|Towering Megha overlooking the Gajalxmi Palace, Dhenkanal|
CONNECTING THE ‘GHATS’
……. Road trip across Western & Eastern Ghats
“EXPLORE, EXPERIENCE, THEN PUSH BEYOND”
– AARON LAURITSEN
... continued from Episode 4..
Drive – Mandasaru (Kandhamal) to Dhenkanal (Gajalxmi Palace) – 06Feb2021
On 6th Feb we set out around 7:00am from Mandasaru Nature Camp towards our last pit-stop at Dhenkanal, before reaching home. During this time of the year dense fog in the early hours is quite common, hence we opted for a delayed start. The drive was beautiful, much of the drive was over single carriage State Highway, with a couple of short sections on National Highway. As we progressed north, the Eastern Ghat hills became far less arduous, with long stretches of plain land amongst fewer hills. It was certainly less hilly and more populated than the hills we encountered in the Koraput region. The forests were similar though mainly deciduous Sal trees. Our route from Mandasaru took us through Raikia – G. Udaygiri - Daspalla – Contilo – Narsinghpur – Hindol – Dhenkanal. Most of these places i.e. Daspalla, Narsinghpur, Hindol, Dhenkanal were princely states which came under the Puri Gajapati Raja, who ruled over the tribal populations.
We had to cover 250 Kms, and and expected to
reach Gajalaxmi Palace around noon. There were no toll roads on our entire
route amongst the hills of the Eastern Ghats. Except for a few sections, the roads had been decent enough.
Gajalxmi Palace, Dhenkanal
Gajalxmi Palace was the last stop on our expedition. Being passionate about wildlife & photography and having read the trip reviews, Gajalxmi Palace seemed to be the right kind of a stop before hitting home @ Kolkata. It also has the reputation as a location for Satyajit Ray's movie amongst others. It also finds a mention on 'Lonely Planet'.
Situated amongst hills and wilderness it is hard to believe, how the then Princely rulers chose this place for a Royal Palace, and more importantly have preserved it until today. In most other places, this would have been run down into a concrete jungle devoid of any beauty. It is commendable of the Royal family of Dhenkanal for having sustained the palace and for allowing lesser mortals, like us, to enjoy royalty amongst wilderness and nature.
The 'Singh Deo' Royal family, were our hosts! Their hospitality and warmth is extraordinary. You easily feel as if you are a part of this family. One of the best home-stay experiences we have had thus far. Every aspect of our stay was minutely detailed. The home cooked food, the nature walks, the history, the moonlit nights out in the open, the bonfire, and what not. The nature walks every day were a unique experience, led by Kunwar JP Singh Deo. A superb story-teller, we liked the anecdotes he shared as we walked along the 5Km trail, through orchards, paddy field, along watering holes and forest patches. With fresh elephant droppings along the route, broken branches signifying their presence, and also glimpses off the ever shy barking deer made the walks so refreshing and thrilling. Added to that the fresh fragrance of the mango flowers reminded one of the arrival of spring along with heightened activity of the birds.
The art of tapping palm juice
This time of the year with the onset of spring, wild elephants begin their migration towards watering-holes. And right behind the palace is a natural pond that holds water year round, and that attracts wild animals through the summer months. It was a regular affair to hear elephants trumpeting through the night and enjoying their plunge in the pond. Navneeta, informed us that at times, they walk right up to the palace kitchen in search of their favorite goodies.
Kunwar JP Singh Deo during our nature walks in the forest around the palace
The surrounding forest is a great place for birding as well. We spotted Loten's sunbird, Common Iora, Black-hooded Oriole, Brown-headed Barbet, Rufous Treepie, Black Drongo, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Jungle Babblers, Brahminy Starlings, amongst others. Due to the presence of elephants around the Palace, could not venture out at night. It was too risky.
Gajlaxmi Palace, like the rest of South Odisha is an ideal location for people who have interest in tribes, traditions and temples. There are fascinating locations such as the temple at Joranda Gadi dedicated to Shunya Brahma or the shapeless lord. This is supposedly the youngest religion in the world.
|One of the temples at Joranda Gadi|
In addition to numerous temples dotting the hills around the Palace, there is also the Dokra craftsmen - The Bell Metal or Dokra art of Sadeibareni village. Their knowledge of traditional metallurgy is amazing.
The Dokra craftsmen at work
We spent 3 nights at Gajlaxmi Palace, which seems too short for the beauty and stories that the place beholds. Finally I bow in respect to Kunwar JP Singh Deo, the magnificent lady of the Palace Navneeta, their family and last but not the least not their support staff for the care and affection they bestowed.
As we drove of headed homewards, Navneeta handed us packed brunch
while Kunwar JP Singh Deo had ordered freshly baked 'Chhena Pora' to be picked up
on the way (Chhena pora, is a sweetened cheese dessert of Odisha.... means
Baked Cheese). This was perhaps one of the best tasting Chena pora that we have
had, loved the caramelized coating prepared in fresh sal leaves... it was
simply awesome! That was indeed the sweetest of send-offs.
Finally ... an awesome place it has something unique for every traveling soul.
Last Lap - Dhenkanal (Gajalxmi Palace) to Kolkata (Krishna Vihar) – 09Feb2021
The final lap of 440 Kms took a little over 8hrs. Except for a brief traffic bottleneck at the Brahminy river bridge on National Highway the drive was smooth. We started off at 0730 hrs keeping in mind the convenience of the Palace folks and avoided going via Cuttack. Instead took Kapilesh Road via Haripur driving through Kapilesh Wildlife Sanctuary and merged on to NH 16 near Tangi. Once on NH16, the drive was smooth and effortless until you hit the outskirts of Kolkata.
This was one of the magnificent journeys that we have undertaken until now. Instead of being stuck at home, we managed to explore some secrets of the Western & the Eastern Ghat. Some unforgettable memories, many remarkable people, pristine landscapes and endangered wildlife has been the hallmark. This has been a great partnership amongst Runa, me and our trusted Brezza! Truly a trip of a life-time.
Hope you liked reading about it. Feel free to share your feedback.
....... till we hit the road again!!