Bay of plenty
Shalini Saksena tells you why Odisha is a scenic, serene and sublime chapter of incredible India
Madhya Pradesh is referred to as the heart of India but Odisha is the soul of the country — and rightly so.
The people of Odisha are simple and totally unpretentious. Second, since not many tourists visit Odisha, it has an unstained pristine beauty and purity about it. And last but least, it is absolutely lush green. Those who are used to high rise buildings would fall in love with the greenery, the peace and the quietitude it gives you.
Odisha comes wrapped in history — be it architecture, food or even a place where people come to worship. And it all starts with its new Capital Bhubaneswar.
The sound and light show at Shanti Stupa makes for a must watch. The city has a few museums, especially the tribal museum which is different. Interestingly, unlike many places in the country, Odisha has a lot of offer within a few 100-odd km. This means that one doesn’t waste much time travelling and can spend time exploring the region, Jagannath Puri being on top of the list.
A word of advice here. Do not go there during the Rath Yatra time. There are too many people and the deity is not in the main temple, he is some three km away. If you don’t mind the walk and the tight squeeze due to tens of thousands of people around you, not to mention the muggy weather, you may undertake the journey. Otherwise, visit the temple in the pleasant months of December to end February.
But there is a catch here, it is crowded. Those wanting to enjoy the peace, quiet of the clean beaches, these are months to avoid, as are intense summers through March to May end. Rainy months are good but one needs to see the weather report since the State is prone to cyclones and you wouldn’t want to be cooped up in a hotel room.
Speaking of beaches, almost are clean and beautiful. Swimmers can take a dip too in the Bay of Bengal. Those who have been to Goa will find that the sea here is different. The region is famous for Oliver Ridley turtles and the Irrawaddy dolphins (Bottlenose) not to mention the droves of migratory birds at the Chilika Lake means that there is plenty for Nature lovers too.
Almost all tourist spots have guides and the question is — should one hire one or not. The Odisha Tourism website has a list of certified and verified guides. Depending on whether you want to hire them for city tour or to travel with you for an overnight journey will determine the rate. Since the State has so much history and stories to tell, it might be prudent to hire one, provided the budget allows it.
The good thing is that guides like Jagabandhu Pradhan and Firoz Kumar Samtaray have many stories to tell — like how the Puri Temple came to be, how the State which was once the seat of Buddhism slowly gave way to Hinduism, so much so that today Buddhism has disappeared, how among the several hundred tiny islands in Chilika, the Kalijai Island came to be.
Those who love history, there is plenty here. Konark and its awesome stone carvings and huge wheels all around this Sun temple leave you spellbound as you go around the structure. These 12 pairs of wheels located at the base of the temple are no ordinary wheels, they tell time too! There is no deity but since its structure is so oriented — towards the east that the first rays of sun strike the main entrance and hence its name. The original height of the sanctum sanctorum was 229 feet high. The temple structure, at one point of time, was held together by a 52-ton magnet at the top of the temple.
The popular story doing the rounds is that when the British occupied India, their ships would get waylaid due to the magnetic force of the temple. The magnet was removed and soon the temple could not hold the weight for long and it fell. But a more plausible explanation lies in the story that since the super structure stood on weak soil, the main structure fell in 1837 and therefore its present height is around 45 feet.
Moving from Konark, one might visit Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udaygiri, which tell you how Buddhism once flourished here. Not surprising since the Kalinga War took place here and it was here that Samrat Ashok spread the message of Buddha. The sites, now in ruins, tell you a lot about the architecture and how once the monasteries were centres of learning and spread Buddhism to other regions.
Since there is a lot of walking involved, those who abhor it can just visit Udaygiri, a complex that forms the Pushpagiri University and one of the largest Buddhist complexes in the State. The heritage site is part of the Diamond Triangle that includes Ratnagirl and Laitgiri.
For Nature lovers, there is this majestic and sprawling Chilika but you must visit it from the Puri side. There is a lot more here. One can spot the dolphins and may run into the almost endangered turtle. One can also visit the site of cultured pearls. Again a warning, since there are a lot of fakes, buying pearls may not be such a good idea unless you know how to spot a fake from the cultured. There is the Mangalajjod and Nalabana Island designated for the Bird Sanctuary inside Chilika which is spread over 1,100 sq km area.
The tour is not complete without seeing the over 5,000 temples. To give you a glimpse of these, one can take the heritage walk — Ekamra. The walk is a non-profit initiative by the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Bhubaneswar Development Authority and Odisha Tourism. The walk is organised every Sunday at 6:30 am from Mukteshwar Temple and end at Ekamravan, the garden of medicinal plants.
It takes you through the rustic lanes, the temple kitchen and the Hindu rituals near Bindusagar Lake. With a dash of facts, figures and stories related to ancient shrines, the walk also includes a recital by students of the renowned Odisi dancer Ileana Citaristi. The trail that covers a distance of 2 km gives you an experience of a lifetime.
Other attractions in the State are Wildlife of Simlipal National Park, the Mangrove Wetland of Bhitarkanika and the Nandankanan Zoological Park.
No trip is complete without shopping though. At Pipli, one can shop for decorative garden umbrellas, wallets, wall hangings, lampshades and bags. A visit to village Raghurajpur is a must since it is known for its patachitra — an ancient art form on palm leaves preserved by a few traditional artisans.
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