Saturday, March 17

Today we drove out of Bhubaneswar about 40 miles to visit the 14th-century Sun Temple called Konark.  We then returned and flew to Chennai (Madras) and arrived at our newest destination.  We had indian food at the hotel buffet, which was pretty good and spicy.  Immodium is your friend.

But before we get to the story of the day, I want to expound on a few notes I've taken during this trip.  Why today?  Because I just ate and feel like typing, that's why.  If you want to skip the exposition click here to go to the Konark story.

Ok, here goes:
Clocks.  For the first time in many a year, most of the hotels we have stayed at have not had clocks, clock radios, or clocks on the TV.  Did someone pass some law preventing us from knowing what time it is?  It's not like they're selling watches downstairs and got rid of the clocks to improve their sales ratio. So far, only one out of six hotels has had timepieces of some sort.  What gives?  The hotel I'm in today I know DID have them because I have pictures from before, but now - no clock.  What's up with that?

Hair Dryers.  OK, you can tell I don't need a hair dryer too bad, but a little schvitz in the morning is not a bad thing.  Having a hair dryer used to be a given, especially for those catering to westerners and calling themselves 4 or 5-star hotels.  Well, out of the six hotels, only 3 have had them.  Neither in China did, the Four Seasons in Bangkok had one in a nice cloth bag, but there wasn't one in Bombay at the Sheraton Towers.  It can't be a safety thing, because they're more than willing to give you an open-coil pot to put water in and electrocute yourself.  What gives?

Turn Down Service.  You know how it goes - you're at the office all day, you have 30 minutes before your next gala dinner and want to close your eyes for a little bit.  Just as you get settled on the bed, "knock knock" Turn down service guys show up to put slippers on the floor and turn down the sheets.  For a tip of course.  Is life that hard that you can't turn down your own sheets?  No one in the 'States wants to turn down my sheets, but so far 6 out of 6 have interrupted my few minutes of peace to ask me to get up, open the door, and say "no thanks." 

Internet Access.  You may have noted the, um, erratic posting pattern, which has primarily been driven by available internet access.  It's 2007 - if I'm paying $300 a night can't you toss in some decent access?  Why do I have to pay $15 for slow and unreliable wireless, if it's available at all?  Hoteliers, get with the program.  Internet should be included in hotels tailored to business travelers.  'Nuff said.

Drivers.  If you're from the US, you don't want to drive in China, India, Bangkok, or many other countries in the world.  Frankly, you're not a good enough driver to not kill yourself and dozens around you.  That's why for a reasonable price, you can get a driver and car provided so that rather than being a menace, you can spend your time in the back seat, head in hands, praying to whatever higher power you believe in to protect you from the hundreds of near-misses per mile.  But the system works out pretty well.  The way they organize it is the driver pulls up, tells them who they're calling for, and gives the hotel the unique numbers in the license plate.  The coordinator then calls you, and the driver goes somewhere to park, like an underground garage or somewhere further away.  When you arrive, you tell them your name and they page the driver via PA or cell phone, who then picks you up.  It's simple but works out nicely.  Recommended.  Just remember the peril-sensitive sunglasses.

That's enough for now, more as time permits.  Now back to our show, which is already in progress...

Today we visited Konark, an incredible World Heritage site.  The site is aligned with the sun to shine at a particular point inside the temple on a particular day of the year.  It also used to have a couple of lodestones that were magnetic that had some apparently unusual properties.  You can read about it on Wikipedia, I'm sure.

Parents, please note that further down on this page there are some images of some sculptures at Konark that you may not want to show your children.  You have been warned.

Konark is about 40 miles away from Bhubaneswar and took 90 minutes to get there.  This area is much more rural, less populated, and less trafficked than the other areas of India we've been.  There's lots of thatched-roof cottages and rice paddies along the way.

Some towns have established their own toll booths along the route.

Chickens, goats, sheep, cows, dogs, and oxen abound.

At the temple we hired a guide (200 Rupees for a couple of hours) and he gave us the grand tour.  The temple was originally right on the water, but the water receded over the years and is now more than a mile away.  The stone walkway is new.

There's a front section which was used for dances, and the large conical section in the back which is the temple itself.

Here you can see the lower, flatter dance area.

This is an image of a lion dominating an elephant which is dominating Man. It represents how power and wealth have kept Man down.

The temple is intricately carved in three layers - the bottom which is mostly animals, is intended to represent nice things for children. The middle section, which is mostly images of people, and mostly bare-breasted women, is about the things adults have to deal with - we'll just call it "family life".  Above those, are green granite statutes of various gods which represent the spiritual journey taken by people on their death.  Heavy stuff.  But here's some pictures of the carvings to give you an idea how they look.  Very detailed work, somewhat weather worn but you can see the 12-year effort in it.

Here we are on the dance platform, and the separation from the main temple is apparent.

This is a green granite stone, that if you hit it sounds musical. It's carved out of one piece of stone, which is much harder than the sandstone most of the temple is made of.  The gods images are made from this same kind of stone, and each is also in a single piece.

The height of the temple can be seen here.

The basic organization of the temple is that of a 24-wheeled chariot pulled by 7 horses.  Most of the horses are damaged but this one is mostly intact.  Nice work.

The wheels are not only used to appear as chariot wheels but are also sundials.  Here he's showing how if you put your finger on the center of the axle, you can see how the wheel can tell time to within 3 minutes.  He was right.

The guide said that when the temple was being carved, many people were leaving the kingdom to become monks, and thus not have children. In an effort to encourage people to be in families, much of the temple is intended to, shall we say, stir the loins.  Here's a husband wit his wife.

The big overview plaque.

At the top of a steep and not-so-safe climb we arrive at one of the incarnations of Shiva (I think).  The arms are not there but the rest is, and it's a beautifully executed piece of carving.

More family life.

The main doorway to the temple, carved out of a single stone.

With that we returned to the city. I took a picture of this sign, because frankly, I'm not sure what it's trying to say.

The return trip was a bit longer due to more traffic.

Here's the main courtyard of the Trident Hilton Bhubaneswar where we stayed.  A nice enough hotel.

The lobby.

But then it was time for our next stop, so we'll see you soon from Chennai.