28-Dec-2008 -- After completing Kainsara, we continued on our way to Sambalpur. The smooth stretch of the State Highway No 10, also known as the L&T Road is the best in the state. The drive of about 80 kms was done in less then an hour, passing the town of Jharsuguda. We made a short detour towards Brajrajnagar, where we crossed the railway bridge on foot and visited the Ib railway station which has the distinction of having the shortest name of all stations on the Indian Railways. The Station could be approached only by crossing the huge iron girder bridge, as the road approach is possible only with a two wheeler.
There are massive steel and power units underway between Jharsuguda and Sambalpur. We passed the boundary walls of the Steel plants which stretched for miles adjacent to the highway. This area would soon be the world’s largest conglomeration of steel and power industries. The abundant coalfields, the vicinity to the iron ore mines and abundant water from the river systems makes this the ideal destination for industries. There were recent protests by the local farmers, as the water of the reservoir was being diverted for industries, rather then for irrigation, and a few protesters were killed in police firing. However the might of the State prevailed, and permission for new projects are being given regularly.
We reached Sambalpur before noon and took the bypass road, avoiding the city. The town of Sonepur is 100 kms from Sambalpur, and the road here too was excellent. We stopped at the leaning temple of Huma, about 25 km from Sambalpur. Located on the banks of the Mahanadi, the 17th century temple of Huma leans at an angle of 47 degrees to the west. The temple is dedicated to Lord Bimaleswar. The other temples in the complex too lean on one side. The Machindra Ghat at the rear of the temple had a special type of fish called 'Kudo'. These holy fish are so tame that they will eat sweets and other foods from the hands of any devotee. Nobody tries to catch them as they are believed to be the assets of the God.
We reached the small town of Ullunda in the early evening, and took a left turn from the Block office. The Garmin Nav indicated the CP to be 7.5 kms west. The sun was a red ball on the horizon, there was little hope that we could locate the CP before sunset. However we decided to have a recce and locate the nearest point, so that the next day we would finish off the point soon. The road was good, but our pace was slackened by the never ending herds of cattle that were being driven back to the villages after they had been grazing in the newly mowed fields. They raised a lot of dust and the tinkling of the wooden cowbells filled the air.
We reached the pointer that was mentioned in the visit by David Coombs earlier this year. We drove along the canal road and reached the proximity of just one kms to the point. However a small rivulet blocked our path and as it was too late we decided not to ford the water – we would take off from this point tomorrow.
We returned to Ullunda, driving into the setting sun. We stopped on the way and watched the beautiful scenery of the warm, golden-reddish glow from the setting sun as it slowly disappeared. The sun slipped gradually downwards to a clear horizon, ever reddening as it sank. Soon only a thin sliver of the once hot disk was left. Then, this too shrank and there was a flash for just a second in a most vivid emerald green. Then it is gone, only the dark sky remained. We drove on and crossed the long bridge on the Mahanadi and then reached Sonepur just after dusk.
Sonepur is situated on the confluence of the rivers ‘Mahanadi’ and ‘Tel’. The town is dotted with temples and is known as the second Varanasi of India, possibly because of large number of Shiva temples or due to the fact that the place was an important centre of learning in ancient times. Sonepur's potential contribution to Buddhism, Jainism, Tantrism, Vaishnavism, Sanskrit literature, the origin of Oriya language, new religious movements etc. have not yet all been fully studied and explored.
Sonepur, presently a district head quarter of Orissa, has figured on the political and cultural map of Orissa since pre-historic times. Archaeologists have discovered a large number of Stone Age tools and weapons from different places in and around Sonepur. Other finds are the Rock Art of ‘puja dunguri’ near Rampur, the excavations of Asurgarh, Khambeswari Pali on the bank of Mahanadi and a variety of Punch marked coins. These finds supports the presumption of a human settlement on this region dating from 6th century B.C. to 1st century AD. Kotasamalai, the Confluence Point has a very important connection to history of Orissa, the idols of Lord Jagganath of Puri, was hidden here, under deep earth for 144 years, thus being referred to as the Patali Shrikhestra.
In the 8th century AD, the Sonepur region, known as Swarnapura was a part of “Khinjali Mandal” and was ruled by the Bhanjas as the feudatory of the Bhaumakaras of Tosali. In AD 1070, the Telegu-chodas as the feudatory of the Chindaka Nagas of Bastar region, occupied Swarnapura from the than Somovamsi viceroy and ruled over this region for a period of 45 years. In AD 1113, the Kalachuris expelled the Telegu-Chodas and ruled over Swarnapura for about 100 years.
Ultimately this region was occupied by the imperial Ganga monarch Anangabhimadeva-III (AD 1211-1238). As the Gangas neglected the administration of this territory due to their pre-occupation with the Muslims of Bengal, this region was occupied by the Bhanjas, who first made Sonepur as their capital. Later on, a branch of the Chouhan family which had established themselves in Sambalpur occupied Sonepur region from the Bhanja ruler of Boudh Siddhabhanjadeva, and installed Balabhadradeva (AD 1605-30) in place. Since then the Chouhans ruled over Sonepur kingdom till its merger with the Orissa province on 1st January 1948.
The reign of Bir Mitraaya Singh Deo (AD 1902-1937) was regarded as the golden age for the all-round development of the kingdom. The British Government highly praised his sound administration and gave him the title of Maharaja. In 1905, Sonepur kingdom was transferred from the Central Provinces and was placed with the Commissioner of Orissa Division under the West Bengal Presidency. Bir Mitraaya Singh Deo rendered a lot of help to the British Government during the First World War and for this help he was rewarded with the title of K.C.I.E. and the title of Maharaja was made hereditary. He had consolidated the Revenue Laws and Rule of the kingdom and codified them in a book called "Bhumi Bidhi". In 1925 he established the ‘Sonepur State Trust Fund’ for the financial support to different institutions in the State. The Sonepur chair for English in the Ravenshaw College, Cuttack and the Sonepur chair for Oriya in the Calcutta University were established by his liberal donations. Maharaja B.M.Singh Deo had patronised a number of eminent scholars in his Durbar and published a large number of rare books.
He was succeeded by his second son Majaraja Sudhansu Sekhar Singh Deo in 1937, who happens to be the last Chouhan ruler of Sonepur. He executed a number of progressive reforms in the state for the welfare of the subjects. He desired to put the administration on a democratic line and established a council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister in March 1943.During his rule, Sonepur kingdom was merged with the Orissa province on 1st January 1948 and became a Sub-Division under Balangir District. Sonepur was given the status of a District Headquarter from the 1st April 1993.
We checked in at a relatively decent hotel and explored the small town by night. The old neglected and broken down temples and palaces were haunted by the ghosts of bygone years. There was a pathetic lack of empathy, and many beautiful edifices lay crumbling. We continued our sightseeing the next morning too and visited the confluence point of the Tel and Mahanadi which is situated at one end of the town. It was a beautiful morning, and hundreds of townsfolk were bathing in the river. There were huge rocky outgrowths on the river bed, and the sands stretched to the horizon. Kashi decided to take a dip in the cold and clear water, and all the rest of us too joined him.
The river bed was abounding with huge outcrops of rocks on which there were small temples. Many of these were submerged during the rainy season. Up till a few years ago there used to be rampant mining for semi precious gem stones like garnets, topaz, chrysoberyl, cat's eye, moonstone etc. in the dry river bed, but now the government has curbed all illegal mining. The Orissa Gemstones Corporation does all the prospecting and mining now.
We had a long day ahead, and after a hurried breakfast we proceeded to Kotasamalai, crossing the bridge and reached Ullunda. We had taken along a local person who had a motorcycle as this would have given us closer assess to the CP. We went up till the point where we had gone the previous evening, intending to follow the routed taken by the earlier visitors to the CP. However, on reaching the small bridge that spanned the canal, we found that the way was blocked as there were huge stones and mud piled on the embankment. The Canal was being dredged and dug up, and all the excavated earth was piled up on the canal road. There was no way we could have taken the motorcycle. We trekked up till the small stream, behind which we could see a big building which seemed to be a school. However the stream was deep and could not be crossed.
We returned to the place where we had parked our SUV and deliberated on the route. We contacted a few nearby villagers who advised us to take the main road and go to Baghabahal village. The Google earth imagery too indicated the CP to be in the vicinity of a river, whose path could be traced upstream to a fairly big dam. We returned to the pointer sign and went further north for another 3 kms, the Nav indicator gave a static reading of the CP as being 3.5 kms away, hence we realised that we were traveling in an arc. We reached the village of Baghabahal and stopped near the big building of the Kunjapalli High School. We went by our motorcycle on the road at the end of the village which soon narrowed down to a small path. We maneuvered the motorcycle and soon reached the Harihar Jor River, which was quite deep at the point. The CP was still a good 700 metres away, however we had previous knowledge that it lay on this side of the river, and that a river crossing would not have to be done. We tried walking on the bank and made our way downstream, but there was no path and the mud was dangerously slippery and gooey, we sank up to our knees. There were no people around, hence we did some guess work and speculated on the approach that was to be taken. The earlier visitors had reported the access to be fairly easy and we were quite perturbed as we were not finding the approaches. We returned to the Baghabahal and did some brainstorming. We enlisted the village school teacher, who surprisingly understood and comprehended our mission. He advised us to take a roundabout route, cross the Thengo Dam and drive downstream till Baraghat Dadar Village. He told us that the river was easy to ford and we could reach the point. Kashi took another futile attempt and went forth on the motorcycle along with the teacher, but he too returned in vain. The other route would entail a further drive of around 30 kilometers and we decided to go ahead.
We soon reached the Thengo Dam; the reservoir was a picturesque sight, with hills looming on the horizon. The dam was at its full capacity, and only a trickle of water was being released into the river. We drove parallel to the river and reached the village of Baraghat. However the pointer had been at its closest to the CP about a kilometer before the village, hence we drove back to that point. Fortunately, we found a small track going towards the river and we took and drove on till we reached a small temple with a few thatched huts in the rear. It was built on a huge outcrop of a rock, just on the banks of the river. The temple was deserted, but soon a few people arrived and we were told that it was the small monastery of Mahant Markanda Charan Das. The ascetic was away, but two of his disciples agreed to guide us across. We parked the SUV and the motorcycle near the temple, and gathering up our gear, descended down the steep rocky bank. The river was neck deep at the point, but we were told that further downstream it was shallower.
There were myriad varieties of colorful rocks, pebbles and driftwood on the dry river bed. We picked up a few nature sculpted driftwood which could easily pass off as birds, antlers of deer and other life forms. We walked downstream for nearly half a kilometer and reached a point where the CP lay just 250 metres straight on the other bank. Just around the bend we stumbled upon a group of school children who were picnicking along with their two teachers. They were surprised at seeing us, and most of them scurried off shyly. They were from the nearby village of Baghabahal, fifteen of them who had been taken out by their two teachers. The teachers were busy cooking, and a big mound of boiled rice lay covered under a cloth. We rested with the group for some time and answered all their curious questions. We took a group photograph, and promised them that we would send them a copy. The teachers told us that they had pooled in some money and taken the children for the day out. They had got along a black jungle fowl, which was soon taken to the river bank and slaughtered. We were invited to join them for lunch, and they only let us go after we had made the solemn promise that we would return their way.
We left Ananta and most of our gear with them, and waded across the water to the other side with the cameras held high above our heads. We soon reached the CP which was just outside a sparsely wooded area and then took the necessary photographs. There were a few small trees and bushes scattered in the CP area. This was probably the flood plain of the river, which, in spite of being dammed upstream, would surely would have swelled and extended its banks to twice its present breadth during the monsoons
East of the CP was a patch of barren ground ringed by small scrubs. There were cultivated fields beyond these shrubs, and this bare patch too had been cultivated in then last season. There were traces of dried roots; the villagers usually did one crop on the flood plain every year.
West too very similar, with the scrub and one lone banyan tree making a valiant effort to rise high. Whether it would last the fast waters the next season was a ten thousand rupee question.
North of the CP was a small orchard of sorts, I could identify guava, mango and a small jack fruit tree. The dried furrows in the mud too indicated that cultivation was being done there.
South too was the same nondescript scene, but one small animal track was prominent, this being the path the village cattle took for drinking from the river.
The sun was getting high up and we were all sweating. We were looking forward to going back and fording the river once again, the skinny dip would cool us all. Ananta had been yodeling at us impatiently, informing us that lunch was ready. We were all hungry, and would have really relished the food.
We were welcomed back by the teacher, who had by now started feeding the hungry children. They were all sitting in two lines; facing each other digging into their food that was being served on dry leafs. There was rice, lentils, a tomato chutney and chicken. The two teachers insisted that we sit down along with the children, however much as we wanted, I turned down the invitation.
It is often the poor who can teach us best about generosity and large heartedness. They had got just one chicken for the lot, and I could notice that the teachers were giving only small little pieces of it to the children, saving most of it for us, as we were guests. I was very touched, and it would have been cruel to spoil their day out, as we would have devoured most of the food.
Just to keep their heart, I agreed to eat with them, me being a vegetarian; it would not derive them of much. I sent the rest of them away, and stayed back to have my meal with the teachers, who kept insisting that there was enough to go around for all of us. I sat on the river side and had one of the most enjoyable lunches I had ever had. I thanked them all, and thought it better not to offer them any money, as they would have felt insulted.
The others had reached our base, and when I reached there, I found that Kashi had started an animated conversation with the Mahant, who had by then returned. From him we learnt the significance and importance of Kotasamalai, also known as the Patali Shrikhestra of Lord Jagganath. It is one of the most significant historical sites, as well a holy shrine that is associated with Saktism, Buddhism and Vaishnavism.
We decided to visit the place, and after a short drive of around 10 kms, reached the foot of the Trikut hill. The spectacular topography of the region speaks volumes of its proud past. No wonder, it assigns the seal of affirmation to the literacy, epigraphic, numismatic and traditional accounts relating to the “Secret-abode” of Lord Jagganath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra in the impenetrable caves of the Trikut for a period of 144 years. As per the narration of ‘Madalapanji’ (The Chronicles of The Jagganath Temple), Sovanadeva, the King of Orissa fled from the city with the images of Lord Jagganath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra during the Raktavahu invasion and reached his western frontier in Sonepur and buried the images at a place called Sonepur-Gopali, and that after a lapse of 144 years, Yayati Keshari of Somavamsi dynasty got the images dugout, made new images, built new temple at Puri and enshrined them there. Subsequent studies made by the Archeological Survey of India have found artifacts of pre-historic importance.
Apart from the facts relating to Vaishnavism, the said site also bears indispensable imprints of Vajrayanism and Sahajajana Buddhism which flourished in this tract under the guidance of the Philosopher–King Indrabhuti of Sambalaka (modern day Sambalpur) It was this king who inaugurated the tradition of worshiping Lord Jagganath as the infallible incarnation of Buddha. More so, there is still a novel version well circulated in and around Kotasamalai that the oldest Shrines of the Goddess Stambheswari and that of Jagannath Trinity located in the heart of the village indicate the Siva-Sakti co-relation. The place had a rather unkempt look and these shrines need immediate protection for the sake of preserving the unique legacy. We did our obeisance to the Lord of the Universe and then made our way back to Sonepur. Another CP knocked off out list, eleven down, five more to go.
CP visit details:
- Distance to a road: 5.25 km
- Distance to a track: 2.50 km
- Distance to houses: 1.35 km
- Duration: Two hours from start until we were back to base.
- Time (distance) for the hike from Base: 50 minutes
- Time at the CP: 1.30 p.m. on 28th December 2008
- Measured height: 127 m
- Position accuracy at the CP: 7 m
- Topography: the CP is situated on the southern bank of the Harihar Jor River. The dry bed of the river has to be traversed to reach the point, the CP lay about 75 metres from the bank. The area will be impossible to traverse during the monsoons.
- Vegetation: The river bank had scrub and clumps of trees.
- Weather: Cool, 18 C (felt temperature)
- Description of the CP: Located in a clearing on scrubland.
- Given Name: The Lord of The Universe Confluence
Rating of this hunt :
- Degree of Challenge: 2 – A pleasant walk in the sands of the dry river bed. (1: very easy drive to the point; to 5: a death march - glad it is over)
- Scenery: 3 – Wonderful scenery all around. The walk on the rocky river bed was pleasant. (Scale: 1= not interesting at all; 5= take your breath away)
- Culture-social factors: 4– Met many people and made quite a few friends. The religious significance made it all the more interesting, (Scale: 1=dull; 5= most stimulating.)