Day-1: Storms and Caves


Today, I rode the storm on my rickety bike that I had borrowed from my neighbour, almost anticipating to face it. Like a foolish adventurer, who wished to conquer Mount Everest in his pyjamas and a pair bathroom slippers. The sky had looked as if it had been holding back for years, and this was its tipping point. Like it could not take it anymore, it did not care about the consequences anymore exactly the way I was feeling. The sky has a mysterious way to reflect your emotions sometimes, or maybe it was just me.

So I had decided I’ll ride the highway, the one I had with her, for the very first time. I wanted to relive that moment. I know it was a stupid thing to do, but… The road was the same as it had been that day and the weather, well it was toying with me. It almost felt as if I was watching a movie in HD, each and every moment of that day playing in front of my eyes. Shit! Shouldn’t be doing this to myself.

That was it. I took the next break in the median and turned back.  After a 20 minute ride, I reached Khandagiri Chowk. It was getting dark, and the clouds were threatening a downpour. There were 10 seconds left on the timer at the traffic signal. I had to make the decision fast. Orange. Green. Oh! Fuck it! I turned left towards the Khandagiri-Udaygiri hills.

I had been here a couple of times before. Once, I think almost five years ago with a bunch of volunteers from all over Europe, who were working with some NGO in Bhubaneswar. We had met with them in Bakul as they were doing the Story Telling around the World event, and I was a part of that project. I should have a few photographs of that trip. The second time was with a colleague of mine, but that one was a very short visit. Mostly because he had acrophobia and wouldn’t climb the hill. We had clicked a few photographs and left. I had never been here on my own and explored the place.

I parked my bike and got me a ticket. The ticket cost me five bucks, but the same ticket costs Rs.150 for foreign Nationals. Shit! That is too much.

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The Khandagiri and Udaygiri hills stand opposite each other. The Udaygiri hills had just caves. These caves were for the Jain Ascetics who had lived there. However, Khandagiri had caves (relatively few) and a Jain Temple on the top. They also had Monkeys. Many Monkeys that had gotten accustomed to humans and were not afraid of snatching food from their hands.

I went to Udaygiri first, because I was more interested in the caves. The moment you enter the Uday Giri compound the first thing you see is a stone ramp taking you up the hill. There’s also stone stairs that bring you up and around the hill. I decided to take the stairs.

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It had rained during the day, so the stones were slippery. The caves were dark and damp and smelled of bats. I knew that smell because as a kid I had been to Lingaraj Temple a lot with maa.  That temple ceiling used to be filled with bats, and there was this typical smell that was only overpowered by the ghee lamps, the dhoop, and the flowers/bel patta offered to the Shiv ling.

There are 18 caves in Udaygiri in total. Most of the caves had two common features – One; the caves opened either to the veranda, or the space outside. Two, sloping rise of the floor towards the rear end that acted as the pillow.

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The first set of caves I visited were small, dark and damp. Damp, probably because of the rain. However, the one cave that stood out was the one that had two chambers. One that looked like it could have been the Living room, with stone benches carved out of the stone and a bedroom that was at a height on one the left side of the cave. The bedroom was slightly higher than the living room. The cave had a proper ventilation system and drainage system as well. It was quite impressive.

I sat on the bench. The stone was very smooth and cold. I thought of getting into the bedroom, but the thought of bats stopped me from being too adventurous.

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The Bedroom

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A closer look at the bedroom.

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The living room with the stone bench.

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The drainage system within the cave.

I moved around a bit exploring the other caves. Stumbled across a couple, probably breaking up. The guy was crying. It made me very awkward. So I ignored them and moved on.

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This was like a dormitory. One single space behind the different doors you see in the picture.

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Almost tempted to click the breaking-up couple sitting somewhere down on the left side of this picture.

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You can see the sitting space (Benches) outside the cave. This was common to most of the caves there.

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I am not entirely sure what this was, but it looked like a ventilation shaft within one of the caves.

I had covered all the caves on that level of the hill. It was time to move up. There was a trail that went up, but for some reason, the adventurous side of me took over, and I hiked up climbing the rocks.

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Once I climbed that slope, I reached a clearing. The clearing had a couple of benches, both occupied by couples. There was just one cave up there. Unlike the other caves, this one was protected by a fence. Must be an important one, I thought. Turns out, it was the Ganesha Cave. Its Architecture was also slightly different than the others as you can read on the information board below.

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The next level was the top of the hill where there were stairs that would have taken me there. However, there also was another way. Through the little forest trail that I remember taking on my first visit there. An imaginary coin toss later I took the path less travelled 🙂

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There was not a single human being on that trail. After walking around for 15 minutes, I realized I was lost. So I gave up the “be-adventurous” idea and retraced my path. Got back to the clearing and went off the stairs to the top.

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A beautiful view of the city welcomed me. It was a great feeling. It was silent, the sky was overcast, and the weather was cold. There were a few people up there. Almost everyone was clicking pictures. There were a few odd couples in the isolated parts doing their thing. I could see the Jain Temple on top of the Khandagiri hill from here.

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There wasn’t much up there in terms of the ruins except for this. Not even sure what this was. Probably an area for havan or may be a space for the ascetics to just chill and enjoy the evening sunset.

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It was getting slightly dark. So I left. I went down another way, and it got me to this space. It was a natural cave that had been supported by pillars. I think the posts were put up by ASI during the restoration. There were benches and a clean open space. This was a great spot to conduct a gig/poetry slam I thought. One could sit here peaceful in the evening if they wanted to.

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On my way down, I found a few other natural caves. These were smaller and uneven, and at inaccessible places. Not sure if anyone ever stayed in one of them.

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These were the last two sets of caves on my way down. The first one looked like it could have belonged to the senior members, you know? The privileged ones. These were two storeys high. The ones at the bottom were bigger, spacious and had benches. The ones on the top were smaller as you can see in the pictures below.

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The second set of caves were in an isolated part of the hill. It was already dusk, and there were no lights. There were dense and dark trees right opposite the caves. It was spooky. I left without even clicking a picture.

After having covered Udaygiri, I was in half-mind whether to go to Khandagiri because of two major reasons. One, it was already dark, and second, My legs were tired, and I was sweating like a pig on a treadmill. However, then I, though, this could be my last chance for a long time, so I just went for it.

After taking a steep flight of stone stairs, I reached a landing. To my left, there was a temple (not the Jain temple). It was a Hindu Temple. The evening ritual must have started; I thought because I could hear the bells and the cymbals piercing the silence of the otherwise quiet hill.

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I did not go in as I wanted to explore the rest of the place before it was completely dark. So I took the next flight of stairs to my right that took me to another landing that had one set of caves. However, these unlike the ones on Udaygiri were grilled. Probably to keep tourists out, I think.

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This one had a place for Havans on the verandah of the caves that was different from all the other caves I had seen that evening.

I took another flight of stairs that took me to an open space. Many people were sitting there and many coming down from the temple at the top. I could see a beautiful view of the Udaygiri caves from here.

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By this time, it had got completely dark. I thought I could live without getting to the temple on the top. I took one last look at the temple at the top and went back down only to be cut off by a monkey jumping right in front of me and then to the trees and disappearing in the dark. It was time to go home.

The End.

 

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