The coastal state of Odisha has a lot to offer visitors. Venture beyond Bhubaneswar to discover an unexplored side
Words SAMARPAN BHOWMIK Photographs KRISHNA PRABAKAR T
The Odia capital Bhubaneswar is not the usual jumble of chaos big cities are infamous for. Designed by German architect Otto Königsberger (also involved in the planning of Jamshedpur), it’s a well-planned place and, aside from the broad streets, there’s plenty of green cover to balance out the concrete. The ancient temples the region is famous for often come as a surprise to visitors, set as they are amid these modern urban confines. As much of a contrast as it is, the architecture of these is fascinating. The largest one in the city, Lingaraj Temple dates back to 6 CE and is the quintessence of Kalinga architecture. The temple complex in itself has 50 shrines apart from the main Shiva shrine. While non-Hindus cannot enter, a raised platform to one side of the compound can be accessed from the outside and serves as a great spot from where to get a good look at the temple complex. The Rajarani Temple is traced back to the 11th century and the carvings on its walls are similar to those found in the Khajuraho temples in Madhya Pradesh. Towards another end of town lie the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves, ancient dwellings for Jain monks on two adjacent hills, dating back to 1 BCE Aside from the history, the panoramic view of the city from atop either hill is worth a visit.
If you want a break from architecture, make your way to the Museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts. The facility offers up a wonderfully-curated glimpse into the lives and traditions of the indigenous people that live in the state. Don’t miss the chance to visit the canteen within the compound of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute, just past the museum gift shop. The menu has sumptuous tribal fare that provides a rather delicious insight into ancient indigenous culture. For serious indulgence in Odia fare, go try the pakhala thali at Odisha Hotel. Pakhala is the local version of a preparation that is popular across eastern India. Rice is cooked and then soaked in water overnight. It’s soothingly cool and helps beat the heat, extremely useful given the local climate. And it goes rather well with the fried fish and prawn and the crab in thick gravy that comes with the thali.
The Trident, Bhubaneswar is a business hotel that makes for a good stay option. It’s situated right in the middle of the city, on an arterial road, but the gardens within the property very effectively insulate it from all the noise outside. In fact, the gardens are quite the focus at this property, with almost 70 per cent of the acreage dedicated to vegetation. Given the decent road connectivity in the state, you could base yourself out of Bhubaneswar and make day-trips to the famous temple towns of Puri and Konark.
Just about 70km from the capital are located two of the most popular temple towns in the country, which see millions of visitors every year. The temple towns of Puri and Konark, on the coast of Odisha, are also just 35km from each other, making it fairly easy for travellers to visit both on a day-trip from Bhubaneswar. However, we’d recommend leaving the capital behind and taking a little more time to explore the area. Stay on the coast, closer to the temple towns, and you open yourself up to more discoveries and a more immersive visit into this part of Odisha. The road out of Bhubaneswar towards the coast and the temple towns of Puri and Konark has one important stop soon after exiting the city limits– Dhauli Hill on the banks of the Daya River. This is believed to be the site where, in 261 BCE, the Kalinga War was fought by King Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire. The Kalinga Edicts of Ashoka, early Buddhist sculptures, and a pagoda are among the many things to see here. Evenings see people streaming in for the sound-and-light show that’s held here every day.
Odisha’s countryside is a delight to drive through, provided you’re insulated within the air-conditioned confines of a vehicle. Except for December to February, the weather can be stiflingly hot and humid. But the views are almost always fantastic – vast fields of lush green stretch all the way to the horizon. If you’re visiting soon after the monsoon, you’ll also see stretches of wild sugarcane, a plant that looks distinctly different from the cultivated plant and is indeed widely regarded in Eastern India as a sign of the advent of the festive season. If you really want to cement the feeling of travelling in the countryside, take a break from the journey and stop where you find shade. Where there’s shade, you’re bound to find locals selling tender coconut – a refreshing drink for hot days.
Carrying on towards the coast, there is another interesting stop on the way – the artist village of Raghurajpur. This small hamlet off National Highway 316 is a unique destination for anybody keen to pick up some bits of local culture. Every single family in the village has artists, and, when you enter, you’ll notice a number of different art forms on display and being worked upon on every porch. You’ll be graciously invited into homes and shown lovely works. Nobody coerces you to buy anything, but you’ll be tempted to pick up stuff anyway. It really is unique, this little hamlet, and a stop that you absolutely must make.
When you come to it, you will find that Puri is a bustling town used to accommodating huge numbers of visitors; you might want to venture a little distance away to Ramachandi Beach for some peace and quiet. This stretch of the coast, between Puri and Konark, has a couple of resorts, and, owing to (the need to get away from) the crowds in the temple towns on either side, is the perfect place for a stop-over. The Lotus Eco Beach Resort is a great option to base yourself out of. If you’re lucky, there just might be a seafood festival on at the resort’s Waterfront Grill Cafe. The sea-crab curry and fried snapper are delicious. Spend the afternoon at the resort’s bar on the shore; if you want a bit of exercise to digest your meal, venture out onto the beach and scurry after the colonies of crabs that inhabit these shores. If you want more than just a bit of exercise, the resort offers boat and water scooter rides in the lagoon in front of the property. Watching the colours of the sky over the bay, as the sun goes down, is quite the treat.