Southeastern Odisha hugs the coast of the Bay of Bengal and is home to the state’s most visited spots, including the backpacker outpost of Puri and the Unesco-protected Sun Temple at Konark. Tiny Raghurajpur is craft central, Chilika Lake offers ample birding and dolphin-watching opportunities, and you can hit the beach at Golpalpur-on-Sea.
Hindu pilgrims, Bengali holidaymakers and foreign travellers all make their way to Puri. 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). The town’s other attraction is its long, sandy beach – better for strolling than swimming.
Northern & Northeastern Odisha
Northeastern Odisha is best known for its nature sanctuaries, notably Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and Similipal National Park, and the excellent Buddhist ruins at Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri. To the north of Bhubaneswar you can stay in heritage palaces and explore the peaceful countryside by foot and by bicycle.
Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary
The 347-sq-km Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary, 40km from the market town of Sambalpur in northeastern Odisha, is an easy though rarely taken day out from the city. Mainly dry deciduous forest blankets the Barapahad Hills down to the shores of the vast Hirakud Reservoir, a home for migratory birds in winter.
These fascinating Buddhist ruins, the oldest of which date back to around 200 BC, 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.
Up in the cool, forested hills, the small market town of Koraput is by far the nicest of places from which to launch yourself into this region's tribal country. There’s a hill-station feel to it, a weekly tribal market, 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 boat trips. These range from short dolphin-spotting excursions to all-day boat outings that take in several islands and a spot of birdwatching.
The only reason for staying in the industrial town of Rayagada is to use it as 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.