Odisha is accorded as ‘India’s Best Kept Secret’, and it’s cities are also acknowledged as; ‘City of temples’ – Bhubaneswar, ‘Silver City’ – Cuttack, ‘Steel city’ – Rourkela, ‘Silk city’- Berhampur respectively.
What is less known to people around the world about Odisha is, That, t it is also a land of revelry and much-unexplored nature’s bounties.
Along with places to explore, Odisha has an old tribal history that gives birth to a variety of different authentic Odia cuisine. This sacred land is blessed with culture, festivals, art, cuisines, and several stellar destinations.
Therefore, it is absolutely beneficial for visitors and travelers from outside to make a list of major things to not miss doing in Odisha, especially when time’s scarce.
1. Take a Stroll at Chandipur beach.
Water child or not, a visit to the mesmerizing Chandipur beach is a not-to-miss experience.
A long routed water connection awaits you, that stretches between Northeast to Southeast Odisha; starting from Chandipur beach at Balasore it will take you through the ‘Marine Drive’ of Chandrabhaga beach-Konark to the famous Golden beach Puri and conclude at the Gopalpur beach Berhampur.
Unless you are one of those people who has never experienced a sunset on a beach, Golden beach-Puri is the perfect sight to be at.
Otherwise, it is better to skip all the usual beach experiences in order to save time and spend some in a particular beach that is the Chandipur sea beach.
Chandipur sea beach is located on the shore of the Bay of Bengal. This beach is unique in the way that the water recedes up to 5 kilometers during the ebb and the flow of the tide is quite shallow, giving the marina a ‘mirage’ effect which extends to the horizon and delves into it.
Twice every day the sea comes in and goes out along our shores.
2. Experience Birding at Satkosia and Chilika.
It is quite impossible to choose one of these two places. Both of them are one of a kind.
Satkosia tiger reserve is a part of Abhaya Aranya (Unending Forest range) which connects Odisha to Central India. Chilika Lake, also known as ‘The Birds Paradise of Asia’, is a brackish water lagoon on the east coast of India.
At the mouth of the Daya River, flowing into the Bay of Bengal, Chilika lake is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the largest brackish water lagoon in the world.
At Satkosia nature camp, one must go Birding- see the rarest of nature’s avian beauties. Take part in organized treks and get personal with nature. Soak in leisure and cherish the breathtaking views of the Gorge while Boating.
182 km away from Satkosia, the birds migrate to Chilika. It is approximately a 3 and a half hour journey by car to travel from one destination to the other.
Chilika is the largest ground to host over 160 species of migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent during the migratory season.
The lake is home to a number of endangered species of plants and animals. It is also an ecosystem with large fishery resources.
The lake has numerous islands. The six major islands are Parikud, Phulbari, Berahpura, Nuapara, Nalbana, and Tampara.
There is a famous temple named Kalijai Temple located on an island is considered to be the abode of the Goddess Kalijai.
This is a temple with a unique history and is located at a hill which is surrounded by blue water bears. Local people of Chilika refer to the goddess as the reigning deity of the lagoon.
3. Meet the Fantastic Beasts.
Towards the south fringe of Cuttack begins the dense Chandaka forest of Khurda-the abode to diverse flora and. If you are an elephant lover, this forest is likely to clench your thirst.
It shelters the Indian Elephant ( the flagship species) and the constant efforts of the government of Odisha to conserve them, can’t go unnoticed.
Elephants are probably one of the most adorable, albeit humongous animals on the planet.
To experience a close-up with this fantastic beast of nature; The Chandaka Elephant Sanctuary in Odisha is considered one of the best places in India.
Although Elephants are the prime residents in the forest, other animals like leopard, Chital, wild boar, rhesus monkey, pangolin, sloth bear, ratel, Indian wolf, and hyena can also be spotted in the denser part of the forest. Various species of birds and reptiles are also a part of this forest.
Godibari nature camp is one of the places in the forest worth visiting, where 3 watchtowers are located from where tourists can enjoy watching elephants in their natural habitat. In addition, there is also an ancient fort of King Chodaganga Dev.
Deras and Jhumka dams are two water lagoons across each other where Elephants come to drink water after dawn. It is built on the outskirts of the forest and is also visited by many as a picnic spot.
Whilst near the forest, do not leave the opportunity to drive a few more miles towards the outskirts of Chandaka forest into the Pathapur village in Cuttack district, where lies ‘Pandava Bakhara’ hill which houses a cave at its peak.
According to locals, the rock shelter was the abode of the Pandavas during their exile. It is hence the shelter is called Pandava Bakhara. One must trek to the top of the hill, the distance is approximately 1 km.
4. Kalinga Architecture
Odisha is also famous for its old monuments with a unique style of architecture.
If one likes to be amazed by intricacy, intimacy, and architecture; The Khorda district of Odisha has many places to offer such amazement.
The famous Jagannath temple is in Puri that existed since the mythological era, the famous Lingaraj temple. The temple is 180 ft tall and sits with the title ‘largest temple in Bhubaneswar’. The Sun temple of Konark who’s ‘Chakra’ was stolen by the British because of its magnetic powers.
It stopped the ships from sailing in the sea, the Khandagiri and Udaygiri caves that are partly natural and partly artificial caves of archaeological, historical and religious importance.
Lastly, Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda) to atop the Dhauligiri. The place, near which, on the shores of river Daya, the Kalinga War was fought.
All these monuments attach the architectural importance of their period along with mythological and historical values.
The art and craft of Odisha range from —stonework, silver filigree, woodcraft, appliqué work, brass and bell metal work, dhokra castings, horn work, pattachitra, paper mache, terracotta, tie & dye textile in cotton,tassar, and silk to name a few.
The reason why Odisha is also known as Utkala is because of its extended range of art and craft. ‘Utkala’ is a Sanskrit word that roughly translates to Excellent Art (Utkrishta Kala).
Pipila in the Puri district is one of the most famous artistic sites, famous for designing beautiful Applique handicrafts.
Each and every family of darjisahi, a well-known applique village’s people are engaged in this applique craft. This is the livelihood of most people here.
If one is interested in Silver ornaments, they must visit Cuttack for it’s famous ‘Filigree’ work on silver. The pieces of this craftwork also constitute tiny beads or twisted threads, or both of these in an artistic combination.
For the unique traditional Stonecraft of Odisha, one must visit Sukuapada village located right on the road to Lalitgiri Monastery.
The quaint village of some 30-40 craftsmen carries on with their work of infusing life into the stones just like their ancestors.
The famous Sambalpuri saree is one fabric, women of culture wride, is not likely to miss on. It is a traditional handwoven saree and the weft are tie-dyed before weaving.
It is produced in the Sambalpur, Balangir, Bargarh, Boudh, and Sonepur districts of Odisha. Although the best part is that one doesn’t need to travel so long to buy them, instead it is available all over Odisha in handloom stores.
6. Be A Part Of At least One Festival.
A famous Odia proverb goes by “BAARA MASARE TERA PARBA”. Odisha celebrates 13 festivals in 12 months which highlights the cultural richness of Odisha.
Hence, whenever one decides to visit Odisha, they are most likely to witness at least 1 festival.
A lot of those festivals are also vastly celebrated all over India. There are some major festivals that are celebrated only in Odisha.
Those festivals are:
Raja Parba is a three-day long festival that usually falls in mid-June. This festival is dedicated to the Earth goddess. During this period, no agricultural activities occur to allow the goddess to rest. Girls get dressed and play on swings, and people exchange pithas (Sweet delicacies) among relatives and friends.
Balijatra is Asia’s largest open trade fair held in Cuttack of Odisha- in Gadagadia Ghata of the Mahanadi river. Balijatra means A Voyage to Bali.
It marks the day when ancient Sadhabas (Odia mariners) would set sail to distant lands of Bali for trade and cultural expansion.
Nuakhai is particularly celebrated in the Sambalpuri cultural region. It is celebrated to welcome the new paddy harvest. It falls on the day after Ganesh Chaturthi (Aug-Sept). The new grains are offered to the local goddesses at a precise auspicious moment. In the evening, folk dance and song events may be organized which are called “Nuakhai Bhetghat”.
Khudurkuni Osha/Bhalukuni Osha is when unmarried girls of their respective communities gather at one place to worship goddess Mangala.
It is celebrated during the month of Bhadraba (Aug-Sept) on Sundays. Khudurkuni came from the word Khuda-Rankuni (Broken-rice lover).
The mythological story of Tapoi also has immense importance in regard to this festival. Her story is recited in the form of a song in devotion to goddess Mangala.
On the 5th Sunday (the last day of the festival), various types of pithas and fruits are made and offered to the goddess.
Girls bring the delicacies from their respective homes and after the rituals are done. The rest of the sacraments are distributed among those girls and their family members.
Some pandals on various parts of Odisha also hosts Khudurkuni Puja in an enormous way.
A large idol of the deity is brought to worship. After the festival is over, the idol is taken for visarjan (immersion) with proper rituals.
Chhau festival is a celebration of the vibrant tribal culture of the state. This is a tribute to the contribution of the tribal’s in the field of art and craft of Odisha. This festival is related to the Chhau dance of Mayurbhanj District.
The dancers adorn masks while enacting their dance sequences. The colorful attire and the vibrant settings are a treat for the visual senses.
The dance form has classical and martial arts intertwined adding a dash of flamboyance to the performances. The festival usually happens in March/April.
Albeit Rathayatra being celebrated globally, it is incomplete to not mention this while talking about festivals.
Odias take their devotion to Lord Jagannath very seriously, and the fact that the famous Jagannath temple. The temple is in Puri of Odisha, this festival is amongst one of the major festivals celebrated.
It is a festival where the Lord comes out of the temple to meet his devotees.
This festival usually takes place during June/July. Millions of devotees visit Puri to be able to touch the idol of Lord Jagannath and pull his chariot.
7. Take a Bath in the Barehipani Waterfall.
Strategically nestled around the Simplipal National Park, Barehipani Waterfall is the highest waterfall in Odisha.
Falling from an incredible height of 399 meters, the fall breaks into two visible tiers which ultimately ends to form a pool.
This waterfall shares land with the Simlipal National Park. This park is settled in the Mayurbhanj district which is known for sheltering various wild animals.
Furthermore, for those who are visiting the national park for sighting the Bengal and White Tiger. The experience becomes even exciting and wonderful with the presence of this popular tourist attraction.
Odisha has a culinary tradition spanning centuries. The kitchen of the Shri Jagannath Temple, Puri feed over 10,000 people each day.
Pahala rasagola and Nayagarh Chhenapoda are two world-famous desserts that originated from Odisha. The “Odisha Rasagola” was awarded a GI tag in 2019 after a long battle about the origin of the famous sweet with West Bengal.
Dalma (a mix of dal and selected vegetables) is a widely known cuisine, better served with ghee. Dahibara Aludam is a famous street food that originated from Cuttack.
Several types of Pithas are also made during their respective festivals in this state. One of those pithas is Arisa Pitha, which is a traditional sweet pancake from Odisha.
The main ingredients of this pitha being soaked rice and jaggery. This is a unique dish to flourish in the tribal culture of Odisha.
9. Learn More about the History of Odisha in the ‘Odisha State Museum’.
Odisha State Museum is located in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. The museum is divided into eleven sections, viz, Archaeology, Epigraphy, Numismatics, Armoury, Mining & Geology, Natural History, Art & Craft, Contemporary Art, Patta Painting, Anthropology, and Palm leaf Manuscripts.
Opening timing is 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM all days of the week except Monday. Photography is allowed inside the museum, prior permission needs to be taken while taking the tickets.
10. Witness the Enchanting Cultural Performances.
Odissi is an Indian classical dance and archeological evidence. It indicates that it is the oldest surviving dance form in the country.
Odissi is traditionally a dance-drama genre of performance art, where the artist(s) and musicians play out a mythical story.
A spiritual message or devotional poem from the Hindu texts, using symbolic costumes, body movement, abhinaya (expressions), and mudras (gestures and sign language) set out in ancient Sanskrit literature.
Take your fascination for classical dance to the next level with a visit to the Konark Dance Festival, which is a five-day dance festival held every year in the month of December in the backdrop of the Sun temple in Konark, Odisha.
Other than Odissi, the tribal folk dances from various parts of Odisha such as; Chhau, Gotipua, Sambapuri, etc are some of the forms worth watching.