My Buddhist tour of Odisha continues with my next blog on another interesting Buddhist site in Odisha. Buddhist viharas were once spread across the states of Bihar, Bengal, and Odisha. The ones in Bihar are famous for being popular tourist destinations but there are quite a few of them across Odisha which is very less frequented by tourists since not much excavation has been done which could have compared them to other nearby places like Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri, and Udayagiri. If you place Bajragiri on the map then you can see its proximity to these sites and that what makes this region of Odisha so special.
How to Reach Bajragiri
There are no direct connections to reach Bajragiri from Bhubaneswar of Cuttack. It is around 80 Kilometers from Bhubaneswar station. Its located in the Jajpur district so the nearest railhead is Jaupur station. You can take a train to Jajpur and then reach this place but I do not have any information about the available travel options. Its best recommended that you hire a car to reach this place. I am almost certain that the car driver would not have heard about this place so it’s better to explain to him by showing a map on your phone about the exact place that you want to reach.
Since this is not a place that tourists visit thus the roads are not that well maintained and done be surprised if the map on your phone takes you to a dead-end or a missing bridge. I had to face this myself as a portion of a bridge was missing and the car had to turn back and a short detour took me to the other end of the bridge.
Another challenge is asking the locals for directions as they have no clue whatsoever about the importance of this place and its direct connection with Buddhism. The best way to ask the direction once you are nearby is to ask for Bajragiri Mahavidyalaya. This place is the high school in the village which is located on to of a hill and this very hill is a heritage site.
What to see at Bajragiri
There are two sites at Bajragiri one the high school (Bajragiri Mahavidyalaya) itself where you will find some Buddhist sculptures scattered around the school compound. These include figures depicting Buddha and pieces of carved stones which clearly would have belonged to a large structure.
Usually, the Buddhist monks built monasteries and stupas atop hills. These had two advantages one was that from the top they could have a clear view of the surroundings and that of any approaching danger. Also, it was easy as a pointer on a map.
Like we have a place like Udayagiri which means the hill from where the sun rises or Pushagiri which means the flowering mountain Bajragiri is derived from fusing two words Bajra which means lightning and Giri meaning mountain. So this place was referred to as the lightning hill.
Keep a note that this place is a fully functioning school thus if you happen to visit on a weekday during the daytime you will find students who for sure will be staring at you. Anyways these students were very helpful in pointing me in the right direction where I could find the stone sculptures. There are about six to eight such pieces of stone located in one corner of a field near the school. Covered in vegetation initially it becomes difficult to spot them. I am sure during monsoon season it would be even difficult to spot them.
While leaving the school premises a man approached us speaking the native Odia language. Luckily, I do understand the language fluently and I could make out that the headmaster wanted to speak to me. I was worried as this could mean trouble as I had entered the school premises without taking any permission. I reluctantly went inside to find a room full of teachers and seated in the middle was the headmaster of the school.
After offering me tea the headmaster of the school asked about me and I told him that I was a blogger with an interest in Buddhist sites across Odisha. Surprisingly all the teachers and the headmaster were very happy that I had come from Bhubaneswar and told me how these few pieces were scattered all over the hill and they managed to collect them and put them at a central location.
They also informed me that down the hill there is a village on the left where there was an excavation done by ASI (Archeological Survey of India) a few years back and that site also has lots of artifacts. Thanking them for this vital piece of information I drove next to this village to locate someone and half kilometers downhill. The site was located within the village and was surrounded by houses. There used to be a signboard clearly which is now missing and only the metal frame of that signboard remains erect. The site has a boundary wall but clearly, it was not enough for the locals to stop using this place to store cow manure which was later shaped in discs and left to dry all around the heritage site. The iron gate which was placed there to keep the site safe remains wide open for anyone to just walk across.
Once you enter this site you can make out that this place had some big stone structures as you can see foundation stones and other longs pieces of stone slabs which for sure would have belonged to a bigger structure. The floral patterns on these stone foundations had similarities with other Buddhist sites nearby.
The one-piece that stood out was that of the headless Buddha. This could have very well been a Stupa while the monks used to stay uphill in their monasteries. From this place you can see the Bajragiri Hill where the school is located and where we found the smaller stone structures.
Tips For Visiting Bajragiri
Try and avoid monsoon season as the roads become very difficult to drive also a little unsafe.
Summer months will be hot so always prefer an airconditioned car.
Carry snacks and water as these places do not have any decent eatery.
Start early from as this place is located 80 Kilometers and takes nearly two hours to reach. Visit during the daytime and make sure you return by 4 PM.
The car will pass through multiple toll gates thus have a clear understanding of the charges that you have to pay to the car.
Book the car on basis of distance covered and not point to point so that at the end of the trip there is no confusion on the car hire charges.
The driver might confidently tell you that you are visiting the wrong place as he would expect all tourists to visit popular tourist spots like Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri, and Udayagiri. So be firm and confidently tell him to follow your mentioned route.
If traveling during monsoon make sure to carry umbrellas and during summer months a sun hat is a must.