The only way I realised we were in Konark was when I looked through the windshield and saw the dome of the Sun Temple towering over the tops of trees. The ‘town’ of Konark itself is in a pathetic state. The Government is absent, save for a sprawling Yatri Nivas; the entire game has been left in the hands of private players. There are no State Buses, the roads are poor and there are no signs to inform the beleaguered tourist. The ‘bus stand’ is open ground on either side of the lane – again, with no structure or signboard. Matchbox buses kick up dust that swirls into your eyes and mouth on the wind. The conductor had to tell me to alight as this was the stop for Konark; I had to ask shopkeepers hiding from the sun under yellow and blue tarpaulin sheets where the Sun Temple was. If you didn’t know better, there’s a pretty good chance you’d drive right past Konark and the Sun Temple.
My Government-issued guide at the Sun Temple, Jarameshwar Panda, has been doing his job since 1960. He’s done this gig so long that he’s got every move, every compliment, every photo angle and pose all figured out and practiced to perfection. I let Panda work his charm; heck, that’s why I’m here in the first place. He appropriates my camera and interjects his narration with a “Please to excuse, Sir; stand there” *Click*, “Please to excuse, Sir; point at that” *Click*, “Look at that” *Click*.
Panda’s English is poor and his Hindi is incomprehensible; overall, his muffled speech is hard to follow, but it’s obvious he’s making quite an effort to provide an informative, memorable trip. His favourite phrase, apart from “Please to excuse, Sir” is “Thank you”.
“Please to excuse, Sir; hold your hand out like this. Thank you.” *Click*
As Panda led me around the temple area, he stopped and pointed at certain sculptures.
“Please to excuse, Sir,” he said. “Ladies all around the country wear dupattas. That is a modern thing. Do you agree? Thank you. Now, please look at this sculpture and tell me what you see she is wearing. Is it a dupatta?”
I agreed that it could be so.
“Thank you,” he said with a slight nod. “This temple was built in the thirteenth century but you can see twenty-first century things were being used even back then.”
He repeated this process at other sculptures, indicating a skirt, a backpack, a handbag and high heels (which I thought looked more like platforms from the Disco Age). The intricate carvings on the temple walls are erotic enough to make one blush.
The Konark Sun Temple is most famous for its chariot wheels. There are twelve wheels, one for each month of the year. Carvings on the wheel spokes are specific to its month. So, for example, the month of July carries a carving depicting the monsoon. Only one of the wheels is intact – others have a spoke missing or the axle broken off or chunks chipped off – and Panda leads me there.
“Please to excuse, Sir,” he said, “but you can read the time using this wheel. The bottom half of the wheel can show twelve hours. Between each spoke shows three hours and there are sixty dots; so, each dot is three minutes.”
He placed his finger on the wheel axle jutting out from the wall and our eyes followed his finger’s shadow. He muttered some calculations and looked up at me.
“It will be just before twelve o’clock,” he said, “some ten minutes.”
It was ten to twelve on the dot.
I paid Jarameshwar Panda, said "Thank You" for his services, and headed for lunch to the Government-run Yatri Nivas down the road where the food’s only redeeming quality was that it filled my stomach. I then headed to Konark’s ‘general bus stand area’ and waited fifteen minutes in the shade of a shop for a matchbox bus to Puri.
Written for the Expedia contest on IndiBlogger. Visit Expedia at http://www.expedia.co.in/.