Traditionally, North India (Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan, Himalayas) and South India (Kerala and Tamil Nadu Temples) are the most visited circuits by International travellers. However, other circuits such as ones in East India are now emerging as a compelling alternative.
IndiaGBnews.com’s travel partner Holxo takes a closer look at some of the must-visit attractions that can make a trip to this fascinating region of India an unforgettable experience.
Flanked by the Bay of Bengal coastline on one side and Eastern Ghat forests on the other, Odisha (earlier known as Orissa) is renowned for its evergreen landscapes and a superb countryside character. This state in Eastern India offers a unique mix of fine hotels and compelling experiences for international travellers.
Let me put down the prime reasons why you could consider visiting Odisha.
Buddhism in Odisha
Buddhism has been active in Odisha (earlier known as Kalinga region) for over 1000 years. Odisha today is home to renowned Buddhist sites within 80 km radius of Bhubaneshwar (State capital of Odisha) such as Lalitgiri, Udayagiri – Khandgiri and Ratnagiri. These intricately carved caves (dated 2nd Century BCE) used to be shelters for monks and require climbing a few stairs to fully explore them.
Additionally, there are some Buddhist sites such as Ashoka Rock Edicts and Dhauli Shanti Stupa, situated within half an hour drive from Bhubaneshwar. Shanti Stupa offers superb views of the surrounding countryside and the evening light and Sound show (after Sunset) at Dhauli offers an interesting insight into emergence of Buddhism in Odisha (i.e. Kalinga region of Maurya Kingdom).
Craft in Odisha
Odisha is renowned for many Craft forms that are unique to Odisha. Dhokra is the most renowned metal craft of the region. There are number of villages around Bhubaneshwar such as Dandasahi (Pattachitra Painting), Raghurajpur (Pattachitra Painting) and Pipli (Appliqué) that are dedicated to a particular craft form. It is a fascinating experience to spend a couple of hours interacting with these craftsmen, who like many generations before them have dedicated their entire lives to a developing a particular craft form. e.g. Pattachitra Painting requires ample creativity, deep understanding of the mythologies on which the paintings are based, lot of patience and an ability to create flawless paintings (A large painting may take many months).
Bhubaneshwar Heritage Temples
Bhubaneshwar old city is home to 50+ ancient temples (1000+ year old), built between 9th and 13th Century. These temples are located within 2 km radius and can be visited over 3 hours in afternoon / evening. Almost all temples are maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and are in good condition. Some temples here have intricate carvings having erotic postures like temples in Central India such as Khajuraho. The tallest (180 ft high Sanctum Sanctorum) and most impressive of all temples is the Linga Raja Temple. Linga Raja Temple is one of the most visited Lord Shiva Temples in Odisha and International travellers can only get a distant view from a special viewing platform built next to it. The history, heritage and architecture of the area is most fascinating and best captured against the golden sunset rays.
Chilika is a large lake (1100 sq km) South of Bhubaneshwar, largest in India and second largest in the world. Chilika is a designated Ramsar site for Wetland conservation and is rich in bird life, Dolphins and marine life. The touristy part of Chilika offers motor boat ride where you are able to feed gulls (thousands of them), spot Dolphins and visit the point where the lake meets the Bay of Bengal.
The best part of the Chilika lake is Mangalajodi (65 kms from Bhubaneshwar) Village. Mangalajodi is a swampland area on the edge of Chilika Lake reservoir and a birders paradise. Mangalajodi was once a village of bird poachers and thanks to initiatives of a progressive forest officer, it has been now transformed into a village of bird protectors and an eco tourism destination. Here trained locals offer a country boat ride in Manglajodi waters for an upclose birding experience (mainly Water birds). During Season (Oct-Feb) period one can sight as many as 300,000 birds during 2 hour boat ride. Birds are not easily ruffled due to slow pace and silent nature of the country boat ride, making it very good for photography.
The Mangalajodi village even offers homestays for those who want to live with the villagers for a more intimate (even though rustic) experience.
Odisha has 60+ distinct tribes and alongwith neighboring Chhattisgarh is truly the tribal heartland of India. Rayagada, Jeypore and Koraput in South-West part of Odisha are hubs of tribal tourism in Odisha where travellers visit the local markets, tribal homes, tribal craft areas and participate in local festivals and rituals.
Exploration of Tribal areas of Odisha is an authentic “Real India” experience for all travellers. You are able to interact with tribals, take photos with them, take part in their daily rituals and enjoy living in tribal heartland of India for once in a lifetime experience.
Those not spending time in the Tribal areas, Tribal Museum in Bhubaneshwar offers an excellent glimpse of the Tribal heritage of Odisha (Cloth, Ornaments, musical instruments, tools, weapons, homes etc.).
Odisha has about 500 kms of Coastline, comprising idyllic beaches. Puri is where you arrive for beach resorts and a touristy character where as other beaches such as Chandrabhaga Beach (4 kms from Konark), Ramchandi Beach (8 kms from Konark), Gopalpur (Mid-way on Bhubaneshwar – Visakhapatnam highway at 180 kms from Bhubaneshwar) is where you head for idyllic beach getaway. Beaches are popular for travellers for a few days at end of an itinerary for spending some relaxed time by the Bay of Bengal in hotels having an exclusive beachfronts.
Odisha is home to some charming heritage hotels that add another dimension to the Odisha experience for International travellers.
- Mahodadhi Palace (A Summer Palace of Maharaja Panchkot) overlooks a beach in Puri
- Chanakya BNR at Puri offers a railway theme hotel displaying rare pictures and artefacts from Indian Railways.
- Countryside areas North of Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack are home to a few heritage hotels. Names such as Gajlaxmi Palace, Dalijoda Palace, Palace Dhenkanal, Aul Palace are relatively unknown to tourists at large but offer compelling option for travellers looking to be completely away from tourists and experience authentic heritage hotel stay in a countryside setting.
Ethnic Cuisine and Street Food
Ethnic Cuisine of Odisha (known as “Oriya Cuisine” or “Odia Cuisine”) is widely available in hotels and restaurants. There are number of local restaurants (generically known as the Dhabas) enroute offering superb Seafood specialities with local flavors. The Odia Thali at Kannika Restaurant (Part of Mayfair Lagoon) in Bhubaneshwar is definitely a recommended experience. Some of the popular vegetarian ethnic cuisine items are Dalma (Oria Daal), Dahi Baingana (Brinjal or Egg Plant with Curd), Saga Muga (Leafy Vegetable) whereas Kukuda Tarkari (Chicken), Rohi Machha Besar (Fish), Chingudi Besar (Prawn) and Mansa Tarkarki (Mutton) are some of the popular non vegetarian items.
Cuisine of Odisha is mild (not hot and spicy) as compared to cuisines from other parts of India. The cuisine extensively uses mustard, Curd, locally grown vegetables and ingredients and has a unique flavor.
Coastal part of Eastern Odisha is blessed with rivers, lakes, village ponds and a pristine countryside. The Western part of Odisha is one with evergreen forests. Forest department has been very proactive in Odisha in planting trees on both side of the state highways across Odisha.
On drives across Odisha it is evident that Odisha is a state of rivers and evergreen countryside. You will find farms having all year round cultivation of rice, grains and vegetables. You will pass through villages that retain the “Real India” character with a temple, a central pond, few ethnic style homes and plenty of farmland around them. Drives along the state highways and countryside roads are a pleasing experience, excellent for landscape photography and one that adds to overall experience.
Cuttack is the twin city of Bhubaneshwar (Both are 25 kms apart), home to traditional trading communities of Odisha. While Bhubaneshwar has evolved into a modern city, Cuttack still retains the old world charm. Cobbled streets, traditional markets, flower shops, street food etc. all make for an excellent morning 2 hour heritage walk. There is a fort here, the renowned Baramati Stadium (where International Cricket matches are held) and the Nandankanan Zoo (a large Zoological park home to White Tigers), all make for an excellent half day excursion from Bhubaneshwar.
Bhitarkanika Mangrove Forests
Bhitarkanika National Park is a mangrove forest at 130 kms North of Bhubaneshwar. Bhitarkanika National Park is renowned for its Marsh Crocodile population (1900+ as per latest census).
Bhitarkanika is also prime bird watching site renowned for its Kingfishers (8 varieties found here including Brown Winged Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher and Black Capped Kingfisher) and is a haven birders (200+ species). Garhimatha area on the edge of the forest is renowned for its Olive Ridley Turtle nesting. You may take a boat ride in the mangrove forests or undertake a short trek. Bhitarkanika does not have star category stays but stunning birdlife and mangrove forests more than compensates for lack of comforts. Bhitarkanika is one of the few National Parks in India having an excellent FRH (Forest rest house) facility open for tourists.
How to Reach
Bhubaneshwar, the Capital of Odisha is the main arrival point for an Odisha itinerary. Bhubaneshwar has direct flights from major arrival points for International travellers such as Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai
Typical Itinerary Ideas
- Complete Odisha (10 Days) – Comprehensive of exploration of Odisha that would offer a combination of Buddhist heritage, Craft heritage, UNESCO sites, Mangrove forests, beaches and Tribal heritage areas.
- Complete Odisha With Kolkata – Sunderbans (14 Days) – Odisha is popularly combined with Kolkata (International arrival point renowned for its Colonial heritage) and Sunderbans (A mangroves delta and a UNESCO heritage site). This itinerary would offer a combination of Colonial heritage, Buddhist heritage, Craft heritage, UNESCO sites, Mangrove forests, beaches and Tribal heritage areas.
- Tribal Heartland of India – Odisha with Chhattisgarh (14 Days) – This is an experiential traveller itinerary that combines tribal heritage areas of Odisha and neighboring Chhattisgarh. This itinerary undertakes a comprehensive exploration of Tribal art, craft, heritage alongwith some prime heritage sites of Odisha, ending with few days at a beach resort overlooking Bay of Bengal.
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