Shun the must-visits for vicariousness

 Don’t be disheartened when you can’t visit a ‘must-see’ place  or  can’t do ‘things you should do in your life time’  as  splashed in a plethora of articles (usually recycled) in print and online with filtered glossy pictures . I have done a few of such things and it usually has been a painful experience. Some were as close to being traumatic. From witnessing the F1 race when it happened for the first time in India some years ago to going up the historical towers in different countries- it has only been a time consuming, money wasting and mob-intimidating experience.

 Very recently, in my quest to make the best of what could be my last ever visit to the lovely coastal state in the east of India, Odisha, I decided to visit the iconic holy temple of Lord Jagannath in the small town of Puri, some 50 km away from where my dad works and lives in the state’s capital, Bhubaneswar. I have visited Puri some 4-5 times in the last 2 years but have always headed towards the beach. This last trip was more like ticking an iconic place off my suddenly-erupting-from-nowhere checklist and letting everyone know, all those people who asked me earlier if I had been to the temple, that yes, I have!  It is akin to going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower.

I am lucky I survived the very poorly-managed frenzied crowd that went berserk as soon as the gates to the sanctum opened. In a place where one should ideally display their best behaviour– after all, you are in the abode of God, one could see their worst coming out. They didn’t care if there were children (and a lady even got her one-month old baby!), ladies, old, sickly and frail people around them. They continually pushed one another till they reached the point where they could catch that one glimpse of the God’s idol. The mob was intimidating. I was one of them. I had to push along to survive. There was just one exit and the only way to it was by being carried away to it. I felt more awful for my mother who accompanied me as she is a quasi-claustrophobic. After a certain point I lost her in the throng. With phones being banned inside I could not contact her. Luckily, she had managed to reach the exit.


I have been to some amazing places in the state whch do not have the “must visit” tags attached to them. Starting from the Biodiversity park two minute away from my father’s accommodation where I jog every morning to visiting lovely beaches in the coastal towns of Konark, Puri, Gopalpur-on-Sea, and Chandipur-on-Sea. The Bay of Bengal looks so vast and beautiful. Not to forget the architecture of Konark’s Sun Temple which is breath taking.


 I am better off visiting the temple across the road where my dad lives. I have not witnessed anywhere else the enthusiasm with which the priest performs the daily evening prayer. As he goes in trance, some devotees play the drum and ring the gongs in cadence. You can feel the passion, the vibrations, Goddess Kali being invoked. And most importantly, you can breathe and come and go as you like.

So if those ‘must’ visit places attract mob, then you are better off watching them – the games, the places, the people – in the magazines or on the television. You have not missed out much. You have rather been a wise person. 

Explore unknown places. Uninhabited places. Unpopular places. Place that you will genuinely enjoy and not just go to a place ticked as mandatory by others. 


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Images from top (all clicked by me on iPhone): 

1: Lord Jagannath Temple, Puri

2. Walkers in the biodiversity park, Bhubaneswar

3. The priest at the local Kali temple, Bhubaneswar

4. Papa takes a walk by the Konark beach

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Upping our Cultural Heritage

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When you think of heritage you think of forts, monuments, old temples and other historical places. I was in awe of Kolkata when I visited it last weekend. Perhaps if I had not visited London umpteen times in the past I would not have been able to construe what others meant when they said that the city has a ‘colonial’ feel. I could feel it in the air, though not literally since we visited this city when the mercury was soaring to 40+ degrees and we were dripping sweat due to intense humidity. We purposely chose to stay downtown to get a feel of the city for our short stay. Sitting on a tram – an old mode of transportation just upped the city’s heritage status.

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It was a visit to Flurys – a heritage tearoom and bakery that fuelled the dilemma side of me. I felt short-changed. Not, price-wise. If it had not been for my father who told me of the place’s history I would have thought of it as a just another any day modern cafeteria. For the first-timers like me having a somewhat none-to-limited knowledge of the city I could not see anything heritage about it. The restaurant is not obliged to make an effort to make it look like a heritage site unlike, say a monument where you pay an entrance fee and expect to be connected historically with it. This is just a restaurant that has sustained itself remarkably for nearly 80 years and that itself is commendable. And paying some 250 bucks for a plate of 2 fried eggs along with toasts is not much these days. However, you feel the awe factor missing.

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I don’t have the facts but you can tell the place has a competition, if not a stiff one, from a renowned American cafe just next door!  The complacency that accompanies such heritage places unless supported by the government or an NGO is dangerous. The only key to keep the competition at bay is by using the ‘heritage’ card. So how do you do that? Simple! Give a heritage feel to the place. 1) Get a designer to work on the staff’s uniform. What was the uniform in the olden days and how it can be replicated or adapted in modern times. 2) Get a photo editor to work on the menu and give it an ‘old’ feel with a sepia-effect to the pages. 3) Get a creative ad agency to work on trivia-posters that can be nailed to the walls. And many more ideas can surface if need be. I have not invented the above-mentioned ideas. I have visited so many pubs and restaurants abroad that have maintained the feel of the olden times. The cobblestone-plastered walls, the original bells at the door, the old oak table at the reception and much more. It takes you back in time. This is how heritage should be dressed up as! You should be in awe as you step in.  And perhaps the customers will be happy to even pay more. They have got more than what they had expected. And you have no competition. A win-win situation for both the parties.

So when you see the royal princess from the UK visiting India dressing-up elegantly all the time it is for a reason. She is part of a heritage that she is maintaining in the public. For all you know, she maybe wanting to rush back to her room and wanting to change into a pair of shorts and a tank-top to beat the Indian summer heat! What a time to visit India!

So all you heritage-based places, time to pull up your socks!

(pic 1: Victoria Memorial Hall; pic 2: me on a tram; pic 3: happy tram drivers with my papa; all clicked by my phone in Kolkata – the City of Joy)