Table of Contents:
How to reach
Where to stay
Best Time to Visit
Timing of the monastery
My Journey to Jirang
History of Jirang
The Jirang Valley
Life in Jirang
The Monastery Complex
The Inner Sanctum
The Residential Quarters
The Stupas of Jirang
Bonus – Khasada waterfall
“I was born here, been here my whole life. My parents came in when the exile began, but since then this is all we have. On paper we might be refugees, but for me, this is Home”.
This is what a Tibetan lady had to say when one of us asked how her hindi was so flawless. She must be in her mid 40s, running a food court outside the Jirang monastery.
Jirang, is popularly known by many adjectives like Chandragiri Tibetan Settlement, the Tibetan settlement of Odisha (or Gajapati) and the Buddhist Settlement of Chandragiri. Jirang (aka Jirango or Jiranga) is a small village tucked away in the rural heartland of southern Odisha. The place has had a long history of Tibetan settlements, dating as far back as the 1960s.
Jirang is situated in a very beautiful valley, surrounded by various hills of the eastern ghats. A small waterfall is also located nearby making it a worthwhile combo for anyone deciding to pay a visit.
|How to Reach:|
Jirang (Chandragiri) is about 290 km from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha and 100 km from Brahmapur, the most prominent city in southern Odisha.
The best way to reach Jirang is by rented cab or public busses, which are available from Berhampur.
Nearest Airport – Bhubaneswar Airport
|Where to Stay:|
Jirang and its periphery doesn’t have many options for accommodations. Below are some of the closest ones:
Most travellers on route to Jirang however prefer staying at Brahmapur, which is flush with hotels in all budget ranges and is a comfortable 100 KM away, making Jirang a great day tour.
Best Time to Visit:
Ideal time to visit is winter, preferably between November to February.Monastery Timing:
The monastery is open from 5:30 AM to 4 PM.
My journey of jirang:
The covid 19 pandemic had limited me to my home for almost a year, so when a few of my friends proposed a road trip I jumped at it. The plan was to go to Behrampur and explore touristy and off beat places. Jirang was on top of the list, as all of us wanted to see the largest buddhist monastery in this part of the world.
Jirang is a good 290 KM away from Bhubaneswar, so driving all the way in one day seemed like a bad idea. We decided to make a night halt in OTDC Taptapani, a state run guest house in the hills of Ganjam district of Odisha.
The sprawling campus of the guesthouse coupled with the serene natural surrounding made it a stay worth talking about. I however will save it for another post. For now lets just say that the guesthouse stay turned out to be much more than just a night halt.
After spending the night in the guesthouse we started for Jirang in the morning, which was 40 Km away. The road connecting Taptapani and Jirang, NH 326, deserves a special mention here, as it was as scenic as any hilly drive can be. Beautiful black top road, with rocky hill face on one side and forest cover on the other. The forest occasionally gave way to small clearings, which housed small villages. Vehicular traffic was low, so driving on that road was pure bliss.
An hour into the drive, the hills gave way to a valley, where we saw our first share of the colourful buddhist prayer flags. We opened google map and slowed down our car as the road to Jirang is a detour from the highway that is damn easy to miss.
We caught glimpse of some monks in maroon robe ridding scooters, their cotton bags, loaded with vegetables. Young boys in punk hairdoos, riding bikes, in football attire, probabaly going or returning from a game. Soon enough we reached the detour and took a sharp right.
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History of Jiranga (Chandragiri):
Chandragiri, was chosen as one of the main six camps/settlements established, when the Dalai Lama along with a sizeable Tibetan population went into exile and took refuge in India. The settlement consists of 5 main villages, Labarasingh, Mahendragadh, Tankilipadar Chandragiri and Jirang. All these are very close by, with 10-20 km from each other. The Tibetans call the whole area as Phuntsokling, which translates to -“Land of Happiness and Plenty”.
The Jirang valley:
The detour took us onto a typical rural road of India, part asphalt and part dirt. Both sides of the road was flanked by large swatches of farm land. These farms are mostly used to grow maize, and it is the main source of income for the Tibetan population here. There is so much maize grown here, that Jirang and its adjoining areas are known as the ‘Maize bowl of Odisha’.
The eastern ghats dominates the skyline of Jirang, with hills of various sizes on all sides. The second highest peak of Odisha, Mahendragiri, is a mere 70 km from here. The sights of the green fields followed by high hills brings out a kind of joy, in the heart of all visitors to this beautiful valley.
While driving on the road we caught our first glimpse of the top of the monastery. The top vimana was coloured in gold, the base of which was white. We just wished that road would vanish and we teleport to the monastery, we could no longer wait to witness the beauty with our very eyes.
Getting closer to the monastery, we were spellbound by a large lake. It has a statue of Padmasamvaba sitting atop a lotus in the middle of it. Bound on all sides, this lake sits right infront of the monastery complex, allowing for its visitors to relax on its banks, while soaking in the serene atmosphere. The lake adds to the beauty of the place, concocting with the hills and endless farms, enhancing beauty of the place many folds.
Life In Jirang:
We were eating momos at the only food court outside the monastery, when we started chatting with the Tibetan lady who ran the place. She told that her parents had come to India sometime in the 60s and have been here ever since. She mentioned that she knew more about Odisha than her native Tibet, and that she loved Dalma, the vegetable lentil concoction staple to Odisha.
Through her, we got to know some insights into the daily life of the Tibetan populace here. The fact that there are no proper urban centres nearby, they plan meticulously to stock up supplies. Members of the community make weekly trips to Berhampur, to bring back stuff for the whole village.
She also explained that the arid land here wasn’t very suitable for cultivating paddy, which is the main crop of the state. Therefore they resorted to cultivating maize/corn, which over time became their main source of livelihood. Corn from the village is now sold all over the country either in whole or powdered variety. We even got a glimpse of the large cache of corn stored in a small cottage at the entrance of the village.
After having the delicious potato filled momos, we started our exploration of the place. The name of the monastery is Padma Sambhava Maha Vihara monastery, named after guru Padmasambhava, who is considered as second buddha by the Nyingma school of buddhism, Tibet. Tickets to the monastery costs a nominal Rs. 20, which goes towards the upkeep of the monastery.
An ornate gate led us into the huge courtyard, that had a meticulously manicured lawn with big trees of Banyan, palm and neem strategically placed to provide for some much needed shade. The main monastery sits at one end, and is flanked by rows of residential quarters for the monks on both sides.
The Main Temple:
Its one thing to look at the Monastery from a distance, but as I went closer, I realized how grand it is. It is five storey tall, coloured mostly in white, with shades of blue and gold. The thatched roof has embellishments of mystic beasts that enhances the beauty of the whole place.
Narrow pillars ran across the periphery of the monastery, painted in bright red with intricate etchings. The walls had beautiful paintings depicting nature, various stages of Buddha’s life and various animals. It felt as if art and folk tales of Tibetan Buddhism whispered from every corner of the monument.
Looking up at the ceiling I saw colourful paintings of mountains, animals, lotus, clouds and waterfalls – all motifs of Tibetan art – besides, different ‘mandalas’ that signify transformation of soul. There are paintings of the phoenix and dragon as well which symbolise the yin and yang forces in the universe. It is quite evident that underlying these works of art, is a complex set of beliefs that promise to guide a soul towards the path of enlightenment
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The Inner Sanctum:
Photography is prohibited inside the monastery, so you will have to go by my words here. The meditation hall is huge, whose entrance is decorated with more beautiful paintings. At the centre of the meditation hall, sits a 23-foot bronze statue of Lord Buddha, flanked by 17-foot-high statues of Lord Avalokitesavara and Lord Padmasambhava on either side.
The walls are filled with brightly coloured murals of Budha and Bodhisattvas, animals , sun, moon, mandalas and mantras. Most paintings are accentuated by a golden hue, making the paintings pop out of the wall.
A carpet covers the middle of the hall, running from the door till the statue of Lord Buddha. On either edge of this carpet are rows of desks meant for the monks. Prayer flags, also find a very peominent place inside the sanctum.
The Residential Quarters:
Coming out of the main temple, I stood at awe looking at the residential quarters for the monks. It looked very similar to my college hostel, just infinitely clean. A long balcony with a steel railing, connected all the rooms together in one single file. I saw a few wooly dogs sitting on the porch, looking all taken care of and cute.
At any point in time there are around 200-300 monks studying at the Monastery. Not all are from Tibet, rather most of them are from various parts of India, like Sikkim and Darjeeling, who have come down to study buddhism. They typically come here at a very early age and remain untill they complete their study and after that they may choose to stay here or move to any other buddhist temple accross the world.
The Stupas of Jirang:
The architecture of Tibetan monasteries contains basically two part, one being the main temple known as Gompas and the other being Stupas known as Chortens. We had visited the Gompa, which was the monastery, it was now time for the Chorten.
We left the monastery and started off towards a place that was about 100 mtrs away. This bounded place had eight stupas, arranged in a circular fashion and surrounded by colourful prayer flags. These flags are traditionally used to promote peace, wisdom, compassion, and strength. Tibetans believe the wind will blow the prayers and mantras in to the surroundings, spreading goodwill and compassion.
The stupas refers to major events in Lord Buddha’s life as explained in Tibetan Buddhism. In the centre stands the Stupa of Enlightenment, which is the tallest of them all, signifying Lord Buddha’s attainment of
enlightenment when he conquered worldly temptations.
These Stupas are accompanied with different type of prayer wheels, one of them particularly huge, enclosed within a canopy and multiple smaller ones, bordering the periphery of the largest stupa. Once rotated in the clockwise direction, the wheels generate a very soothing sound that filled up the entire surrounding with a lot of positivity.
The Bonus – Khasada waterfall:
The monastery provided for some much needed solace, however it was time to explore another popular attraction Just 5 km away from the place. It is a small but pretty waterfall, which has become a popular picnic spot for the locals. Known as Khasada, this waterfall attracts visitors from far and near.
This place has undergone some small commercialisation over the years. A designated paid parking spot, a shop renting out picnic utensils and small shops selling kumkum, have come up around the waterfall. Across the stream stands a small temple, for those willing to cross it, either through the water or a makeshift bridge made out of abandoned electricity poles.
Once we reached the waterfall, we saw some small picnicking groups, frantically running around the waterfall for that elusive perfect selfie. Who needs selfie when you have your friends to capture one for you.
Khasada in the local language means Slippery, and it is once I stepped inside the water, did I realise why this name was endowed to this fall. Some of the stones I laid my foot were some of the slippery-est things I have ever walked on. Words of caution : take care of your steps when on Khasada.
To be fair, Jirang is not a very accessible location, with low frequency public transit systems. However the monastery along with the raw nature is something that makes a visit to Jirang worth all the effort.
One may not know, but there are a seemingly endless number of destinations and attractions to visit in Odisha, which will leave everyone enchanted and craving for more! Odisha is definitely India’s best kept secret, which now demands to be explored.