Bhubaneswar…Beware of the Pandas

1 Nov

Not the furry, cuddly, black and white animals that you might find in zoos and Chinese rainforests. These pandas or Hindu priests are sleazy, disgusting creatures that lurk inside Hindu temples. BEWARE! Once they see your white skin they jump into action grabbing flowers and trying to hand them to you, getting you to offer them to the deities and pray for your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, and your crazy uncle Larry. Then comes the best part, you get to pay for this honor and they don’t want measly ten rupee notes, no, they want hundreds only. One hundred for father, one hundred for mother, and one hundred for the aunt you don’t talk about rotting away in a women’s correctional facility in Bakersfield, CA. (Ed. note: I don’t have a crazy uncle Larry or an aunt rotting away in prison, but if I did, the pandas would want me to pray for them.)

I’ll admit it, even after reading all the websites, the travel books, etc. I got suckered into the scam- and it is a scam. Having never been in a Hindu temple, I did not know the etiquette. Am I supposed to give a holy man the finger and tell him to bugger off? I guess I am. But these pandas are counting on the fact that you won’t. That you will be good little rich, white people and go along with the prayers, that you will open your shoulder bag (which is obviously overflowing with money) and give freely. I got away with only giving a couple of ten rupee notes. I feel the need now to apologize to my family- of course you are worth more than twenty rupees, but not when I am getting scammed.

Our autorickshaw driver-cum tour guide (who barely spoke a word of English) quickly ushered us out of the temple and back into the rickshaw. He turned to me and mimed the signal for money (rubbing fingers together,) the signal for no (palm facing me, waving side to side,) and the signal for get out of here fool (a sweeping motion with the hand.) He must have really wanted me to understand because he went through it about seven times and another two before we entered the next temple. OK, OK, I get it…sheesh.

Unfortunately, Hindu temples across the board are difficult. If you can get in, meaning you are either Hindu or male, though sometimes women are allowed in, you ALWAYS have to deal with these pandas wanting to give puja. Finally, we just gave up and went to temples that were open as archaeological sites. They tended to have more presence anyway, and rarely do you have pandas, or anyone else for that matter, coming after you.

That being said, Astrid and I really did enjoy the temple architecture of Bhubaneswar. An example of the Kalingan style showing influences of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu styles with arches, carvings, and domes that look like Buddhist stupas. The best place by far to see these temples is the Mukteswar and Siddheswar temples in Bhubaneswar pictured here, and the Sun Temple in Konark.

To the left is the Siddheswar Mandir with a red-painted Ganesh greeting you as you come closer. The feeling here was calm and serene with only a couple of families walking around. A huge change from the other frenetic temples we walked through.

The Mukteswar Mandir pictured to the right, in the same temple complex as the Siddheswar Mandir is one of the most ornate temples in Bhubaneswar, and one of the most beautiful.

From here we leave by bus for a one and a half hour journey to Puri to spend some time near the beach by the Bay of Bengal, see the Sun Temple at Konark and sort out the next leg of our trip.

See you there.

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