The 17 Best Things to Do in Odisha, India

From Temples to Tribes in Offbeat Odisha

Raghurajpur, Odisha.

Anil Dave / Getty Images

Odisha is one of India's lesser-visited states, as it's predominantly rural and off-the-beaten-track. However, interest in Odisha's eclectic combination of attractions is growing because the state is an ideal destination for experiential travelers. From temples to tribal villages, Odisha has some truly unique and diverse treasures to discover. These include national parks and wildlife, unpolluted beaches, traditional music and dance, handicrafts, tribal culture, Buddhist relics, and food.

01 of 17

Find Military History at Barabati Fort

Entrance to Barabati Fort

RameshSharma1 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Address
FVM8+R37, Barabati Fort Rd, Biju Patnaik Colony, Cuttack, Odisha 753008, India

In the city of Cuttack, you can travel back in time to medieval India when you visit this 13th-century fort. Although only ruins of the nine-story palace remain, the Barbati Fort's gate and moat are still intact. The fort was constructed by the rulers of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty who reigned over Kalinga for 10 centuries. During Great Britain's rule over India, the fort was used to jail royalty, imprisoning both the Raja of Kujanga and the Raja of Surgaja in the 19th century.

02 of 17

See the Palm Leaf Manuscripts at the Odisha State Museum

Green Tara Dispensing Boons to Ecstatic Devotees: Folio from a Manuscript of the Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom

Heritage Images / Getty Images

Address
Satate Musime, Kalpana Square, BJB Nagar, Bhubaneswar, Odisha 751014, India
Phone +91 674 243 1597

If you're interested in the history of India and calligraphy, palm leaf manuscripts are a treasure best seen with your own eyes. As a writing material, the use of palm leaves dates back to the 5th century BCE. To write on the leaf, scribes would first cut the shape of the letters into the material and then add ink. The Odisha State Museum in Bhubaneswar has one of the largest collections of palm leaf manuscripts with 40,000 articles under its care. Here, you can get a close look at ancient religious texts, illustrations, and historical genealogies of past dynasties. The museum also has other galleries dedicated to archaeology, ancient weapons, and natural history.

03 of 17

Marvel at One of India's Largest Waterfalls

Barehipani waterfall, Mayurbhanj, Odisha

Prabhu Prasanna Pradhan / Flickr / CC BY S-A 2.0

Address
W9MJ+533, Odisha 757034, India

One of the major attractions of Simplipal National Park, Barehipani Falls is India's second-largest waterfall. The cascade makes its dramatic drop over two tiers in the Meghashuni Mountains. It's one of the many waterfalls you'll see on a typical tour of the park in addition to Joranda Falls, which is another one of India's tallest waterfalls. Simplial National Park is a reserve for wild tigers and elephants and is a part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

04 of 17

Admire Ancient Temples in Bhubaneshwar

Temple in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.

Balaji Srinivasan / Getty Images

Address
Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India

Odisha's capital city, Bhubaneshwar, was once home to thousands of temples. Only a fraction of them remain but they're certainly impressive and the oldest one, Parsurameswara Temple, dates back to the 7th century. Each temple offers a unique interest, such as the Ananta Vasudeva Temple, which has the largest kitchen in the city, and the 64 Yogini Temple, one of the only four temples in India dedicated to the cult of tantra. It takes the number in its name from the 64 stone carvings of yogini goddesses.

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05 of 17

Learn About Odisha's Handicraft Heritage

Kala Bhoomi Crafts Museum

Kala Bhoomi Crafts Museum

Address
Gandamunda, Pokhariput, Bhubaneswar, Odisha 751020, India
Phone +91 674 235 3210

The remarkable new Kala Bhoomi Crafts Museum in Bhubaneshwar is one of the top museums in India that showcases the country's heritage. The museum has four zones with eight galleries, each dedicated to different crafts such as terracotta work, traditional paintings, stone and wood carving, metal crafts, tribal crafts, and hand-looms. What stands out most is that it's an interactive museum where you can view the artisans at work and participate in workshops.

06 of 17

Meet the Artisans at Handicraft Villages

Artist at work in Odisha.

AROYBARMAN / Getty Images

Address
VRPG+675, Raghurajpur, Jagannathballava, Odisha 752012, India

Odisha excels at arts and crafts. There are two handicraft villages between Puri and Bhubaneshwar that you can visit, where the residents are all artisans: Raghurajpur and Pipili. Raghurajpur is about 20 minutes north of Puri and is renowned for its Pattachitra paintings, while Pipli is about 45 minutes south of Bhubaneshwar and specializes in colorful needleworks. Both of these villages are interesting places to interact with the artisans, see demonstrations, and buy their beautiful handicrafts. 

There are even more handicraft villages within a couple of hours of Bhubaneshwar. Balakati specializes in brass metalwork and Sadeibereni village is dedicated to the craft of dhokra—a metal casting technique using the lost wax method. Traditional ikat saris are woven at Nuapatna and Maniabandha villages and Cuttack city is the hub of Tarakasi silver filigree.

Further afield, weaving is also carried out at Berhampur in the south, and many districts in western Odisha such as Bargarh, Sonepur, and Kendupalli. Ghatagaon is a terracotta handicraft village on the way to Similipal National Park.

07 of 17

Catch a Sunrise Over Udayagiri in Bhubaneshwar

Udayagiri Hills and Caves, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.

ashok9in / Getty Images

Address
7Q7M+2V7, Khandagiri, Bhubaneswar, Odisha 751030, India

The motley collection of 32 caves cut into the hillside on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar is an important archeological site dating as far back as the 2nd century BCE. The caves were originally home to Jain aesthetics. The most interesting ones can be found at Udayagiri, also known as Sunrise Hill. Even if you're not naturally an early riser, the sunrises over Udayagiri are not to be missed.

08 of 17

Marvel at the Konark Sun Temple

Konark Sun Temple, Odisha

Visage / Getty Images

Address
Konark, Odisha 752111, India
Phone +91 6758 236 821

Konark is located about two hours southeast of Bhubaneshwar and an hour east of Puri, forming part of the popular Bhubaneshwar-Puri-Konark "Golden Triangle of Odisha". The main attraction is the 13th-century Sun Temple, designed to be a huge chariot for Surya the Sun God. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and architectural masterpiece. Erotic carvings similar to those on the Khajuraho temples also stand out.


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09 of 17

Explore the Holy City of Puri

The city of Puri

 

flocu / Getty Images

Address
Grand Rd, At post, Puri, Odisha 752001, India
Phone +91 6752 222 829

Puri is a seaside city about an hour and a half south of Bhubaneshwar. Its appeal lies in its holiness as one of the top spiritual destinations in India. Although the imposing Jagannath Temple is only open to Hindus, the roofs of nearby buildings offer decent views. The vicinity around the temple is intriguing too, with many small temples, shops, and an area where thousands of clay pots are stored and transported daily to cook food for the deities.

The Rath Yatra festival, which takes place in July each year, is Odisha's biggest festival. 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 touching the chariot, is considered to be very auspicious.

10 of 17

Take a Beach Break

Golden Beach in Puri, Odisha.

Buddhadev Karmakar / Getty Images

Address
Chandipur Beach, Balasore, Odisha 756025, India
Phone +91 97956 21754

Puri's Golden Beach was recently cleaned up and awarded environmentally-friendly Blue Flag status. However, the main stretch of the beach does get crowded and carnival-like with camel rides and snack sellers. It becomes quieter towards the lighthouse.

In the far north of the state, the tide recedes out for miles at Chandipur beach, while isolated Talasari beach is known for its red crabs. The only drawback is that accommodations and facilities aren't great, as the beaches are relatively undeveloped. In the south of Odisha near Berhampur, Gopalpur-on-Sea is a popular beach holiday destination that was a thriving seaport during British rule.

11 of 17

Discover Ancient Buddhist Sites

Ratnagiri in Jajpur district of Odisha.

Anirban Bhattacharya / Getty Images

Address
Ratnagiri, Odisha, India

Buddhism flourished in Odisha from the 7th to 10th century. The state's Buddhist sites have only been excavated relatively recently and are largely unexplored. Located about two hours northeast of Bhubaneshwar, 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 picturesque and peaceful. The "Diamond Triangle" of Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, and Lalitagiri has the most significant and largest concentration of Buddhist remains.

12 of 17

Spend Time with an Unusual Sect of Holy Men

Joranda, Mahima Cult.

Francois Dommergues / Getty Images

Address
GMH6+CMR, Joranda, Odisha 754029, India

Monks of the Mahima cult practice a curious blend of Buddhist and Sufi traditions at their ashram at Joranda, near Dhenkanal. The religion, Mahima Dharma, is said to have been established in the mid 19th century by Mahima Gosain as a way of rejecting Hindu religious order and high-caste Brahmanism. Poet and devotee Bhima Bhoi widely promulgated it through his compositions. The religion has no rituals or idol worship. Love and compassion for fellow beings, a classless society, a formless god, and non-violence are the main tenements.

The monks have to follow a strict life of poverty, celibacy, piety, and constant movement. They are not allowed to sleep in the same place two nights in a row or take meals twice from the same house in a day. It's possible to meet the monks at any time but ideally be at their ashram around noon or sunset when they perform their prayers. The cult's annual Joranda Mela takes place around the full moon in late January or February and features the lighting of a sacred fire.

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13 of 17

Watch Birds Close-Up at Chilika Lake

Northern Pintail at Mangalajodi Marshland

Pallab Seth / Getty Images

Address
Satapada, Odisha 752011, India

Chilika Lake, about 90 minutes southwest of Bhubaneshwar, is Asia's largest brackish water lagoon. It's an ecological wonder that's teeming with wildlife, particularly fish, dolphins, and migratory birds from far-off lands. The lake also has many islands, including one with an isolated temple that can be accessed by boat.

Most departures are from Satapada, where you'll find the dolphins, located at the mouth of the Lake around 50 kilometers southwest of Puri. Other departures are possible from Barkul, Rambha, and Balugaon. For outstanding bird watching, head to Mangalajodi on the northern edge of Chilika Lake.

14 of 17

Go Boating Through the Mangroves and Spot Crocodiles

Bhitarkanika, Odisha.

tapasbiswasphotography / Getty Images

Address
Paramanandpur, Odisha 754248, India

Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary is located about three and a half hours northeast of Bhubaneshwar. 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, and it's a much quieter and more relaxed alternative to the Sundarbans in West Bengal.

Nature treks inside the forest are a highlight. If you have time, go on a day trip to pristine Ekakula Island and Garhimata, where the Olive Ridley turtles nest. Before you make plans, know that Bhitarkanika is closed from May 1 to July 31 each year for the crocodile breeding season.

15 of 17

Stay at the Homes of Royalty

Dhenkanal Palace, Odisha.

TripSavvy / Sharell Cook

Address
Court Rd, Dhenkanal, Odisha 759001, India
Phone +91 94372 92448

Many of Odisha's erstwhile royal families are restoring and converting their regal palaces and mansions into heritage homestays, where you'll be able to personally interact with your royal hosts and go on immersive excursions. Each palace has something different to offer.

The most striking properties are Dhenkanal Palace, Aul Palace near Bhitarkanika, and Belgadia Palace in the far north Mayurbanj district. Gajalaxmi Palace, in the middle of a reserve forest near Dhenkanal, is ideal for anyone wanting a wildlife and nature experience. Kila Dalijodi, in a rural area about an hour north of Cuttack, is unparalleled for the range of local and in-house activities available including trekking, cycling, visits to tribes and a cow shelter, art, cooking, and farming.

16 of 17

Sample and Learn to Cook Odia Cuisine

Odia seafood thali (platter).

TripSavvy / Sharell Cook

Odia food will delight seafood lovers with mustard-based fish and prawn curries. Dalma (spiced vegetables and lentils) is an iconic vegetarian dish. Most Odias are passionate about pakhala (a fermented rice and curd combination). Sweets such as chhena poda (roasted cottage cheesecake) and rasagola (balls of cottage cheese in sugar syrup) are very popular. The state's cuisine is generally lighter, with less spice and oil, than the ubiquitous north Indian cuisine.

Wildgrass Restaurant on VIP Road in Puri is an authentic restaurant to try Odia cuisine. Order a platter to sample a range of dishes or sign up for a cooking class. In Bhubaneshwar, head to Dalma, the Odisha Hotel, or Kanika at the Mayfair Lagoon Hotel.

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17 of 17

Attend a Classical Music or Dance Festival

Odissi dancers striking a pose

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Odissi, one of the eight classical dance forms of India, originated in Odisha's Hindu temples and is associated with the worship of Lord Jagannath. It's believed to be the oldest surviving dance form in India is a feature at Odisha's traditional music and dance festivals. These festivals take place during the cooler winter at some of the top temples in Odisha including the Konark Sun Temple, and Mukteshwar and Rajarani temples in Bhubaneshwar.

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The 17 Best Things to Do in Odisha, India