The first vacation that a Bengali family usually takes would be either a trip to Puri or to Darjeeling. For my family, it started with a planned trip to Darjeeling in the mid-1980’s. All the bags were packed and I was super excited especially to see Tiger Hills which I thought was a hill full of tigers back then at an age eight nothing could be more exciting. We reach the station to board our train only to find out that all trains to the hills were canceled due to recent agitation by some political parties.
Not to disappoint us my father made an impromptu trip Puri as an alternative. I still have some faintest memories like the beach, the railway station where a couple was fighting (the wife not happy with the choice of train seat) and the sweet meat selling vendors. Not to forget the sumptuous lunch cooked by my mom which included chicken, mutton and of course tons of fish. Yes, back then most families cooked their own food while staying at one of the several holiday homes. This was also a trip where my grandmother was also with us which I believe was the only time she had accompanied us during a vacation.
Years passed, decades pass and after more than a dozen trip to Puri, I was getting bored of the same sea, sand, and food so when I was invited by Sterling Resorts to enjoy their hospitality I was initially not interested as I did not want to go through the same regime. However, on knowing that a couple of my blogger friend would also be joining me I hastily agreed.
The day we reached the resort we were told after the initial briefing that we would be taken to a special place for a tour and our lunch would also be served out there prepared by the villagers consisting if traditional dishes. I was more fixated about the traditional lunch and initially did not pay much attention to the name of the village.
It took around twenty minutes by car to reach the village called Raghurajpur some 14 kilometers away from the main Puri town. It is then I realized that once I had read about this very special heritage village of Raghurajpur which is known worldwide for its Pattachitra painters and other craft works.
For those who are wondering what Pattachitra are then it’s a traditional scroll painting usually done on a cloth having narratives of mythological tales. In olden days before the advent of television and cinema, traditional singers would travel from village to village with these scroll of paintings and would narrate out the mythological stories by singing along with visual reference through these Pattachitra. These style of painting would often involve bright colors and large motifs.
Other than Pattachitra this heritage village is also known for this palm leaf paintings along with other craft items. The whole village as such in involved in these activities. What makes it more interesting is that each house in this village has a story to be told and each of them has decorated their front entrance as beautifully as the Pattachitra itself.
You should not be surprised if you happen to see a lady busy painting earthen pots or see someone actually painting a Pattachitra. The villagers are very friendly and encourage you to take as many photos as you wish. Be courteous to them and they will even invite you inside their homes to see the crafts being prepared.
This village has a landmark almost equally important as Pattachitra that is the original house of Kelucharan Mohapatra the legendary Odissi dancer. A name which is almost synonymous with the dance itself. Unfortunately, very little is left of that house and only some pillars still stand to tell a story of a forgotten past.
Talking about the dance guru one would also like to talk about the dance form of Gotipua something with Kelucharan Mohapatra used to perform during his childhood which ultimately led him to master this art form. Gotipua is a dance performed only by young boys before they reach adolescence and the most unique thing is that they are dressed as girls. From their hair to their makeup to the clothes that they wear is that of a girl making them look very much feminine.
Gotipua dance form is the predecessor of Odissi dance something which was performed at temples. The temples had female dancers in the form of Devdasis who would perform dances like depicting the romance of Radha and Krishna. Later on when the tradition of Devdasis was discontinued these boys dressed as young girls danced in the temples.
Raghurajpur is supposedly to be the heart of Gotipua and the tradition still continues with young boys from the village taking up this dace form at a very young age. They are trained at the newly built training center dedicated to promoting the dace from of Gotipua.
Gotipua also fuses acrobatics and along with elegant dance moves you should not be surprised to see some acrobatic moves which include human tower formation. The song that is sung along with this form of dance also involves only young boys in keeping with the tradition.
Coming back to the original attraction that is the traditional lunch that we were promised was true to its name. We were escorted to a dining area where banana leaves were placed on the floor where our lunch would be served in line with the tradition. The kitchen located next to this dining area had a large wood-fired cooking facility where our food was being prepared.
The traditional lunch consisted of Rice, Dahi Bengan (aubergines with a curd gravy), Meetha Cholar Daal (Sweet Bengal Gram), Mixed Vegetables, Mixed Saag, Papad. What came next was something very unique to this section of Odhisa which is Chura Kadma with Cheena. This is basically crushed chura (flattened rice) which has been fried in ghee (clarified butter) along with dry fruits like cashew nuts and almonds served with a spoonful of cheese curd. Mind it this can be really very heavy and a couple of mouthfuls will surely make your belly full. Last but not the least we were served Payesh/Kheer (rice boiled in sweetened milk).
Being really hungry this was much needed and tummy was full. These type of Odiya cuisine is something which is not well known other than a specific few items but it’s been a long tradition for Bengali families to utilize Odiya cooks during various occasions like wedding etc. thus their skills of cooking is something known across Bengal but this opportunity to have Odiya cooks preparing authentic Odiya cuisine and having them in that village of Raghurajpur was something really special.
So my bet of coming to Puri again was not disappointing at all as I got to see new things, witness new things and of course to taste new things. This whole adventure of a day trip to Raghurajpur was planned and organized by Sterling Resorts and I would surely recommend anyone traveling to have this in their itinerary. This really goes perfectly with the theme of #HolidayDifferently.