3 Incredible Ways to Experience Odisha

Hiding away in eastern India, Odisha is still off the radar of backpackers. Mariellen Ward tells us how to experience this incredible place.


Photo © Mariellen Ward

Intrepid visitors will be rewarded with a high concentration of religious and historical monuments, wildlife sanctuaries teeming with animals, sun-drenched beaches, and a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site.

It’s well worth the journey, especially for the Konark Festival, the Puri Beach Festival, or the Rath Yatra.

Most travelers to Odisha begin their journey in Bhubaneswar, the capital. From Bhubaneswar, it’s an easy drive east to the coastal area, where most of the tourist destinations and infrastructure in the state are found.

Things to See & Do in Bhubaneswar

While Bhubaneswar might not at first glance seem like a city worth exploring, there’s a lot to see and do.

In medieval times, the city was home to thousands of temples and monuments, and there are still at least 500 standing. Hire an auto rickshaw to take you around and see the sights.

Bindu Sagar. Photo credit: Mariellen Ward

Lovely Bindu Sagar – a small lake surrounded by ghats and temples – is a good starting point to explore. Nearby is Lingaraj Mandir, which non-Hindus can view from a platform, and the State Museum.

Bhubaneshwar. Photo credit: Mariellen Ward

Within driving distance of Bhubaneswar, visit the colorful town of Pipli and the Yogini Temple.

Pipli is famous for crafts and textiles, made from a vibrant appliqué technique that incorporates tiny mirrors.

Set in a lush field, Yogini Temple – one of only four in India – is a small, circular edifice lined with carvings of female deities, which was built during the 9th century.

Inside Yogini Temple. Photo credit: Mariellen Ward

Cultural Experiences on the Coast

Coastal Odisha is where most travelers head, and with good reason.

Konark, almost directly east of Bhubaneswar, is home to one of India’s most stunning UNESCO sites: the 13th century Konark Sun Temple. The temple is a stupendous colossus of sandstone in the form of the sun god’s chariot.

Konark Beach is the site of the annual International Sand Art Festival, timed to coincide with the Konark Festival.

The highlight is the five-day dance festival, where audiences are treated to classical Odissa dancers performing with the Sun Temple as backdrop.

Further down the coast, Puri is famous for its beaches, and for the Jagannath Temple. Each year, the Rath Yatra – Jagannath Temple’s Car Festival – draws millions of pilgrims to the city to see the spectacle.

Puri is one of Hindu India’s most sacred sites, and attracts backpackers from around the globe.

Outdoor Activities & Wildlife Sanctuaries

No visit to Odisha would be complete without experiencing the abundant parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

Chilika Lake, Asia’s largest lagoon, is down the coast from Puri. With dozens of migratory birds flocking to the mirror-like lake in winter, this spot is a bird-watcher’s paradise.

In the other direction, north up the coast, Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary is a mangrove wetland full of wildlife, including the endangered saltwater crocodile that can reach eight meters (26ft) in length.

Near Bhitarkanika, Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary is the nesting site of Olive Ridley turtles. They come from as far away as South America, it is believed, to lay eggs on a 35km stretch of Gahirmatha Beach.

About 50-55 days later, the tiny hatchlings emerge and make their way to the sea, with the help of volunteers.

Check with local officials about when the turtles are expected to nest and hatch.

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