Words: SAMARPAN BHOWMIK
Photographs: KRISHNA PRABAKAR T
Odisha is among the few states in the country that still has considerable green cover. And that becomes amply clear as you descend into Biju Patnaik International Airport in the capital, Bhubaneswar. Seen from above, the landscape is swathed in green for miles across, intersected at regular intervals by mighty rivers making their way to the Bay of Bengal. While the airport used to be on the city outskirts, development over the last couple of decades has seen Bhubaneswar grow and it’s now well within city limits. The streets are broad and lined with neat stands of little trees; this is, after all, one of India’s first planned big cities. You do still see, however, some signs of the devastation left in the wake of Cyclone Fani, which made landfall in Odisha earlier this year.
Fairly close to the airport, the Trident, Bhubaneswar presents an entirely different picture. It’s an enormous property spread across 11 acres, with just four acres of built-up area; big city dwellers will salivate at the implication of how much open space that means. Truly, the grounds are a thing to behold. Tall trees near the boundary wall cut off the noise and view of the city outside, and create an oasis of peace, even though the property is located on an arterial road. The garden is superbly maintained and has everything from cashew and mango trees to lotus ponds and herb plantations. A walking and running track goes past a tennis court that doubles up as a party venue, a mini orchard of mango trees makes the perfect backdrop for winter brunches, and a lotus pond seems made for you to have your morning cuppa around. Further on, there are rows of rose bushes, a nursery and an herb plantation. The garden doesn’t just look good, its produce is used in the hotel’s kitchens; indeed, the fare on offer at the restaurant is a showcase of local ingredients, a lovely amalgamation of the subtle flavours of continental cuisine with earthy, spicy local flavours. Tradition stands out in every dish.
As impressive as the gardens are, the property’s architecture, too, is noteworthy: an immaculate blend of the modern and the ancient that immerses you in an atmosphere that reflects the spirit of Odisha. Established over two decades ago, with inputs from famed sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra, the aesthetic motif echoes the traditional style that welcomes you at every temple in the state. The 52 rooms look out either onto the garden or the pool. The five lavish suites come with living and dining areas.
With your appetite for architecture whetted, head out to witness some culture; everything is within easy reach. The Lingeshwar Temple is the biggest draw for the religious. It’ll take you about an hour to properly explore the temple complex; absorb everything the old-fashioned way – cameras and even mobile phones aren’t allowed inside. Once you’ve seen things up close, head outside and into a side lane on the eastern side of the temple and you’ll find a viewing platform that’s great for capturing a snapshot. About a 20-minute drive from this site are the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves on adjacent hills. These are ancient dwellings for Jain monks dating back to 2 BC. Aside from the wealth of history here, if you climb to the top of either of the hills, you get a bird’s eye view over Odisha’s capital.
The other, newer, important landmark in the city is the Institute of Tribal Research. A beautifully laid out complex, it also houses a training centre for artisans, a Museum of Tribal Arts and Artefacts, a shop and a canteen. You could spend hours at the museum, learning about the various tribes that live in the region and their culture and history. If you want a taste of tribal fare, drop by the canteen; it’s open through the day and you’ll be served lunch as late as 4pm.
Plan your trip to Odisha to start off in the capital but do venture beyond. Bhubaneswar is just a taster of what the state has to offer, and there’s a lot awaiting.