Today India made my heart bleed.
The Sun Temple in Konark is my favourite monument in India. I have wonderful memories of my first visit almost 10 years ago; an incredible spectacle looming up in the middle of nowhere. One man selling Patachitra, etched palm leaves, trees lined the streets and entry into a monument whose sheer size and beauty literally took ones breath away is a memory which has lived with me ever since. My lasting memory is of wanting to stay longer to enjoy the serenity of the gardens and take time to pick out and study sections of its intricately carved walls.
I returned to the monument yesterday and was horrified. All the trees have been cut down, hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of unimaginable tat now line the surrounding streets, litter cakes the roads and pathways. Domestic tourists in their hundreds ply the stalls and then enter the grounds. Babies scream, kids and adults climb over the protective barriers and clamber all over the monument, guards stand by oozing apathy. No interest is given to it’s history, the only desire is to buy a silly hat and have a photo taken or indeed take a selfie in front of every part of the monument, blocking the view for those who want to learn and appreciate it’s splendour.
This is the conundrum of my profession. It is my job to seek out the extraordinary and share it with a wider audience and yet once destinations are discovered, there is little empathy in this country to maintain their beauty and decorum.
Here, Indians are charged an entry fee of INR30.00 and foreigners INR500.00. I wholeheartedly agree that locals should be encouraged to visit their national heritage, it should be a source of pride for then, but then their lack of appreciation for socially acceptable behaviour in such a destination ruins it for the foreigner who is paying considerably more. The toilets were some of the worst I have come across in the country, the queues unruly, the noise unbearable and the litter, unacceptable.
This monument remains one of the best in the country but the experience one now has to endure there, means I won’t be rushing back.
However, all was not completely lost. In order to attempt to beat the crowd we did decide to go back in the evening, which was a marginally better experience. On the way we stopped to see the pre sunset at Chandrabagha Beach before visiting the temple lit up at night. It was less busy, and with some clever angling and more patience than I usually possess, some semi decent photos were taken.
I hate to sound like such a snob, but my heart bleeds for the experience that a visit to this extraordinarily beautiful piece of history once was.