Thursday, July 2, 2009

The sea, the sand, and you...

I had written this piece on Gopalpur when I was working for The Hindu, and it was published in the newspaper's features supplement Metroplus on August 25, 2005:

Gopalpur-on-Sea in Orissa has no tourist infrastructure. But it is one place that can fit the 'heaven on earth' bill to a T. And if you are looking for a chill-out vacation in a serene spot, check this place out, which is along the seacoast.

It is an experience in itself to watch the serene shore and the rolling waves vying with each other for attention. The long endless walks on the seashore early in the morning, when you wake up to the chirping of the birds, can tell you what bliss is all about. The sea is so calm and shallow that you can actually walk about half a kilometre into the sea — barring high tides or during the monsoon. And, listen to the tales of the white sand.

Make sure you're on the beach when the fishermen haul in the catch. The best seafood here is the crabs. Green and big, they are sold in baskets covered with grass (beware of sellers who will show a big crab and pass on a small one). Seafood-lovers can buy their favourite fish/ prawn/ crab variety straight-out-of-the-sea and request the chef at the hotel to make it to order. It has been the tradition to serve tourists their meal-to-order ever since the first Oberoi hotel in the country, the Oberoi Palm Beach, was built.

The hotel no longer exists but you can see the building that housed it once.

Port town

Gopalpur used to be a big port town with a natural harbour from the days of the Kalinga rulers, and was the centre of trading activities, which continued even during the British rule. That trade was carried on with port towns such as Rangoon is evident in the unmistakable Siamese features found in the many cats that loiter around the streets here. Traders would bring back Siamese cats as gifts for their loved ones. Now there are no traders or their families; only the progeny of their feline beauties stand testimony to the days gone by.

After the tsunami hit the coast in December last year, the remnants of the pier built by the British are visible. Walk to one edge of the beach and you will come across the calm backwaters playing hide and seek with the sea. A boat ride between Gopalpur and Bandar, a little village, is quite an experience.

Tourists can make Gopalpur their base and travel to nearby places by road. Check out Barakul, 60 km from Gopalpur, a hamlet on one edge of the Chilka lake. The view is awesome. For Rs. 150, you can hire a boat that will take you to marshy islands where migratory birds flock. Persuade the boatman and he will take you to the edge of the lake where the sea swells smash on the shore and create ripples in the lake.

Taptapani, 75 km away, is another haven of hot springs. It is also one of the excursion spots frequented by school children in Orissa. Taratarini, a temple town 30 km away, is the abode of the deity Taratarini, a beautiful and restrained form of Shakti.

You can also go to Puri (which has, besides Lord Jagannath temple, a beautiful beach too) and Konark, which are approximately about 150 km from Gopalpur.

A quick-and-not-so-difficult drive to these places completes the itinerary of your holiday. And in an affordable way.

How to get there

Berhampur, 18 km away, is the nearest station to Gopalpur-on-Sea. There are local buses that commute between both the towns and drop you off at a kilometre from the sea. Just walk through the lane packed with small stores that sell groceries and fresh-from-the-sea catch, cameras, and souvenirs. Or for Rs. 120-Rs. 150 (it all depends on your bargaining capacity), you can travel by an autorickshaw from Berhampur that takes you right till the edge of the sea where there are some good hotels with comfortable rooms that offer you an excellent view of the sea.

Where to stay:
Pantnivas (0680-2243931); Green Park (2242016, 2243753); Kalinga (2242067); Sea Pearl (2242556/7); Rohini (2242309); Swosti (2242453, 2242455). There are budget hotels also, with tariffs starting at Rs. 250.

Other places to visit:
Make Gopalpur your base, and travel by road to Barakul (60 km) on the edge of Chilka Lake, Taptapani (75 km), Taratarini (30 km), and Bhairavi Panchuma (30 km).

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