Odisha is a kaleidoscope of past splendour and present glory. From bird watching to discovering local tribes, rural tourism is a great way to experience the unique landscapes and culture of this State
Sitting alone on a quiet afternoon at the ghats surrounding the banks of the 8th century Bindusagar tank, near the famous Lingaraja Temple in Bhubaneshwar, you are almost lulled into a stupor. Time here seems like it has taken a pause. It is in that moment you feel that the hustle-bustle of city is melting away and you have been transported back in time.
The remains of a large fortress looms into view. You find yourself among the ruins of Sisupalgarh, near modern day Bhubaneshwar, supposedly one of the oldest forts of India. It was believed to have flourished from 5th century BC to 4th century AD. Just going around the ruined fortifications gives an idea about the grandeur of this site.
Kingdom of Kalinga or Utkala, as it was known then, is as old as time itself and finds its earliest references in ancient scriptures like the Mahabharata and Puranas. It then came to be known as Odra Desha and eventually as Odisha.
As you travel southwards from Sisupalgarh towards the Dhauli hills on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar, you see the River Daya glistening in the soft glow of the evening light. As the name suggests, it looks like an embodiment of Daya or peace. It was this very place where the gory Kalinga War took place around 261 BC. The resulting bloodshed is said to have turned the river red. The Ashokan Rock Edicts on the foothills of Dhauli, give a testimony to how Emperor Ashoka, witnessing all this bloodbath, gave up the path of violence to take up the path of dharma (righteousness) and ahimsa (nonviolence) by embracing Buddhism. The rockcut elephant above the Ashokan rock edicts is considered one of the earliest Buddhist sculptures of Odisha.
Buddhist Heritage in Odisha is remarkable for its rich cultural and architectural importance. Excavations have revealed beautiful sculptures, monasteries or viharas, votive stupas dating back to 1st and 12th century AD.
As you step into the 9th century hypaethral Chausathi Yogini temple situated at Hirapur, just 20km from Bhubaneshwar, the whole atmosphere changes. It is a deeply soul-stirring experience where worship is still performed as per tantric rituals. It is built in a circular fashion completely put together by sandstone blocks.
Odisha is known as the Land of Festivals and Festivities. In local parlance, it is referred to as Barah Masa Terah Parba which loosely translates to 12 months 13 festivals. One of the most important festivals which is quintessentially Odishan, is the annual Rath Yatra or Chariot Festival held in Puri. The deities of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are seated in three magnificent chariots that are drawn by thousands of devotees along the Grand Road.
A beautiful ride along the scenic marine drive leads you from Puri to the world famous Sun temple in Konark. It is an ideal place to enjoy a languid stroll by the beach after staring in amazement at the architectural wonder of the ‘Black Pagoda’ in Konark.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
A visit to Odisha during the winter months is every bird lover’s dream-come-true. Water bodies across the State, especially the Chilika Lake, draws avian visitors from the world over. A visit to the Mangalajodi Wetlands is truly magical which hosts lakhs of migratory birds. You feel your spirits soar as you watch thousands of these winged beauties take to the sky. It has been declared as an International Bird Conservation Area. It is a conservation success story wherein once poachers have now turned protectors of these avian guests.
A walk through the cultural bylanes of the Heritage Crafts Village at Raghurajpur near Puri is a truly enriching experience. It houses the Master Craftsmen or Chitrakaras of the centuries old art form of Pattachitra or Painting on Cloth. It is a traditional painting technique of Odisha where the paintings depict scenes from Hindu mythology. Exclusively natural colours are used for the paintings.
The State is uniquely proud of its beautiful spread of ethnic mosaic of 62 culturally vibrant tribes. A visit to the Museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts, Bhubaneshwar beautifully showcases a large variety of tribal artifacts intimately related with the socio-cultural and economic life of the tribal people such as their huts, costumes, ornaments, musical instruments, agricultural and hunting implements, weapons and more.
Odisha is a kaleidoscope of past splendour and present glory. The seeker has to come, discover her best-kept secrets and fall in love with this enchanting State—just a little more every time.
Text: Gitanjali Mohanty