On the eastern coast of India, perpetually washed by the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, lies the many splendoured State of Odisha. Endowed with a rich cultural heritage of old world charms and bestowed liberally with the bounties of nature, sometimes tender, sometimes awe-inspiring, it is a kaleidoscope of past splendeours and present glamour, a fascinating state with unspolit beaches, sprawling lakes, luxuriant forests, teeming wildlife, superb monuments, exotic handicrafts, traditional tribes, colourful fairs and festivals, scintillating music and dances.It is a land of unforgettable memories and hidden treasures. Many parts of this fascinating land remain relatively unexplored.
Traditionally known as the land of Lord Jagannath, Odisha is a potential State for tourists of various interests. The innumerable temples of Odisha scattered throughout the length and breadth of the State ranging from the miniature on the Mahendragiri to the gigantic Jagannath, Lingaraj and Sun Temple of the Golden Triangle have the magic touch to keep the visitors spell bound. Bhubaneswar at one time is said to have as many as 7000 temples. Scores of them stand even today as reminiscence of this cathedral city of India. Here one can find a chronological development of temple architecture over centuries beginning with the Bharateswar, Lakshmaneswar, and Shatrughneswar group of temples to the great Lingaraj.
Similarly in the Western parts of Odisha, Sambalpur and Sonepur can be called mini temple towns. They have developed a separate style of temple architecture which flourished during the Chouhan rules in Western Odisha. A special mention in this connection can be made of the leaning temple of Bimaleswar at Huma,30 Kms. from Sambalpur on the bank of the river Mahanadi.Out of four distinguished Yogini shrines of India, Odisha has the distinction of having two. One of them is at Hirapur near Bhubaneswar and the other at Ranipur Jharial in the district of Bolangir. At Ranipur Jharial the temple stands in close proximity of numerous Saiva shrines and a Vaishnaba shrine. This speaks of the cultural synthesis that existed in this region then.
The Indralath brick temple of Ranipur Jharial and the Pataleswar brick temple of Buddhikomna are among the finest of the very few brick temples of India. The rock-cut caves of Khandagiri & Udayagiri throw much light on the hitherto obscure history of Odisha. The double storied Ranigumpha in Udayagiri is quite interesting. The Kalinga war famed Dhauligiri contains the rock edicts of Emperor Ashok. Another rock edict of the same emperor is found at Jaugada in the district of Ganjam. Dhauligiri can be of more interest for the Buddhist tourists with the peace pagoda constructed on the top of the hill in the early seventies. Another treasure house for the Buddhists is the Ratnagiri-Lalitgiri-Udayagiri complex where once stood the famous Pushpagiri Buddha Vihar. Recent discovery of the mortal relics of the Buddha at Lalitgiri and new excavations at the nearby Langudigiri unearthing interesting finds have enhanced the importance of the region.
The Chinese Traveller Hieun T’Sang has described the Nrusimhanath Plateau in the district of Bargarh as Po-lo-mo-lo-ki-li which may be the Parimalagiri Buddha Vihar. The excavations in a place called Kuruma near Konark has also brought to light remains of a Buddha Vihar. The pictographic sites of Vikram-khol in Sambalpur district,Yogi Math and Gudahandi in Kalahandi district can provide enough opportunity for study of the pre-historic age.The religious shrines at scores of places culminating at Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath are the attractions for visitors of various faiths. Any amount of description about the religious shrines of Odisha will be far from complete. However, special mention in this connection can be made of a few of them. Jajpur, the seat of Goddess Viraja, is regarded as the Navigaya Kshetra and similar religious rites as are performed in Gaya are also performed here. The people of Chhatisgada region treat Nrusimhanath in the district of Bargarh as their sacred Ganges.
The legend of Nilamadhab associated with Kantilo is thought provoking.The breath taking beauty and sublimity of the flora and fauna of Odisha is enormously charming and enchanting. There are more than 20 sanctuaries in the State. The lush green forests of Ushakothi and Similipal filled with the chirping of birds and rich wild life are much-needed oasis. The biosphere reserve of Nandankanan, only 20 kms. from Bhubaneswar can be interesting for any visitor regardless of age and sex. Carved out of the natural Chandka forests, the Nandankanan Zoological Park has in the recent years set more than one world records. It is for the first time in the world that white tigers were born of non-white parents at Nandankanan. Thus a new dynasty of white tigers has started which is different from the Rewa dynasty. Yet another world record was set here in breeding Gharials in captivity.
The lion safari and white tiger safari have added news features. The majestic Mahanadi gorge at Tikarapara with the added attraction of the Crocodile Sanctuary is a must for the wild life lovers. Millions of Olive Ridley turtles come to Gahirmatha twice a year to lay eggs. Odisha has a paradise for the birds as well as in the Chilika Lake which is the largest brackish Water Lake in Asia. Dotted with a host of Islands in the Lake with their romantic names like Honeymoon Island, Breakfast Island etc. Dancing Dolphins are an added attraction of the place. Its beauty near Brahmapura Island on one side of which is the sea and on the other the lake is simply enchanting. Chilika has all the potentialities of one of the most attractive destinations of the State.>The perennial and precipitous water falls at a number of places like Bagra, Duduma, Harishankar, Nrusimhanath, Pradhanpat, Khandadhar, Berehipani, Joranda, etc. formed against enthralling hills of scenic beauty provide the tired travellers with a cool breeze and ice cold water to relieve them off the clutches of the scorching sun in the summer.
More refreshing in the winter are the hot sulphur springs at Atri, Taptapani, Deulajhari and Tarabalo.The lovely beaches of Odisha stretching over 400 kms. from Chandaneswar to Gopalpur are still virgin and rated among the best in the world. The beach at Chandipur in the district of Balasore has a unique individuality of its own. The water here recedes about five kilometres and proceeds rhythmically twice a day, which is a sight to be seen.To break the monotony of travelling, Odisha offers to the tourists numerous traditional fairs and festivals which are observed with colourful pomp and ceremony. The grandest among which is the Rathayatra at Puri. Other festivals include Dhanu Yatra at Bargarh, Sitalsasthi at Sambalpur, Nila Parva at Chandaneswar, Chhou dance at Baripada etc.
Besides being the seat of the Odissi dance, the State is also rich in folk dances. In addition to these traditional dances, special dance and cultural programmes like Konark Festival at Konark, Adivasi Festival at Bhubaneswar are also organised every year.The tie and dye textiles of western Odisha popularly known as Sambalpuri Textiles, the Applique works of Pipili, the Horn and Soap stone works of Puri, Patta Paintings of Raghurajpur and the silver filigree of Cuttack are worth possessing souvenirs for the near and dear ones at home.These are only the tips of a mighty iceberg that the tourism potential of Odisha is, which is in fact unlimited. Odisha can boast of having in a capsule form, all that a tourist needs. True that she can not offer to them the snow of the Himalayas, nonetheless there are quite a few places like Daringibadi in Phulbani district, the Sunabeda plateau in Koraput district where the visitors can have the same experience as that of Himalayan valley.With the commencement of the 6th Five-Year Plan, however, sustained efforts were made to increase the hotel rooms for tourists of various spending groups.
As a result many quality hotels from 5 star to budget category sprang up through out the State. The number of hotels/beds which was only 188 having 3202 rooms in 1980 rose to 733 having 14,939 rooms in 1999. They provide clean and comfortable accommodation with delicious cuisine. Many hotels have conference facilities too more such facilities are in the pipeline. Communication to Odisha is just excellent .The airport at Bhubaneswar has direct or convenient air links with Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Hyderabad etc. Many fast and super fast trains run the tourist destinations of the State with all major cities of the country.
Interstate buses also operate from the neighbouring states of West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh & Andhra Pradesh.Conducted tours by luxury coaches are in operation at Puri, Bhubaneswar and various other places. Besides A/C cars and coaches are also available for charter tours. Facilities for pleasure cruising and water sporting are available in the Chilika Lake at Barkul.To cater information and provide on-the spot assistance to the tourists, there are at present 19 tourist offices- 3 outside the State, one each at New Delhi, Chennai and Calcutta and 16 inside the State. For the travellers by air and rail to Odisha, there are 19 Tourist Counters - one at the Airport, Bhubaneswar and one each at the remaining at important Railway stations both inside and outside the State.