The site of a much-revered hilltop shrine in honour of a local deity – dating back, according to some, to the 1st century BC Dongargarh spiritual importance is offset by its scenic lakes and hills. More recently, Pragyagiri, a 650m high hill in close prox.mity, has become the go-to place for Buddhists following the installation of a gilded Buddha statue atop it.
Rising from amidst the scenic surrounds of Dongargarh is a foliage-laden rocky hill some 490m high. Resting at the edge of the Kamakandala Lake, its pinnacle crowned by a gleaming white shrine, it is dedicated to the highly venerated Maa Bamleshwari (Goddess Jagdamba). The temple is reportedly 2200 years old, which is a little difficult to believe if you look at its modern-day avatar, complete with jarring and unruly constructions around it. You can walk up some 1000 steps or hop into a ropeway cable car. Another flight of winding steps (under 200 of them and none-too-clean) from the drop-off point will bring you to a marble-clad sanctum where the bedecked deity awaits her faithful. The goddess is so revered that the trains passing through Dongargarh are said to slow down in supplication! Views from the top are spectacular; shutterbugs should consider timing their ascent to catch good light. Unless you don’t mind endless queues, avoid weekends and holidays; Navratri too, unless that is your intended time— of visit. A grimy bhojanalayaatetdheby ma base of the temple and the Temple Trust serves quincakgbites at low rates.
Across from Maa Bamleshwari, an enormous gilded statue of a serene Buddha beckons you to yet another hilltop a couple of kilometres away. Since its installation in 1988. Pragyagiri has grown in popularity as a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and others as well. The statue sits at the top of a winding path comprising roughly 250 stone steps. The views from here, though not quite as spectacular as its loftier neighbour, will make the climb worthwhile. Try to catch either a sunrise or sunset: seniors best avoid the trek up.
A three-arched marble gate ushers visitors towards an elaborate multi-shikhara edifice of recent vintage (roughly four decades). The resting place of an ancient statue of Parsavanath, the 23rd tirthankara. the sanctum is at the end of a large and ornately carved hall up a few steps and through silver doors: its walls bear images of other tirthankaras. The idol was reportedly found at the India-Nepal border and is installed in a recess fronted by the likeness of a set of footprints that are believed to have appeared while digging foundations. Visitors wearing black are discouraged and mobiles are to be switched off while on the premises. The temple is located some 56km from Dongargarh.