Orissa Travelogue – Day 4 & 5

11 Oct

After a breakfast of Chole-Bhaturey, we headed to the famous Gundicha Temple in Puri. This is significant because it’s the destination of the renowned annual Rath Yatra. This is about 3 kms away from the main temple and was relatively empty when we visited and apparently attracts crowds only during the Rath Yatra. Gundicha is believed to be the aunt of Krishna (Jagannath) whom he visits annually with his cousins. There is an entrance fee of Rs. 5 at this temple and entry to Non-Hindus is prohibited.

Next, we headed to the Alarnath Temple which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. There is a period of about 15 days in a year where there is no darshan to the Jagannath Temple at Puri as the Lord is believed to have fever. During this time, the Lord is said to manifest himself as Lord Alarnath in this temple.

From here, we headed to Satpura where boating trips are conducted on Chilika Lake. This is the largest coastal lagoon in India and second largest in the world extending upto approximately 64 kilometres.DSC02030 There are boating trips of various durations ranging from 1 hour to 1 day and we opted for the 4 hour trip.The package was supposed to include dolphin sighting at the lake, sighting of red crabs, a visit to the Tridev temple, a visit to the point where the lake merges with the mouth of the Bay Bengal and Rajahans Island. However, the tour was a little disappointing. We did see a few dolphin tails which was fine. DSC02051But after this, the boat operator just dropped us on an island, showed us two little crabs on the bank, pointed to some temple far off which was barely visible and dropped us off back to our car in about 3 hours. We knew we were fooled but there was nothing much we could do after it was all over. All in all, was a boring 4 hours which we just spent lazing on the boat. The only good thing was a plate of Hot Maggi which we had in the island where he dropped us.
Enroute to our 40 km journey back to Puri, we headed to the Loknath temple, which is a temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva and believed to have built by Rama. However, we were quite exhausted by this time and quickly finished a round of the temple and returned. We headed to our hotel to freshen up and then headed to the beach-side to see the open market in Puri. It was already late evening and the beach was hustling with activity. We got some memorabilia and gifts for our family back home, had a pizza at Dominos for dinner and headed back.
The next day, we checked out of the hotel by 8.30 am and headed towards Bhubaneshwar which was about 60 kms away. On the way, we made a quick stop at the village of Raghurajpur which is also called the Heritage Village. It has 2 streets of the village having about 120 homes of artisans who specialize in paintings and various other art and craft forms. However, as soon as we got down, we were hounded by about 10 artisans who wanted us to visit each of their homes. We got a little irritated by all haggling and so, just visited one house and then rushed back to the car. We directly headed to the BMC Bhavani Mall at Bhubaneshwar where we had to kill time until our flight in the evening! We decided to watch the movie ‘Haider’ starring Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor which turned out to be a great decision. We had lunch at a restaurant called ‘Oasis’ in the mall where we had a sumptuous lunch of some delicious Chinese cuisine and took an auto to the airport.
As we reached home, we were glad we had a good trip and most importantly, we narrowly escaped the cyclone Hudhud that was soon approaching Orissa! On hindsight, we could have actually cut short our trip by a day or 2 and probably skipped a few temples on the way, but nevertheless travelling is always a learning and we’re glad to have seen one of the least written about states in India – Orissa!

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Orissa Travelogue – Day 3

11 Oct

We woke up early this morning. 4.45 am to be precise. This was almost a miracle in our standards! But we were girls with a mission. We wanted to see the sun rise. We thought that Konark being on the eastern side of India, the sun rise can be best viewed from here. We went and set up our cameras on the beach-side and waited.DSC01899
But alas, there was no sun. Rather, daylight was here but no sun in sight. I guess we got our geography and calculations all wrong but nevertheless we then went back to our cozy beds and slept for a precious more 2 hours :).
The complimentary buffet breakfast at the resort was decent and we then checked out and headed to the renowned Sun Temple at Konark. As we got out of the car, a tour guide approached us and we decided to go ahead with him so that we understand the dynamics of the Sun Temple better. DSC01935This is basically a huge structure built in the 13th century by the ruling King, Narasimhadeva at that time. It was originally shaped in the form of a chariot having 12 wheels each depicting the months of the year. However, the temple is mostly in ruins today but the crux of what the architects were trying to depict is still very evident. Each of the wheels have 8 spokes which means that each day is divided into 8 parts of 3 hours each.
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In fact on one particular wheel, one can even see the time based on the rays of the sun which fall on the wheel and its accurate to the minute! In one of the older versions of the Rs. 20 note that we all use, a picture of one of these chakras has been inscribed. Overall it was an extremely beautiful structure showing different parts of social life at that time, ranging from women getting ready, elders leaving for pilgrimages after blessing youngsters, animals prevailing at that time etc.
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After seeing around, we sat under the shade of a tree for a while just watching the people go by.
We then headed back to the car and had a quick stop at the Chandrabagha beach and the Archealogical Museum of Konark which houses some of the broken sculptures of the Konark temple.
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Our driver then insisted we stop at a place called ‘Nature Camp’. There was nothing to do there and we werent sure why he got us there. Moreover, it started raining at that point and so we just sat on some chairs and looked at the greenary around. Later our driver signalled us to leave and told us that they had planned for us to have a traditional Oriya meal there, but since that place was closed, his plan didn’t work out!
From there, we directly headed to the temple town of Puri and checked into Hotel Naren Palace which happens to be a Country Club property. We had a quick lunch at the restaurant in its basement and then headed to the room for a short nap which was very relaxing after the whole day’s activities amidst the scorching sun. In the evening, we headed to the renowned Puri Jagannath Mandir which is one of the ‘Chaar Dhaam’ or the 4 holy places to visit in ones lifetime. It was extremely crowded as it was a holiday, but we did manage to get a glimpse of the Gods – Jagannath (or Krishna), Balram and their sister, Subhadra. The speciality of these idols are that they are made of wood and have to be changed every 12 years. There was lot of prasad being offered and we had 2 items, one in the form of buttermilk and other a sweet dish. After struggling in all the crowd to get out of the temple, we shopped for a few stuff for folks back home and then headed back to the hotel, fully drenched in sweat!
After a warm bath and light dinner, we were totally exhausted and just fell onto our beds.

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Orissa Travelogue – Day 2

11 Oct

The start to Day 2 was not great. I developed an allergy in the night due to the dust and dampness of the room and got wheezing. Add to it, hot water was not was not coming in the taps and we had to have a cold shower. The bathroom was as big as a match-box and there was waterlogging all over. We just managed to get ready somehow and got ready ahead of schedule because we just wanted to get out of the room! We were a little hungry by then and headed to the restaurant for the complimentary breakfast. That was arguably one of the worst breakfasts we had ever tasted. There was upma, potato sabji, vada and bread, all of which were dead cold almost like they just got it out of a fridge. We just ate to a bare minimum. There was a jug containing tea which we thought of trying, but gave up the idea after we saw a cockroach strolling on it!

At around 9.30 am we checked out of the really bad Sutrupti Hotel and were happy we would never come back there again! Our first stop today was the biggest temple in Bhubaneshwar, the Lingaraj Temple. Today was Dussehra and there were lot of visitors to the temple. Our driver warned us to stay away from the priests who would lure us into giving some special darshans in order to make a fast buck. We had a taste of it, when a couple of them appraoched us instantly and said he would show us around and get us blessings of all the Gods. We resisted and entered. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed there and so we don’t have pictures. But there are a series of temples, within a big complex, having idols of different avatars or forms of Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga, Lord Ganesha, Nandi etc. We noted that all temples in Bhubaneshwar have a similar form of architecture and the Gods and Goddesses are also similar with big faces and even bigger eyes.

We then headed to the Rajarani temple which is not really a temple as it does not have any Gods. It was built by the maharajas of that time as a garden with a small temple complex.
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Another striking feature we noticed was that all the monuments we had visited so far was extremely well-maintained and neat. Next we visited the Brahmeshwar temple. However, by this time the heat was unbearable and we didn’t feel like getting out of the comfortable AC car to a sunny and hot atmosphere outside. Luckily, this was the last stop in Bhubaneshwar and we then headed to Dhauli Hill which is the place where the Emperor Asoka raged the Kalinga War. This is located on the banks of the river Daya which according to folk lore, became red at the time of the war because 11,000 soldiers were killed and thrown into the river.DSC01830
We first went to a small garden-like place which had real Asokan edicts preserved within a glass enclosure. From there, a few metres uphill is a while Pagoda which was constructed in the 1970’s to spread the cause of Buddhism.
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On our way down, we bought some snacks to eat on our way and then headed to the Chausathi (64) Yogini temple. This temple is supposedly more than a 1000 years old and has 64 sculptures of Yoginis ( God’s attendants) around a round temple wall. DSC01866Though it didn’t look too magnificent to us, the place had trees all around and we sat in the shade for a while to cool ourselves. Our driver then insisted we visit the house of a local staying nearby there who specialised in Oriya paintings. The paintings were spectacular to say the least, and had different intricate illustrations of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Lord Krishna’s childhood etc. We thanked the hosts for having us over and we headed to our next destination.
Next, we were taken to the village of Pipili which specialises in handicrafts made of patch-work. We did some window-shopping but didn’t find anything specifically interesting and so we began on our journey to Konark which was 45 kilometres away. We were tired to the excessive heat and sweat and we slept throughout the one hour drive until our driver woke us up when we arrived at the Sun Temple Hotel for lunch. It was a simple but delicious spread of rice, vegetable kadai, dal and curd, with of course tea and coffee at the end and we were thoroughly satisfied. Owing to the heat, we decided to the head to the hotel for now and visit the Sun temple the next day.
DSC01911We arrived at Lotus Eco Resort, Konark and this was a refreshing change after the bad encounter we had in our previous hotel. We got a welcome drink of Jaljeera and were taken to a quaint little cottage which was beautiful. We relaxed for a while, watching couple of movies on TV and headed to their private beach at 5 pm. We indulged in some photography and sat by the breezy beach-side watching the beautiful scene in front of us.
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Also, this was the only place in the resort where our mobile signals were appearing and so we quickly called home to tell them the events of the day. We returned after sun-set and vowed to get up early the next morning to see the sun rising and frolick in the waters for a while.
2 days of our trip are already over! 3 more to go :).

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Orissa Travelogue – Day 1

11 Oct

Our day began early as we had an early morning flight to catch. The location this time was Orissa. Quite offbeat and definitely not a place one would expect 2 girls to head for a holiday to! But we decided to try something different this time. Technically, this is the 3rd in our series of ‘Annual All Girls Trip’ as we like to call it :). Our numbers have dwindled – we were 4 when we went to Sri Lanka in 2012, 3 when we went to Krabi, Thailand 2013 and now 2 for Orissa! Nevertheless, our spirits are equally high and we set off to explore Orissa.
We took the very comfortable and affordable Vayu Vajra bus services from our respective houses in different parts of Bangalore to the airport. Our flight was at 6.40 am and so, we had to leave home at 4 am. The serpentine queues in the Bangalore airport these days is quite frustrating. With all major airlines offering cheap and economical ways to fly, the queues are endless and often one has to wait no less than 20-25 minutes, even if you’ve done a web check-in and just want to drop your bags! All airport formalities done, we had a quick idli-vada breakfast at the Malgudi counter and proceeded towards our Indigo flight. Currently, there are no direct flights to Bhubhaneshwar from Bangalore and so, this flight was via Hyderabad. All in all, it was a 3 hour journey to Bhubhaneshwar.

We were received at the Biju Patnaik International airport by the Yatra.com representatives. Ours was essentially a 4 day tour package called ‘Admirable Odisha’. We were taken to Sutrupti Hotel in Bhubhaneshwar. Though we had googled the hotel details in advance, which looked equal a 5 star hotel, when we arrived, our first impression, far from impressive. Looked small, stuffy & dingy and in spite of booking well in advance, our room was not ready when we reached and so, we were asked to wait in another smaller room in the interim. After a good half an hour wait, we were redirected to our new room, which had an AC remote that wouldn’t work, leaky bathroom ceilings, rodents all over the floor and the works. We ignored all of that and headed on our day’s tours.

Our first stop was NandanKanan Zoological Park. It’s a huge expanse and has an area of around 1000 acres.
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Its huge and would ideally take a full day to cover it in its entirety and so we hired a guide who promised to show us the most important aspects in about 2 hours. We first went to the tiger sections and saw about 10-12 tigers, all in separate enclosures.DSC01637 Each of them have a name – Revathy, Payal, Shamsher, Nandan, Sara, Ankita, Shubhashree and supposedly the most ‘handsome’ of them all – Manish! They even have their share of love stories and family politics and the guide made us privy to some of them. We then went to the crocodile section and saw a huge lake having more than 20 visible crocodiles of all shapes and sizes. The enterprising guide also took us to some of the lion, Kaziranga rhinos and hippopotamus enclosures. Next, we headed to the safari where they took us through the lion safari, tiger safari, bear safari and deer safari. We just saw a few of each in each of these safaris, in addition to peacocks and monkeys. It was good, but to be honest the safaris in Bannerghatta National Park back home were better. At the end of this, we were starved and saw a vendor selling delicious looking sprouts salad which tasted equally fantastic. We had a stop for lunch and then headed to our next pitstop.
The next place on our itenary was Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves. These are ancient caves having historic relics and sculptures and very scenic and beautiful.DSC01708 We tried our hand at some photography and generally had a good time fooling around there for few minutes. We then headed to a group of temples, constructed between the 7th and 11th century. These were the Mukteshwar temple, Siddheshwar temple, Kedar Gowri temple and the Maha Lingraj temple.
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The architecture was fabulous and amidst the backdrop of the setting sun, they looked even more magnificent. Considering we went a day before the festival of Dussehra which is widely celebrated in Orissa, we headed back to the hotel anticipating a lot of traffic on account of the festivities.
All in all, it was a good first day. Orissa surprisingly was extremely neat and clean and would put big cities like Bombay and Delhi to shame. But the heat and humidity was a challenge and one would have to imagine how hot it would be in summer if its this hot in October! Nevertheless, looking forward to the rest of our trip in the coming days!

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Khoobsurat – Movie Review

22 Sep

Bollywood lovers were treated to 2 big movies this week – Khoobsurat and Daawat-E-Ishq. To be honest, I personally didn’t have too high expectations from Khoobsurat as it looked pretty run-of-the-mill and the music was not very appealing. But I somehow ended up watching Khoobsurat on Friday evening and I was pleasantly surprised.

If you’re comparing the older Hrishikesh Mukherjee version of Khoobsurat with this one, I would advise you against it because apart from a skeletal structure of the storyline, there is barely any similarity. Khoobsurat is the story of Mili aka Dr. Mrinalini Chaturvedi who is a physiotherapist and goes on duty to treat an erstwhile Maharaja who has been on treatment since the past ten years. His queen, played by Ratna Pathak Shah is the strict matriarch who keeps the house running in clockwork precision where even dinner is denied if family members are few minutes late. Mili, on the other hand is extremely spontaneous, loud and clumsy and is a total misfit in the palace. And to complicate things further, the prince, Vikram Singh Rathore played by Fawad Khan falls for Mili. So, ultimately who wins in the clash of value systems is what Khoobsurat is all about.

Khoobsurat is nowhere close to being a perfect film. The screenplay is faulty, with a sense of discontinuity in different parts of the film. For example, in one scene where Sonam is seen hugging Fawad, you can see different shades of nail-polish across different shots! Also, the music is forgettable and fails to impress. The story-line too is illogical and hard to believe.

But despite all its shortcomings, Khoobsurat works! Its star cast takes the movie to a different level altogether. Sonam Kapoor is adorable as Mili and this is arguably one of her best performances till date. Fawad Khan is simply outstanding as the silent prince. He is pure eye-candy and guess what, he can act too! His voice sounds as good as he looks and all in all, he is a great package. The Maharaja, played by Aamir Raza Hussein is too cute and endearing and of course, Ratna Pathak Shah is brilliant as always. However, the cherry on the cake is Kirron Kher, who plays Manju, Mili’s mom. She of course, specializes in the ‘Punjabi Mom’ category and ends up giving us the most laughs. For me, the most memorable part of the movie was the last scene where the hero asks the girl’s mother her hand in marriage. Its sure to induce some laughs in the most critical of people :P.

I would rate Khoobsurat a 3 out of 5. It has its faults, but still manages to entertain. And if you’re a girl, there is no way you should miss this one as you’re sure to fall in love with the charming Fawad :). Everyone in the theatre was laughing and smiling all the way and I think, that’s the mark of a good film. It’s a happy, lively, light movie – definitely worth watching!!!

Finding Fanny – Movie Review

16 Sep

Finding Fanny is a film set in a Pokolim, a small village in Goa. It’s so small that you won’t find it on a map, or so claims Angie (played by Deepika Padukone). Angie is a widow whose husband (Ranveer Singh in a special appearance) chokes on a wedding cake on his own wedding. So, she lives with her mother-in-law, Rosie (Dimple Kapadia) in a quaint little cottage; happy but desperate for love. Life goes on in all its monotony, until Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah), the lone employee in the post-office and Angie’s best friend receives a letter. A letter written by him 46 years back to Stephanie Fernandez proclaiming his love for him. Ferdie is heartbroken as his proposal never reached his sweet-heart and Angie urges him to set out to find Fanny, the one person he has truly loved for in his life. So, five people – three mentioned above, along with a millionaire painter Don Pedro (who has the hots for Rosie) and Savio (Angie’s once-upon-a-time suitor and the only one who can drive a car) all set out in a mission of finding Fanny. All of this is evident from the trailors and multiple interviews given by the stellar star cast in different television channels and one doesn’t really need to watch the movie to know this ;).

And what else does the film have to offer? Practically nothing! Yes, it has five brilliant actors. It has Goa shown in all its natural beauty. And that’s it. It is a hugely slow-paced film with small bouts of humor. Thankfully, it lasts for just one and a half hours and so it doesn’t give you a chance to get bored! The plot is simple – it shows a journey of 5 people, all of whom have lost love on their way to self-discovery. But what makes this film bearable is the performance of the lead actors. Dimple Kapadia as the all-knowing and practical Rosie is very convincing. Pankaj Kapur as the flirtatious painter is fabulous and probably has the funniest lines in the film. Arjun Kapoor delivers a surprisingly restrained performance as the struggler mechanic and Deepika is perfect as the dainty and beautiful Angie. But for me, the cherry on the cake was Naseeruddin Shah who is unbelievably cute in his portrayal of the innocent Ferdie. To give the makers some credit, the music was pretty good – with both ‘Fanny re’ and ‘Shake your Bootiya’ being immensely catchy numbers.

All in all, Finding Fanny is a disappointment. Considering the kind of actors that they managed to get on board, one would expect a master-piece of a movie, but that’s not be. I would rate it a 2.5 out of 5. I won’t tell you whether they found Fanny or not; I was more focused on finding the purpose of this film which turned out to be an exercise in futility!!

Mary Kom – Movie Review

8 Sep

Sports biopics are in. What began with the super duper ‘Chak De!’ to the more recent, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, the audiences have always taken to sports films with aplomb. In fact, the film ‘Mary Kom’ had already got tax exemptions in states like Maharashtra, prior to its release. What makes Mary Kom different from the other biopics is that Mary Kom is still active in the sporting circuits, as against other protagonists who were retired when the films were made on them.

Needless to say, the film is based on 5-time world champion, M.C Mary Kom. The eldest of three children born to a wrestler father and a homemaker mother, Mary Kom grew up in a small, impoverished household in Manipur. Right from childhood, she is shown to be a stubborn, angry, short-tempered and fiery young girl who never hesitates to beat up local bullies when the time beckons. By accident, she lands in a boxing training school and almost coerces the trainer to teach her. Through sheer hard work and determination, she finds herself selected for the state level and later, national level championships, even though her father is against girl children taking to boxing. She finds a friend and supporter in footballer, Onler whom she eventually marries. How a woman from a small town conquers the world of boxing, in spite of being the mother of 2 kids is what Mary Kom is all about.

Mary Kom, the film fails to pay to a fitting tribute to Mary Kom, the living legend. Somehow, the film does not effectively capture her struggle and focuses too much on melodrama. The screenplay is poor and the parts where they try to show the political turmoil in Manipur is shaky and unconvincing. Some parts are particularly tacky, especially where they have unwanted promotions of products such as Iodex or Sugarfree.
But the film does have its positives, the primary one being an absolutely top-notch performance from Priyanka Chopra. She excels in her portrayal of the magical boxer, and successfully delivers a gamut of emotions, be it anger, frustration, helplessness, elation or anything that the role demands. And in spite of all its flaws, one never feels bored during the entire duration of the movie, which is quite an achievement in itself. The actor who plays Mary’s husband looks really good and has done a splendid job along with all the supporting cast, with a special mention to her father and her coach.

All in all, it is a highly watchable film. I would rate it a 3 out of 5 stars. Mary Kom is a good film, but considering it’s about ‘Magnificent Mary’, it is a bit of a let-down. However, considering the dearth of good films around, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to watch a movie on a national icon who has made India proud.