With a long black strap around his neck, fingers carefully on the camera shutter, eyes glued to the lens, 35-year-old Prakash Pandey takes a few steps backward.
He aims at the tour group from Chennai sitting on the stairs of the Sun Temple at Konark in Odisha. He adjusts his lens after making some to and fro motions before a 'click' is heard. The group slowly fades away and Prakash heads to search another tourist group in the famous 13th-century Sun Temple.
Prakash was working as a supervisor in a company until the pandemic changed it all as he was asked to look for other options.
"I was not a traditional photographer. I stepped into the role when I was asked either to leave or move to a different state on a very little salary package. I decided to quit my job and adjusted to the new role of a photographer to make ends meet," Prakash said.
Prakash is part of nearly 300 photographers and tour guides who operate in the Sun Temple and earn their livelihood with the tourists' footfall.
"Though it is better than before, we are yet to see the glorious temple regain its foreign tourists. We have to completely rely on local tourists from the other states," Prakash added.
As the gates of the Sun Temple were opened on September 1, 2020 for the devotees and tourists after five months since the outbreak of the pandemic, the business of photographers and guides are slowly picking up pace.
Ravindra, a 50-year old tourist guide, walks confidently with a plastic stick in his hand. A group of 10 to 15 tourists are seen following him. He stops at a magnanimous chariot as he points his stick to the tip of the protruding wheel and explains its historical significance.
"Business is slowly picking up and we are sure more people would visit the Sun Temple as the footfalls are increasing day by day. We know these are tough times but we are optimistic seeing the tourist flow," Ravindra said.
The Sun Temple might also see a boom in tourist flow after Puri's Jagannath Temple allowed the entry of the devotees without a Covid negative report from January 21.
"Devotees and tourists who visit Lord Jagannath's Temple in Puri also visit Konark's Sun Temple. We are seeing a ray of hope for better opportunities," Ravindra added.
The temple follows the traditional style of Kalinga architecture. It is oriented towards the east so that the first rays of the sun strike the main entrance. The temple, built from Khondalite rocks, was originally built at the mouth of Chandrabhaga river, but the waterline has receded since then. The wheels of the temple are sundials, which can be used to calculate time accurately to a minute.