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A day with the odds and Marvel of Mahendra Giri in Orissa
"The nauseating decline of 5,000 feet, the overlooking stretch of vast valleys across the distant township of Manjusha and Badua of Andhra Pradesh, the scores of mountain ranges which stood at a lower height from us gave us a nice vantage point to observe the celestial marvel of nature. One felt at the top of the world to be there in the first place, doing one’s job that brought smiles over thousands of people’s faces at the same time was like a silver lining in the cloud."
Gurbir Singh : October 11, 2009
The task seemed easy on papers, but to put it in real was indeed an effort of herculean dimension. Holding an exhibition on the highest altitude of Orissa - why Orissa alone, it is the highest peak of the entire Eastern Ghats mountain ranges- standing at a majestic height of 4, 925 feet above the sea level, with the bay of Bengal from Andhra side being merely 25 km away and two majestic rivers namely Mahendratanaya and Badanadi finding their source from Orissan side, was a risky affair.
With no support coming up from any quarter literally speaking, the odds set against us were heavy. The probability of risk perception came from both men and nature. Among the prying eyes of some stern looking stangers who kept a thorough watch on us right from the time we arrived there till we had left, and the enthusiasm of thousands of simple hearted locals from the villages far and wide downhill and pilgrims and visitors of other districts and from across the borders, we had our spirits brave the chilly onslaught of fiercest wind in the night. Seeing happiness on the faces of a tired population, who had walked their way up to the mountain top to celebrate Shiv Ratri, upon finding a lonely lighted tent on the bottom of the hill upon which the Bhima Temple stood, which was their last and most difficult climb, where a whole night exhibition was on, was our solace. And seeing their jolly impatience which was not there for long for a film show to begin, and the clappings and whistles of youngsters that soon followed when the film show began was our great reward.
The myths relating to this sacred hill top are abundantly immense. The fair held on the eve of Maha Shiv Ratri here every year has no equals, if one considers the insurmountable difficulties in climbing up the 10 km stiff incline with no roads and eating places, and with only dusts to fill up one’s nostrils and lungs to full. Only vehicles with four wheel gear system can take the arduous journey up, and there are not more than half a dozen of such vehicles in the district headquarters all of which had been requisitioned by the district administration. They only catered to the officials on duty and visits to the hill top. Private vehicles were not allowed to ply and it was walking and walking alone that was the only option available for the rich and the poor, the healthy and decrepit, the old and the young and for the locals and the outsiders to take up the arduous travel upwards, which they did without any complaint and whining. Many panted on the way, some took frequent breaks in between, but in the end none gave up without reaching the hill top.
I wanted to hire a pick up jeep to transport our goods up there, but did not find a single commercial vehicle with the four wheel system. I had borrowed photo exhibits from the neighboring Rayagada district and had also made many flex boards for exhibition. Getting a tent man agree to travel with us was another difficult task during the marriage season when their bookings are full. I got one willing to supply the tent materials on the condition that he would not personally available. We hired two porters who did a wonderful job for us there. Half the goods reached the Burkhart Pass a day before in the morning, which is 5 km away from Kainpur from where the buses stop plying. The staff waited whole day for the four wheel system requisitioned jeep to arrive and it was only in the evening when they were taken up. When the next day, the remaining goods arrived in our official jeep, the wait for any of the requisitioned vehicles to come was inordinately long.
I chose to walk my way up to call for help as we had been left stranded downhill for hours with materials and generator. My asthma was getting worse in the first two kilometers of climb, but a puff of Aerocort inhaler and a determination to check out if I still had in me the attitude of carefree youthful days, something which I saw in all of them climbing up the rigorous pass made it easier for me to finish in normal time which is 1 hour and 15 minute for any able –bodied man. The climb was stiff; many times the gradients inclined up to a little less than right angles. For a first timer in the darkness of no moon night, the thrill was immense. Help came when I reached the hill top at 7.30 PM, to find myself amidst a frenzied gathering of some 20,000 people. People were amiable and helpful. When the generator developed a snag, a mechanic from amidst the gathering offered to fix that thing and he did that successfully. When our projectionist who of course was new to a digital LCD Projector found the audio missing and was unable to fix things up, it was the same man who came to our rescue to fix the problem of missing sound.
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The nauseating decline of 5,000 feet, the overlooking stretch of vast valleys across the distant township of Manjusha and Badua of Andhra Pradesh, the scores of mountain ranges which stood at a lower height from us gave us a nice vantage point to observe the celestial marvel of nature. One felt at the top of the world to be there in the first place, doing one’s job that brought smiles over thousands of people’s faces at the same time was like a silver lining in the cloud. One saw a strong bodied, jeans clad tribal boy losing his consciousness due to fatigue at one place, his companions who were a young boy and girl who had made desperate efforts to wake him by giving him water to drink and by pouring water on his face, leaving him unattended when they failed. Of course, they asked for forgiveness for leaving him half way when a semi-conscious him told them that he had given up his journey. When I returned by walking down again the next day, I was curious to see whether the Youngman was still there. No, he was gone. The downward journey was not all that bad. With the gravity coming to take some of your weight from you, one saves half the energy that is required while climbing up. Many young boys who almost ran down during their return journey were heard shouting, “The breaks of their bodies are failing them.” I held an obese, middle aged woman by arms, thanks to a sudden quick reflex, when she lost her control over a stiff decline and was all set to roll down to a grave injury. I did not stop to exchange pleasantries with her, but overheard her saying to her companion that Bhima had plans to take her to the heavens.
Off all, the marvel of all marvels was being on the top of the hill where the Bhima temple was situated. This is the topmost height, the magical 5000 feet mark. With completely destroyed stairs, the visitors in thousands were thronging their ways up the whole night, throwing their safety to winds. To find one’s foot hold on slippery incline full of stones and gravels in the dark of night among pushes and shoves was an experience which fails words to describe. Anything could have happened, a stampede or an individual fall of somebody from the height. Thankfully it did not. Apart from the routine darshans, there was yet another reason for the gathering - to watch the sun rise from the vantage height of the region’s highest point. It was sacred and it was splendid. An INTACH photographer from Shrikakulum, who was there to film the sun rise professionally, told me the very many colours that could be lucidly seen in the body of the rising sun. Dark grey followed by crimson red with splendid sparkles, if I have my memories right. I chose a safer place to sit, waiting for the sunrise at 4 am in the teeth biting cold. The sea breeze was at its fiercest. Thousands occupied their places on the dangerous precipices, looking at the east ward horizon. A very slim, but immensely beautiful moon that was days ahead of its crescent shape, lurked up to demand attention. The fog was immense, though the sky was crystal clear, with billions of stars looking downwards.
The impatient wait for sunrise was getting inordinately long. One overheard a rustic woman from Ganjam saying, “The God is throwing tantrums upon seeing thousands waiting for him, and hence he is being late in rising.” The sun god came, lately though. The immense fog had played the spoil sport. The photographers and videographers were dejected for failing to shoot the mysterious splatters of colors which are unique to this sunrise alone, but the rest of the gathering cheered at the sight of an already risen sun. Yodels and whistles from religious and frenzied men and women reverberated in the mountain ranges, welcoming, greeting, worshipping the source of the life on earth. A feeling of awe and reverence was in everyone’s heart. A once in a life time experience for many who do not belong there, who never knew if they could come back again to this beautiful place.
For those who want to grow their familiarity with nature to a celestial level, the place is this - some 60 Kilometer from Parlakhemundi in the district of Gajapati in Orissa. Come and be a part of an awe of such magnitude next time during Shiv Ratri.
(Author is the District Information and Public Relations Officer, Gajapati, Orissa)