Friday, February 10, 2006

Catching some rays at the Temple of the Sun

Suitably it was my first clear, bright, hot day for my visit to the Temple of the Sun. Sounds a bit Aztec, doesn't it? But it's in India, at Konarak, an hour along the coast from here. (Still can't get used to it running east-west, rather than north-south as it "ought" to be doing). Dating from the mid-13th century, it consisted of towers and spires over intricately-carved (sand?)stone, with images of many kinds celestial and carnal, reminiscent of the rather better-preserved couples at Khajuraho. Konarak has suffered down the centuries from attacks, first by the Mughals and then by Nature, wind, sand and the two combined. It is still a mighty structure and, despite the depradations and erosion, the art of the makers and the subtlety of the designers is still quite evident. The main structure was conceived as a cosmic chariot for the Sun God for his journeying across the heavens: aligned East-West, with 12 pairs of mighty wheels (12 months, 24 hours a day) drawn by 7 horses (days of the week). The 12 wheels on the south side (the daylight hours) double as sundials, with 12 spokes and 60 bumps between each one: Konarak time is accurate to the nearest two minutes, thanks to the size of the huge wheels.

Took a cycle rickshaw to the bus station on the theory that they're at the bottom of the transport feeding chain and need feeding. The bus to Konarak (and indeed on the way back too) offered the classic choice: jump on as a last-minute passenger and dangle from the doorway or wait for the next and travel at ease in a window seat. Now a few years ago, I might have ... On the way back, temple duly admired, photographed and explored and rays having been caught, the bus had a load of college kids with less than a load of English but enough for some chat (well one-directional Q&A) and some jokes (some no doubt at my expense) plus a middle-aged businessman who had almost enough English for a real conversation. Still, with only 3 words of Hindi, who am I to talk? Literally.

The bus trip home seem brief as a result and again I hunted out (that's a misnomer - was hunted by a horde of) rickshaw drivers. Mostly, although Indian roads are ruled by might is right (cows always get trumps, though), most traffic does seem to recognise that a cycle-rickshaw with some momentum going should be given space - lest all that enrgy gets lost in a screech of brakes and tyres. Perhaps these other drivers started at the bottom once or fear they may be there in another life, but they do seem to show this one piece of consideration in the game of Grab the Road. Not so some of the middle class down from Calcutta (Kolkata now) in the shiny limos and jeeps: they often seem oblivious to the rickshaw man's plight Perhaps they can't imagine ever being one, having been one - or going to be one. All the poor man can do is cuss and be philosophical - what other choice does he have?

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