Situated on the eastern shores of India with a pristine coastline that spans over 485 kilometers along the Bay of Bengal, Odisha is India’s best-kept secret.
Heir to the ancient Kingdom of Kalinga which earns a mention in such ancient scriptures as Mahabharat and Vayu Purana, this Indian state is steeped in ancient history, architecture, mythology, folklore and indigenous Adivasi tribal mystique. It is also one of the most biodiverse places in India.
Formerly Orissa, the 8th largest state in India in terms of territory, India’s best-kept secret has a forest cover of 31.41% which serves as an abode to rich and diverse flora and fauna (famous among which are spotted deer, Bison, blackbucks, flamingos and dolphins).
It also boasts nineteen wildlife sanctuaries, two Tiger reserves and one National Park.
Nestled far away from the impurities of the modern world in mother nature’s very own lap and inhabited by ancient tribes, exotic Indian wildlife experience, magical herbs and plants, spell-binding culture, virgin valleys, crystal-clear beaches, ancient architectures and idyllic lakes, Odisha is your perfect natural adventure getaway.
If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, your dream holiday destination, ODISHA, awaits you.
Hop on that adventure rollercoaster you have always been dragging your feet on.
Read on to learn more about the main attractions of Odisha, its civilizational history, cultural heritage, indigenous Adivasi tribes, stunning beaches, national parks, and wildlife Sanctuaries.
TOP WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES IN ODISHA
Simlipal National Park
Part of the larger MAYURBHANJ RESERVE, the 2730 sq km UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserve, this Tiger Reserve, derives its name from red silk cotton trees which are found in abundance in the reserve.
It is home to the Bengal tiger, Asian elephants, Gaur (Indian Bison) and Chausingha.
Aside from 42 other mammals such as Sambar, common langur, Barking Deer, and four-horned Antelopes.
This jewel of Odisha wildlife also hosts an estimated 231 species of birds, famous among which, are the Crested Serpent Eagle, Alexandrine parakeet, Red Junglefowl, and Hill Mynah.
Bhitarkanika National Park
This National Park which spans over 145 sq miles, is surrounded by the larger 672 sq km Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and is flanked on the eastern side by the Bahirmatha Beach and Marine Sanctuary.
The confluence of unique topographical and geographical factors renders the park an ideal ecosystem to spawn a dizzying range of jaw-dropping wildlife and mythical plants.
Inundation by rivers Brahmani, Baitarani, Dhamra, and Pathshala, (coupled with swamps and mangroves) make the National Park an ideal home for the magnificent Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus prosus), Indian python, Black Ibis, Darters, Chital, Rhesus monkeys, wild boars and Monitor lizards.
Every year, a miracle unfolds here when tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles in February or March at a strip in the central river delta after traveling thousands of miles through the Pacific and Indian Oceans to lay eggs.
Satkosia Tiger Reserve
Located at the Mahanadi River, this Reserve forms a moist deciduous forest ecosystem in the Eastern Highlands of the state in the Angul and Nayagarh districts with an area covering 988 sq km.
It hosts leopards, Indian wild dogs (dhole), striped hyenas, sloth bears, blackbuck, leopard cats and jungle cats.
Among the 38 species of herbivore mammals, Asian elephants, spotted deer, mugger crocodiles, sambar deer, porcupines, langur, and pangolins prowl the reserve in abundance.
On account of the importance of the ongoing tiger and other wildlife preservation efforts, the Government of Odisha has prohibited tourists from the core zone of the Park and Safaris are NOT ALLOWED.
However, you can visit and spend time in the outer core and marvel at its majestic beauty and crocodile breeding center.
ECO-TOURISM IN ODISHA
A brackish water lagoon, THE CHILIKA LAKE, which spans over a whopping 11,000 sq kilometers is the second biggest lake in all of India and is tentatively listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Asia’s largest brackish water lake (and the second largest in the world after the New Caledonian barrier reef), its unique saline ecosystem supports an estimated 150,000 fisher-folk from the adjoining 132 villages of three districts of the state.
It also works as a very generous host to over 160 bird species and the Irrawaddy dolphins in India. You can get on a boat with the fisherfolk and catch some fish.
In peak migratory season, birds in winter from as far as Central Asian steppes in Kazakhstan, Lake Baikal, the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea, parts of Russia and the Himalayan ranges visit the Chilika lagoon.
If you are a bird-watcher, this Lake is the Garden of Eden for you. This lake is your perfect eco-retreat.
Tikarpada Wildlife Sanctuary
Surrounded by the 22 km Satkosia Gorge which is formed by the meandering Mahanadi River running through a steep hill terrain, the TIKARPADA hosts a Rescue & Rehabilitation center for the protection and preservation of endangered species.
The best way to explore this nature lovers’ delight is by trekking through its lush green Sal forests.
You can also spend time at the Gharial Preservation Centre located in the Reserve. Gharials are released into the river after the initial preservation period.
Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary
Home to 40 species of mammals, 200 avian species, 40 species of reptiles, 12 species of amphibians and many other species of fishes, odonates, butterflies and spiders, the DEBRIGARH is declared an Eco-Sensitive zone where all kinds of industrial and human activities are prohibited.
It also boasts 250 plant species of immense medicinal and ethnobotanical value.
With over 234 bird species, THE DEBRIGAH is a perfect place for some stunning wildlife spotting.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT FOR WILDLIFE TOURISM
Aside from these, other tourist and wildlife destinations in India you might find interesting are the Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary, the Ushakothi Wildlife Sanctuary, Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, Nandankanan Zoological Park (that offers White Tiger safaris), Nalbana Bird Sanctuary, Chandaka Elephant Sanctuary, Tampara lake and the Gahirmatha beach.
INDIGENOUS TRIBES OF ODISHA
Dongria Kondh Tribe
The DONGRIA KANDHA TRIBE (a branch of the Kondhs Adivasi tribal community) who inhabit the Niyamgiri hills region are waging an existential war of survival against rampaging mining expansion in their mineral-resource-rich sacred land.
8,000 Dongria Kondh people dot the Niyamgiri landscape in 100 small villages.
Worshipper of Niyam Raja, the supreme god of the Niyamgiri jungle, Dongria people speak a hitherto unwritten language called Kui.
Sustained by shifting cultivation and horticulture, the Dongria people are divided into 36 tribes, each with their territory known as “Padars.”
The word DONGRIA derives from the root Dongar which means “agricultural land on hill slopes.”
Native to the isolated hill region of the Malkangiri ranges, the Bonda tribal territory straddles the three states of ODISHA, CHHATTISGARH, AND ANDRA PRADESH.
The 12,000-strong indigenous tribe is one of the most isolated tribes in India with very little connection to the outside world, making their ancient culture and civilization a spell-binding anomaly in modern times.
Believed to be the first wave of early human migrants from Africa and one of the earliest settlers in India, THE BONDA is one of its one-of-a-kind agriculturist tribes that practices a bonded labor system called Goti.
They are unique in that the Bondas are still one of the very few Matriarchal primitive communities in the world, where women enjoy a privileged status in society and are the main providers to the households.
HOW TO REACH ODISHA FOR WILDLIFE TOURISM
Getting to Odisha is no longer a hassle.
The capital has a full-fledged international airport. The East Coast Railway Division of the Indian Railways connects the state to the rest of the country with daily and weekly trains. Puri and Cuttack are also easily accessible from here through road and rail connectivity.
An ever-improving network of roads provides an impressive web to bikers, cyclists, offroad enthusiasts, and wildlife tourists.
The state’s major port at Paradip and other minor ports that dot its 485-long coastline connect it with the South East Region.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ODISHA
The best time to visit is from October to March when the Monsoon season (June-September) finally relents and the weather is warm and dry.
Winter in Odisha (October-February) is moderate with temperatures ranging from 16°c to 28°. Mornings are misty and the gentle breeze in the evening makes for a delightful experience.
The coastline in winter remains quiet and serene with very little turbulence in the sea. Clear blue skies and agreeable temperatures make its winter the perfect season for a getaway to explore its rich wildlife and biodiversity.
However, the Monsoon is a very tropical affair with the mercury rising to 32°c with the weather gods hurling random showers and thunderstorms. But as the heavens open with rain gushing down, it breathes new life into the enchanting flora of the region, making it a delight for nature and wildlife lovers.
The splendor of forests in the Monsoon, and the rejuvenation of its wildlife, make it well worth the experience of bracing the day-time humidity of the season.
Peak summer (May-June) is rather intense during day time with the sun beating down rather mercilessly. Evenings, though, are pleasantly warm.
The best way to unwind is to take a trip to CHILIKA LAKE and watch the dolphins. The main attraction that the state is famous for during these months is the Rath Yatra festival, which celebrates the journey of LORD KRISHNA from Gokul to Mathura.
Basu Mata, the goddess of Earth, is believed to be going through a menstrual cycle in the Monsoon, hence most agricultural activities such as cutting trees, plowing and tilling of land are halting out of respect for the goddess.
Devotees and tourists throng to this part of the country in summer to attend the four-day-long festival of RAJA PARBA which celebrates womanhood.
ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN ODISHA
Forest lodges are available in and around proximity to all National Parks. Here is what you can do at these national parks:
Bhitarkanika National Park
The best time to visit is between November and March when migratory birds throng to the sanctuary making it a treasure trove for bird watchers.
Every year tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles in February or March at a strip in the central river delta after traveling through the Pacific and Indian Oceans. After laying eggs, they swim back. Catching the extraordinary miracle of nature is an opportunity you should not miss.
Similipal National Park
Home to the tigers, Asian elephants, gaurs, and Chausinghas, the National Park in the Mayurbhanj district offers the ideal natural escape for a thrilling tiger-watching adventure.
The best attractions to visit in the Similipal National Park are the BAREHIPANI AND JARANDA FALLS, THE KALIANA and HARIPURDEOKUND PALEOLITHIC artworks. You can stay at various lodges and guest houses in this national park.
RESORTS & HOMESTAYS IN ODISHA
Here is a list of some of the most popular resorts in Odisha as per tourists and travel forums like TripAdvisor and Booking.com
1. MAYFAIR LAGOON-RESORT
Centrally located in the state capital Bhubaneswar, the MAYFAIR LAGOON resort provides a luxurious experience for tourists with all the amenities one can imagine, including a nightclub, 2 bars, an in-house DJ, pool tables, Spa, tennis courts, an amazing restaurant that offers locals and international delicacies.
2. HOTEL SWOSTI
Situated close to the capital’s main railway station, this popular establishment offers three thematic restaurants, a disco, a gym and a health club.
3. MAYFAIR HERITAGE
A luxury beach resort in Puri, Mayfair Heritage offers you scintillating views of the pristine beach.
Situated near the famous Lord Jagannath Mandir, you can offer homage to the deity.
4. LOTUS RESORT KONARK
This beach-side establishment in Konark provides comfortable cottages where you can savor the magical sights of the scenic Ramchadi Beach.
5. SWOSTI CHILIKA RESORT
A five-star luxury resort located at the Lake, THE SWOSTI resort features a terrace in Kanaipur, a fitness center, a garden, a spa, and outdoor pools.
Based in the capital, TRIDENT boasts unparalleled customer service, an outdoor pool, a 900-meter jogging track, an exquisite restaurant, and a bar.
If you are looking for cozier budget-friendly options, you will find many well-reviewed Homestays all over the state. Notable mentions are as follows:
THE CABANA AT THE ROOFTOP (15 km from Janadana Mandir)
SRS Homestays, Tranquil Hospital and Bobby Premium Residency (Bhubaneswar)
SUDHA KUTI (Puri, 1.8 km from Beach)
VIII. DO’S AND DON’TS FOR WILDLIFE TOURISM IN ODISHA
Here are some do’s and Don’ts that you need to observe as a wildlife tourist in the region.
Be sure to hire an officially registered Nature Travel guide before venturing out on a hike or trek into the forest. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Respect the wildlife: Maintain a respectable and safe distance from wildlife. Do not provoke animals. Do not shout or scream at the animal. Do not feed them.
Do not play any music on your smartphone, radio, or any other device when you are out and about in the forest. Instead, listen to the sounds of nature. Follow all instructions issued by the Department of Tourism.
Entry permits are required to visit most wildlife and National reserved Parks. Be sure to procure them beforehand.
Wear clothes that camouflage with the colors of the forest like olive green, khaki, or other dull colors. Avoid brightly-colored outfits.
Carry a little bag while entering the park. Do not litter.
Carrying firearms inside the reserves is strictly prohibited. Do not carry them.
Do not smoke or light a fire.
Do not cook inside a national park.
Driving after sunset is prohibited. Avoid entering the reserve after sunset. Do not take your vehicle off-roading outside the designated routes so as not to cause harm to plants and animals.
Prefer wildlife tours and tour packages licensed and approved by Odisha Tourism Department.
ODISHA offers you such splendors and wonders of Mother Nature that very few places can.
A trip to “GOA ON THE EAST” gives everything you expect from the perfect getaway:
ADVENTUROUS ESCAPADES through forests and natural reserves teeming with awe-inspiring wildlife, migratory birds, amphibians and rich bio-diversity.
PRISTINE BEACHES, SERENE LAKES, MAGICAL LAGOONS, waterfalls and opportunities to camp and hike through thick forests.
A chance to take part in one of the many FAIRS AND FESTIVALS, bristling with traditional music and dances.
A TRIP DOWN THE HISTORY LANE with tours to its ancient temples like Lingaraj Mandir, Jagannath Mandir, Museum of Tribal Arts and Artefacts, Mukteswar Mandir and the Udayagir & Khandagiri Paleolithic caves.
If you are an arts and handicraft enthusiast who likes collecting souvenirs, you will be spoilt for choice.
Getting to ODISHA is easier than it used to be. Hop on a plane to its swanky international airport in the state capital, catch a daily or weekly train from other parts of India through the Eastern Railway Division network, or simply drive.
So, what are you waiting for? Plan a trip to Odisha.
The Pearl on the East Coast awaits you.
Immerse yourself in the historical and architectural glory of JAGANNATH AND KONARK SUN TEMPLES, roam in its forests, and witness the magnificence of RATH YATRA.
Soak in the sights and sounds of its pristine beaches, go wildlife-spotting in the National Park in BHITARKANIKA OR TIKARPADA, or enjoy a retreat at the CHILIKA LAKE. Odisha has you covered.
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Ferona Jose is a passionate travel writer and blogger at Travelistia. She has traveled throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. Her writing focuses on cheap travel destinations, travel experiences, cultural insights, and travel hacks.