India Travel

Highlights of the Less Travelled Indian State of Odisha

Odisha (earlier known as Orissa) is a less travelled state in India. In fact, most people assume that it’s a part of the North-East Indian states, but that’s not so. I think that the reason for this confusion could be the fact that Odisha is blessed with as much natural beauty as the North-East.

The state is located very near to the Bay of Bengal and adjacent to the state of West Bengal. It is a land of wonder, marvels, mystery, mysticism, faith and so much more. People often overlook it, but that’s a grave mistake because Odisha can offer you a lot. Here are the top 6 places in the state that will keep you enthralled.

1. Konark Sun Temple

Konark Sun Temple
Konark Sun Temple. Photo by Arpan Mahajan

The Konark Sun Temple is an extremely significant religious site for Hindus. Sun worshipping is considered to be an essential religious ritual in Hindu traditions. As a result, a temple dedicated to the Sun God himself attracts a large number of pilgrims.

Several mythological tales are associated with the temple, as is the case with temples all around India. Therefore, we can’t really pinpoint which one sounds almost plausible. The most popular belief among the locals is that after killing the demon Gyasur, Lord Vishnu placed his Lotus at this location. Some also say that this temple was dedicated to the Sun God by Krishna’s son because the God treated his epilepsy.

According to historical records, this temple was completely constructed by King Narasimhadeva in the 13th century. Because of its proximity to the sea, the European voyagers named this place as the “Black Pagoda” because their ships often wrecked here while nearing the coast. The temple is shaped like a giant chariot, and its incredible stone designs have always been appreciated by all. The images of Sun God are made in three directions in such a manner that rays of the sun penetrate there in the morning, noon and evening respectively.

2. Jagannath Temple

The road outside the entrance of the temple
Outside the entrance to the temple. Photo by Bernard Gagnon

Puri is one of the oldest cities in India. It is very close to the Bay of Bengal. Jagannath Temple is in Puri.

This old temple is also dedicated to Lord Krishna. A unique fact about this temple is that Lord Krishna is not the only deity here. His brother Balram and his sister Subhadra are also worshipped with equal reverence here.

Hindus believe that the universe was created by the three powers, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Mahadev (Shiv). Thus, people think that Lord Krishna, Balram and Subhadra symbolise the three powers. There is also a beach in Puri which is very famous.

Jagannath Temple is also one of the temples of the much valued Char Dham Pilgrimage. Don’t know what that is? Check out An Overview of the Char Dham Pilgrimage.

If you’d like to read about other mystical temples in the country, then make sure to read The Most Majestic Temples in India.

3. Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves

Queen's Cave in Udayagiri
Queen’s Cave in Udayagiri. Photo by Bernard Gagnon

If history is something you adore, then this is the right place for you to explore. These group of caves are indeed an architectural marvel and still stand majestic in their sheer simplicity.

These caves are located in Bhubaneswar. At first glance, one might think that these are natural caves, but that isn’t true. Or it’s only partially correct. Most of what you see today are rock cut caves made by Jain ascetics for their profound meditations. Many of these caves are cut so low that an average human being cannot even stand erect here. Almost all the caves are plain, but some have inscriptions and cave paintings associated with the Jain belief system.

These group of caves are on the hills rising from the coastal plain, and that makes them more fascinating. Udayagiri has 18 caves while Khandagiri has 17. The first cave in Udayagiri is called Queen’s Cave, and it’s double-storeyed with pillars (almost like a building). Besides this, each cave in both the groups is renowned for its own distinct characteristic, mostly their unique carvings.

The perfect place for history buffs or archaeologists in the making. A fan of caves? Check out these Top 5 Historical Caves in India That You Must Visit.

4. Chilika Wetland

Thousands of birds in the wetland
Thousands of birds in the wetland. Photo by Mike Prince

If you want to catch a glimpse of the local life of Odisha, head over to Chilika. It is one of the most important wetlands in the world right now.

Visitors come here from afar to row their boats in the splendid Chilika Lake. It is renowned as Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon and extends covering a large distance of more than 1000 square km. There are various minuscule islands in the lake that are home to few fishermen and their families. They are very warm and welcoming people.

Boating is also a favoured activity when you visit the lake. Besides the scenic beauty and the local lifestyle, the array of species present here will blow your mind. Chilika is incredibly rich in biodiversity, and that makes it all the more important to be protected.

During the peak season of November to February, you can supposedly find more than 160 species of birds here. Some that call Chilika it’s home are ospreys, flamingos, golden plovers, sand pipers and a large variety of migratory birds that cover considerable distances to be here. It’s a wonder to watch.

5. Nandankanan Zoological Park

A beautiful white tiger in the park
A beautiful white tiger in the park. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Located in Bhubaneswar, this zoological park and botanical garden it is visited by more than 3 million people every year.

The park has become this popular because of the number of white tigers that were bred here. If you visit the park and ask the zoologist, you can get to know all about the measures they’re taking to maintain the continuity of these white tigers.

The zoological park was the first one to introduce an adoption programme. You can adopt a bird, rhino, a tiger and even a lion. Well, you can’t actually take them home but your donation will be highly valuable and will contribute substantially to the well-being of several animals. You will be provided with an official certificate of adoption, and your name will be displayed on the board outside the animal’s house (because cage sounds too cruel!). Even the State Bank of India has adopted 4 or 5 animals and donated a sum of 5 lakh rupees (USD $7500).

Other than the beautiful and majestic white tigers, plenty of other species like crocodiles, pangolins and even Asiatic lions live at the zoo. Of course, this isn’t even one-third of the thousands of species of birds, animals and reptiles that they house. Their botanical garden is also well-kept and worth a visit.

Visit and show some much-needed love to your fellow species because they deserve all that and much more.

6. Odisha State Museum

Odisha State Museum
Odisha State Museum. Photo by juggadery

This one grabs a position on this list for all the right reasons.

The museum was founded by distinguished historians and professors in 1932. It has been relocated, modified and upgraded since then and now it’s like a treasure trove for lovers of culture, art and history.

You can find leaf manuscripts here along with some traditional Indian paintings. There are various galleries, each dedicated to a particular department like archaeology, epigraphy, art, Sanskrit manuscripts and much more.

A walk through this museum will give you a great insight into the essential arts and crafts of Odisha. Worth a visit during your trip to Odisha.

By Merlin Chacko

Currently studying English Literature at Delhi University. Obsessed with Harry Potter and NOT Shakespeare. I believe that nothing nourishes the soul like books and travelling. Constantly amazed by the Indian culture and its history. Personally feel that the old forts and ruined palaces in India are almost magical.

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