“Thank you very much. I had a great experience.”
I sent that message to a local conservationist who I’d met on my visit to Odisha (Orissa at the time) way back in 2007. I took up an engineering project there and decided it would be worthwhile to drive, instead of taking a flight or train. That was one of the better decisions of my life.
Road journeys afford you unparalleled experiences and flexibility. I know a few folks who think walking or cycling is the best way to see and absorb the country, but I am divorced from even the thought of such formats. For me, a fun and motorised set of wheels is the way to travel.
The wide expressways that we take for granted now were still years away. But in a way, I am glad that they weren’t around because they’re simply long, featureless spreads of blacktop — time savers, no doubt; but there’s no character to them.
There were three options that I’d laid out on the map and after much thought, I drove through Jhansi, Jabalpur, Raipur, and then into Bhubaneswar. The fact that I didn’t have a set schedule and had taken a buffer of a few days afforded me a leisurely drive and a few good detours.
In Bhubaneswar, work was not too rushed and life was generally quite relaxed. I had ample time to roam the streets and visit the regular touristy spots. The secretariat, the Odisha State Museum, the tribal arts museum, the caves of Udaygiri and Khandagiri, the Rajarani and Lingaraja temples — they were ticked off my list one at a time. My stay in Odisha was in its last week and I had a couple of very light days, so I decided to venture slightly outside the main city borders.
One of my colleague’s friends is a conservationist and we spoke delightfully about the environment and river systems of the region. I’d asked for his suggestion on spending a day or two around the city. He pointed me north to specific spots in Cuttack — the ruins at the Barabati Fort, Netaji Birth Place Museum, the Maritime Museum and the Old Jail. Being the environment devotee that he is, he urged me to drive to the Chalk Mines near the bank of river Mahanadi in the larger Chandaka Forest area, and also the Jhumka dam at the opposite end.
I experienced more of the region in those few hours than I had in the whole month I was there. And that’s what great suggestions to explore a certain geography can do — make those few hours immensely worthwhile.