Orissa (renamed Odisha) is one of India's lesser-visited states, as it's predominantly rural and "off the beaten track". However, tourist interest in Odisha's eclectic combination of attractions is growing. The state has picturesque national parks and wildlife, unpolluted beaches, traditional music and dance, temples, handicrafts, tribal culture, and Buddhist relics. Here are nine top tourist places and attractions in Odisha to inspire you!
01 of 09
The capital city of Odisha, Bhubaneshwar is most famous for its temples (there are over 700, mostly devoted to Lord Shiva) including the largest temple in the state -- the Lingraj Mandir. The motley collection of caves cut into the hillside on the outskirts of the city are another popular attraction. They were once home to Jain aesthetics. The most interesting ones can be found at Udayagiri (Sunrise Hill). For anyone interested in natural medicine, ethereal Ekamravan garden of medicinal plants is notable and worthwhile visiting. Read more about places to visit in Bhubaneshwar.
02 of 09
Konark Sun Temple
Designed to be a huge chariot for the Sun God Surya, the intricately carved Sun Temple was constructed in the 13th century. It stands 30 meters high on 12 massive wheels. Erotic carvings similar to those on the Khajuraho temples are a renowned feature. Read more about the Konark Sun Temple and how to visit it.
- Where: About 2 hours southeast of Bhubaneshwar, and an hour east of Puri.
- Don't Miss: The Konark Festival, if you love classical music and dance.
03 of 09
Puri is located on the beach, but don't go there expecting a beach paradise. You'll need to head far away from the center to find an unpolluted patch of sand, away from the camel rides and carnival scene. Instead, Puri's appeal lies in its holiness. The imposing Jagannath Temple is only open to Hindus, but the roofs of nearby buildings offer decent views (for a small fee). Puri is also a good place to organize tribal tours and day trips.
- Where: About 1.5 hours south of Bhubaneshwar.
- Don't Miss: The Rath Yatra festival, which takes place in July or early August each year. It's the only occasion when non-Hindus can get to see the temple deities. A mere glimpse of Lord Jagannath on the chariot, or even to touch the chariot, is considered to be very auspicious.
04 of 09
Odisha is highly regarded for its handicrafts. There are two handicraft villages between Puri and Bhubaneshwar that you can visit where the residents are all artisans. They're interesting places to interact with the artisans, see demonstrations, and of course buy their beautiful handicrafts.
Continue to 5 of 9 below.
- Where: Pipli is about 45 minutes south of Bhubaneshwar, and Raghurajpur is about 20 minutes north of Puri.
- Don't Miss: The specialties are Pattachitra paintings and colorful applique works.
05 of 09
If you want to spend time among nature, head to remarkable Chilika Lake. Asia's largest brackish water lagoon (a combination of sea and fresh water) is an ecological wonder that's full of wildlife, particularly fish and migratory birds from far-off lands. There are even dolphins! The lake also has a number of islands. Grassroutes Journeys offers eco-friendly Chilika Lake camping trips and birdwatching cruises. .
- Where: About 1.5 hours southwest of Bhubaneshwar.
- Don't Miss: Exploring Chilika Lake and its various islands by boat. Most departures are from Satapada (where the dolphins are), located at the mouth of the Lake around 50 kilometers from Puri. Other departures are possible from Barkul, Rambha, and Balugaon. For outstanding bird watching, head to Mangalajodi on the northern edge of Chilika Lake. It's possible to see the birds up really close there.
06 of 09
There are more than 60 tribal communities in Odisha. These ancient people with mystical ancient ways dwell in Odisha's remote, deep forests and hilly interiors. Visiting the tribes can be a fascinating experience, but you'll need to go on an organized tour. Some tribal areas are quite inaccessible and require permits, and language is also a barrier. Heritage Tours are professional and knowledgeable. Also try community-based Grass Routes Journeys in Puri. During a tribal tour of Odisha, you'll get to mix with the local tribal people and learn their lifestyles. Tours run for at least five nights/six days, due to the amount of travel involved. Or, travel independently and stay at boutique Chandoori Sai Guest House in the heart of tribal Odisha.
- Where: About 8 hours southwest of Bhubaneshwar.
- Don't Miss: The weekly tribal markets.
07 of 09
You could be forgiven for not knowing about the sacred Buddhist sites in Odisha. After all, they've only been excavated relatively recently and are largely unexplored. The sites consist of a series of monasteries, temples, shrines, stupas, and beautiful sculptures of Buddhist images. Their rural setting, among fertile hills and paddy fields, is both picturesque and peaceful.
- Where: About 2 hours northeast of Bhubaneshwar.
- Don't Miss: The "Diamond Triangle" -- Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, and Lalitagiri. These three sites have the most important, and largest, concentration of Buddhist remains.
08 of 09
Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary
Simlipal National Park may be the most well known national park and tiger reserve in Odisha, but Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary is more accessible and exciting. It offers the thrill of seeing huge saltwater crocodiles basking on the mudflats, plus many species of birds. The main way of exploring the sanctuary is by boat through the mangroves. It's a much quieter and more relaxed alternative to the Sundarbans, and there's better chance of seeing wildlife. Note that the sanctuary is closed from May 1 to July 31 each year for breeding season. The revised entry fee is 40 rupees per person for foreigners and Indians.
Continue to 9 of 9 below.
- Where: About 3.5 hours northeast of Bhubaneshwar. It's possible to stop at the Buddhist caves at Ratnagiri on the way. Sand Pebbles Jungle Lodge is the best place to stay. Estuarine Village Resort is also recommended.
- Don't Miss: Nature treks inside the forest. If you have time, go on a day trip to pristine Ekakula Island and Garhimata where the Olive Ridley... turtles nest (about 4 hours by boat).
09 of 09
Casuarina trees, sand dunes, and a tide that recedes out for miles all make Chandipur Beach special. If you're looking for crystal clear water and golden sand, there are better beaches in India. However, this one is unique! It's also very safe. The area is laid back and undeveloped, so don't expect many facilities.
- Where: About 4 hours northeast of Bhubaneshwar. It's readily accessible by train from Bhubaneshwar, and also Kolkata in West Bengal. The best place to stay there is Arpita Beach Resort, although it's about 10 minutes walk to the beach. The new wing at Hotel Shubham is also decent.
- Don't Miss: Strolling on the huge stretch of seabed when the tide is out. It's brilliant for beach-combing. Discover small puddles of water with tiny fish, sea shells, and crabs.