Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 3

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 3

Did you read about The Migrations of East Africa? If not, read about it here. Let us now help you prepare for this once in a life time experience. Have a sit down session with your travel partner, inform yourself and carve out a personalized itinerary catering to your requirements and budget. We spoke about health requirements and transit points in Part 1 and about the people and their lives in Part 2 . In this concluding part, we discuss about unique and easy eats, how the local people move around and about entry and exit points in to Masai  Mara and Serengeti.

Food – The local choices and No Fuss eating experiences

Cafes, restaurants in Malls cater to palates of all kinds. The Artcaffe coffee & Bakery is a must stop at all times of the day especially for their soups, breads, pastries and of course coffee. Ask your driver guide to take you to at least one of their outlets during your stay.

Soup, Falafel, Pasta and Cake n Coffee
Artcaffe in Nairobi for a light lunch and great coffee – Soups, Falafels, Fresh Pasta and great Salted Caramel cake with an Americano

Restaurants attached to lodges serve set meals/packed lunches during your game drives. For a vegetarian packed lunch ask for stir fried veggies with Rice OR Sandwiches along with a fruit and drink.

Sandwich, Rice and stir fried veggies, fruit and a drink
Packed lunch during a game drive – Sandwich, Stir fried veggies with Rice, Fruit and a drink

Apart from great tasting local coffees across Kenya and Tanzania, do try the Bitter lemon soda – Kale and a Schweppes Pineapple soda – Nannasi. Extremely refreshing on a hot day.

A bottle of Krest Bitter lemon and a bottle of Schweppes pineapple drink
Kale Bitter Lemon and Schweppes Pineapple drink

Make sure you buy some bananas (East African Highland Bananas) as it is the cheapest source of nutrition around and extremely filling during the long drives. If you dare to venture, try out the porridges on offer at some of the stops enroute. Of course, take help from your driver – guide.

Ragi porridge with BrownSugar and a Kidney Bean salad with Vegetables
Porridge with Sugar and a hearty Bean + Salad breakfast

Morning breakfast is incomplete without a steamed tuber/vegetable like potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, arrowroot or Pumpkins. The starch fills you up plus loads you up with essential minerals. The corn based dishes like Ukale along with a spinach stir fry will make you go for a second helping and make sure you have them hot. Eggs, the perennial favorite are cooked everywhere per your choice.

Omelette preparation and a finished omelette
Eggs – Everywhere and in all forms. Readies you before your arduous game drive

The lodges experiment with vegetarian variations of African dishes like the Moroccan Tagine for example which has a mix of spices, chickpeas and vegetables. With so much of indian influence, rare to not have an indian dish in the set menu for dinner at the lodges. Some of the lodges have a live meat counter much like the beloved weekend favorite NyomaChoma (Grilled Meat) available across the region.

Highlight – A few tented camps like like Kichwa Tembo offer a wake up call with Coffee, Tea and Hot Chocolate served via a pantry window at the time of your choice.

French Press, Flasks of Milk, Hot Chocolate and cookies
Wakeup Service at Kichwa Tembo – Fresh French Press, Hot Chocolate and cookies

Using services / Take Help offered

The local guide, hotel bell boys insist on taking your luggage and servicing you right from the moment you land. They insist that it is disrespectful to allow the guest to carry his/her own luggage. A decent tip atleast 100 Kenyan Shilling ( 1 USD) / 2000 Tanzanian Shilling (1 USD). For all local driver guide services, please do consult your travel partner on Tipping etiquettes, plus consider your safari experience before tipping. For all lodge services, either use the common gratuity box or tip in person. For Indian travelers it is advisable to carry USD from their point of origin for better rates at the exchange point. INR almost always fetches Kenyan shilling on parity basis.

How people Travel in the region

You must be in your 4*4 watching the traffic and wild life outside.

Matatus in Kenya and DalaDala’s in Tanzania are mini bus based transportation systems that can transport about 25 people in a vehicle. Respectable and easily accessible, they are by far the most reliable form of transportation around for those without private transport. There are about 400 Matatu Saccos registered for operation in Kenya. Saccos are cooperatives or companies for ease of management and enforcement of discipline. It is wonderful to see such a self- organised system in this fast developing region. This has brought in a lot of sanity to public transport, the locals say.

Matatus mini bus in Kenya
Matatus & DalaDala’s are the most organized form of transport across Kenya and Tanzania. Many have declared support for Football teams

It was mandatory for all those seeking a Transport Licensing Board (TLB) certification to be members of a Matatu Saccos in Kenya or belong to a company. About 1,000 matatu Saccos and 400 companies have been registered. Matatu operators, who constitute 80 per cent of the public transport system, are estimated to have an annual turnover of Kshs73 billion. To its credit, the Matatu sector buys Kshs 4 billion insurance premiums every year and remits Kshs 1 billion taxes annually. The Matatu Saccos have played a significant role in the growth of public transport and some have now become respected brands in the sector.

The Saccos proved to be the most viable way to manage large public transport fleets. They have also been pioneers in changing the image of public transport, which was dominated by rogue drivers and touts without regard for traffic rules.

Bike Taxis or ‘Boda Boda’ is another popular yet a risky mode of transport across cities and towns of East Africa; You can see more of them in Kenya. Targeted typically at the bottom of the pyramid, the bike taxis transport people and goods at affordable prices. Some of these bikes are chinese made and have to handle poor potholed roads. There is talk of a new type of bike called ‘Kibo’ designed specifically to tackle the poor roads across Kenya.

The roads in tanzania are wider, well banked and in much better shape. The current PM of Tanzania was formerly the roads and civic infrastructure minister of Tanzania. That says it all.

Masai Mara & Serengeti Entrance Gates

Whether you or your agent has selected the lodge, it is important to prepare yourself before traveling for this once in a lifetime experience. Masai Mara has 6 entrance gates and Serengeti has 5 entrance gates. It pays to understand the approach to the lodge, the closest entrance gate and if there is an option of using an air strip close by. This has an overall impact on your itinerary and helps you decide if you want to begin from Nairobi, Kenya or Dar Es Salaam/Arusha in Tanzania. This could potentially give you more ideas; For example, if you were entering via Arusha (Kilimanjaro airport), you could spend an extra couple of nights at Tarangire or Lake Manyara, visit the Ngorongoro crater and continue your onward journey in to Serengeti via the Naabi Hill Gate. In any case, be prepared for a minimum of an hour’s ride in order to get to your lodge. The option of air is a smart one and is a popular one as well. But, you visit the park for the game drives and those precious sightings of every kind.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Emirates, Dubai and Etihad, Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.

 

 

 

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 2

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 2

Did you read about The Migrations of East Africa? If not, read about it here. Let us now help you prepare for this once in a life time experience. Have a sit down session with your travel partner, inform yourself and carve out a personalized itinerary catering to your requirements and budget. We spoke about health requirements and transit points here.  Now to understanding the people and their lives.

It is very well know that workers, traders and merchants of Indian Sub-continental origin found their way to Kenya and Tanzania and set up businesses that are a major source of employment. But, the region and its Indigenous people through their unique skills and diligence continue to make huge contributions to their countries’ progress.

The People of the Region 

It is important and interesting to know more about the country being visited and its indigenous people. Kenya (Kamba, Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Maasai, Ameru, Samburu, Swahili)

Tanzania (Chagga, Maasai, Makonde, Swahili, Hadzabe, Sukuma, Mbulu/Iraqw people in the great lakes region).

All indigenous people have contributed to various aspects of their respective nations’ progress be it politics, sport, diplomacy, freedom struggle, human rights, agriculture or conservation. The Tea-growing Kalejins comprise the legendary long-distance runners of Kenya, The sukuma tribe who mainly fish in the Lake Victoria are among the most able bodied men and enlist in the Tanzanian military in large numbers. Thanks to tourism and the consequent establishment of lodges, many indigenous people have found year long employment. An example is the decision of Tanzanian government to call for a halt on constructions near the Ngorongoro crater and shift all lodges near the town of Karatu thereby providing meaningful employment. Karatu is dominated by the Mbulu tribe, a large farming community.

There are the big cities of Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, Arusha but it is the countryside with its small businesses – trading in coal, sweet potato, banana and other fresh fruit etc., which captivates you.

A municipal council office near Isabania, Coal sacks, finished earthen pots and butcheries
Small Business rules across Kenya and its countryside

Wildlife has opened numerous opportunities for the people across the service industry, knowledgable driver guides and as in-house naturalists at many safari camps. James, from the Kichwa Tembo is a much loved and respected in-house naturalist; He conducts awareness sessions for guests where he talks extensively about the Masai Mara ecosystem and human-beast co-existance.

The Masaai tribe cultural session on a cold evening at Kichwa Tembo, Masai Mara
At the Kichwa Tembo camp, James (in the front) from the local Masaai community introduces guests to their culture and also doubles up as the In-house Naturalist

Skilled craftsmen too sell their wares on highways at the fringes of safaris and cities. Your bargaining skills will be put to test as you set your sights on masks, shukas and other collectibles. For the art collector, a lot of these stores also sell oil-on-canvas landscapes.

Shukas and Masks on highway curio shops
Curio shops dot the highway.Bargain hard.

The Impact of Mobile Money

Many households in these parts also have a family member working in any of the big cities and supporting them. Mobile Money has become the newest symbol of empowerment for people across the society.

M-Pesa, Airtel Money – These are the most visible brands;Infact much more popular than CocaCola i reckon. The concept and resulting service has empowered the people of the region and is acknowledged universally. Every small town is serviced by the corner M-Pesa cum general store thereby overcoming the tyranny of distance, often cited as a challenge when it comes to providing banking services. There is an untold trust that has developed as a result of this system.

The service is designed to work on all types of phones. Overseas remittances, money transfer from the husband working in the city, pension transfers etc done over this network can be collected as physical cash at M-pesa centers or paid for via M-pesa money.

If you are running short of cash to tip your service personnel, dont worry, M-Pesa is there!

M-Pesa shops across East Africa
M-Pesa mobile money shops dot the landscape of East Africa. Convenience and Empowerment

Aga Khan contributions to Kenya and Tanzania

As you travel across Tanzania and Kenya, the sight of women and children carrying jerry cans for potable drinking water is unmissable. Access to clean water still remains a huge challenge in many countries in Africa. It is here that the Aga Khan Development Network, part of the Aga Khan foundation runs many programs and diverse institutions to effect social and economic development in Kenya and Tanzania.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Emirates, Dubai and Etihad, Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.

 

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 1

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 1

Did you read about The Migrations of East Africa? If not, read about it here. Let us now help you prepare for this once in a life time experience. Have a sit down session with your travel partner, inform yourself and carve out a personalized itinerary catering to your requirements and budget. Let us now cover health requirements and the Transit points.

Yellow Fever and Polio Vaccination

The Ministry of Health and family welfare has locations across major cities where Yellow fever and Polio Vaccination is administered. Access the list here http://www.mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=3642. In Mumbai, the center is located close to Terminal 2 Airport. Important to note that only 75 people will be able to receive the dose in a single day. People start queuing from 630 AM, write their names in an informal sheet of paper circulated by the first enterprising passenger and wait for the gates to open. At about 9 AM the officials start issuing tokens after verifying passports and a valid travel ticket; This is mandatory if one accesses this facility. The process inside is smooth and you walk out with a Yellow card for Yellow fever and a Pink one for Polio vaccine. Do savor the Vadapav and Pohe sold by a resident couple within the airport health center premises. Carry some water in case you plan to queue up early in the morning. There are no stalls close by.

Airport Health center Mumbai waiting queues
Passengers waiting to be administered the Yellow Fever and Polio vaccine outside the Airport Health center

Choice of airlines while flying in to East Africa

Kenya Airways is just a functional airline which focuses on just getting you from India and Nairobi;That’s it. If you are expecting pampering, better seating, in-flight entertainment and wide assortment of food, you should look at the gulf based options (Emirates and Etihad) or the increasingly popular Ethiopian. The service from Mumbai to Nairobi is on a 737-800 in a 3-3 seating. It gives you a feel of travelling in a domestic flight on an international sector. Limited leg room, Compact collection of recent Indian and long released international movies on the inflight system, one customary meal on the 5.5 hour flight and Non-alcoholic drinks complete the experience. At time seat allocation is random during full flights and the added prospect of leaving your luggage behind in case of a full flight. The last two are areas where Kenya Airways could do better with proper communication. Kenya airways was operating a dreamliner on this sector which was subsequently discontinued. Twice a day service to Nairobi is adequate for now and we will egg them on to improve Service Quality. Assorted traffic – Tourists, businessmen, MICE groups and a few religious groups as well. Affordable fares make this a popular choice.

Kenya airways Banner, Kenya airways flight and the drinks and nibbles on flight
Kenya Airways has a huge opportunity to become the Best Affordable Carrier to Africa

At the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)

Instead of walking straight in to the first currency/Mobile shop, just ask your guide to take you to the Annex building of this simple airport which houses a Safaricom shop and currency changers. Safaricom plans are cheap and start from 500 KSH upwards for a prepaid card. USD, CHF, UKP are the most recognized currencies. Indian rupee, though trades at 1.51 for a KSH fetches KSH only on a 1:1 basis. Travelling with USD is quite helpful and a pre loaded Forex card is welcome almost everywhere across Kenya and Tanzania. The immigration is smooth and the folks are welcoming. The airport, like its country’s airline, could do with better passenger amenities like better seating in common areas, multiple restaurant options and of course free WiFi. Passengers often have to endure long transit times in JKIA due to itineraries and international flights departing in the evening. JKIA will do well to make their airport experience a comfortable one if not memorable.

Joao Kenyatta International airport welcome sign and airport premises
The modest JKIA needs to do a lot more if it wants to be called the “Hub of Africa”

At the Isabania border crossing

If you have not opted for air transfers from Kenya to Tanzania, the best transit point is at the Isabania border crossing. Quite a streamlined process at the border. Just make sure that your travel partner is ready with the PAX manifest with all details filled in before exiting Kenya. Once done, just pass through Tanzanian security, present proof of your vaccination, pay your Visa fees and get your passport stamped. Get a glimpse of the no man’s land before entering Tanzania.

Isabania border crossing. Tanzanian immigration building
The Isabania border crossing. Tanzania’s wonderful road quality deserves a pat on the back.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Dubai and Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.

 

 

 

Migrations of East Africa

Migrations of East Africa

Karibu, Welcome

Many reasons why the modern day traveller and/or tourist heads to the diverse regions of Africa; The Safaris and natural wonders in the east, South West and the South of Africa, commodities in the west of Africa and ancient wonders in the northern parts of Africa. As we learnt during our trip, the people, cultures, lifestyle are not as homogenous as one expects. The influence of the British, French, Belgian and Dutch colonial rule are visible everywhere – mannerisms, food, name of the currency, driving systems et al.

People who are used to seeing Africa on wildlife channels and then choosing to discover them almost always end up heading to South Africa’s game reserves or to witness the annual twice a year event – The Wildebeest Migration across the Tanzanian Kenyan border.

The Mara River
The Mara River – Gushing and Ferocious. Also, a death trap for the unseasoned crossers

The Serengeti Mara ecosystem combine encompass an area of 30,000 sq km. About 1.3 million of these brown beest’s are joined by Zebra and Thompson’s Gazelle to form the largest, long-distance terrestrial mammal movement in the world.

Wildebeest, Zebras and Thomsons Gazelle
Wildebeest, Zebras and Thomsons Gazelle – At the heart of Migration

The migration commences from the southern fringes of the Serengeti. Early spring is when the Calves are born; the Wildebeest (or Gnu’s as they are called) calf spend exactly 9 astonishing minutes learning to stand and stabilize in the world after their birth as there is no time to get tutored in to the wild ways of the Serengeti; It is time to run. With calves in tow, the animals commence their run westward, and then, northward across the gushing Mara River and, in July-August, barge in to the Masai Mara in Kenya, before returning back to Tanzania. The Wildebeest lodge around 1000 Km of annual galloping through the grasslands; or an average of 30,000 km in a lifetime.

The wet season migration from November to May. Month wise map.
Migration during the wet season
Migration during the dry months. Month wise activity map
The Dry season migration

Humans or Animals, the urge to move seems to be inscribed in to our DNA’s; For the Wildebeest it is probably more pronounced. Biologists also aver that it’s the concentration of phosphorous in the savannah grass that guides the Wildebeest in to nutrient-rich corridors. Others point to the seasonal showers, which the animals track in search for tender vegetation and water. Yes, just juicy green grass and lots of water. The act of crossing is carefully planned. First, the scanning of the other side of the banks of the Mara river for any lurking predators, the presence of fellow Wildebeest encouraging the crossing and of course someone taking the lead. Wildlife enthusiasts waiting for a crossing at a particular time are in for disappointment. While we were able to watch a disciplined line of Wildebeest egging their counterparts on the other side to cross but they could not muster the courage to do so having sighted huge crocodiles on the banks.

Wildebeest herd on either sides of the Mara River
Top Left – Wildebeest on one side of the Mara waiting for the Wildebeest from the other side – Top Right. A disciplined herd marching to a crossover point

When we finally watched the wildebeest take their decision and hurtle down in to the Mara it was late evening and in a completely unexpected area of the park. Once the decision was made, these wonderful creatures did not back off irrespective of the threat which was lurking.

It is during this time that predators lurk – Crocodiles, Lion, Cheetahs, Leopards, Hyenas – rely on the seasonal, predictable feasts the Wildebeest – and especially their calves.

All the predators - Lions, Leopards, Hyenas, Cheetahs and Crocodiles
The consortium of predators who lurk across Masai Mara and the endless plains of Serengeti

Watching the Migrating Wildebeest told us that there was a predator lurking nearby for sure. Yes, a young female leopard was patrolling the steep and muddy banks with impeccable balance waiting for the right moment and entry point to grab its prey. It looked very much like a newbie out for its first kill – trying and failing, unable to net the bigger and heavier wildebeest, scared for a moment by the stomping herds but in the end she does manage to get hold of a young wildebeest probably a few weeks old and ends a satisfying day both for herself and us. Watch her in action.

The massive migratory movement also leaves in its wake a lot of manure and urine which ensures nitrogenous fertilizers for optimum production.

Challenges confronting the ecosystem

The second most populous continent after Asia is expected to double its population of a billion people over the next 20 years, with under 18 year olds comprising almost half of it. When human beings inhabit land, they raise fences to ward of predators, thus cutting and fragmenting the wildebeest migratory corridors. One one side is saving the ecosystem and the herds and on the other hand making sure that people benefit, improve their lives, and have good education for their children.

The need for cheap protein (bushmeat consumption) for households lead to deaths of about 70,000 to 129,000 wildebeest per year; This amounts to about 10% of the entire Wildebeest herd. It is still not clear if anti-poaching measures via community outreach programmes will lead to reduced consumption of bushmeat.

Making Wildlife Pay

When there are families to feed, it is a hard one to convince people to save wildlife and habitats. People who are claimants over lands that serve as wet-season pastures or dispersal areas for wildebeest, tourism, wildlife and civil stakeholders – mainly in Kenya – have made the animals “purchase back” their right to freely roam. About 900 sq km of land across 8 conservancies bordering the Masai Mara National Reserve are leased from its individual or communal land owners at advantageous rates. The lease prices under conservation are more advantageous than under livestock or agriculture. The returns – educational and job opportunities.

Masai Mara and Serengeti are wonderful destinations but the journeys they offer are Non-Pareil.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Dubai and Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.

Credits

Dima Vilanova for facts and observations regarding Migration made in her article featured in the PAA Tanzania Magazine

Map of Serengeti for the Migration pictures

Odisha – Jewel of India’s east

Odisha – Jewel of India’s east

Bande Utkala Janani……I adore Thee, O! Mother Utkal…..

Words written by Kantakabi Laxmikanta Mohapatra, when Odisha (www.odisha.gov.in) (Orissa till 2011) became independent on the 1st of April 1936.

Odisha’s etymology is “Odda Visaya” dating back to 1025 AD. It was historically also known as Kalinga which was conquered by Emperor Ashoka and also led him to take up a pacifist approach and ultimately embrace Buddhism.

Is Odisha the topmost travel destination in the country? Well, not at the moment but it is getting there. With Odisha tourism (www.odishatourism.gov.in) rebranding Odisha as a Scenic, Serne and Sublime destination, the state seems to be getting in to the “must visit” list of every discerning traveller. Mention Odisha and two things come to mind – The Jagannath Puri temple and the Konark Sun temple. Odisha offers a generous mix of religion, architecture, art, wildlife, food and of course a lot of beautiful beaches. Let us head to Odisha….

Bhubaneshwar is the capital and the most important Railhead on the east coast and a well-serviced airport. September was a pretty good month to visit Odisha; The scorching summer had abated and there was rain in good measure. Mumbai is well connected to Bhubaneshwar and preferred to take the Indigo connection. They had a morning service that would take us to the doorstep of our hotel, Trident Bhubaneshwar in time for a check in at 12 noon. The Bhubaneshwar airport is fairly large and quite clean. Our tour was planned by Narmada Holidays in collaboration with a local partner for logistics. We planned a visit spanning 4 nights and 5 days; ‘Longer duration trips can take you to the tribal hinterlands apart from the main highlights. Our vehicle for the next 5 days was a Toyota Innova which is a spacious SUV which can seat 5 people and yet have ample space for all the luggage. The ride to the city was on wide and extremely clean roads; comfortable and enjoyable at the same time.

IMG_20140829_123022_Fotor_Collage

Day 1 – Check in done, it was time to get a good lunch for ourselves. Odiya cuisine offers excellent options for sea-food lovers and meat eaters alike. Being a coastal state the catch is among the freshest. For vegetarians, there is nothing to sweat as there are plenty of delicious options still around. We preferred a Santula (A vegetable stew with cumin and chillies) to go with our rice and Indian bread. A few hours rest and we were ready for our tour

Our first stop was the historical Udayagiri (sunrise hill) and Khandagiri caves. These caves are situated near Bhubaneshwar; Partly natural and partly artificial, the caves are of archeological, historical and religious importance. The archeological survey of India maintains the monuments; There are tickets to be purchased for foreign nationals whereas entry is free for Indian and SAARC nationals. There are a total of 33 caves within the precinct of the hills. The most important among these are the Ranigumpha (Rani – Queen, Gumpha – Cave) in Udayagiri, which is a double storeyed monastery and Hathigumpha (Hathi – elephant). The top of Khandagiri cave is a short climb and it offers fine views of Bhubaneshwar from its summit. Spend a couple of hours here refreshed with the cool evening breeze and a magnificent view of the setting sun.

IMG_20140829_184455_Fotor_Collage

Evenings in Bhubaneshwar are either spent shopping or eating roadside snacks. A popular snack that we sampled was a cup of sprouted pulses, spiced up and garnished with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, lime and coriander. Cheap and nutritious, this one was quite a filler and gave us the energy to move around. Our guide got us to the Market Building shopping area which houses a lot of handloom and handicraft showrooms, book shops and other assorted shops. The local Handicrafts and handloom are promoted by a government showroom called Utkalika which has branches across the state. Priyadarshini, another handloom organization promotes traditional handloom of odisha – Tusser, Sambalpur and Ikkat. We window shopped and made enquiries to our hearts content. September is when the country celebrates Ganesh Chathurti (Festival of the Elephant god – Lord Ganesh). The streets were lined with finely decorated pandals housing the idols of the Lord. We were in time for the evening prayers following which Prasad was distributed among all the devotees. The Harekrishna Restaurant in Kharabela Nagar offers simple and excellent vegetarian fare, which helps keep you light before retiring for the day.

Day 2 – The nandankanan Zoo or The Garden of Gods houses a Zoological park and a Botanical garden. Located about 8 kms from Bhubaneshwar, the Zoo is a great outdoor experience for all ages. The park is well maintained and is a plastic free zone. We hired the services of a park ranger who was able to articulate the details around history of the zoo, the animals who are being reared in captivity and recent additions. The park ranger gave us valuable insights in to animal behavior, especially of the captive lions and Tigers. The Safari is not to be missed and one has to keep a watch on the timings for the same. Half a day well spent! Don’t forget to munch on a spicy cucumber sold on push carts outside the Zoo. Lunch on day 2 was at a place called Dalma, which offered local Odiya veg cuisine comprising of Dalma (lentil dish), vegetables, Indian bread and of course, Rice. Delicious and economical, it filled us up after a good 5 hours spent at Nandankanan on a hot and humid day.

IMG_20140830_120712_Fotor_Collage

Temple time! Bhubaneshwar is a city of temples and there are over 50 of them and most of them are built to honor Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva. These temples are dated between 8th and the 12th century AD. It is said that King Ashoka developed a simple way of communicating with people of his kingdom. Rocks and stone poles were used to communicate his policy of Dhamma through edicts. Travel 5 miles south of the modern city to find a few of them. Standing out among these temples are the Parasurameshwar temple and the Lingaraj temple. The Parasurameshwar temple has stories carved all around it and it is worth taking the services of the temple priest to help you understand the finer details of the same. Make sure that your next stop is the Lingaraj temple, the largest and one of the oldest in Bhubaneshwar. Non-Hindus can take photos of the architecture from a machan like structure erected outside the western wall of the temple. Bhubaneshwar was also called “Ekamra Kshetra” as the deity Lingaraj was originally found under a Mango tree (Ekamra). On the whole, the temple is considered a guardian deity of the city. With enough time left in the evening, head out to shop for leather, handicrafts and other collectibles.

IMG_20140830_161024_Fotor_Collage

Day 3 – The Konark temple beckoned us. Situated on the coast, this temple, a UNESCO world Heritage site, is approximately 65 kms from Bhubaneshwar. We had planned a good 2 hours to tour the temple complex with the help of an authorized guide. Konark comes from the combination of the Sanskrit words – Kona (corner) and Arka (sun); This temple thus is dedicated to the Sun god. An umbrella comes in handy during the tour. Make sure that you observe each of the 24 wheels, each telling you a different story. The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore says of the temple, “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of Man”. The road from Konark to Puri is dotted with pristine white sand beaches and rain trees lining the road. The temple town is one of the 4 holiest of places (char dham) in India and is home to the Jagannath temple and seat of the Puri Mutt (one of the four set up by the Adi Shankaracharya). The temple of Jagannatha is one of the tallest monuments in the entire. sub-continent of India and its height is about 214 feet from the ground (road) level. It stands on a ‘raised platform of stone, measuring about ten acres. It. is located in the hear! of the town and presents an imposing sight. The largest crowd in Puri is seen during the Car Festival of Jagannatha which takes place every year some time in June-July. The idols in the temple are made of the Margosa Tree (Neem) and they are replaced with a new Idol once in 14 years in an elaborate festival called Nabakalabera (New Body); Year 2015 is one such year. There are hotels to cater to every budget in puri and our stay was a comfortable one at the Hans Coco Palms. A good number of them are on the beach front and during heavy showers, the rain just lashes on the windows and doors, just right for you to order some pakoras and tea. The beach front also houses shacks selling fresh sea food and fried snacks. Apart from the temple, the alleys surrounding the temple house shops selling variety of knick knacks, milk based sweets and fresh milk based products.

IMG_20140831_131044_Fotor_Collage

Day 4- The Chilika lake, world’s second largest lagoon is a day trip from Chilika. The brackish water lagoon is spread over 1100 sq kms and is home to over 160 species of migratory birds. The Irrawady Dolphin calls this place home and tourists set out in trawlers and catamarans to enjoy the marine fauna. Our trip to Chilika was cancelled owing to a fierce cyclone. Shrugging shoulders we headed back to Bhubaneshwar and planned to stop by at Raghurajpur, home to artisans skilled in Pattachitra. Everyday stories are handpainted on cloth and these families have been pursuing this art since the 5th century. The art has a Geographical indication thus protecting them from fakes. The street in Raghurajpur is lined with families on both sides and they welcome you in to their homes to show you live demonstrations and also offer finished work for sale. A little bargaining can get you some authentic and eye-catching work. More to come, the village of Pipli on the way to Bhubaneshwar is home to the Applique form of Handicrafts. The word Applique has a French origin and it involves placing one piece of fabric over a base layer and sewing it in place. The concept is used extensively in canopies, umbrellas and on the chariots of Jagannath temple. You can plan to pick up exquisitely designed bags, totes, umbrellas and other items, which are a nice gift to take back home. For those of you interested in unique things, pay a visit to the Bhubaneshwar Railway station, an important stop on the line to Kolkata. I am personally a fan of trains and train stations and consider stations akin to a cultural destination, a place where non-homogenous people converge. Retired after a good dinner at Hotel

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 8_Fotor_Collage

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 8.38.56 PM

Day 5 – We still had one place to visit and that was the Museum of Tribal Arts and Artefacts. Tribes constitute about 22% of the state’s population (9% of the country) and as per last count, there are close to 62 distinct tribes of which 13 of them have been classified as “particularly vulnerable groups”. The local government has done an admirable job in curating arts and artefacts belonging to these tribes and presently house them in the Museum of Tribal arts and Artefacts. This must-do item helps one understand the state and India as a country and how it is trying to balance between preserving indigenous population against the need to industrialize. Hopping over to a few sweet shops to sample a local sweet called Chhena Phoda made of caramelized cottage cheese. With that sweet ending, we made our way to the friendly Bhubaneshwar airport in time for a check in for our flight to Mumbai.

20140901_111517_Fotor_Collage

Odisha has thrown its doors open to the world. Are you next?