It all started with a terrific breakfast.
Dawn was beautiful along the beach where India’s eastern coast meets the Bay of Bengal. The fabulous breakfast buffet helped us forget about the cancellation of the dance festival we’d planned our entire trip around. And—because we’re
shallow like that, not at all bitter, forgetful old ladies, such sophisticated travelers—it actually worked. Especially the part where we realized we could have that breakfast again the next morning.
Properly fortified, we headed off to tour the Sun Temple.
Our general experience is that hired guides spend most of their time reprimanding us. “This way Madam. Madam, look here. Madam, come come. Madam I am telling you…”—by which point Madam has either wandered off to take pictures (Janine), actively interrupted his script by asking random questions (me), or lost all patience and started giving the tour herself since she clearly knows a LOT more history, better stories, and English (Jaya). Our usual technique has been to read up on the history and significant features before arriving at a site. But if it’s large, if the signage is nonexistent, and if the architecture stunning, we might opt for the guide. We have yet to find any reason to be glad we did so, and this trip proved no exception.
We arrived at the Sun Temple on the day that Konark was officially the hottest spot in all of India. Our new English-speaking guide’s first job was to find a stall where we could buy a sun umbrella so Janine and I didn’t die of sunstroke before we saw the temple. He brought us to his friend’s booth, who proceeded to unfurl the scariest bumbershoot ever. It was a rusty black object covered with bird poop, and opened in a cloud of dust to display actual spiderwebs and dead bugs. I screamed, Janine scrambled away, and Jaya herded us to another booth selling children’s umbrellas.
Five minutes later I had a green and orange striped umbrella—complete with embroidered stars and little mirrors, thank you very much—and we were good to go. Or we would have been, if our guide did, in fact, actually speak English. Jaya, who attempted valiantly to communicate with him, later confirmed that he also did not appear to speak Hindi or any of the handful of other languages she tried.
Still, he did manage to convey a few ‘facts’:
There are over 100,000 elephants** carved along the sides of the temple. (**GoogleFactCheck: probably closer to 2000)
- The seven monumental horses pulling the Sun God’s chariot represent the colors of the rainbow** (**GFC: It’s more likely that the horses represent the seven days of the week. Only one horse survives mostly intact.)
- There are over 160 different classical dance positions sculpted**. (**GFC: probably true)
- The chariot wheels were actually sundials**. (**GFC: Not only is this true, but you can tell time accurately down to the minute!)
We followed our museum experience with lunch in their restaurant—selected based on
gourmet recommendations, reviews, the “Air Conditioned!” sign on the door—and had a blissfully cool and totally forgettable lunch served by waiters in purple shirts and what looked like cardboard Burger King crowns. Nobody mentioned the crowns, so we just figured that the wonderful people who allowed us to eat in their Air-Conditioned restaurant could wear whatever they wanted.
We had a choice at that point about whether to go to the Archaeological Survey of India’s excellent museum or visit a temple our driver knew of that had the skeleton and jaws of a gigantic shark which washed up there. Easy decision. (It was a great shark!)
Stopping only for photos of irresistible road signs along the way, we arrived back at Lotus Eco Resort for our final night there, already looking forward to a leisurely breakfast the next morning before heading to our next stop in Puri. That’s when the manager told us that Puri would be closed the next day for a general strike. India (or at least the bit we were in) would be closed.
Since we were supposed to be staying in Puri, our only option would be to leave before five AM the next morning; meaning not much sleep and—care of the strike—no chance of repeating that great breakfast.
On the road by 6AM, we peeled out for Puri.
Okay, first we stopped for chai. Then it was foggy, so our driver had to drive reeeeeeeally slowly. Then we stopped completely because our driver wanted us to take “selfie” of of the empty road with its avenue of trees.
But then we totally peeled. Okay, we crawled, slowly, because it was still so foggy. And because we needed to stop to get bananas.
But we finally arrived in Puri, having made the one-hour drive in a record (for us) three hours.