Odisha’s tourism treasures

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Scenic. Serene. Sublime. Odisha, a land of myriad marvels has everything to offer the discerning global traveller – from lakes to temples, festivals to eco tourism hotspots. As the state prepares to play host to the IATO Convention and the Odisha Travel Bazaar, ETW explores this multi-faceted destination

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Heritage

201709etw03The architectural heritage of Odisha is an eclectic mix of Hindu temples, Buddhist and Jain monuments that have fascinated travellers since time immemorial, with their sheer beauty and grandeur. The most famous is of course the world famous UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Konark Sun Temple. Located 35 km from Puri and 65 km from Bhubaneswar, the temple is built like a gigantic chariot. The temple was built by King Langula Narasimha Deva in the 13th century AD, and was a beacon to mariners in medieval times. The capital city Bhubaneswar is itself called a ‘City of Temples’, on account of its many beautiful edifices. Every traveller should go on a city tour of Bhubaneswar to see and experience the stunning monuments like the temples clustered around the Bindusagar Tank. The lake which is fed by a natural underground spring is associated with Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Of the original 7000 only 500 remain dating from the seventh century to the 11th century AD. The most famous temple is of course the 11th century Lingaraj Temple. The 10th century beautifully decorated Muktesvara Temple is also an important draw. Some of the other temples in the area are – Mohini temple, Ananta Vasudeva, Markandesvara temple, Uttaresvara temple, and many others. The 11th century Rajarani Temple in Bhubaneswar is famous for its erotic carvings. There is no presiding deity in the temple, but it is considered of Shaivite origin because of certain specific features.

One of the most sacred pilgrimage spots in India is the temple of Lord Jagannath (‘Lord of the Universe’) at Puri. It is one of the four great ‘Char Dham’ pilgrimage sites. The main trinity of deities worshiped at the temple are – Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. The temple complex covers a huge area of over 400,000 sq ft. The temple tower, built on a raised platform of stone to a height 214 feet above the inner sanctum, dominates the
surrounding landscape.

Outside the city limits are the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves, which are situated on two adjacent hills. It is believed that most of these caves were carved out as residential blocks for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela. In Udayagiri, Hathigumpha (cave 14), Ganeshagumpha (cave 10) and Rani ka Naur (Queen’s Palace cave, cave 1) are particularly known for their carvings and sculptures.

Dhauli near Bhubaneswar is an important Buddhist site, which has a set of rock edicts left by emperor Ashoka about 260 BC. Along with the Ashokan Edicts, the Peace Pagoda and modern Buddhist Monastery, Dhauli offers the visitors small-rock cut caves, Hindu temples of early medieval period and a renovated Shiva temple known as Dhavalesvara. The ‘Diamond Triangle’ of the Ratnagiri-Udayagiri-Lalitgiri complex is part of Puspagiri University. Udayagiri is the largest Buddhist complex in Odisha. The archaeological remains at Udayagiri consist of a brick stupa, two brick monasteries, a beautiful stepped stone well with inscriptions on it, and rock-cut sculptures at the top of the hill behind. Udayagiri provides visitors a grand sight with its newly excavated sprawling monastery complex. The excavations of Ratnagiri also unearthed two large monasteries, a big stupa, Buddhist shrines, sculptures, and votive stupas.

Coastal Tourism

Bordering the Bay of Bengal in the East, Odisha enjoys over 480 km of coastline dotted with beaches such as Chandipur, Konark, Puri, Gopalpur, etc. Leveraging upon the state’s coastline, Odisha Tourism has identified coastal tourism as one of the major tourism offerings. Chilika, Asia’s largest brackish water lake, which is a haven for millions of birds, is also one of the few places in India where one can spot dolphins.

Situated about 16 km from Berhampur, the Gopalpur Beach boasts deep and clear blue water. White surf splashing on the golden sands makes Gopalpur as one of the finest beaches on the eastern coast. Objects made of seashells are also available for tourists to buy as souvenirs. The area is also known for its sea food, especially fish from the deep sea. Gopalpur was also once popular for maritime activities and was one of the outlets through which early settlers of South East Asia sailed off. Another famous coastal offering, the sunny beach at Puri has been the destination for numerous pilgrims taking the traditional purifying dip. However, over the years, both Indian and foreign beach lovers have it to their list of places to visit in Odisha. The beach is known among tourists for watching the sunrise in spectrum of colours. With an array of beach facing hotels and resorts, the Puri beach is an ideal holiday spot for relaxation. Located eight km from Puri, Balighai beach is a popular picnic spot. Visitors may also get a glimpse of the Baliharina, a kind of deer who inhabit the area. The Sea Turtle Research Centre is another attraction near the beach. A small but serene, Astaranga is another beach located 91 km from Puri. The beach is especially known for offering multi-coloured horizon during sunset.

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Backed by casuarinas trees and creeper over the sand dunes, Chandipur beach is said to have a unique distinction on its own. Unlike other beaches, the sea water here recedes away from the shore line about five km twice a day, an unusual phenomenon. When the waters disappears, one can even take a jeep ride on the beach. The beach also features small red crabs, sea shells and drift wood. About two km from Chandipur beach lies Balaramgadi where the river Budhabalang meets the sea. Close to the famous Sun Temple of Konark, Chandrabhaga Beach with a long stretch of clean sands and cool blue water offers its own serenity.

In the past river Chandrabhaga joined the sea here but now only the confluence remains to be seen. Religious tourists in large number take holy dip in this confluence on the Magha Saptami day. There is also a functional light house.

While these widely known coastal attractions draw a significant proportion of tourists, Odisha also has some lesser known beaches such as Talasari, Ramchandi, Pat-Sonapur, Beleswar and Aryapali.

Eco Tourism

Arapidly growing segment of the travel industry, eco tourism is based on nature lovers’ seeking new and unique experiences in the wild. Nowadays, many tourists travel to interact with nature in best possible manner to get solitude from the busy life. Located on the eastern coast of the country, Odisha is blessed with natural wildlife and rich fauna. The tourism department of Odisha has also shifted its attention to this growing segment by developing hotspots that hold great potential for eco tourists. Some places like Tikar Pada, Gahirmatha Turtle Sanctuary, Chilika Lake, Koraput hills, river beds, national parks and Debrigarh eco tourist spot fall in this category.

In order to protect these natural reserves, the Government of Odisha collaborated with the locals to convert areas of Simplipal and Bhitar Kanika Sanctuary into a national park. The locals were made aware about the benefits and how it would also protect the environment. Therefore new packages were launched announcing these areas to the nature lovers who could promote it as a destination.

Apart from receptions and help centres, trained guides now take the tourists around the central areas. Clean drinking water, proper lodgings, better network facility, quality food are some of the major factors attracting more tourists to these destinations.

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The forest department has also undertaken certain special measures by opening up areas for development and collaborating with the locals. Some of the other hot spots are Satkosia Sand Resort, Olasuni, Ansupa, Saptasajya, Sidhamula, Nature Camp Chermaria, Chandaka Godibari, Nandankanan Sanctuary, Jaydev Batika, Chandaka-Deras among many others. Many camps and housings have been set up in these areas for tourists. However, the forest department is planning to work with the private players to look into the development of more places in order to offer some unqiue unparalled experiences.

One of the most visited and a known place is the Chilika Lake. It is an estuarine lagoon, the largest brackish water wetland in India. The 32 km long, narrow, outer channel connects the main lagoon to the Bay of Bengal, near the village Motto. It is known for sightings of migratory birds that make for a beautiful memory.

The lake is also dotted with numerous islands that can be visited by boats. In 1992, the Government of Odisha, concerned by the degradation of the lake’s ecosystem and cognizant of significant numbers of people who were dependent upon the lake’s resources, set up the Chilika Development Authority (CDA). CDA is now responsible for taking care of the land and plan activity areas near the lake.

The Government of Odisha realises the true potential of eco tourism and its power to attract tourists. Looking at the lush greens, eco parks, natural wildlife spots, the government is sure to turn it into a strength for improving tourism numbers to the state.

Festivals

Odisha, known to be the land of myriad marvels is equally diverse with its cultures leading to the celebration of numerous festivals in the state. The Odiya festivals or Odia Parba are spread all through the year celebrating the varied cultures, norms and beliefs of the local people. Most festivals are observed as part of the Hindu religious faith, therefore the dates are pre-determined by the Hindu calendar. Families come together, members wear new clothes and special dishes are prepared to enjoy these festivals.

The major two festivals celebrated across the region is the world popular Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra and Durga Pooja. The Chariot Festival or Rath Yatra as it is called is celebrated in the month of Asadha, on the second day of the lunar fortnight that falls during June-July. On the main day of the festival, the wooden idols of Lord Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra are taken out for a procession on their chariots to their summer temple for a week. The preparation begins two months in advance as the main chariot is about 14 meters high led by 16 wheels. The day of the procession millions gather to be part of the holy ride and seek blessings from the Lord.

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Similarly, Durga Puja is celebrated with much fervour and enthusiasm like in its origin state. Many visit the traditional pandals to worship Goddess Durga and also enjoy the delicacies prepared during the festival. On the tenth day which is called ‘Vijaya Dasami’, a procession is carried out toward a river for immersion of the image. Some other traditional festivals are Raja Parba, a coastal festival; Mahabisuva Sankriti, beginning of new year; Akhoya Trutia, oldest agricultural festival; Chaiti Parba, festival of the fisherman community and Chhau festival, a war dance. The state is already known for its delicious cuisine but during these festivals some unique sweets are prepared from milk including small cakes known as Pitha, Poda cake and many more.

In order to retain the vibrant cultures of the state the government has also planned some festivals along the unique places. Konark Festival, International Sand Art festival, Mukteshwar Dance Festival, Rajarani Music festival and Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsav are all examples of such festivals. One of the latest additions is the International Sand Art Festival which is organised alongside the internationally famous Konark Festival from December 1 to 5 on the sandy beach of Chandrabhaga (three km from Konark). Konark Dance Festival which is held in the backdrop of the Sun Temple beautifully showcases India’s cultural depth through various dances.

The Raja Rani Music Festival celebrates Indian classical music. Started in the year 2002, the three-day festival is now held every year in the backdrop of Raja Rani temple in Bhubaneswar. Similarly, the other two festivals also boast of India’s traditional dances and classical music. Odisha has always been ahead with the celebration of its local culture and these festivals are the best way to experience it live.

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