Orissa (renamed Odisha) is one of India’s less frequented states, as it’s predominantly rural and “off the beaten track”. However, tourist interest in Orissa’s eclectic combination of attractions is growing. Orissa offers picturesque national parks and wildlife, unpolluted beaches, traditional music and dance, temples, handicrafts, tribal culture, and Buddhist relics.
Konark Sun Temple
Designed to be a huge chariot for the Sun God Surya, the intricately carved Sun Temple was constructed in the 13th century. It stands 30 meters high on 12 massive wheels. Erotic carvings similar to those on the Khajuraho temples are a renowned feature. The Sun Temple can be visited on a day trip from either Puri or Bhubaneshwar. However, it’s worthwhile seeing the temple in the late afternoon, after the day trippers have departed, and staying a night in Konark. You’ll appreciate the more peaceful atmosphere. The temple is open from sunrise until sunset.
The capital city of Orissa, Bhubaneshwar is most famous for its temples (there are over 700, mostly devoted to Lord Shiva) including the largest temple in the state — the Lingraj Mandir. The motley collection of caves cut into the hillside on the outskirts of the city are another popular attraction. They were once home to Jain aesthetics. The most interesting ones can be found at Udayagiri (Sunrise Hill). The complex is open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. If you’re interested in natural medicine, the ethereal Ekamravan garden of medicinal plants is notable and well worth visiting. DON’T MISS: A sunrise over Udayagiri if you’re an early riser. Numerous music and dance festivals are also held in Bhubaneshwar in January, along with the Adivasi tribal mela.
Puri is located on the beach, but don’t go there expecting a beach paradise. You’ll need to head far away from the center to find an unpolluted patch of sand. Instead, Puri’s appeal lies in its holiness. The imposing Jagannath Temple is only open to Hindus, but the roof of the Raghunandan Library opposite offers decent views. Puri is also a good place to organize tribal tours and day trips. DON’T MISS: The Rath Yatra festival, which takes place in July/August each year. It’s the only occasion when non- Hindus can get to see the temple deities. A mere glimpse of Lord Jagannath on the chariot, or even to touch the chariot, is considered to be very auspicious. A Puri Beach Festival is also held every November.
Raghurajpur Handicrafts Village
With a picturesque green setting amongst tropical trees on the bank of the Bhargavi River, Raghurajpur is not only an attractive Indian village but one where every household is involved in a form of handicrafts. There are just over 100 households and 300 artisans in the village. Many have even won national awards for their work. You can wander around, check out the beautiful painted murals on the houses, chat to the friendly artisans and see them in action — and of course shop! Go there on a day trip from Puri, which is around 15 kilometers away. DON’T MISS: Pattachitra paintings are a specialty in the village, but the artisans make a wide variety of items including alm leaf engravings, stone carvings, wood carvings, and wooden toys.
If you want to spend time amongst nature, head to the remarkable Chilika Lake. Asia’s largest brackish water (a combination of sea and fresh water) lagoon is an ecological wonder spanning around 1,000 square kilometers. It’s full of wildlife, particularly fish and migratory birds from far off lands. There are even dolphins! The Lake also has a number of islands. Grassroutes Journeys offers ecofriendly Chilika Lake camping trips and birdwatching
cruises. Also check out Mangalajodi Ecotourism. DON’T MISS: Exploring Chilika Lake and its various islands by boat. Most departures are from Satapada (where the dolphins are), located at the mouth of the Lake around 50 kilometers from Puri. Other departures are possible from Barkul, Rambha, and Balugaon.
There are more than 60 tribal communities in Orissa. These ancient people with mystical ancient ways dwell in Orissa’s remote, deep forests and hilly interiors. Most of them are in the southwest part of the state. Visiting the tribes can be a fascinating experience, but you’ll need to go on an organized tour. Some tribal areas are quite inaccessible and require permits, and language is also a barrier. Heritage Tours are professional and knowledgeable. Also try community-based Grass Routes Journeys in Puri. During a tribal tour of Orissa, you’ll get to mix with the local tribal people and learn their lifestyles. Tours run for at least five nights/six days, due to the amount of travel involved. Or, travel independently and stay at boutique Chandoori Sai Guest House in the heart of tribal Orissa.
You could be forgiven for not knowing about the sacred Buddhist sites in Orissa (Odisha). After all, they’ve only been excavated relatively recently and are largely unexplored. The sites consist of a series of monasteries, temples, shrines, stupas, and beautiful sculptures of Buddhist images. Their rural setting, amongst fertile hills and paddy fields, is both picturesque and peaceful.
Casuarina trees, sand dunes, and a tide that receeds out for miles all make Chandipur Beach special. This little known beach is the place to come if you want a tranquil beach getaway. Of course, if you’re looking for crystal clear water and golden sand, there are better beaches in India. However, this one is unique! It’s also very safe. Chandipur Beach is readily accessible by train from Bhubaneshwar, and also Kolkata in West Bengal. DON’T MISS: Walking on the huge stretch of seabed when the tide is out. It’s brilliant for beach-combing. Discover small puddles of water with tiny fish, sea shells, and crabs.