wd was on their feet as the Indian players got in position to take the penalty corner. It was India versus the Netherlands, the all-important quarterfinal of the 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar. The ball was swept into the shooting circle; Harmanpreet Singh intercepted it and flicked it straight at the Dutch ‘keeper; the ball rebounded to Akashdeep, who fired it into the net. I roared with all my might, only to be overwhelmed by the packed crowd’s cheers that reverberated around the stadium.
The Dutch fought back. A collective “Ooh” travelled across the stadium as a shot blazed past the Indian goalie, just missing its target. Seconds later, India’s defence were caught unawares again by another Dutch counterattack, bringing the score level before the end of an engaging first quarter. The Netherlands eventually went on to secure a place in the semi-final against Australia, while India’s dream of making the last four for the first time since 1975 remained just that.
Heartbreaking though India’s exit from the World Cup was, Bhubaneswar made a huge success of hosting this global sporting event.
Supporters from all over the world flocked to the temple city of India to get behind their team. As did I. The host city revealed itself to be a storehouse of surprises with FEST (Food Entertainment Stories Trails). Stellar performances from Farhan Akhtar, Shaan and Shankar Mahadevan got the crowd jumping on their feet, and delicacies from different continents saw it transformed into a foodie’s dreamland.
Between the dahibara-aludum, the thunka puri or the rasgullas, it was the last that stole the show. The soft, syrupy sweet had a delicate texture that melted in my mouth. In my excitement, I gobbled up six in one sitting. From a multitude of cuisines on offer, I decided to try Mexican. While the tacos looked tantalising, the hot, puffy empanadas were simply too hard to resist. The choice of the chicken filling, sublime and perfectly seasoned proved to be a masterstroke. The guacamole as a side added rich flavours, complimenting the essence of the Mexican classic.
It wasn’t just the concerts, the different cuisines and sport, but also the city trails highlighting the rich past of Bhubaneswar that I found interesting. On one particular trail around the Old Town area, I visited temples dating back to the 12th century. They showcased ornate Kalinga architecture while the carvings on the walls narrated stories from the past. Another morning, I took off to see the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves. It is believed the caves were carved out as residential blocks created to house monks by King Kharavela. A trip to the Japanese-styled Dhauli Peace Pagoda overlooking the temple city provided a breathtaking view. With so many options at hand, Bhubaneswar made the World Cup experience even more fabulous.