12 things to do in Orissa – A list of top places to visit
Orissa is indeed a place with a wide variety of things to do for a perfect vacation. Be it exploring the wild, enjoying local cuisine, temple hopping, admiring the architecture and local art, or even experiencing indigenous culture; Odisha has it all.
Quick navigation to our list of 12 top things to do in Orissa:
1) Marvel the ancient, Kalinga architecture at Konark Sun Temple
The Sun temple at Konark, or the Black Pagoda as it is fondly referred to, is one of the top places to visit on your trip to Orissa. The intricate stone carvings and the history behind are sure to leave you elated. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The best place to know more about the Black Pagoda is at the Sun Temple itself. You’ll find many authorized guides, whom, in my opinion, you should hire. Once you are done with the guided tour, visit the museum. Stay over for the animated show to see how the monument was constructed.
History and folklore – lesser-known facts about the Sun temple at Konark, Orissa:
The sun temple at Konark, dedicated to the sun god, was built in the 13th century CE by Narasingha Deva I. This Surya Devalaya is an exemplary example of Kalinga/Odisha architecture.
As per the folklore, it was Dharmadapa, the 12-year-old son of the main architect Bhisu Maharana that installed the crown. This instilled fear among other workers; fear of losing their lives once this news gets to the King’s ears. To save 1200 craftsmen, Dharmapada committed suicide. It is said that from then on the temple has always remained ‘unfinished’.
The ornate wheels on the sides of the temple are known to work like sundials.
Science was quite forward in India even during those days! The main idol was held floating with the use of magnets and plates of iron inserted between two stones.
2) Experience an amazing Sunset at Chandrabhaga beach
Situated few kilometres from the UNESCO heritage site, Konark Sun Temple is Odisha’s very own ‘blue flagged’ site – Chandrabhaga beach. The beach formed at the confluence of Chandrabhaga river and Bay of Bengal could be your pit stop to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the way back from Konark.
There are a few lores connected to Chandrabhaga beach which goes as follows:
It is said that Samba, Lord Krishna’s son was cursed with Leprosy. He prayed to the ‘Surya Bhagavan‘ who upon being satisfied with the penance cured the ailment. This beach is still considered to provide a natural cure for lepers.
Yet another tale spins around how Chandrabhaga, the daughter of a sage, sacrificed herself to escape from the lust of Sun God who was captivated by her beauty. People from all around still gather on the 7th day of the full moon in the month of Magha to offer their prayers.
3) Witness flag changing ceremony at Jagannath Temple Puri
Jagannath temple in Puri, Odisha, dedicated to Lord Jagannath (Maha Vishnu) is one of the major pilgrimage destinations in India. It is, in fact, one among the Char Dham; four holy places that Vaishnavites believe will help in achieving ‘moksha’.
Your visit to Orissa remains incomplete without witnessing the famous daily flag hoisting ceremony at Jagannath temple. A priest climbs up the gopura to change the flags, a ritual that’s to be done every day. If not, the temple is believed to shut down for the next 18 years.
Few fun facts on Jagannath temple, Puri:
Did you know that the flags on top of Jagannath temples gopuram flutter in the opposite direction to the wind? Curious isn’t it?
The heavy Sudarshana Chakra, which is known to look the same whichever direction you view it from, is yet another mystery. No one knows how this heavy metal was installed.
As per the local folklore, it is said that Subhadra (sister of Jagannath and Balabhadra) wished for tranquillity, which is why the sound of waves can’t be heard upon crossing the Simhadwara.
Have you been to Jagannath temple before? It’s rumoured that the Jagannath temple at Puri casts no shadows, an architectural marvel I guess!
Have you observed any of these? If not, head to the famous pilgrim centre of Jagannath right away. Don’t forget to taste their Prasada as well 🙂 and maybe get a peek into more of its folklore!!
4) Marvel the Sand Art at Puri Beach
An evening stroll along the shores of Puri beach tops the list of things to do in Orissa. You can also go on camel rides here. It is here that you can witness the magic of sand art. You can also visit the Sand Art festival conducted yearly in December.
As the lore goes, poet Balaram Das who was a great devotee of Lord Jagannath was denied access to climbing the Lord’s chariot during Rath Yatra. Feeling humiliated, the poet marched over to the shores, carved idols of the deities and started offering his prayer. It is said that his devotion was so pure that the idols vanished from the chariot to appear at Das’s place of worship.
5) Go Dolphin and Bird hunting at Chilika Lake
Chilka lake, a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the second-largest brackish/saltwater lagoon in the world. Enjoy a boat ride at the Chilika lake alongside the dolphins and migratory birds during your visit to Orissa. You can club this along with an itinerary for Puri and Konark.
6) Temple hopping at Bhubaneswar
Bhubaneshwar boasts of its umpteen temples and temple architecture. Most of them, I was told, are dedicated to Lord Shiva. Want to know why? Read on…
Bhubaneswar, the capital of ancient Kalinga Empire, resonates with Lord Shiva’s name – Tribhuwaneshwar, meaning ‘Lord of Three Worlds’. It is said that Bhubaneshwar, which is one of the top touristy places in Odisha today, was once the favourite hangout place for Lord Shiva!
Make sure that you visit a few of these lesser-known temples of Orissa.
Outside Lingara Temple at Bhubaneshwar
Here’s a list of 5 must-see temples in and around Bhubaneshwar:
Rajarani Temple: Also known as the ‘Love Temple’, the Rajarani temple is said to be built during the 11th century. It, curiously, has no deity associated with it. Government of Orissa also organises a three-day music festival on the temple grounds.
Mukuteshwar Temple: Yet another architecturally prominent temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, is the Mukuteshwara temple at Bhubaneswar. Try to visit the three-day dance festival organised by the government here.
Ram Mandir: Located in the heart of Bhubaneshwar is the Ram Mandir. It homes beautiful images of Ram, Lakshman, and Sita.
Yogini Temple: Situated about 15 to 20 kilometres from Bhubaneshwar is this lesser-known temple of Chausati (64) Yoginis. It is believed to be built during the 9th century by Queen Hiradevi. Another belief attached to this circular, roofless temple is those of tantric rituals being practised here.
7) Buddhist Stupa – Definitely makes the list of ‘top thing to do in Orissa’
Dhauligiri or the Dhauli hill with its ‘Peace Pagoda’ is one of the must-visit sites in Orissa. It is here that the famous war of Kalinga was fought. Emperor Ashoka, after witnessing the river Daya turn red with innocent blood, decided to follow the path of Lord Buddha.
Apart from the Buddhist Stupa, there are other Buddhist attractions nearby as well. These include the Saddharma Vihar Monastery and the Dhavalshwar temple.
8) Visit the tribal museum at Bhubaneswar
Bhubaneswar museum on tribal culture is the right place for any travel enthusiast who has not planned a visit to various tribal dwellings. The Tribal museum of Bhubaneswar or the ‘Museum of Man’ is home to a vast and rare collection of Odisha’s tribal culture. Apart from ethnic wears, art, culinary, musical, and hunting instruments, one also gets to see how different dwellings are set. They have a virtual reality screening of various tribal villages as well. This is bound to leave you enthralled.
The tribal museum is well maintained. And, guess what, there is no entry fee (as of Feb 2019). Also, note that the visiting hours are from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The museum is closed on Mondays.
9) Experience the Adivasi mela at Bhubaneshwar
Adivasi mela, the states Tribal fair, is conducted once every year at Bhubaneshwar. Indigenous communities from different parts of the state come over to share their traditional art and crafts. One would get to witness vibrant tribal cultures at this exhibition thereby making it a must-visit.
Tribal fair 2019, Bhubaneshwar
Apart from the tribal art souvenirs, one can also enjoy the cultural extravaganza – various folk performances will also be showcased.
10) Embark on a tribal tour to get the best of Odisha
This is for all those interested in exploring various ethnic cultures. You can meet communities like Bondas, Mali, Desia Kondhs, Saura etc, learn more about their lifestyle, art and crafts etc.
Odisha is one of the states with a large number of indigenous communities. A visit to their tribal weekly markets or trekking up to these quaint villages certainly can’t be excluded from the list of top things to do in Orissa.
Things to keep in mind while booking/going on a tribal tour in Orissa
Be sure to ask your tour operators for local guides. Trust me, this helps.
Since there are lots of PGVT communities, you will be required to take permissions for entry. Make sure that your tour operators have taken these for you.
Try to blend in, don’t let out much of the tourist in you.
Photographing is fine, but DO NOT leave behind politeness. Try to ask before taking portraits. Yes, they might ask you for payment. Buy something from them instead.
Keep extra 10 or 20 rupees notes with you. It is sure to cost you some ‘chillar’ in exchange for photographs (especially at the Bonda market).
11) Visit Olasingha and other textile villages
Get a glimpse of various traditional weaving techniques on your visit to Orissa. Olasingha is a small textile village near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa. Meet friendly, talented, and hardworking people who’re more than happy to welcome tourists in search of authentic Indian textiles.
If you are planning to visit Orissa, be it leisure or research, a trip to its various textile villages is a must. You can book a seven-day textile tour with Heritage Tours Orissa as well.
12) Add ‘Visit various artisan villages’ to your list of things to do in Orissa
Pipli applique is quite famous in Orissa and rates as one among the top things to do in Orissa
A visit to various artisans village including Pipli, Raghurajpur, Balakati, Kandapara etc. finds its place in one’s list of ‘top things to do in Orissa‘. Buy authentic souvenirs from these artisans at a very fair price. This will help in their economic sustainability as well as retain an interest in their traditional arts among future generations.
WHERE TO STAY DURING YOUR TRIP TO ORISSA
If you are looking for places to stay in Puri, head straight to Marine Drive. There are umpteen options here. Right from beach view resorts to OYO rooms. We had stayed at hotel Mahodadhi. It’s a lovely heritage hotel, right in front of the beach. We had a fairly good stay at this place with proper services, food, and clean rooms. The Kamat’s hotel right outside is an added advantage for vegetarians like us.
Thanks to Mohanty uncle, we had a comfortable stay at Bhubaneshwar. We stayed at the Royale Midtown hotel – good food, services, and well connected to other parts of the city.