It’s a 2 kms by 1 km island with a small Panthasala (hotel) and a 10th century Shiva temple. Nobody stays there except the guard of the temple and 2/3 employees of the hotel. So after dusk you can have the island almost exclusively (tourists are scarce). It’s called Dhabaleswar and it’s bang in the middle of river Mahanadi, only 10 kms from the Cuttack railway station. Interested? Read on.
It was still dark when I alighted on the Cuttack railway station — dawn was just breaking; roadside tea stalls are opening their door– their ovens still unlighted. Dhabaleswar Ghat is only half an hour’s drive. I took an auto. As I reached Dhabaleswar Ghat on the bank of Mahanadi, the sun came out of the horizon. The Ghat is completely deserted. As far as I can see, I am the only human being. It was along wait for the boat that will take me to the island out line of which I can see in the middle of the river.
Soon passengers started arriving—govt. employee Mr. Mahapatra with his brief case, hawker Golak Das with his wares laden cycle and few others. But nobody lives in Dhabeleswar! Mr. Mahapatra answered my query. All of them are going to Mancheswar — the biggest village on this route — on the other side of the Island. They will cross the island by foot and will take another boat to reach other side.
The small over laden boat landed us on the edge of the island without capsizing and that’s certainly an achievement of the boatman. Trudging through the sandy bank for a short distance, we reached the Panthasala –a small one-story affair through two lines of Deodars amidst a sprawling garden and the only place to stay. It’s quiet, reasonably clean, moderately furnished, and ruggedly functional. Ramesh, the cook cum bearer cum caretaker is the USP — always ready to please you (if you suitably tip!). The catch? (There is always one). It’s a veg. joint. But it was suitably (!) impressed upon Ramesh that we were medically advised to have non-veg. and eggs were allowed.
The 10th century temple is a typical example of Orrian temple architecture, consisting of Biman (sanctum) and Jagmohan (front). The present structure is relatively modern but the figurines of Bishnu, Kartick and Ganesh in the alcoves are antiquated. The puzzle of antique idols and modern temple was solved when I was told that these idols were dug out while digging a pond in the vicinity. Surely a much older temple existed which was destroyed somehow and a modern temple was built in the vicinity. The crest of the temple is adorned with lotus, pitcher and flag. A life-size statue of an ox sits in front of the Jagamohan. Marble steps leads to the sanctum where a white marble Lingam stands surrounded by snakes. Few much older temples stand scattered in the complex. An idol of Nrisingha, in the alcove of the Buralinga temple is interesting.
Next day, we went for further temple hopping in the speedboat of OTDC. Our boat zoomed past the fisherman’s boat, while ladies on their morning ablution cast enquiring glances, children waved vigorously.
Eight very old Shiva temples — Swapneswar, Sarpeswar, Grameswar, Rameswar, Narayaneswar, Mancheswar and Dhabaleswar– still stand on the bank of Mahanadi within a radius of a few kilometers. Dhabaleswar is most famous. The carvings on the outer walls of the Narayaneswar temple—danseuses, lotus and floral motifs, are simple stunning. Siddheswar temple was a Buddhist center in the past. A curved statue of Buddha on a cave in front of the modern temple is sufficient proof.
The evening came silently. Breaking the silence momentarily, cacophonous homing birds landed on the big pupil tree that covered much the island. Stars came out on the dark sky and the silence returned. Sitting on a lounge chair on the lawn of the hotel in the deserted island I savour the tranquility, the smell of the river, of the grass and the fragrance of the flowers that abound in the garden. The call of a night Heron wafted through the cool breeze and woke me up from my gentle slumber.