Bhubaneswar has a history of two millennia when the ancient Emperor Kharavela established a nearby city. Sites such as the nearby Udayagiri caves are a testament to its antiquity, although the modern city has undergone considerable change when new urban planning techniques were set up here, endowing the city with many beautiful gardens. The city is known worldwide for the hundreds of ancient temples within it, making it among the most appealing destinations for tourism in the country.
Built in the 11th century AD, Lingaraja Temple is a towering structure in central Bhubaneswar dedicated to the god Shiva. The 55 meter tall temple is the centerpiece of a still a larger complex of some 150 shrines. Lingaraja is also more than an architectural feat, as its sculptures are renowned throughout India for their high detail, intricate patterns, and engaging figurines.
A small and compact gem, Mukteswar Temple is regarded as one of the finest examples of Orissan sculpture and crafting. People still worship here today as they have for over a thousand years. The temple is noted for the influence of Buddhist styles.
Part of a temple complex of two other temples, Satrughaneswara is a an excellent work of art and architecture seen as a perfect instantiation of Oriyan sculptural technique. In addition to being a stunning masterpiece, it is also a place of religious devotion, attracting thousands of faithful each year
Built of red sandstone in an idyllic field, Rajarani Temple is an aging but still beautiful site unique for the large compass inside of it. For each point of the compass is a idol of a guardian, or dikpala. The temple is also famous as a “love temple”, with many erotic temples.
An early instance of new Hindu architectural styles after the Buddhist era, Parashuameswar isone of the most beautiful temples in the city and is famous for its sculptures of Shiva and Parvati marrying, among the many other intricate carvings at the site. It is in a lush park and is surrounded by a green and lovely forest.
The 9th century Yogini Shrine is a circular temple dedicated to the Yogini goddesses, and it was a center of the Yogini cult in ages past. While in the past there were perhaps hundreds of these temples throughout India, nowadays only four are known of, the result of centuries of persecution and destruction. The temple is on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.
The hills of Dhauli are a short trip from Bhubaneswar and are the site of Ashoka’s bloody victory over the rulers of Kalinga. Here, Ashoka had a revelation that the violence that had thus far characterized his life was wrong, and he adopted Buddhism as his faith. Dhauli, as the location of these revelations, had a special place in his heart and it became a religious site. There are engravings from the Mauryan era here, as well as a major stupa built by Japanese monks. It is a popular pilgrimage site for devout Buddhists.
Udayagiri Caves and Khandagiri Caves
Nearby Bhubaneswar are the ancient caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri, located on two neighboring twin hills. The dozens of caves range from temples to former monasteries to even living quarters and were built as far back as 200 BC. They were largely the residencies of Jain monks, and have a wealth of descriptions and history associated with them. Some of the rock-cut monasteries even have multiple stories, an impressive feat given these structures were cut out of the living mountain in a time well before modern technology was available.
Home to the extremely rare white tiger, this sanctuary, set in the amazing Chandaka forest on Lake Kanjia, Nandankanan is fast-becoming a popular destination for tourists visiting the city. There are also lions, crocodiles and many birds here.
The ancient capital of many Oriyan kings, Cuttack is a city of many temples and is a fast-growing progressive Indian city. It is known throughout the country for being the birthplace of Subhash Chandra Bose, one of the most prominent Indian Independence fighters. Cuttack also has some of the best and most unique food in the country, with some dishes such as Dahibara Aludum being national favorites.
The center of the Hindu kings or Orissa, the fort was a palace and the center of town during its heyday hundreds of years ago. It went into decline after the devastating loss of the last Hindu king to the Sultan of Bengal, and it gradually went into decline. Nowadays, it is an interesting echo of the city’s past, just over a thousand years, and is a major landmark in the city and an icon of civic pride.
A huge nesting spot for Olive Ridley Sea Turtles, Gahirmatha beach is the spectacle of a lifetime when hundreds of thousands turtles come to lay their eggs here, and, weeks later, the eggs hatch and even more baby turtles march to the sea under attack from birds and other predators. For nature lovers, it is one of the best places in India to visit, and even for those who aren’t, it is definitely an experience.
In the delta of Brahmani and Baitarani rivers, lie the Bhitarkanika Mangroves, one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. The mangroves have large populations of saltwater crocodiles, hundreds of bird species, butterflies, fish and are also very close to Gahirmatha beach, making it an excellent itinerary option for those seeking a nature expedition.
The lovely beach town of Puri is a twofer attraction: it is an extremely important Hindu pilgrimage site, and it has one of the most perfect and pristine beaches in the country. Puri Beach is frequented by many hundreds of thousands of people, and the Jagannath temple in the city is a magnificent attraction as well.
One of the largest temples in India, Jagannath Temple is a glorious edifice constructed some thousand years ago. A splendid sight in its own right, it is even more impressive during the Chariot festival that occurs there, the Rath Yatra, during which the three gods to which the temple is dedicated are paraded around. The temple is the centerpiece of a larger complex of some 120 shrines.
Konark Sun Temple
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sun Temple of Konark is one of the most awe-inspiring temples of India. It is incomprehensibly huge. Legend has it that the temple was home to a giant lodestone, a magnet so big that the compasses of nearby ships went out of kilter. While it is uncertain if such a magnet ever existed, the temple has its own unique magnetism. After centuries of use, Muslims desecrated the temple and damaged many of its sculptures, eventually leading to the abandonment of the site and the reforestation of the area. Nevertheless, nowadays it is a major tourist attraction, with millions coming the world over to see the glories of the past
A famous Buddhist village dating back centuries, the village is laden with Buddhist relics such as stupas, shrines and monasteries. It was a center of the religion in its own time, and now continues to attract religious tourists, academics, and those curious to know more about Orissa’s long and variegated past.
One of the most gorgeous beaches in India, the small village of Gopalpur is a fabulous place to relax on the sand and watch the tide roll in. Famous for its clear waters and gentle waves, the beach is a popularly frequented resort and many Oriyans as well as international tourists come to take a couple days of rest here.
History and Culture
Orissa’s history goes back over three thousand years. It was home to the Kalinga empire, a contemporary and rival to the Mauryan empire of Ashoka, and it was in the state, at Dhauli, where Ashoka defeated the Kalingas. Here, a major event in world history occurred, where Ashoka converted to Buddhism after seeing the horrors of war. Through his patronage, Buddhism expanded in India and ultimately throughout the world, forever changing the tide of history.
The Jain king Kharavela, under Kalinga, built the many amazing caves of Udayagiri and, the Kalinga kingdom ruled as far south as Tamil Nadu during its height. Many other empires and dynasties came and went, building the many magnificent temples that are so famous in the state, such as the inimitable Sun Temple at Konark.
The Mughals conquered the area in the 1500s, leading to the assimilation of the region into the larger empire. Orissa still retained many of its rulers, who remained in tribute to the Mughal emperors. As Mughal fortunes waned, Orissa reasserted itself briefly before being ruled by various other powers such as Bengal and Hyderabad.
The British moved into Orissa early, having a presence by 1750 and administering the region as part of the Madras Presidency. With leaders such as the Oriyan Subhas Chandra Bose spearheading Indian Independence, the state became a hotbed of the movement for self-rule, and after Independence, Orissa became its own state.
The state’s namesake language, Oriya, is spoken by some two-thirds of the state, with large minorities speaking Bengali, Hindi, and Telegu, along with some smaller tribal populations. Most Oriyans are Hindu, although many Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians live in the state as well.
Orissa has a very ancient culture and many of its traditions, especially music, dance and fine art, are among the most sophisticated of any culture on earth. In particular, sand art, sculptures made of sand on the beach, is a huge art style here and the beaches feature arguably the best examples anywhere. Oriyan cuisine, too, is justifiably famous, with Rasagola being an Oriyan dish famous worldwide.
Nowadays, Orissa is an up-and-coming tourist destination offering a wealth of sites for just about every kind of person. Be it beaches or history, religion or relaxation, Orissa has a diverse palate of opportunities to see something new and exciting.