Orissa (now known as Odisha) has been widely known for being home to the Jagannath Puri Temple (one of the Char Dhams), Konark Sun Temple (UNESCO world heritage site) and a long coastline. However, Orissa as a destination has grown and there are many “not so well known” elements of Orissa that offer a compelling experience for wide ranging travellers.
1. Buddhism in Orissa
Orissa has been a cradle of Buddhism for over 1000+ years and is today home to some renowned Buddhist sites within an 80 km radius of Bhubaneshwar such as Lalitgiri, Udayagiri – Khandgiri and Ratnagiri. Ashoka Rock Edicts and Dhauli Shanti Stupa are situated within a half an hour drive from Bhubaneshwar. The evening light and sound show at Dhauli Shanti Stupa offers an interesting insight into the emergence of Buddhism in Odisha (i.e. Kalinga region of Maurya Kingdom). These are popular for travellers to visit especially those with an interest in history and Buddhism.
2. Craft in Orissa
Orissa is renowned for many craft forms that are unique to Orissa. Dhokra is the renowned metal craft of the region and is widely available. There are a number of villages around Bhubaneshwar such as Dandasahi (Pattachitra), Raghurajpur (Pattachitra) and Pipli (Appliqué) that are dedicated to a craft form. Here, entire families and many older generations have spent their lives dedicated to this art form. It is an experience to just spend a couple of hours with these craftsmen.
3. Bhubaneshwar Heritage Temples
The Bhubaneshwar old city is home to 50+ ancient temples (1000+ years old), built between the 9th and 13th century. These temples are located within a 2 km radius and can be visited over 3 hours in the afternoon / evening. Almost all of them are maintained by ASI. Some of these temples have a Lord Shiva deity and have religious significance, while the rest are visited for their architecture. Linga Raja Temple is the most revered Lord Shiva temple in Odisha and is visited daily by thousands of devotees. Others such as Mukteshwar Temple, Raja Rani Temple, Chausath Yogini Temple are visited by heritage travellers. Spending a couple of hours in the evenings offers superb opportunities for heritage photography.
4. Chilika Lake
Chilika is a large lake (1100 sq km) south of Bhubaneshwar. Chilika offers a motor boat ride where you are able to feed gulls (thousands of them), spot dolphins, visit the point where the lake meets the Bay of Bengal and islands around the area (one of them has a popular Kalijai Temple). The islands on Chilika Lake and adjacent areas are renowned for their bird life. There is also a water sports centre attached (mainly having speedboats and water scooters). Chilika Lake is a popular excursion option for travellers from Bhubaneshwar and Puri.
5. Manglajodi Eco Tourism
Mamglajodi (65 kms from Bhubaneshwar) was once a village of bird poachers. It has been now transformed into an eco tourism destination where trained locals offer a country boat ride in Manglajodi waters for an up and close birding experience (mainly waterbirds). During season (Nov-Feb) period, one can sight as many as 30,000 birds during a 2 hour boat ride. Birds are not easily ruffled due to the slow pace and silent nature of the country boat ride, making the experience very good for bird photography. This makes Manglajodi a haven for bird watchers and an amazing experience for nature lovers and offbeat travellers.
6. Bhitarkanika Mangrove Forests
Bhitarkanika National Park is a mangrove forest 130 kms North of Bhubaneshwar. Bhitarkanika National Park is renowned for its Marsh Crocodile population (1900+ as per the latest census). Bhitarkanika is also a 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 for woodpeckers (6 varieties are found here) along with wide ranging exotic birds (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 the stunning birdlife and mangrove forests more than compensate for the lack of comforts. Bhitarkanika is one of the few national parks in India with an excellent FRH (Forest Rest House) facility open for tourists.
7. Tribal Heritage
Odisha has 60+ distinct tribes and along with neighbouring Chhattisgarh, is truly the tribal heartland of India. Bhubaneshwar has an excellent Tribal Museum offering a glimpse of the tribal lifestyle (cloth, ornaments, musical instruments, tools, weapons, homes, etc.). Rayagada, Jeypore and Koraput are hubs of tribal tourism in Odisha, where experiential travellers visit the local markets, visit tribal homes, visit tribal craft areas and participate in local festivals and rituals. Exploration of the tribal areas of Odisha is an authentic “Real India” experience for Indian and International travellers.
8. Idyllic Beaches
Puri is the renowned beach getaway of Odisha. Puri beaches (except one end of Swargdwar beach) can be crowded and touristy. However, the real character lies with the idyllic beaches such as Chandrabhaga Beach (4 kms from Konark), Ramchandi Beach (8 kms from Konark), Gopalpur (Mid-way on the Bhubaneshwar – Visakhapatnam highway, 180 kms from Bhubaneshwar), where there are good stays and one can enjoy long walks and an exclusive beachfront.
9. Heritage Hotels
Odisha is home to some charming heritage hotels. Mahodadhi Palace overlooks a beach in Puri and Chanakya BNR at Puri offers a railway theme hotel with a distinct heritage character 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 completely unknown but offer compelling options for an offbeat traveller looking to be totally away from tourists and experience an authentic heritage hotel stay in a countryside setting.
10. Ethnic Cuisine and Street Food
The ethnic cuisine of Odisha (known as “Oriya Cuisine” or “Odia Cuisine”) is widely available in hotels and restaurants. The Odia Thali at Kannika Restaurant (part of Mayfair Lagoon) in Bhubaneshwar is definitely an experience. Some of the popular vegetarian ethnic cuisine items are Dalma, Dahi Baingana, Saga Muga whereas Kukuda Tarkari, Rohi Machha Besar, Chingudi Besar and Mansa Tarkarki are some of the popular non-vegetarian items.
There are a number of Dhabas enroute, offering superb seafood specialities with local flavours. The Bhubaneshwar – Puri route is renowned for street food (a local version of Dahi Vada) and sweet shops serving local favourites (such as Jhili, Rassa Badi, etc.).
The coastal part of Eastern Odisha is blessed with rivers, lakes, village ponds and a pristine countryside. The western part of Orissa is blessed with evergreen forests. The forest department is very proactive in Odisha and has planted trees on both side of the roads. So, drives along the state highways and countryside roads is nothing short of an experience with farms on both sides and tree-cover along both sides of the road. Drives are great for landscape photography and add tremendously to the overall Odisha experience.
Cuttack is home to traditional trading communities of Odisha. While Bhubaneshwar has evolved into a modern city, Cuttack still retains its old-world charm. Cobbled streets, traditional markets, flower shops, street food, etc. all make for an excellent 2 hour heritage morning 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 these make for an excellent half-day excursion to Cuttack from Bhubaneshwar.
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