Hindu pilgrims, Indian holidaymakers and foreign travellers all make their way to Puri, setting up camp in different parts of town. For Hindus, Puri is one of the holiest pilgrimage places in India, with religious life revolving around the great Jagannath Mandir and its famous Rath Yatra (Car Festival).
Northeastern Odisha is best known for its nature sanctuaries, notably Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and Similipal National Park (though foreigners were being denied entry to the latter at time of research) and the excellent Buddhist ruins at Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri.
As of 2012, prior permission from the District Collector was required for foreigners wishing to visit some specific parts of tribal regions. Some agencies were saying this rule may change, so check online travel forums before you fork out for an expensive tour; you may be able to do your trip independently.
Similpal National Park
The 2750-sq-km Similipal National Park has long been Odisha’s prime wildlife sanctuary. However, due to several issues, including ongoing Maoist activity in the region, the park has been off-limits to foreign tourists in recent years. When it is open, there are waterfalls to see and wildlife safaris to take; wild elephants are relatively common, tigers less so.
Up in the cool, forested hills, the small market town of Koraput is by far the nicest of the main towns in which to base yourself in this region. There’s a friendly village feel to it, a weekly market for which you don’t need special permission to visit, and the main temple here is fascinating, especially for non-Hindus who can’t enter the Jagannath Mandir in Puri.
Little more than a bus stand, a hotel, and a cluster of road-shack restaurants beside a jetty, the tiny village of Satapada, on a headland jutting southwestwards into Chilika Lake, is the starting point for dolphin-spotting boat trips; the boats usually cruise towards the new sea mouth for a paddle in the sea and some dolphin- and bird-spotting en route.
These fascinating Buddhist ruins are the remnants of one of India’s earliest mahaviharas (Buddhist monasteries which were, effectively, the universities of their day). Pusphagiri Mahavihara had three campuses – Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri – each built upon a small hilltop in the low-lying Langudi Hills.
The small town of Rayagada is the base for visiting the weekly Wednesday Chatikona market at Bissamcuttack (about 40km north). Here, highly ornamented Dongria Kondh and Desia Kondh villagers from the surrounding Niayamgiri Hills bring their produce and wares to sell. Alongside piles of chillies and dried fish are bronze animal sculptures made locally using the lost wax method.