Odisha Bucket List: 6 Must-Have Experiences

The long coastline of Odisha boasts of its rich traditions, awe-inspiring art heritage, ancient temples, pristine beaches and primitive tribal cultures. With more than 2000 years old history, Odisha reveals a blend of historical and cultural ancestry.

Odisha always fascinated me, I visited once in 2011 but was only able to see Puri, Konark and Chilika. This time around I was determined to explore the a different path. So, if you are looking for unique experiences in Odisha then read on.

1. Patta Chitra Art Class in Raghurajpur

The bucolic setting of Raghurajpur on the southern bank of Bhargavi river, surrounded by lush greenery and two neat rows of houses facing each other is the perfect portrayal of an Indian village. The breeze here breeds artistry and fine workmanship.

There are a total of 140 houses in Raghurajpur, each engaged in a profession of preparing some form of art. Patta Chitra, palm leaf engravings, paper mâché masks, stone carvings, glass bottle and coconut shell painting, wooden, coir and cow dung toys, Tassar cloth paintings etc.

Colors of Raghurajpur

The colours used for all the art work is made of natural materials. Let me tell you how they are made:

White: Sea shells are grinned and then boiled in water for around 3 hours. Once it cools down, the solution is strained through a cotton cloth. The leftover is then mixed with wood apple gum.

Black: The soot from oil lamps are scrapped and mixed with gum in a coconut shell.

Red: Hengul stone is rubbed against a hard surface to get dust. It is then mixed with wood apple gum and left to dry in the sun. It is again mixed with gum before using it finally.

Blue: Khandaneel stones are used to get indigo coloraturas. the stone is crushed with a mortar to get dust particles and its mixed with wood apple gum. Before final usage its dried in the sun and mixed again with gum.

Yellow: Harital stone is used to get this color. Process of preparation is same as mentioned above.

Brown: Geru soil is crushed and mixed with wood apple gum to get this color.

If you are a art lover, then this destination should be on your list. We were hosted by Mr. Ajit Swain from Dedicated to People, a registered national level NGO working in that area for the welfare of the artisans and to promote art at a global level.

They also organise day trips, provides homestay facilities, hosts traditional lunch/dinner, interaction with the artisans, live coconut plucking sessions and arranges for classical dance events for Gotipua and Odishi dance.

One can learn Patta Chitra painting or any other traditional art form from local artisans in Raghurajpur. The Raghurajpur International Art/Culture Exchange (RIA/CE) provides opportunities to art lovers to learn art in a 5-week exchange program.

2. Shop at Pipili for Applique work

On the way to Puri from Bhuvneshwar, at a distance of 25 kms lies Pipili. A town famous for its appliqué handicraft traditions using needlework in which pieces of fabric are sewn or stuck on to a larger neutral colour fabric to form a picture or pattern.

The source of all art and craft work done in Odisha revolves around Lord Jagannath, the main deity at Puri temple. The same applies to the appliqué work done at Pipili for Lord Jagannath’s ceremonial practices during the Rath yatra. From Clothing items to upholstery and distinct patterns of umbrellas for the chariots of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra to frills for the canopies.

Pro-tip: Buy sling bags, cushion covers, bed sheets and wall hangings from Pipili.

Read more about Pipili:

All you need to know about raghurajpur and Pipili: two heritage villages in Odisha

3. Collect Sea Shells at Puri Beach

If you like sand and salt, then you must visit Puri. Waking up to crashing waves at the crack of dawn and taking a stroll along the beach is the best gift you can give yourself. One can never feel dull on a beach, there are so many things to do. I love collecting sea shells, building sand castles and just sitting on the shore and waiting for the waves to crash on my feet.

4. Temple Run to Meet the Gods

Sun Temple in Konark

Konark Sun Temple is dedicated to Surya, the Hindu Sun God. Only 35 kms away from Puri, this beautiful temple is representative of Kalinga architecture. Even if you are not religious, I suggest you visit this temple to see the grandeur of the 100 ft tall chariot with intricate artwork involving erotica and mythological narratives.

Sun Temple, Konark [Source: Wikipedia]

Jagannath Temple in Puri

Millions of people come to Odisha each year only to attend the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath. In the Rath Yatra, the dieties of Jagannath, his sister Subhrada and elder brother Balabhadra are carried out on decorated chariots to Gundicha Temple. The deities return to the main temple after staying there for 9 days. Jagannath temple is one of the Jyotirlinga temple in india and according to popular belief no pilgrimage is complete without coming to Puri.

Panoramic View of Jagannath Temple, Puri [Source: Wikipedia]

Yogini Temple of Hirapur

Hirapur Yogini Temple is the smallest among such shrines found in India. Situated to the east of the temple city, Bhuvneshwar. Some legends claim that Hirapur has been established by Hiradei, the queen of a ruling king in the 9th century. Some villagers disagrees and says that once it rained diamonds from the sky and hence the name [that’s hard to believe].

In the inner side of the temple there are sixty Yoginis housed in sixty niches of circular enclosures. They are craved in black chlorite and each one of them have their respective mounts. Besides the 60 Yogini, there are another three housed in pillars of the ‘Chand Mandap’. Yogini no. 61 is missing – vandalised. Yogini Mohamaya is the presiding deity of this shrine, having ten arms and mounted on a full bloomed lotus. One can also find a female avatar of Ganeha and Narsimha here.

Mukteshwar Temple in Bhuvneshwar

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, Mukteshwar temple in Bhuvneshwar is one of the most beautiful temples in Odisha. There are numerous sculptures of teaching and in meditation poses inside the premises of the temple compound. Some scholars correlate the role of this temple as a centre of tantric initiation with the name Mukteshwar – Lord of Freedom as a possible theory.

The outer part of the compound wall has craving of Hindu Gods and Goddesses like Ganesha, Saraswati and Lakulisha [the founder of Pashupata sect of tantric Shaivism].

According to popular belief, if women take a dip in the temple pond, a night before Ashokashtami then they will be blessed with a son.

Dhauli Stupa in Bhuvneshwar

It is believed that the Kalinga war was fought on the Dhauli Hills. Ashoka had a special weakness for this place.It is said that the Days river turned red with the blood of the deceased after the battle and enabled Ashoka to realise the magnitude of horror associated with war. He saw to it that Dhauli became an important centre of Buddhist activities. He built several Chaityas, stupas and pillar here.

On the top of the hill, this dazzling white peace pagoda has been built by the japan Buddha Sangha and Kalihnga Nippon Buddha Sangha in the 1970’s.

5. Attend a Tribal Wedding

Yes, we gatecrashed a tribal wedding 🙂 There is no better way to experience a culture than to attend a wedding. From traditional rituals to local food, music to clothing everything is authentic at a wedding. It was by chance, we got to know about a wedding taking place at a nearby village from Desia Ecotourism resort and we requested our host to take us there.

It was a very small gathering of people, hurdled near a fire where the bride and the groom was sitting and the priest was chanting mantras. Mostly women surrounded the ceremonial fire around the couple and men sat at a distance drinking or simply chatting away. The couple was hardly 18 years of age, but it tribal communities the normal rules of marriages do not apply. Our driver told us that among the tribals marriage can be mutual or forced, in many cases the groom kidnaps the bride and locks her up inside a room for two days and tries to convince her to marry him. If she agrees then the wedding bells are rung and if she disagrees she can walk away after two days of being locked up inside a room. Divorce and polygamy is also acceptable in tribal cultures.

6. Weekly Tribal Market Tour at Koraput

The Koraput region of Odisha is known for its tribal population. We were fortunate to be able to go there and visit villages inhabited by the Mali tribe to see the way of life of the tribals.

Every day, local markets sprung along the roadsides at different places. Haats, as they are colloquially called attract hundreds of tribal people from the nearby areas. In earlier times these markets were run on barter system but now money rules all the exchange. Most of the shops are run by women selling fresh produce/dried fish/tobacoo leaves from their backyards, one can also find daily use items and accessories like bangles/clothing items etc. being sold in these haats. It is a treat for a photographer, one can capture a riot of colours in a tribal background with variety of portraits.

Pro-tip: Thursdays are the best day for capturing local tribal markets.

Important Information about Odisha:

Best time to visit Odisha:

November to mid of March is the best season for Odisha as it pleasant during winters. Summers are unbearably humid and travelling from April to June is not advisable.

How to reach Odisha:

By Air – The best to reach Odisha is by flight. Biju Patnaik Airport at Bhubaneswar is easily accessible from all parts of India.

By train – Odisha is well connected by Indian railways. Budget travellers should opt for this option.

By road – Road conditions and connectivity is good in Odisha. Public transport is easily available i.e bus, autos etc. We hired a taxi for our trip, on an average they charge Rs. 2500-3000 per day.

Where to stay:

Odisha caters to all kinds of travellers – budget to luxury. We stayed at Sterling Beach Resort in Puri and Native Folk’s Desia Eco Tourism Resort in Koraput.

Do I need a Guide for Odisha:

Yes, I strongly suggest you get a guide specially for Koraput district as the locals are the best people to tell you about their culture and also helps you in communicating with the tribals.

We also took a guided tour in Raghurajpur, it was easy to get around and meet artisans. Our guide himself was a Patta Chitra artist, he shared his in-depth knowledge with us about color mixing techniques and other relevant details about art in general in Raghurajpur. You can connect with Mr. Ajit Swain at +99-9937810487 for a guided tour.

author --
If it wasn't for some dear friends who backed out of a trip to Ladakh, Suman wouldn't have been sharing these travel stories today! It was an eye opener, her first solo trip. Beyond the shenanigans of youthful days, Suman experienced a world of many dimensions. With her words, Suman hopes to share and inspire.

25 thoughts on “Odisha Bucket List: 6 Must-Have Experiences

  1. I have never heard of someone actually crashing a wedding. So interesting how the ritual is to lock a woman up for two days to ask for her hand in marriage! Sound like a great and very interesting learning experience when you went to this tribal wedding 🙂

  2. These are wonderful local suggestions. Odisha looks like an amazing place to visit. Thank you for sharing.

  3. My neighbors while the kids were growing up were from India. They used to talk about everything there and places to see. I said I would go one day and I hope I’m able to. Your photos are really making me want to visit sooner rather than later.

  4. Odisha is one of the last states in India I still haven’t visited. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed this article so much. Anyway, I’m coming back to India next month and will definitely try out some of these experiences hopefully. I’ve been planning an Odisha trip for quite some time.

  5. What wonderful tips on how to enjoy Odisha. I would like to take up the art class to learn about art styles of that region.

  6. Wow, I love all of the colors. And the architecture of the temples looks stunning. I haven’t heard of this place before, but now I want to travel there!

  7. Wow! Wow! Wow! I loved this blog. The crafts and the ability to go and watch them get made looks amazing. I love the idea of gatecrashing a wedding although I’m not sure whether I have the guts to do that. I also love the look of that temple. You have some beautiful photos.

  8. I had no idea that was how all those colors were made! These pictures are stunning. I feel like you did a fabulous job in capturing the true culture of Odisha. I’d love to attend a traditional wedding!

  9. This place looks just fabulous! I’ve never heard of it before, but I’ve already placed it on my 2019 bucketlist! 🙂

  10. India is such a fascinating country. I have been around Rajasthan area last year and I promised myself I would go back to India. Odisha can totally be an idea for my next visit. I love how you described the colours of the artwork in Raghurajpur. The temples of Konark, Puri, Bhuvneshwar and Hirapur look amazing and you were so lucky you got to attend a tribal wedding. I wish I could do the same!

  11. I need to get here one day for sure. I always love learning about new cultures. Going to the temples would be such a neat experience.

  12. Wow what an awesome area of India to visit! The sun temple is mesmerising, as are all the colors of this place. I can imagine myself photographing the tribal marketplace!

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