“Orissa (now Odisha, more in line with the way it is pronounced) is an extraordinary place. We were there for 12 days in January. It’s very old-fashioned and underdeveloped, and quite a stronghold of Hinduism, with many famous temples. It is the first place in India in which I have felt like a mleccha, an outcaste from across the Black Water (i.e. outside India) whose touch pollutes; people seemed actually a bit afraid of contact with us; apart from our 'own people' of course, who were overjoyed to see us. They are would-be Buddhists or political followers of Dr Ambedkar, great leader of the Scheduled Castes, now known as Dalits (oppressed people.)
“At one point we visited a remote village and had a meal with the local group, and they were so delighted that they came to meet us with traditional instruments and dancing, and processed us through the village. They had never seen a white person before, except on TV...it was like going back 1000 years into India's history - until our hostess, sister of one of our friends there, pulled a mobile phone out of her blouse! They were so hospitable and kind, and Helen, who is rather Indian-looking apart from her colouring, was a great hit with the younger women (and men!) especially.
“In another village, we were treated to a programme of traditional dancing by young people, women and men. It was terrific - wild and energetic and beautifully done, with costumes just like the ones we had viewed earlier in the State Museum at Bhubaneshwar, great chunky barbaric-looking jewellery and short skirts to free the dancers' strong and lively legs. So different from the traditional Hindu image of women, demure and retiring!
“The museum is very good indeed, with lots of Buddhist stuff and excellent displays of the way of life of 'tribal' people; again we were given some amazing insights by Trinath, who comes from a similar background. His descriptions of instruments were especially good, through them I recognised the ones in the villages, later.
“There is loads more to say about Odisha, but I am running out of time. Today may be the last time I can get on the internet before going to Chhattisgarh, where I am attending a big retreat run by Saddharaja. So this is a sort of half-blog, with a second instalment to follow, after which I will be back to chilly England - but at least the air may be fresh!