The overnight bus journey from Bhubaneswar to Sambalpur was so comfortable that I could hardly feel that I had traveled over three hundred kilometers. My wife and children were also fresh and had a good night's sleep. We took a rickshaw to Hotel Panthanivas where we had our booking.
We hired a taxi for the sight seeing in and around the town. We got necessary information and assistance from the Tourist office in the hotel. We started with the darshan of Goddess Samaleswari after whom this small western Odisha town has been named. I was amazed to see the discipline in which people stood in a queue to get inside the temple. Such type of discipline is rarely seen in temples of Odisha. Our next destination was the Budharaja Temple on a hillock in the heart of the town. We had to climb more than a hundred steep steps to reach the top of the hill. The bird's eye view of the entire town was very nice. My children were ecstatic to see a train moving like a snake down below at the foot of the hill.
It took us about 45 minutes to reach Hirakud. We had to obtain a formal pass from the Security Office to visit the Dam. We were not allowed to drive on the dam. The five kms. long dam connected two hills on the opposite sides thus creating a large reservoir. We climbed the Gandhi minar on the left dyke side. The top portion of the minar revolved thus giving us an all round panoramic view of the dam site. My children were very happy. We felt as if we were amidst an ocean. The panoramic garden on the hill top was a good place to sit and relax. We then went to other side of the dam via the satellite township of Burla, popularly called the town of intellectuals. Barely within a radius of 2 kms. this township encompasses an Engineering College, a Medical college and an University. The literacy rate per square km will probably be the highest at this place. After spending about half an hour at the Nehru Minar we proceeded to the Ghanteswari Temple situated at Chipilima about 40 kms from Sambalpur. One has to walk on the narrow pavements of iron over vast expanse of water to reach the temple. It was a unique experience of fear and joy when we approached the temple. My children were very apprehensive and we had to hold their hands tight to give assurance.
Both my children were thrilled to see myriad of bells (Ghanti) of all sizes hung all around the temple. Hence the name Ghanteswari. The local priest explained to us that when people get their wishes fulfilled they tie bells in the temple. My wife also tied a ghanti for the well being of our family. We were feeling hungry and so we returned to the hotel.
In the afternoon session our first destination was the Deer Park on the Brookes hill. We thought it was a zoo sort of thing. But we were disappointed. A few deer and a leopard were what we could see there. I felt that if a beautiful garden were developed at the place it would be more attractive. Maneswar temple was our next destination. We were told that the deity in the temple was seen only on Sivaratri day and so it was called Patala Linga. My children enjoyed seeing the large turtles in the temple pond.
It was already 4.30 P.M. We proceeded to our last major destination, i.e. the leaning temple of Huma.(29 Km. from Sambalpur). The Shiva temple in the village was in an inclined state (about 20 degrees from the Vertical). I remembered the leaning tower of Pisa, Italy. Was this temple in any way less than that? Inside the temple all pillars and gates were also inclined. The local people told us that the temple was in that position since time immemorial. This was the most interesting and amazing spot of my entire Sambalpur trip. My children were in a spell of ecstasy to see hundreds of large and small fishes clamouring near the shore of the river adjacent to the temple. The fishes took eatables from our hands. People told us that those fishes belonged to the Lord and they always remain there. My children wanted to stay there for some more time but we had to return as it was getting dark. We could not also enjoy the boat ride in the river.
The next morning we went out for some shopping. I had heard about the famous handloom sarees of Sambalpur. My wife purchased two silk sarees from the Gole Bazaar area, the most famous market place of the town. They were not very cheap but at least the quality was guaranteed. A good bargainer can land up paying about 35 to 40% less on the quoted price of the sarees.
In course of our visit I talked to a lot of people. As I knew a bit of sambalpuri accent the local people felt that I belonged to their place and were very much free with me. They were very friendly and cooperative. However, the one thing about the town that tormented me was the poor drainage system, which resulted in flooding of roads after a good downpour thus making things unhygienic.
I and my family enjoyed every bit of time that we were at Sambalpur. If somebody is looking for a sleepy holiday away from the din and bustles of city life, Sambalpur will definitely be the right destination for him.