Let me ask you a question. According to you which is the most beautiful state in our country? The most obvious answer would be the state that you live in but take some time to think about it, or go out and visit all the states and comment. There is so much to explore in our country that one cannot possibly travel in a lifetime. I am lucky to have travelled almost every state in the country and I think from my experience, the most beautiful state in our country, believe it or not, is Odisha; unfortunately it is also the one most neglected.
In October, 2014 me along with a group of 19 other individuals were selected for a show called Mission10000kms. There were two groups and each group had a separate route to reach Chennai from New Delhi. I was a part of East team which rode to Chennai via Kolkata. We crossed Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal and reached Odisha. We intended to reach Bhubaneshwar by the evening and visit the Konark Temple and surroundings. It is the most famous of all places in the state followed by the mighty Chilika Lake.
Now, if there are only two famous tourist places, why am I calling it as the most beautiful state in the country when places like Himachal, Rajasthan etc. – the so called tourism states of India- have so much more to offer?
Each and every one of us when we were kids used to draw a typical scenery. With triangle mountains, smiling Sun, a few birds, stream of river with ducks, few small huts, grazing cows, dogs, a few villagers, kids playing, swings on trees and similar additions. It used to be something like:
And a few who took the drawing too seriously ended up with drawing:
Now, what if I tell you this is a scenery not of a Himalayan village but Odisha?
Actually, it’s much better than our imagination.
We all have heard that Odisha gets flooded almost every year because of rivers like Mahanadi, tides from the Bay of Bengal etc. The result? Displaced people, food scarcity & disease. It however, also turns the state into temporary marshland. When the water reduces, the green earth surfaces. It resurrects and transforms into heaven. The Earth becomes lush green and lakes, ponds & streams fill the landscape. I am not trying to be poetic, but the land looks like a Goddess with beautiful white hair of water & the most beautiful & unadulterated face.
I am not even exaggerating, we were riding on the road and everything around us was fresh & clean. There were ducks on the road, wild goats, and horses, cows grazing all around in an endless mix of green land with ponds, cleanest waters and flying birds.
There is so much of wildlife around that it felt like some protected sanctuary. Also mind it that I saw all of this while riding on the road. How much would I have seen if I wandered off to villages and in those endless grasslands?!
We stopped for chai in a small village at around 5 in the evening. It was getting dark. The sun had set and the breeze was comforting. We were mesmerized by the scene around and it was all we were talking about. Even that small village had a small river of sorts. We had stopped and we didn’t mind walking a few meters to admire the clear waters of Odisha. Upon reaching, we saw something like never before. Picture this, the river trail was perfectly bordered green grass and trees till the point our eyes could follow. The Sun was about to set behind us which gave a magnificent orange glow all around. There were birds in front of us taking their last flight home. There was a mild sound of the flowing water and the water was clear like a glass. It was clean and cold. We could easily see the fish at the bottom.
We spoke to the locals white sipping a very different flavour of chai. Pakora’s, chai & some local beedis made the evening even more pleasant. We still had a lot of distance to cover, but we took our time there. There were no mobile signals so the natives had our undivided attention. We told them how serene and beautiful the whole place is. They were not impressed. This was kind of unusual as they did not react at all. They simply told us, the light bulb you see in the middle of that small market, is the only source of light they’ve ever had!
The people have been living in those areas without government support since the beginning of time. There is only one electric bulb that goes off at 20:00 hours every day & is operational only for two hours. We looked at the houses more seriously then, apart from curious eyes trying to figure out what 10 alien motorcycles and a few cars were doing in their land, we noticed that people still live in houses made of straw and bamboos. Most of them thought we were foreigners. They told us that ever year the place floods and they move to some other location. Only sometimes police, politicians come and talk to the sarpanchs but without any results. Their life goes on without any contact & interference from the outside world. Most of them were farmers and live on what they sow and a few rupees they get selling their crops.
The place then looked like a set of old Indian black & white movies like – Mother India. Imagine, generations living without electricity even now. All the things we take for granted – mobiles, TVs, ipods etc. & they still hope they’ll get electricity in a few years when governments change. They seemed unaffected by what they had, for one needs to experience chaos to understand what tranquillity really feels like. For them, nature is neutral and unpredictable, but the governments are corrupt & the same.
We could not react. We were the same as they were to our praises. The place was silent, too silent for comfort. It’s quiet, green & clean but not peaceful; it orange skies, clearest waters and wildlife but not beautiful, its secluded, simple & pleasant but not comfortable – that’s what Odisha really is. We knew that there were a lot of expectations from us as we had cameras and exposure, but we could do nothing. We paid some money which the shopkeeper accepted without counting. We started again, our pack – The East Side Eagles and rolled out. That place left an impression deep within us. We did not talk to each other, we did not sing songs in our helmets, and we were touched for the place was a uniform carpet of beauty for many-many kilometres. Then we reached the city of Bhubaneshwar, we did not think much and followed our routine of buying some alcohol before we checked in the hotel. That night we raised a toast for the state of Odisha. We drank to the guilt we had after leaving the natives and forgot about them, but we swore to return when the floods return.
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