29 September 2016
As the departure date approaches for ACE’s new tour to India’s eastern coastal state of Odisha, Tour Directors Annie Owen and Nicholas James follow developments in the region with enthusiasm. During a visit earlier this year Annie captures the spirit of this little-known region in her photographs while Nicolas reflects on the extraordinary ancient sites and tribal traditions still found undisturbed in the urban and rural landscapes.
ODISHA: TEMPLES & TRADITIONS
Annie Owen and Nicholas James have been intrigued, in recent months, by developments in both urban and rural Odisha since their previous visits. The economy changes continually in response to population growth, government policy and the international scene alike. Yet the region retains its distinctive character.
The mining boom has come to an abrupt halt with the collapse of Chinese demand. That is likely to encourage fresh migration from countryside to towns. Yet release of the pressure on both land and water in the remote hill districts should bring respite for communities determined to retain their very ancient languages and customs. The state is having some success in bringing them schooling and clinics. While the villagers do perceive advantages in urban living, they maintain a neat and peaceful style of life in striking contrast to the hurly-burly towns — exuding a modest pride in it.
Nicholas was thrilled to discover that a scheme that ACE had helped to establish in the eastern delta is developing steadily. Working particularly with schools, the Mangro Project encourages public awareness of trees and timber, with particular emphasis on growing mangroves as a contribution to protecting the Bay of Bengal’s shores from the rising tides and more frequent storm surges that threaten them.
The municipal authorities are well aware of the many challenges posed by growth of every kind. Earlier this year, Bhubaneswar became one of the first cities admitted to a national scheme for improving governance and the management of infrastructure. Compromise seems inevitable.
One of India’s boldest archeological sites, the region’s ancient capital, formerly outside Bhubaneswar, is now succumbing to an affluent suburb. Yet, ‘gentrification’ of some of the city’s many celebrated Medieval Hindu temples shows that change in a monument’s setting does not necessarily wreck the site’s value. Here again, some schools are seeking new ways to cultivate appreciation of the region’s traditions among its eager youth.
Overlooking the small town of Dhenkanal, Annie discovered that, along with a wonderful kitchen, many of the generous chambers and grounds of the Raja’s palace now serve as a selective hotel. We shall stay there. She only worries about how to induce the party to leave for visiting the district’s Hindu and Buddhist monasteries.
January is a delicious time of year for touring Odisha. Between groves of swaying coconut palms, the rice harvest is gathered on foot in scenes redolent of Medieval Jayadeva’s pastoral lyrics for describing how lovely Radha entranced holy Lord Krishna. It is a theme still maintained in both dance and painting. Odisha is certainly changing but it is a byword admired throughout India for traditional values
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