Known as Kalinga and Utkala in the past, Odisha boasts a rich culture which is an outcome of the eclectic mixture of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and tribal heritage. Primarily known for its Golden Triangle of the Lingaraj, Jagannath and Konark temples and Diamond Triangle of Buddhist sites of Ratnagiri, Udaygiri and Lalitgiri, Odisha also has its fair share of natural beauty and wilderness, as found in Bhitarkanika and Kuldiha.
We travelled and explored the eastern part of Odisha, starting with Puri – Konark, driving through the capital Bhubaneswar and Bhitarkanika, and ending the trip with Balasore. So, here goes the 7-day itinerary for Odisha.
Day 1: Reaching Puri.
Puri is one of the holiest pilgrimages of India. One of the Char Dhams and Saptapuris, Puri is bustling all year round as thousands of pilgrims visit for seeking the blessings of Lord Jagannath.
Puri is well-connected with the rest of India by railways. The nearest airport is Bhubaneswar, which is about 70 kilometres away.
We opted for Shatabdi Express from Howrah, which reaches Puri around 10 in the night.
Accommodation in Puri:
There is no dearth of hotels in Puri catering to every possible budget.
Day 2: Scout Puri.
Puri occupies a special place in the heart of every Bengali. You won’t find a single Bengali who hasn’t visited Puri at least once in his lifetime. No matter how far and wide he has travelled, his travel stories are incomplete without a visit to Puri.
This was our third venture in Puri, home of Lord Jagannath and one of the holiest places in India. The palatial Jagannath Temple is the centre of attraction in Puri. One of the finest examples of Kalinga style of architecture, it was built by Anantvarmana Chodaganga of Eastern Ganga dynasty.
Start your day with a darshan of Lord Jagannath and his siblings. Marvel at the brilliance of sculpture on the walls of the temple. Take a look inside the Rosaghara or kitchen, where 56 varieties of food items are prepared daily for the deities. Explore the surroundings of the kitchen where countless pandas are busy in peeling vegetables, cleaning utensils, fetching water from well and various other daily chores.
Later, visit the Gundicha Temple, which is just 3 km away from Jagannath Temple and serves as a summer retreat for Lord Jagannath and his siblings. The deities visit here on the auspicious day of Ratha Yatra where they rest for seven days before heading back to the main temple.
Afterwards, take a boat tour of Chilika Lake, which is the largest lagoon of India. Keep an eye for various migratory birds and the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.
During sunset, take an aimless stroll around the Swargadwar Beach, the bustling beach of Puri. Soak your feet in the cool seawater to wash away all your daily stress. Munch on the tasty and fresh seafood served in the beachside stalls. Buy handcrafted jewellery and showpieces made from conch and seashells. Or just sit back, relax and enjoy the lively beach.
Day 3: Exploring Konark.
Next morning, drive through the scenic Puri-Konark Marine Drive to reach Konark. Konark is starkly less crowded than Puri, as most of the tourists visit here as part of a day trip from Puri. We, however, suggest staying overnight in Konark for basking in its myth and history.
Known as Arkakshetra in the olden days, Konark is home to the resplendent Sun Temple, an architectural wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At present, the temple is in ruins. Even then, you will be left awestruck by its magnificence.
Take your sweet time in exploring every nook and corner of this colossal temple, which represents the majestic chariot of the Sun god with its 12 pairs of wheels drawn by 7 horses. The iconic 24 wheels are believed to represent the 24 hours of a day, while the 7 horses symbolize 7 days of a week. Check out the 3 spectacular images of the Sun-god, sculpted strategically on 3 sides of the temple. Marvel at the thousands of intricate sculptures on the wall of the temple, some of which bear Persian influence. As you leave the temple, you will be left wondering about the creative genius of the architects and sculptors, who toiled every day and every night to build this outstanding temple.
Visit the Archaeological Museum of Konark, which houses over 250 pieces of antiquities such as manuscripts, paintings, sculptures and fallen parts of the Sun Temple. The museum lets us peek into the glorious past of the temple. See the ruined figures of the Sun God, Vishnu, dikpalas, apsaras, animals etc. preserved in 4 galleries. The museum remains open from 10 AM to 5 PM and remains closed on Fridays.
Go to the Buddhist site of Kuruma, where remnants of a Buddhist Monastery of 7th century BC have been found and which is just 7 km away from the Sun Temple. Excavations have unearthed 12 cells of the monastery, which was once visited by Hiuen T’sang. A beautiful figure of Lord Buddha engraved on a stone slab and various other statues and figurines have been fished out from a pond nearby. All these findings are preserved nearby.
Take an aimless stroll along the Ramchandi Beach during sunset. It is one of the most scenic beaches of Odisha.
In the evening, watch the light and sound show held in the Sun Temple complex, which narrates the legends and history encompassing the temple. Please keep in mind that, there is no show on Mondays.
Accommodation in Konark.
We stayed in Yatrinivas of OTDC, which is close to the Sun Temple. It provides comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price. Rooms can be booked online through www.otdc.in.
Day 4: Transfer to Bhubaneswar.
Start your day by watching the gorgeous sunrise on Chandrabhaga beach. You will be amazed to see the sky painted in different shades of red and orange.
En route to Bhubaneswar, make pit stops at Pipli and Raghurajpur, two villages renowned for their unique handicrafts. Drop by the prettily painted houses of weavers and artisans as they make Pattachitras and vibrant Chandua appliqué and patchwork.
After this, make way to Dhauli, the site of the Kalinga War fought by Asoka. It was here that, the great Mauryan emperor had forsaken violence after witnessing the blood bath and embraced Buddhism. At present, a white peace pagoda has been erected by Japan atop the Dhauligiri hills.
While returning from Dhauli, see one of the celebrated Major Rock Edicts of Asoka, where 13 Asokan principles have been engraved in Brahmi script. A fascinating historical find whose significance knows no bounds, it is here that, Asoka had famously declared all men are his children.
On reaching Bhubaneswar, visit the Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves. They were carved during the reign of Kharvela and served as the residence of Jain monks. Check out the Rani Gumpha, a double-storied cave beautified by ornate sculptures, Ganesha Gumpha with 2 elephant statues at the entrance and Hati Gumpha, which houses the famous rock inscription of Kharvela, depicting the details of his reign.
Accomodation in Bhubaneswar.
We stayed at Hotel Pushpak after checking its favourable ratings on Tripadvisor. It is centrally located and offers luxurious stay without burning a hole in pockets. The food served was delicious too.
Day 5: Looking around Bhubaneswar.
The capital city of Odisha is aptly known as “city of temples”. A melting pot of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain heritage, its history dates back to 3rd century BC, as it boasts some of the finest specimens of Kalinga architecture. It is presumed that there are at least 100 temples in the city, who have blissfully defied the test of time.
Start your exploration with the celebrated Lingaraj Temple, the epitome of Kalinga school of architecture. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is the largest temple in Bhubaneswar. Towering at a height of 300 feet, the spectacular temple will leave you at a loss of words. The walls of the temple are intricately decorated with beautiful sculptures. The temple courtyard is dotted with countless smaller shrines. Please keep in mind that, photography is prohibited here.
Move onto the Mukteswar Temple. On way, you will pass by the Parsurameshwar Temple, which is believed to be the oldest of the lot and dedicated to Lord Karthik. You will also come across the Kedar-Gouri Temple, which is a fine specimen of Khakhara Deula, one of the variants found in Kalinga architecture.
The Mukteswar is one of the most famous temples of Bhubaneswar and devoted to Lord Shiva. Check out the ‘Torana’ or arched gateway, which is the distinctive feature of this temple signifying Buddhist influence on its architecture. The temple is built of red sandstone and covered in delicate carvings of apsaras, Nataraja, Gajalakshmi, Kirthimukhas etc.
Next, visit the Rajarani Temple. According to historians, the architecture of this temple served as an inspiration to the construction of other temples in central India, particularly the temple clusters of Khajuraho. There are some sensational sculptures all around the temple, such as the wedding of Shiva – Parvati, beautiful women looking at a mirror, apsara playing a musical instrument etc.
Reserve the afternoon for a visit to NandanKanan Zoological Park. Before hitting the zoo, stop by The Jungle View restaurant and indulge on Odiya delicacies like Bamboo Chicken Biryani and Bamboo Mutton.
Day 6: Transfer to Bhitarkanika.
Time to bid Bhubaneswar adieu and leave for Bhitarkanika. We suggest hiring a car for reaching Bhitarkanika, as it will be less tedious and save a copious amount of time. It will take almost 5 hours to reach Bhitarkanika, as the condition of roads is quite deplorable. For a detailed experience of this hidden gem please check out our post on Bhitarkanika here.
Accomodation in Bhitarkanika:
There are few options for accommodation here. We stayed at the guest house of Forest Department in Dangmal, which is located in the midst of Bhitarkanika National Park, a dense mangrove forest and a Ramsar site covering an area of 672 sq. km and home to innumerable saltwater crocodiles.
As you will walk towards your room, you will come across hordes of Chitals munching on grass and groups of monkeys busy in their usual monkey business. In the afternoon, take a stroll through the mangroves and visit the jetty. Check out zillions of Fiddler Crabs crawling on the marsh. You will also catch glimpse of deers and wild boars grazing just beside the balcony of your room.
Day 7: Boat safari in Bhitarkanika and transfer to Balasore.
Wake up to a misty morning in Bhitarkanika. We took the first boat ride and explore the tidal creeks inside and out. The thick mangrove vegetation comprises of Sundari, thespian, casuarinas, indigo bush etc. We spotted colourful Kingfishers, Egrets, Ibis etc. on the bank. We successfully saw lots of saltwater crocodiles in all shapes and sizes, including two white crocodiles. Some were floating, some lazing under the soft sun, some sneaking through the bushes. At the end of our trip, we noticed a Water Monitor Lizard.
After breakfast, we took a look around the crocodile inventory. Most of the crocodiles were young, yet they looked every bit a predator just like the adult ones.
We left Bhitarkanika cherishing loads of memorable moments and moved onto Balasore, our next destination. We stopped at Panchalingeswar Temple on our way. It is named after the five Shiva Lingams enshrined under a stream of the waterfall. The temple is located on the Nilagiri hills and 290 steps are needed to be climbed to reach the temple.
After reaching Balasore in the evening, visit the Emami Jagannath Temple, built recently by the Emami Paper Mills. It is built as a replica of the Jagannath Temple of Puri and adorned with the iconic wheels of Konark Temple. The outer walls have idols of Dashavatar. The interior is lavishly decorated.
Day 8: Back to home.
Board the return train from Balasore, which is well connected with major cities of India.
A few tips:
- Odisha can be visited all the year round. However, for exploring the temples and historical ruins, it is better to opt for the cooler and winter months. Best time to visit Puri, Konark and Bhubaneswar is October to March. Winter is also perfect for birding and watching crocodiles in Bhitarkanika.
- The museum in Konark remains open from 10 AM to 5 PM and remains closed on Fridays. Also, there is no light and sound show on Mondays at the temple.
- It is advisable to visit Konark Sun Temple at the earliest hours of morning, as crowds began to pour in from 8 in the morning.
- Camera is not allowed inside the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar. However, photos can be taken from the viewing platform just outside the walls.
- For booking tickets and safari slots at Nandan Kanan Zoological Park, visit www.nandankanan.org/. The zoo remains open every day till 5-30 in the evening.
That’s all about our Odisha travelogue. Hope you all like this and this blog-post helps you in chalking out a trip to Odisha.