Khiching is supposed to be an ancient capital but today it is no more than a village with unimpressive ruins. The insignificance of this place is apparent in the lack of proper transport connections. There is a road but unless you have hired a vehicle you are likely to spend much time waiting.
I checked into a nice hotel at Jashipur, a town 45 kms from Khiching. It is a small room with no attached bathroom. The view however is much better. It overlooks acres of paddy fields. There is a immediate freshness in this view even if the water pipe from the wash basin drains in an open cascade from this building.
I had lunch at Jashipur. It was a standard affair of rice, daal, some cooked vegetables and fried bitter gourds. They do not recognize the term ‘thali’ in these parts. The equivalent appears to be the word ‘baath’. Oriya seems to share a lot with the neighbouring Bengali, in both sound and vocabulary. I was also served a slice of onion and some fresh chillies. I am not in the habit of eating these. The interesting – or shall we say disgusting – thing is the way they served the side dishes in this restaurant. Once the plate was on your table, the waiter would go to a side table. He would dip his fingers into a badly dented and soot-covered aluminium bowl. He would pull out a little clump of the vegetables, come to your table and dole them out. He would give you that look that he is being generous and this was the best part of the meal deal. Believe it or not, I even considered a second helping of these vegetables.
Khiching should be a breeze and I had the whole afternoon to visit it and return. I found out soon enough that there are no direct buses to Khiching. No one was sure if there were any buses at all. Perhaps there is a bus late night or one early morning. When you want it, there are none.
‘You may want to take a Commando,’ someone said.
I took this to be some sort of a local term for a jeep. In Bhubaneshwar, I have heard people use the term ‘Tekker’. Only later I came to know that they are talking of specific jeep models – Ambassador Trekker and Mahindra Commander.
Fortunately for me there was a jeep bound for Khiching. I had to climb on to the roof with a few others. We rattled through the lone road that cut between the paddy fields. This was the road to Raruan which was en route to my destination. Something is to be said of this road. It must have been laid years ago. It is in such a bad state that a dirt track would have been faster. Potholes are numerous. Sometimes they clearly resemble craters or crash sites of smaller meteorides. On this road, already a lot of patchwork is present. Soon enough, there is be more of these patchworks than the original road itself.
It is quite a sight to see men attempting to fill the potholes. They remind me of chefs at restaurants of fine dining. Half the art is in the presentation than in the cooking. The items will be arranged meticulously for balance and visual appeal. Then a sauce will be drizzled. Finally, bits of walnut will be sprinkled or basil leaves arranged for the final effect. A couple of men were boiling the tar in a metal drum. A couple of others were selecting stones of different sizes and trying them out within the pothole. They were arranging these stones like some modern age puzzle, filling the corners and fixing the edges. Once satisfied, they would throw in some fine rubble as well and drizzle the tar. I know that people in this country hate labour saving equipment but inefficient and ineffective work is perhaps worse than not doing it at all.
Somewhere along the way a group of ten women got off the jeep. They had to return to Jashipur urgently. I did not realize the significance of this event until later. I was at that particular moment marvelling at the presence of DishTV in an otherwise completely rustic setting. Half an hour later I was told that the jeep would not take me to Khiching. The women had got off earlier. It’s no longer profitable for the driver to drop only me at Khiching. So I had to get off at Raruan.
After a restless wait of fifteen minutes, I got another jeep, this one bound for Sukhruli. I was told that he would take me to Khiching for another Rs. 60 but I declined. He tried to convince me that Khiching and Sukhruli are 6 kms apart. I got off at Sukhruli and walked to Khiching, a distance of less than 3 km. On the return, I hitched a ride on the back of a bicycle. From Sukhruli, I took a roundabout route via Karanjia since it was far too late to go via Raruan.
The village of Khiching has perhaps a hundred houses surrounded by fields. It is often visited for the temple of Kicheswari from the 10th century AD. The temple has an Orissan style shikara standing on a 4-foot pedestal. The shikara has a wonderful image of a dancing Ganesha. The image of Karkikeya is mostly lost and can be identified only by the peacock. The image of Mahishasuramardini is also wonderful.
The village is worth a walk but people will stare at you. They do not expect an outsider dressed as I was to walk these streets. People like me never come into villages or if they do, only drive in and drive out. The walk does give a chance to look at their houses and courtyards. Walls are of brick and mortar, tempered on the outside smoothly with mud. Natural colours give houses an immense appeal completely in accordance with the surroundings. They do not have the city practice of using bright gaudy colours that crave for attention. Roofs are thatched or tiled. Tiles are terracota or in some cases cement. Courtyards are neat. As observed in Andhra Pradesh, an small embankment surrounds the house walls on the outside. This may be structural to give additional strength. It is also more practical for people to sit outside without requiring chairs. It is what may be called a primitive open verandah. In one house, the amalaka of a temple is being used as a common stone to step over an open drain into the courtyard.
There are supposedly ruins of forts and palaces. I enquired. All I could see is a cluster of plain stone pillars standing alongside modern concrete pillars. It was difficult to believe they were from older times let alone feel history.