Modern-day Bhubaneshwar was born in 1948, after India's independence from the British. It was designed by German architect Otto Königsberger and was one of India's first planned cities. Nowadays, it's a fast-growing commercial center and emerging sporting center. However, Bhubaneshwar is best known for being a city of ancient temples. It has a very long history that can be traced back to the 3rd century BC. The old part of the city is fascinating, and is where most of the major temples are located. Undoubtedly, they're the highlight. Yet, there are many other interesting places to visit in Bhubaneshwar that shouldn't be overlooked. As the attractions are spread out over the city, it's best to take a tour or hire a car (or auto rickshaw) for the day to visit them. Here's the pick of things to do.
Go Temple Hopping
Temple construction flourished in Bhubaneshwar from the 8th-12th centuries, when Lord Shiva was widely worshiped. Hindu scriptures say that Bhubaneshwar was one of Lord Shiva's favorite places where he meditated under a mango tree. The city gets its name from Lord Shiva's Sanskrit name, Tribhubaneshwar, meaning "Lord of Three Worlds". It's estimated that about 700 temples remain there. Their distinctive architecture features towering heavily sculptured spires (deula). Don't miss seeing these top temples in Bhubaneshwar. Ekamra Walks conducts comprehensive free guided heritage walks of the Old Town every Sunday morning at 6.30 a.m., starting from Mukteshwar Temple.
Relax at Bindu Sagar and Shoshi Ghat
Divine Bindu Sagar (Ocean Drop Lake) is situated in the heart of the Old Town, just north of the iconic Lingraj Temple. It's believed to have been formed by Lord Shiva, who collected water from holy places all over India, for his wife Goddess Parvati. Pilgrims take a dip in the lake to cleanse themselves of sins. Take a stroll around it, and sit for a while and soak up the atmosphere at picturesque Shoshi Ghat.
Learn About Medicinal Plants
Bhubaneshwar's most underrated attraction, the inspiring Ekamravan Medicinal Plant Garden is not just a serene place to spend some time by the lake. It's hard to believe, given how lush and well manicured it is, that it used to be derelict land where people openly defecated. Thanks to the remarkable restoration effort of the Odisha Forest Department, it's now home to more than 200 medicinal plants. The garden opens at 8 a.m. and there's a nominal entry charge. Ekamra Walks' heritage tour ends at Ekamravan Medicinal Plant Garden.
Explore Rock-Cut Caves
Head 15 minutes southwest of the city on National Highway 5, and you'll reach the rock-cut Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves. These caves are spread over two adjacent hills -- Udayagiri (Sunrise Hill) has 18 caves, and Khandagiri has 15. Apparently, most of them were carved for Jain monks to live in during the reign of Emperor Kharavela in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. Cave number 14 (Hathi Gumpha, the elephant cave) has an inscription that he wrote. In addition to the caves, there's a Jain temple atop Khandagiri. If you climb up the hill, you'll be rewarded with a great view over Bhubaneshwar. The caves are open from sunrise until sunset. The entrance fee is 25 rupees for Indians and 300 rupees for foreigners. Ekamra Walks conducts free guided walking tours of the Khandagiri hills every Saturday morning at 6.30 a.m.
Discover Odisha's Culture and Heritage
Bhubaneshwar's newest museum, the exceptional Kala Bhoomi Odisha Crafts Museum, is the state's first museum dedicated to hand-loom and handicrafts. This interactive museum is spread over a massive 13 acres. There are four zones with exhibitions, galleries, and workshops. The outdoor display sections, with courtyards dedicated to tribal living and temple architecture, are a feature. The museum opens at 10 a.m. daily except Mondays. Ekamra Walks conducts free guided walks of the Odisha Crafts Museum every Sunday afternoon at 3.30 p.m.
If you're interested in the state's distinctive tribal culture, do stop at the insightful and well developed Odisha State Tribal Museum on the way to the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves. It's one of the best tribal museums in India. The museum opens at 10 a.m. daily except Sundays and public holidays. Photography is now allowed inside. Entry is free.
The Odisha State Museum is worth visiting too. Its four floors have an outstanding collection of rare palm-leaf manuscripts, folk musical instruments, primeval weapons and tools, Buddhist and Jain artifacts, and other archaeological treasures. The museum opens at 10 a.m. daily except Mondays and public holidays.
See the Site of the Kalinga War
About 30 minutes south of Bhubaneshwar, the open area adjoining the Dhauli Hills by the Daya River is where Emperor Ashoka (who ruled much of India during the 3rd century BC) is thought to have waged a particularly bloody and destructive battle in his thirst for conquest. It ultimately led to his remorse and transformation into a peaceful Buddhist. Ashoka installed several monuments, pillars, and stone edicts there. Another attraction is the white peace pagoda, built in the 1970s by Japanese monks and the Odisha government. It contains four huge statues of Lord Buddha along with various stone carvings. Odisha's first sound and light show was launched at Dhauli in August 2015. It tells the tells the tale of the Kalinga Empire and takes place daily except Mondays. The English version starts at 7.35 p.m. (Unfortunately, the sound and light show was damaged by Cyclone Fani in May 2019. It's uncertain when it will restart, so do check).
Feast on Odia Food
Delicious Odia food is typically less oily and less spicy than usual in India but still very tasty. Dalma (named after the state's trademark dal with vegetables) is the city's most famous Odia cuisine restaurant. Seafood is a specialty there and thalis (platters with a variety of dishes) are reasonably priced. Some people complain that the food quality has decreased and it's no longer very authentic though. If you'd prefer a less touristy alternative, try Odisha Hotel in Sahid Nagar. For somewhere more upmarket, Chandni at the Trident hotel is costly but worth it. Do note it's only open for dinner. Kanika restaurant at the Mayfair hotel is also recommended.
Browse the Handicraft Market
Ekamra Haat is a permanent handicraft market located on a large five acre landscaped plot at the Exhibition Ground in Bhubaneshwar. It was made along the lines of Delhi's Dilli Haat, albeit on a much smaller scale. There are about 50 shops selling paintings, hand-loom textiles, stone statues, and other products made by artisans in Odisha. The market is a convenient place to shop for souvenirs (and grab a bite to eat at the snack stalls). It's open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., but some shops remain closed until later in the day. Entry is free.
Shop for Silver Jewelry
Odisha is famous for its silver work, particularly Tarakasi silver filigree from Cuttack. If you love silver jewelry, don't miss trawling the silver emporiums near Bhubaneshwar Railway Station. You'll find a huge range of inexpensive silver earrings, toe rings, anklets, and necklaces. The intricate toe ring designs are really special and unique, and often have glittery stones or bells. Ask the shop assistants to show you the boxes full of toe rings kept under the display counters.
Odisha's Tribal Development Co-operative Corporation opened its revamped signature "Adisha" retail outlet on IPICOL Road near Rupali Square in Bhubaneswar in September 2019. This attractively designed store stocks a wide range of exclusive goods produced by the state's tribal communities including organically colored Kotpad sarees, jewelry, dhokra figurines, paintings, spices, honey, and coffee.