Saturday, May 20, 2017

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
His colossal chariot is hauled by seven horses and rolls on twelve pairs of stupendous wheels. Despite this majestic imagery, presently the Sun Temple of Konark is nothing more than a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, this magnum opus of Kalinga architecture is no better than excavated remains of a divine ship stranded on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal, abandoned by its sailor long ago. Neither you can find the deity over His dilapidated chariot, nor you'll get aroma of any incense sticks. Still, for amateurs like us it is almost impossible to describe the beauty of the Sun Temple in mere words. We can wonder at best, and revisit every time with an irresistible urge to unwind the mystery behind its endless charm. Unlike most other beautiful things in the universe, the more you try to delve into her power to mesmerize, the less you fathom. Only an exceptional wordsmith like Rabindranath Tagore could have recounted the architectural grandeur of Sun Temple for us- "Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man"!

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
Yes, I am one of those spellbound travelers who keep returning to Konark in every few years, with a false hope of breaking into the mist of enigma surrounding this thirteenth century old Sun Temple. My last visit was in December, 2014, part of which I had blogged back then as "Sexual Perversions behind Erotic Sculptures of Konark". Unless a Bong travels at least half a dozen times to Puri (a popular coastal town cum pilgrimage site of Odisha) he is not considered to be a true wanderer. The ideal Bong travels to Puri at different phases of his life and majority of those trips do essentially include the Konark sightseeing. After all, Konark falls in the golden triangle of Odisha with Puri and Bhubaneswar. Puri to Konark, the modest 35 kilometers road on NH-203, brushes the boundary of foamy sea, few beaches, runs through a wildlife sanctuary and doesn't even miss to include a river on its way, a road trip I can certainly vouch for!

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
The Bong kid gets bored when his parents drag him for this monument sightseeing at Konark, as he finds the roaring sea at Puri much more alluring. After few years, the same adolescent boy savors the raunchy part of tourist-guide's narrations, and shuffles his curious yet swift gaze between an erotic sculpture and an adjoining bland one, so that the accompanying parents fail to discover his heinous thought process. Then, after another few years, the young man with his friends appreciate the beauty of Konark sculptures in much more obvious way which goes beyond the level of acceptability of surrounding elderly tourists. This is how the travel-cycle of a Bong to Konark Sun Temple continues till his grandkid astounds him with, "Grandpa, why all of these Gods and Goddesses are posing naked?"

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
'Kona' means corner and 'Arka' stands for sun. So, the name 'Konark' literally means the angled sun. The alignment of the Sun Temple is on east-west direction. Unless the sky is overcast, the first sun-rays of the day always strike the main entrance of Konark Sun Temple. There are three depictions of the Sun God at three different sides of the temple, strategically carved in proper direction to catch the rays of the sun at morning, noon and evening respectively. The twenty-four wheels and seven horses of this chariot shaped temple is closely associated with the elementary geography related to the sun. The seven horses symbolize the 7 days of a week, while twenty-four wheels portray 24 hours of a day. Would you take it as an engineering marvel, or a paragon of medieval art?

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
Each of those exquisitely ornamented wheels comprises eight spokes representing 8 'prahar' of a day. The wheels of the temple are sundials which can be used to calculate time to the precision of a minute, provided you know how to do it. The central hub along with eight spokes of each wheel house amazing carvings on stone depicting myriad activities of human beings at different times of the day, starting from singing at daybreak to kinky sex at midnight. It is said that King Narasimhadeva I, the renowned ruler from Eastern Ganga Dynasty had employed 1200 artisans to work relentlessly for 12 years to erect this mammoth artistic masterpiece with stones. It is not only the artistic dexterity of those wrights that astounds me, but also their superhuman strength involved behind moving those blocks of giant stones!  The Sun Temple of Konark was built to enshrine an image of Sun, the patron deity of the place. The sanctum symbolizes the majestic stride of the Sun God and marks the culmination of Orissan architectural style.

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
The walls of the Sun Temple of Konark contain thousands of superb carving of divine, semi-divine, human and animal figures amidst floral and geometric ornamentations. The vivacious maidens and danseuses portrayed over stone are remarkable for their sensuous modeling, pulsating with human emotions, absorbed in a variety of gestures and rhythmic actions. It is infinitely tough for our materialistic eyes to see beyond the visual lure offered by scintillating carvings of amorously entwined couples and their exaggerated private parts. If you are not lucky enough you'll end up with an unprofessional guide who'd try to mask his poverty of knowledge by push-selling 'SEX'. Trust me, once you cross the teenage boundary, one-dimensional (and also grossly manipulated) narration on such a versatile architecture is bound to make you farty. Choose your guide wisely. If you're traveling solo and tight on budget, you may decently tail any foreigners' group headed by an English speaking temple guide.

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
Sun Temple of Konark is not just some grand monument with rich history. It is a complete social canvas of thirteenth century India. If explicit eroticism over a religious structure bewilders you, read the widely acknowledged view of Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy regarding this. The illusory world of pleasure had been boldly sculpted on the outer walls of Sun Temple while the deity was stationed inside it. So, if you want to catch up with the almighty you've to abandon your carnal desires outside the temple wall at first. Simple and convincing; right? Unless you are a casual hopper, you'll be needing 2-4 hours to visit this monument properly. I am glad that I had opted to stay overnight at Konark to document the illuminated Sun Temple after dusk. I remember, it was drizzling in the evening and I had to borrow my hotel owner's umbrella to capture the long anticipated, well-lit UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the December rain, chilly wind and mud, Sun Temple complex was thickly populated with tourists.

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
Illuminated residence of the solar deity was worth visiting. Good news is, very soon India Tourism Development Corporation is about to start light and sound show at Konark Temple using laser technology! I'm sure prospective travelers would love checking that out too. Visit Konark during winter months, and make it a point to spend the night there itself before heading onto other touristy destinations of Odisha. An easy Konark itinerary can be- check in hotel in the morning, explore the Sun Temple thoroughly, pamper the well conceived hunger with unpredictable Odia cuisine, indulge in a catnap, reach the Chandrabhaga Beach on an auto-rickshaw to witness the sunset sky over the Bay of Bengal, return to catch the illuminated Sun Temple, call it a day at Konark and check out of your hotel in the following morning to fulfill your remaining travel goals. Sooner or later you'll revisit Konark anyway, to rediscover the forsaken chariot of the missing Lord.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Garh Panchkot is a ruined fort located in the Western part of West Bengal at the southern foothills of Panchkot/Panchet Hill in the district of Purulia. Ruins of the fort, palace and a group of temples are is still standing as silent witness of the rise and fall of the Singh Deo dynasty and also the Bargi attack during the 18th century. It has been almost two years since I rode to Garh Panchkot and blogged about its historical ruins. Somehow I missed showcasing the glimpses of beautiful Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot, but better late than never.

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Panchet Dam is the youngest among four inaugural multipurpose dams built by DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation) in 1959, as a part of its noble venture to salvage Damodar basin by converting the erstwhile Damodar from a "River of Sorrow" to a "River of Opportunities". Being closest to Maithon Dam in the tourist map of Bengal-Bihar-Jharkhand, Panchet certainly compels its tourists to draw comparison with the former. Well, both of these dams are extremely scenic; If the monster green lake is the highlight of Maithon, ethereal vista plays the trump for Panchet!

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Panchet Dam is located at Panchet over the Damodar River, where it forms the natural boundary between Indian states of Jharkhand and West Bengal, a little above its confluence with the Barakar River. Jharkhand lies on the northern bank and Bengal lies on the southern bank of Panchet reservoir. Panchet Hill rises above the Panchet Dam to earn few more brownie points for this already gorgeous landscape. As I mentioned in the beginning- architectural ruins of Garh Panchkot dating back to 1st century AD lures thousands of travelers throughout the year. Close proximity to NH-2 is probably the concluding reason to justify the high tourist influx at Panchet.

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Thankfully, prohibitory regulation on photography at Panchet Dam was not so stringent like that of Maithon, and I could easily park my motorcycle over the bridge to click few photos of the picturesque surrounding. It was late morning. Sun was too luminous to allow me preserve the goodness of my captures. But for me, travel photography is all about clicking photos on the go, capturing a panorama as I see it, rather than how others would fantasize. I'm sure that an early morning drive up the dam would be quite an experience in itself, with well maintained lush greenery at left to sooth your eyes and the Panchet Hill rising over the reservoir at right to tease you at the same time!

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Although I visited Panchet in the month of August, it wasn't exactly the time when gates of the dam were raised, and I could not witness the stereotype monsoon view of gushing water. Winter is the most comfortable season to visit Panchet Dam. Avoid the second half of December and first half of January though. Usually, tourists with minimal love towards the environment flock around the dam at that time simply to litter the area in the name of picnic. You might be interested in checking out the Nehru Park at Panchet before heading onto Garh Panchkot. I won't recommend a night halt at any of those places. You better visit Panchet as day-trip and finally stay overnight at Maithon, provided you have two days in your itinerary.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review - just Avoid!

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
Having used it for two months, I think I'm eligible now to share my sour opinions on this gorgeous looking open face helmet from the house of Vega. If you've been following my blog you would know, occasionally I review products/services which are related to either traveling or photography. Those are simple ownership experiences and not professional reviews. If you are not looking for technical testosterone or manufacturer's manipulation, then you might consider reading my reviews. To tell you the truth, review blogging doesn't fascinate me. I do it only when I feel that the buyer's interest is at stake. I regret the moment when I fell for this dull anthracite colored helmet. Although we all know looks can be deceptive, seldom we realize it, at least not until we spend our hard earned money on a product like this. Finally, it is the moment of truth: Vega Eclipse open face helmet is flimsy and uncomfortable, a perfect disappointment for any sane rider.

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
It is a double visor open face helmet. Quite contrary to majority of open face helmets available in Indian market, Vega provided Eclipse with a full-face outer visor. The outer visor is large and crystal clear. I have a fairly longish face, yet the only thing that remains outside the visor is a tuft of beard. A full-face visor not only protects your face from the unpleasant wind blast at triple digit speeds but also shields your eyes from blinding dust particles. Perhaps this outer visor is the only silver lining over this obviously gray helmet. The inner visor (sun visor) is nothing more than an element of beauty. Cheap plastic used in it lowers the overall visibility, and the pathetic build quality makes the visor hurt rider's nose real bad. The quick-release knob present externally at left refuses to play its role. At most it can pull down the visor to some extent and the rest of it is expected from your fingers. Forget about operating this switch with your riding gloves on. Don't worry, you won't be using this semi-transparent sun visor anyway!

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
Did you notice those multiple patches of brownish discoloration on the right side? No buddy, I neither tortured my helmet with burning cigarette nor with harsh cleansing agents. How did she get those bruises then? Well, for around fifteen minutes (or less) I made a mistake of latching the helmet to my motorcycle grab-rail and it was unhurried summer ride on a plain afternoon road! Come on Vega, few scratches would have been understandable but why these lifelong scars? Work on your paint quality before some other blogger calls it shitty more loudly. 

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
Whenever I wore the helmet for more than 40-45 minutes, I had always got an annoying headache. It is a 'L' size helmet. According to specifications it should accommodate head size from 59 to 61 centimeters. My head measures little north of 590 millimeters, theoretically a perfect match for this helmet. Mystery behind the headache was more painful than the headache itself. It needed to be solved. On carefully studying (note those marked portions in the above photograph) the internal padding I discovered presence of few sharp exposed parts near the ear compartments, poor adhesive works throughout, and miserably inadequate cushioning especially over the rim of inner hard (white colored) insulating material making the evil thing to brutally compress numerous scalp veins, especially at temporal regions. That's not only lousy manufacturing but also a crime!

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
Wow, look at the strap material and I'm sure you'll have sufficient idea about Vega's integrity! If those synthetic fibers have started giving up just after two months of usage then what will happen after whole 365 days? May be I should buy a coil of nylon rope so that the helmet can be secured as soon as its stock strap gets torn apart one fine day. A couple of weeks ago I tried to convey my agony to the manufacturer in vain, through their official Twitter handle. Thankfully, my phase of regret is over. The equation is pretty simple. I lost my few hundred bucks, but on the other hand, Vega lost faith of many prospective buyers. Now you know, Vega Eclipse open face helmet might look photogenic, but definitely it's not the helmet a rider deserves. 

Product: Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet with Double Visor (Dull Anthracite, L)

MRP: 1,385 INR

Pros:
- Looks good.
- Lightweight and compact.
- Fairly good internal air circulation.
- Full face outer visor is a rare virtue.

Cons:
- Highly doubtful build quality.
- Inadequate inner padding to steal rider's safety and comfort. 
- Crappy Sun visor.
- Unreliable strap.

My Rating:   2.5 / 10

Oops! My helmet hunt begins again...