mr. Vishal K. Dev, Secretary tourism for inviting me over.  This is my third trip to Odisha and each one has been lovely. I adored my time in Odisha and was bowled over by the richness of its history, the spectacular sculptures on the temples and perhaps especially the astonishing new Buddhist remains which have been uncovered in the last twenty years. Yet Odisha remains little visited compared to many other far less beautiful and fascinating states. Their loss… I’m coming straight back with my family next winter. I saw Chausathi Yogini temple, Kala Bhoomi museum, Ekamra Kshetra, Konark, State Museum, Chandrabagha beach within a span of four days and intend to explore more next time.

 What would be your pitch to people to come to Odisha?

If you have been tired of people on the beaches of Goa and had to cue up for food in any other place, Odisha has miles and miles of virgin beaches, some of the world’s most beautiful temples and some great food. Delicious sea food, Red snapper cooked in a clay oven tastes amazing.

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             William at the Bhaskareswar temple

Tell us about your most intriguing experience here in Odisha.

I was quite intrigued by the Buddhist trail. I knew a lot about the Hindu temples in Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark. The diamond triangle of Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udaygiri was amazing and Lalitgiri has one of the best museums in India with a lot of extraordinary sculptures and beautifully lit.

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    William meditating at Lalitgiri

Your favourite Odia cuisine?

Seafood is amazing in Odisha. I loved Prawns and Red Snapper (quite clear in the pic below)

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The British-isque, idyllic town of Gopalpur-on-sea!

One of  India’s finest beach destination Gopalpur-on-Sea is not just , serene, blue and breathtaking but it will give you very European destination like feels. 15 kms from the city of Behrampur, Gopalpur was once an important East India Company port. The British put the suffix ‘on sea’, similar to the names of little English fishing villages like Middleton-on-sea, Frankton-on-sea, Southend-on-sea among others.

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Gopalpur reminds me a lot of Whitby (another coastal town in the United Kingdom). Probably because Gopalpur has a lot of British influence in the form of various EIC warehouses which are now lying in ruins. The dilapidated architectures are splashed with art as a result of PAGo or Public Art in Gopalpur which was initiated in 2017 to present the beach town not just as a holiday destination but also an eco-retreat spot.

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The Kalinga Dynasty shipped exotic pearls and valuable silk to Java and Sumatra regions from the Gopalpur port. The East India Company used the port to trade rice with Burma and store them in the large godowns that they built in the port. The British also sent the people of the region to work in the tea estates in Assam. The beach derives its name from the Krishna temple that was built in the 18th century in Gopalpur. However, post the second World War when trade with Burma stopped, Gopalpur’s importance was lost for the British.

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East India Company Warehouse

Any beach town is best explored on foot and Gopalpur is no different. Very close to where I was staying that is Mayfair hotel, is the lighthouse. I kept walking further East and came across many Dutch houses. No wonder Gopalpur finds a place in Satyajit Ray’s story of Prof. Hiji-bij-bij. It indeed is a fascinating place.

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Also, I got really really lucky to spot some Olive Ridley Turtles on the beachside towards further East. Just so you know –  Odisha’s coast has the world’s largest known rookery of Olive Ridley sea turtle and this is the peak time for their mass nesting.

You know what’s the best thing you could do when you spot them? Leave them alone! Like honestly. So I quickly took Mrs. Ridley’s permission to capture a picture and went my way towards the west in search of food.

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The roadside shops offer variety of beads, bracelets, earrings and home decor stuff made from sea shell. And a variety of sea-food to satisfy your palet. For me, Fish fry does the trick. If Whitby is Fish and Chips, then Gopalpur for me is Fish Fry and Prawn Rice.

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But hold on, there is more. There is a very European style cafe called the ‘Cornerstone Cafe’ which is situated inside Motel Mermaid, serves the best French Vanilla Latte in the entire Odisha. I say it with full confidence and experience. And Maya’s (owner of the cafe) Banana and chocolate cake is to die for. After my walks on the beach, this is my place to go to. I love her four dogs as well.

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I shall now leave with you some more pictures of the town.

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How to Reach : 

Where to Stay:

  • Panthnivas – Their cottages are clean and centrally located. The beach is two minutes walk from there ( you can book via https://www.panthanivas.com/ )
  • Motel Mermaid – Situated right in front of the beach and East India Company Warehouse, I love the hospitality here. Its like being at home. You can book your stay here via TripAdvisor. The tariff is quite reasonable.
  • Mayfair Palm Beach Resort- If you have money to splurge then this is the place to go. It is a 3-minute walk from the Gopalpur Lighthouse. Rooms start from 10k onwards.
  • Swosti Resort – Another luxury stay situated right next to Mayfair.

National Chilika Bird Festival : A Flying Event to promote Ecotourism in Odisha

The 2nd National Chilika Bird Festival jointly organised by Odisha Tourism and Odisha Forest and Environment Department was a flying and colourful event. The event which saw the participation of around 145 participants from all over the country was spread over two days. Two absolutely Fun Days!!

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Chilika Lake is the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl found anywhere on Indian sub-continent. It is one of hotspot of biodiversity in country and some rare, vulnerable and endangered species listed in IUCN Red List of threatened Animals.

On Day 1, we all got a chance to do some bird watching at Mangalajodi, Chilika. We were welcomed in the serene lake by lakhs of migratory birds.  The most exciting part of the festival was perhaps day 2 when the birders got an opportunity to visit Nalbana Bird Sanctuary which is generally closed for the tourists.

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In an hour ride on the boat from Barkul to Nalbana, we had the pleasure to watch  Irrawaddy Dolphins hovering around our boats. At Nalaban, the silhouette of groups of Flammingoes was a sight to behold as the repertoire of calls of the seagulls filled the Island air.Meanwhile, one could see the purple moorhen and herons dancing into the sunset.

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It was indeed a delight for everyone as the bird population in Chilika, Asia’s has increased this year by over 1.55 lakh when compared to last winter as per the forest department. The birders also got a chance to listen to B. Sivananinthaperumal, Deputy Director of Bombay Natural History Science and Tuhinansu Kar, Wildlife Researcher about the importance of preservation of birds and wildlife. The important role of local communities was discussed as well. Chilika Development Authority also released its book ‘Fish and Shellfish Diversity and it’s Sustainable Management in Chilika Lake.’

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Vishal K. Dev, Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Odisha Tourism enlightened everyone about how the state is pushing itself as one of the hotspots for Ecotourism in India. He added: “We want to raise awareness about the preservation of birds in our state and invite ornithologists and wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world to experience the diversity we have. Such events are a great way to exchange knowledge and spread the word.”

Andrew Sebastian, founder of the Asian Birds Fair said: “This is a very impressive event. One of the most beautiful venues that is the Chilika Lake I have ever visited. The fact that this year it received a record footfall of migratory birds reflects the effort being put in by the Forest department and Odisha Tourism.”

Krishna Beura, Bollywood singer and photographer was delighted to be part of the National Chilika Bird Festival. He said: “I am very proud to be part of this event and happy that such kind of event is happening in my state.

“It’s a great step by Odisha Tourism to promote the thrilling beauty of our state. I think it’s about time that the world knows the tourism potential of the state  and I am glad we are headed in the right direction when it comes to marketing and advertising the same.  I had the opportunity to visit Nalaban Bird Sanctuary with the other delegates and got some great shots of Flammingoes.”

An evening at the World’s Biggest Open Air Theater Drama: Dhanu Yatra

The laid back town of Bargarh ( 1 hour from Sambalpur district in Odisha) becomes vibrant and full of life during Dhanu Yatra, the festival which takes place at the world’s biggest open air theater (Yup, its in the Guinness World of Record)

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During the 11 days of festivities, the main municipality area turns into the historical town of Mathura Nagari, river Jeera turns into Yamuna, Ambapaali village (now a ward – part of Bargarh municipality) becomes Gopapura. A Pond by the side of Jeera river in Ambapali becomes the Kalindi Lake of the mythology.

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The vibe of the city is quite cheerful and on the way from Sambalpur to Bargarh, I saw many people dressed as different characters of Lord Krishna Puran (mythological story). The colourful ensembles of the characters with intricate work was quite magnificent as well. The decor was majestic as well!

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The entire town has to obey the commands of Kansa. Kansa can summon anyone from the collector of the district to the CM of the state.

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This year, there were performers from various countries like China and Bangladesh.

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The characters have swanky rides – Camels and Elephants. Truly Royal!

Satkosia – A day out in the tranquil wild!

Around 3 hours from Bhubaneswar is the Satkosia Sand Resort where I was headed to on a Thursday morning. Yes, a weekday get away.

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The hills are lush and the water is so green because of its 90 feet depth. I took a boat from the jetty which took me in the waters. The ride was amazing with the confluence of the sunlit and the shadow side. Please make sure you are wearing your life jacket at all times.

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I do fear crocodiles therefore, just said hi to this fellow who was sunbathing from a distance. There are many crocodiles who chill on the shores in Satkosia. One needs to be careful.

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Turtles doing what they do best, that’s nothing. Looking cute though!!

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India’s second and Odisha’s first Canopy Walk recently opened at the resort. I totally was walking the tightrope.

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These are the amazing tents available with and without AC. The food served by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation generally consists of Dal, Rice, Fish and Veggies. I approve of it. You can also play some volleyball at the beach and during night, light a bonfire. And Be Merry!!

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My cute Guest House for the Day. It had a very old charm to it and was surrounded by a lovely, well maintained garden. Unfortunately, its not available for the tourists. If you are planning to visit Satkosia Sand Resort, make sure you book your own cottage/tent via https://www.satkosiasandsresort.com/

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A random place with a picturesque background where I stopped by.

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Here’s my happy face post the boat ride.

Odyssey of Odissi enthrals audience at the Mukteswar Dance Festival

If you are a tourist in Odisha, be ready to expect the unexpected. In a positive manner of course!  I was eager to be part of the Mukteswar Dance Festival set against the iconic temple along with my friend and a known tourism fellow Hans Joerg Hussong from Germany.

We walked into the venue which was a marvel to look at with trees adorned with the famous Pipili lanterns.

The inaugural act was the chorus Shiva Vandana performed by GKCM ORC from Bhubaneswar which set the tone right for the rest of the evening  followed by the solo Odissi performance by Surupa Sen from Bangalore.

Both the acts enthralled the packed audience which consisted of both national and foreign nationals. I spoke with people from France, Japan, Russia, China and Germany and we all agreed that the event was a marvelous one and gives one a glimpse into the rich heritage and culture Odisha is world famous for.

 

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All the art and music connoisseurs who congregated at the event from different ‘gharanas’ were mesmerized by the flawless display of music and dance as well. The picturesque Mukteswar temple seemed to have lit up by the focused energy of the dancing footsteps of the artistes.

The utter naturalness of the Odissi duet performance by dancers Rajiv Bhattacharya and Subikash Mukherjee from Kolkata was a feast to the eyes as the pair came repeatedly rushing forward to the edge of the stage and enacted scenes from the Mahabharata.

In the end, the Odissi group performance by Pravat Kumar Swain and group (Nrutya Naibedya) demonstrated graceful synergy in the dance movements and a remarkable lightness of execution.

Bakewell – Fairy Tale Village!

Fairy Tales and fantasy merges to give you Bakewell. Situated just about 21 kms away from Sheffield, Bakewell is world famous for its pudding. This charming city is situated on the River Wye. It will take you just around 2 hours to explore the entire town. Every Monday a traditional market is held in the town. In the book, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bennet mentions Bakewell  as the town from which she traveled to visit Pemberley.

It is the definition of a quintessential place to spend time with your loved ones. For someone like me, it is a calming place. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, I come here to rewind myself. I have always been a small town girl and small things give me great pleasures.

Sitting by the river, playing with the ducks, eating hand made turkey sandwich and reading my favorite book, I felt like I had it all.

 

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WEIR BRIDGE

These love locks might remind you of those in Paris and rightly so.

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Bakewell Pudding

One of my favourite thing to eat is world renowned Bakewell Pudding, a jam pastry with an egg and ground almond enriched filling.

 

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IMG_20160731_124122992 Chatsworth House

 

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