Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.

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The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise

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Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.

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Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.

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At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.

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The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.

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At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.

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On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.

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At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.

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At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.

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On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.

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In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.

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After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.

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Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.

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At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.

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At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.

 

Satpada – Chilika’s finest Magnum Opus

A legend goes: In the distant past, Raktabahu was a pirate king, who had a plan to rob the Jagannath Temple at Puri. He arrived at the coast of Odisha with a huge fleet of ships. Assessing his wicked intention, the seawater moved backwards, making anchoring impossible for the pirate army. Out of anger, Raktabahu attacked the sea, which in turn washed him away with a part of it. That detached part of the sea according to local belief is the Chilika Lake of today.

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Satpada in the northern part of Chilika is believed to be the place where Raktabahu had arrived. A meeting point of rivers, rivulets, fishing villages and Irrawaddy dolphins at Satpada, nature has created one of its best magnum opuses. Shredded in mysteries, the land has a deep connection with Jagannath Cult.

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MANGALAJODI– WHERE ASHOKA IS BORN AND DIES EVERY OTHER DAY

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According to a legend, the daughter of the king of Kanchi was engaged to the Gajapati King of Puri. When the king of Kanchi met the Gajapati, the later was in the act of sweeping in front of chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. Considering the act of sweeping offensive of a king the king of Kanchi declined the marriage proposal refusing to marry his daughter to a sweeper.

Gajapati Purusattama Dev felt deeply insulted and decided to rage a war against the Kanchi King. However, he was unsuccessful.

Travel Tips

Satpada is located at a distance of 45 km from Puri in the southern direction and 100 km from Bhubaneswar. There are a few budget staying options at Satpada including the OTDC Yatri Nivas. However for a unique experience tryout Nature Camp at Rajhans Beach. The package includes overnight stay, food, boat pick up and drop from Satpada, nature trek and dolphin sightings. If you don’t want stay, you can hire a 3-hour boat ride from OTDC counter at Satpada for dolphin sightings and a brief halt at Rajhans. While at Satpada, try out the local seafood delicacies, which includes crabs and prawns.

 

Upon his defeat, the Gajapati King returned to Puri and prayed Lord Jagannath. Moved by his prayer, Jagannath and Balabhadra left their temple at Puri and started an expedition to Kanchi on horseback. Near Satpada, they felt thirsty and chanced upon the milkmaid Manika, who gave them yoghurt to quench their thirst. Instead of paying her dues, Balabhadra gave her a ring telling her to claim her dues from king Purusattama Dev. At Adipur, near Satpada, Manika stopped the king pleading for the unpaid cost of yoghurt. She produced the gold ring as evidence. Considering this a sign of divine support of his campaign, the king enthusiastically led the expedition and defeated the Kanchi King. After the victory, the Gajapati King brought back the princess Padmavati to Puri and married her during next Rath Yatra before the idol of Lord Jagannath.

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SOUTH CHILIKA COAST – BACK IN TIME

Satpada today is a traveller’s paradise mainly for the 100 odd endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that are sighted in the tranquil blue water here. Irrawaddy dolphins are a critically endangered species having a bulging forehead and 12 to 19 teeth on each side of both jaws. They are also found in Mekong River and Borneo. In Mekong River, they are regarded as sacred animals by both Khmer and Lao people.

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Dolphins at Satpada are best sighted in the morning before its placid water bed gets crowded by tourists.

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Satpada has plenty of charms for a curious traveller. It is a wonderland for those interested in fishing and discovering the life of fishermen.

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Asia’s largest brackish water lake Chilika has an abundance of crabs, prawns and a variety of fish. Nets and traps are the common gears used for fishing in the brackish lake. While nets are used to harvest fish, traps are used for prawns and crabs. The fishing boats are plank-built flat bottomed ones known as naha.

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Among the traps, bamboo traps are most common. An essential accessory to these traps is thette, which is a bamboo screen measuring 40 ft x 4 feet and serves as a pathway for prawns to move in the directions of traps. They are generally set in the lake in the evening and removed in the morning when the catch is taken out. Traps are completely dried before resetting in the evening.

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Satpada is a timeless romance. A one and half hour boat ride transport you into a noman’s beach amidst the wilderness of the coastal forest and miles and miles of sandy beach. The beach is Rajhans, where time seems to have taken a halt.

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The one and half hour boat journey one way is filled with excitement at every turn. You pass by many scenic villages and fishermen engaged in various stages of fishing. Cormorants and Brahminy Kites eyeing for fish sitting on bamboo posts add icing on the cake to your journey. For a moment you become the king of an untamed water territory and your subjects are not humans, but elements of nature, birds and fish.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Bichitrapur – The Other Bhitarkanika

‘If there are no mangroves, then the sea will have no meaning. It is like having a tree without roots, for the mangroves are the roots of the sea.’

Words of a Thai Fisherman from the Andaman Coast

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You have seen Bhitarkanika, widely celebrated as Mini Amazon. But perhaps you may not be aware of North Balasore Coast that has preserved yet another mangrove, though much smaller in size. Bichitrapur, the mangrove coast of Balasore is an ecological utopia.

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A 10-minute boat ride from Khadibili through the meandering mangrove creeks will drop you at a no man’s beach, the mangrove paradise of Bichitrapur. On your way, you come across numerous fishing boats mostly built in clinker technique and locally known as patia on both sides of the creek.

Also, Read Here:

TALASARI BEACH – BEYOND THE RHYTHMIC SEA

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Bichitrapur is one of the least explored mangrove coasts in Odisha and therefore retained its character as an ecological hotspot. A sheltering ground for resident and migratory birds and ghost red crabs, the major attraction here is the numerous stumps of water weathering trees strewn across the marshy land and sea waves gently tossing them.

Also, Read Here:

CHANDIPUR – BEYOND THE VANISHING SEA

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Mangroves are part of the coastal ecosystem in the tropical and sub-tropical world in Asia, Africa, Australia and America. The largest remaining tract of mangrove forest in the world is found in the Sundarbans on the edge of Bay of Bengal in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Moving south from Sundarbans, the tiny tract of Bichitrapur is the first mangrove region in the east coast.

The term ‘mangrove’ is derived from two words ‘mangoe’ (Portuguese), which means a mangrove tree and ‘grove’ (English), which means a community of trees.

Travel Tips

Bichitrapur is located at a distance of 100 km from Balasore and 15 km from Talasari Beach and 20 km from Digha, a popular tourist beach in bordering West Bengal. Surround by lush green paddy fields, swamps, rivers and villages, Bichitrapur can also be covered by bicycle. The nature camp at Bichitrapur is the only staying option, which can be booked online (https://www.ecotourodisha.com/). The boat ride starts from Khadibili during high tides. Your booking at the nature camp also includes a complimentary boat ride in the mangrove creeks.

Growing in the inter-tidal areas and estuary mouths between land and sea, mangroves are composed of salt-tolerant trees and other plant species. They thrive in intertidal zones of sheltered tropical shores, islands and estuaries.

Also, Read Here:

DAGARA – ODISHA’S RED CARPET BEACH

Bichitrapur Mangrove is also a storehouse of experiences for knowledge seeking travellers. One can also do beach trekking from Talasari or even Digha to reach Bichitrapur.

The surrounding of Bichitrapur is the agricultural heartland of rural Balasore. On your drive from Chandaneswar to Bichitrapur, you discover beetle leaf gardens, a major source of local revenue generation. Beetle leaves are delicate plants and utmost care is taken for their growth.

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Yet another attraction around Bichitrapur is Asia’s tallest Shiva Lingam at Kumbharagadi Village. The 12 feet long and 14 feet width lingam of Baba Bhusandeswara is carved out on black granite stone and only half of it is visible.

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According to a local legend, during Tretaya Yuga, the demon king Ravana was blessed by Lord Shiva and gifted this Shiva Lingam. But Lord Shiva warned him not to place the lingam anywhere. Ravana was on his way with the lingam on Puspak Viman. The angels of God were disappointed and seized the power of Ravana. In the meantime, Ravana felt desperate and planted the lingam at this place. He tried to lift again but failed because it was heavy. The lingam was buried unnoticed for a long time until when a Marwari businessman of Jaleswara town discovered it in his dream. On the next day, he accompanied by his friends came here and built a shrine over it.

The Nature Camp at Bichitrapur is a destination by itself. Surrounded by dense casuarina forest, the camp has 4 cottages on a dune in a tranquil setting.

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A few kilometres south of the camp is the estuary of Subarnarekha River, a major maritime gateway in the past for European expansion in India. Today the tranquil water of the river is extensively used for subsistence and industrial fishing.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Talasari Beach – Beyond the Rhythmic Sea

As you approach the Bhogamandapa of Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri, and if you are an ardent lover of art, you are drawn to unique art panels depicting royal processions, scenes of royal assemblies and many more. When you move your eyes to extreme right a panel depicting a royal pleasure boat would draw your attention. The boat is carved along with a crew of rowers and the helm man on the high stern section. The royal figure is seated on a swing and holds a cloth tassel to steady him as the boat progresses. The pavilion has caryatid type pillars and figures cling to the royal umbrella at the prow.

The type of boat shown in the panel is built in clinker technology, a method of boat building that was developed in Northern Europe and was successfully used by the Anglo-Saxons, Frisians, Scandinavians and Hanseatic Cog.

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In clinker technique boats the edges of hull planks overlap each other. Clinker built ships were a trademark of Nordic navigation throughout the middle ages.

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Today sailing of clinker technique boats has become history in most part of the world. However, in Talasari Beach of North Balasore bordering West Bengal, the millennia-old clinker technique boat tradition has survived along with Sweden, Digha in West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh. Locally known as Patia, these are reverse clinker sailing boats made entirely out of Sal (Shorea robusta) and are heavily coated inbound and outbound with tar. Apart from modifications made to accommodate the engine, all sizes of boats are evidently built in the same manner. The strakes of patia boats are fastened together by nails, which are driven through the overlap and clenched by hooking the emergent point back into planking.

Also, Read Here:

CHANDIPUR – BEYOND THE VANISHING SEA

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At Talasari, you are drawn to a romantic flat beach with small and playful waves, a few patia boats, scenes of fishermen repairing nets, red ghost crabs crawling on the golden sand and dense tree foliage.

Travel Tips

Talasari is located near West Bengal Border closer to Digha Beach. The distance between Balasore and Talsari is about 90 km via Jaleswar Town. It is a quaint beach surrounded by small rivers, casuarina forest and charming villages. The Odisha Tourism Panthanivas is the best-staying option at Talasari. The property is located near the river with the best view of the river and beach. The seafood preparation here is simply delicious. Though Talasari can be covered in a day trip however we recommend for a night stay to have the best of experience.

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Also, Read Here:

DAGARA – ODISHA’S RED CARPET BEACH

The patia boats used by the fishermen are operated in estuaries, beach seining and the open sea. The builders of patia boats are simple folk with no formal background in boat designs. Hence, no drawing, models or moulds (templates) are used when building a patia – measurements are used mainly to ensure symmetry. The boats are largely built ‘by eye’ and much depends upon the experience of the builder.

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Patias are used in specific seasons of the year. The main season begins from September/October to March/April. The sailing of patia works within about 5 km of the shore, while the motorised may go up to 20 km.

There is no historical record of patia boats, when it came into use in Talasari water, who were its first users, and so on. However, the region around Talasari was a maritime hub from the 16th centuries having active trade contact with European countries, ranging from Danish to British nation. Perhaps it was introduced through contact with Europe.

The only evidence was provided by Thomas Bowrey, a British traveller of the 17th century in Odisha coast. Thomas described the boats as patella – flat bottomed, barge-like clinker-built boats with protruding crossbeams, used to transport salt. They had a single mast and were steered by large median radar.

Talasari is a beach that can refresh your five senses like an instant coffee and heal your body, mind and soul at the first go. Talasari gets its name from Tala (rhythm) and Sari (row) – the rhythm formed by the swing of the lush green foliage and the moving golden sands, both uniting with the calm melodious sea. When it is the low tide you can simply walk across the dry river bed to reach the beach and when it is high tide use the ferry to cross the river.

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At Talasari you relish the best of seafood at your own pace.

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The nearby Chandaneswar is an important business hub in rural Balasore. Bordering Digha Beach in Bengal and Udayapur Beach in Odisha, Chandaneswar is famous for a Shiva temple built in the architectural style of Bengal.

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Every year, during the Hindu month of Chaitra (April) a 13-day festival called Chadaka Mela takes place in Chandaneswar. Legend has it that Lord Chandaneswar secretly married Kamini in the absence of his wife Parvati during the month of Chaitra. At the time of Chadaka Mela, devotees in large number get their skin, tongue and body pierced with nails and move around in the procession.

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Chandaneswar also has several women self-help groups engaged in the making of plates and bowls using the local resources, leaves of beetle nut palm trees. You can meet them and by as gift items to spread happiness and sustainable living with nature.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Chandipur – Beyond the Vanishing Sea

You are told and retold…Chandipur in Balasore is a unique beach where the sea recedes for 5 km twice a day during ebb tides.

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During when the sea recedes, the beach turns into a biodiversity hotspot.

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Hundreds of ghost red crabs crawl on its golden sands.

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There are swamps covered with thin layers of seagrass sheltering hundreds of tiny fish, gastropods and mollusc species attracting egrets and seagulls for grand feasts.

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Fishermen walk for miles to place wooden posts on the edge of the retreading shoreline only to return next day to bring home kilos of tiny fish that get trapped during the movement of tidal waters.

Also, Read Here:

DAGARA – ODISHA’S RED CARPET BEACH

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Children play cricket on the dry sand and tourists walk for miles enjoying the unique phenomena of nature.

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When you go on a leisurely walk in this nature’s Shangri La, you discover hundreds of tiny patterns on sand formed by sea crabs, many having holes. When you approach near them the shy red ghost crabs scurry into these holes.

Also, Read Here:

SAHANA BEACH AND DEVI MOUTH – ODISHA’S BEST KEPT SECRET

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You are floored. Chandipur is perhaps the only beach in this part of the world where nature’s drama can be experienced at its best. Your day is made.

Travel Tips

Chandipur is located at a distance of 16 km from Balasore city which is a major railhead and transit point for travel into various parts of northern Odisha. Connected by a metalled road Chandipur can be reached both by public transport and private taxies from Balasore. Though Chandipur can be covered in a day visit however we recommend for a night stay to experience the complete tidal stories of nature and the nearby Balaramgadi Muhana and the maritime heritage of Balasore. The beach has a number of staying options for budget travellers including the property of Odisha Tourism, Panthanivas. Relishing seafood is a major attraction in Chandipur.

 

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However, beyond nature’s hide and seek games, Chandipur has much more surprises. The Budhabalanga River which flows nearby empties into the Bay of Bengal at Balaramgadi, only 3 km from Chandipur in the further north.

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A major fishing harbour today, Balaramgadi at any moment of the day is full of large-sized fishing trawlers and small fishing boats anchored in the jetty. And if you are in the morning hours you find them unloading tons of fish (hilsa, pomp fret, jumbo-sized prawns and many more) from deep-sea fishing for auctions. You also meet subsistence fishermen engaged in various fishing-related activities.

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The Budhabalanga River was a major maritime passage in the 18th century. The Danish, the Dutch, the French and the British used it as a maritime route to seek business and establish factories. In Balasore there are a few vestiges remained of Chandipur’s maritime past. The region was a centre of shipbuilding and ship repairing. Its natives were most resourceful for their knowledge and skills in navigation. So well-known was Balasore in the nautical circle around the world in 1872, a shipbuilding farm in Glasgow was christened ‘Balasore’. In those days Balasore was also a textile manufacturing hub. The muslin handkerchiefs of Balasore had the brand name ‘Balasore Handkerchiefs’. Because of its high quality and uniqueness, an English Man had established a factory in England to manufacture Balasore Handkerchief.

The French also had a tiny colony at Balasore called Loges. The oldest organised maritime service in India was the Bengal Pilot Service which used to lead foreign ships from Balasore to Calcutta through Balaramgadi near Chandipur and vice versa.

Ref: Some Vignettes of Balasore and its French Loge

Today in Balasore there are settlements like Dinamar Dinga, Farasi Dinga and Oladanj Sahi testifying Balasore’s link with Europe’s maritime nations.

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Within Barabati High school there are remains of two large Dutch Tombs from the 16th century.

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There are also remains of a British Cemetery in Damodar locality consisting of 33 gravestones from the 18th century. The graveyard contains the tombstones of Sir Hennery Rickett, the first collector of Balasore (1827 – 36), and his wife Lady Rickett, who was a doctor and had served people with missionary zeal when Odisha was reeling under ‘Nannka Durvikha’, the worst over famine in Odisha that had killed millions of souls due to hunger and diseases. The graveyard also contains the tombstones of Captain Morgante and Captain Francis Walter, a hero of British Royal Navy who led several battles in Madras, Goa, Harispur, Pipli Port and Balasore.

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Chandipur is fairly a meeting point of nature and history and a true representation of Balasore’s cultural identity.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Dagara – Odisha’s Red Carpet Beach

As you near the tranquil beach of Dagara after a bumpy drive for almost 20 km from the nearest town of Baliapal, you receive a gracious welcome by nature through a long stretch of red carpet cropping out of the golden sands.

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Little wonder, these little creatures are the fastest runners among all crab species. They are not in hundreds or thousands but crawl in millions. As you approach nearer to them they scurry into their holes. These are ghost red crabs at Dagara Beach in the coastline of Balasore. Their eyestalks allow them to see 360-degree potential predators and prey.

Also, Read Here:

SAHANA BEACH AND DEVI MOUTH – ODISHA’S BEST KEPT SECRET

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Ghost crabs are commonly found on tropical beaches across the world, but there are few places where their concentration is more. They have a little box-like body, thick elongated eyestalks and one claw is longer than the other in both males and females for feeding and digging their burrows. The eyestalks are tipped with horn-like projections called styles.

Also, Read Here:

GOPALPUR – TRANQUILLITY ON THE SEA

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Ghost crabs are mainly detritivores but are also active predators and scavengers. They eat algae and animal detritus food among the sand as well as dead fish, insects and marine organism. They leave a large number of sand balls across the beach which they have searched through for food.

Travel Tips 

Dagara Beach is located at a distance of 60 km from Balasore City and 260 km from Bhubaneswar. The nearest town is Baliapal, which is 20 km away. There are a few staying options at Dagara but it is recommended for a comfortable stay at Chandipur or Talsari (both 2 hours away by road). There is also a PWD IB which can be booked through the official procedure. The best time to be at Dagara is when there is low tide, when the ghost red crabs appear in millions on the sandy beach.

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Dagara Beach near the mouth of Subarnarekha River is one of Odisha’s most unspoiled beaches with a wide expanse of sandy coastline. Fenced by long stretches of casuarina trees it is the only beach in Odisha where one can enjoy both sunrise and sunset. The beach is known for its massive concentration of ghost red crabs.

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The story of Dagara is incomplete without appreciating the rustic beauty of its surrounding countryside. The Subaranarekha River which originates in the high plateau of Jharkhand in the west was a major thoroughfare in the 16th-17th centuries CE. The Dutch and the Portuguese used this river estuary as the passage to seek their business fortune in the eastern part of India. It is told that the Dutch had established a factory at Baliapal, however, no trace of it can be found. Yet there are vestiges of British East India Company sheds, warehouses, canals and bunds that can be seen as one drive through the countryside.

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Yet one more attraction is the countless fishing boats of various sizes and shapes playing in the golden water of Subarnareka and the swamps. And if you are in September – October, the Subaranarekha blooms with vast beds of Kasatandi flowers, symbolizing the arrival of Maa Durga.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

With Sasanka Rath, Odisha Tourism

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Gopalpur – Tranquillity on the Sea

During the days of the French Revolution! There lived a man called Loraine in France, who always stood for a cause to help the distressed.

The French Monarch did not appreciate his cause and he became a soft target of the authoritarian government. As the French authorities launched a massive manhunt for him, Loraine went into hiding. With the help of one of his close friends, G.G.F Edwardo, a captain in the East India Shipping Company, he arrived at Gopalpur on the coast of South Odisha.

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However, for the entrepreneur Loraine, Gopalpur turned out to be a base to seek opportunities for lucrative overseas trade with Burma. He established a port and built the present lighthouse, the star attraction of Gopalpur. Loraine joined his hands with the East India Company and got involved in exporting cheap Bengali labourers, local spices and bidis (country cigars). Within no time he established his own shipping company Bengal India Steam Navigation. Fortune favours the brave. Loraine succeeded in his business building several properties, resorts and hotels at Gopalpur on Sea.

Also, Read Here:

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

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Imagine the early 20th century! When Europe was passing through a tough time fighting two world wars, Gopalpur on Sea was celebrating its glorious days.

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Named after the 18th-century temple of Lord Gopala, the laidback seaside town had its heydays during the period between two world wars. Allured by its strategic location, the British and Loraine’s successors had built massive warehouses and grand villas on the beachfront.

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The prosperity of Gopalpur had brought an Italian merchant from Sicily Signor Maglioni, who had built Palm Beach, India’s first beach resort in 1914. During the glory days of Gopalpur, a large number of rich Bengali families, British traders and soldiers frequented Maglioni’s Hotel. Gopalpur’s character changed over the years from a sleepy fishing village to a prosperous holiday gateway from Calcutta, the cultural heartland of the British Raj, though the capital had moved to imperial Delhi around this time.

Also, Read Here:

South Chilika Coast – Back in Time

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Built-in the Mediterranean architectural style, the Palm Beach Resort, the first of its kind on Indian Shore was a massive hit amused with exotic dines and elegant ball dances. There was gaslight, wooden dance floor and parties that would continue till the early hours.

Travel Tips

Gopalpur on Sea is a small town in Ganjam District of South Odisha. Gopalpur is located at a distance of 16 km from Berhampur, South Odisha’s largest city and a major railway station and 170 km from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 2 and a half hour to reach Gopalpur by road from Bhubaneswar Airport. The other major airport near Gopalpur is Visakhapatnam (4 hours). There are several stay options in Gopalpur to suit all kinds of travellers. However, for a unique experience, we recommend Mayfair Beach Resort and Swosti Palm Beach Resort.  Both are located on the beachfront. Besides Odisha Tourism also has a Panthanivas near the beach. One can easily spend 3 to 4 days at Gopalpur languishing on its beach. From here you can leisurely travel to Ganjam’s other destinations in day trips, such as Taptapani Hotspring, Vetnoi Blackbuck Sanctuary, Chandragiri Tibetan Monasteries, Taratarni Temple and Potagada Fort.

 

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Many Christian missionaries set up training schools and seminaries, some of them still exist today.

Gopalpur’s prosperity started declining after the end of World War II. After India became independent, most of its wealth dwindled to tickle as the British left the Indian shore. The busy waft crashed down and the sprawling warehouses crumbled.

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Rai Bahadur M.S, Oberoi, one of India’s first generation luxury hoteliers purchased Palm Beach from Maglioni in 1947 at a throwaway price. The hotel got a new identity ‘The Oberoi Palm Beach’. In 2013, the hotel was further bought by the Mayfair Group and now has evolved as the best luxury hotel in this sleepy fishing town.

Today, Gopalpur on Sea has again evolved a perfect gateway for laidback holiday seekers. Its long stretch of languorous beach with coconut groves, casuarinas and gentle sand dunes is deserted for miles. For hours after hours, Gopalpur is the place where you can stroll on the sand and relish on mouth-watering seafood. Watching the life of Nolia fisherman is also exciting.

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A little away from Gopalpur is the enchanting countryside of Ganjam. Cycling around here will simply drag your soul into an experience of a lifetime. You are drawn to the age-old practices of fishing and farming and the fishermen navigating the narrow channels of creeks.

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Barely 16 km away from Berhampur, South Odisha’s commercial hub, Gopalpur is truly a tranquillity by the sea.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Charu Maa – The Face of Durga Maa

Our story starts in the 7th century CE Bhubaneswar! It was the time in Indian history when the personification of ideas came to be institutionalized.  One such idea was Nataraj, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, which you find profusely in temple walls of Bhubaneswar. Why Nataraj – for me the answer could be the metaphoric representation of destruction that depicts the other side of the sea which is otherwise gentle and calm through most of the year.  The other idea was Maa Durga – the metaphoric representation of women power, for which Eastern India is widely celebrated.


Goddess Durga in Parasurameswara Temple – 7th Century CE

Lord Nataraj in Parasumeswara Temple 7th Century CE

Maa Durga in Cuttack 

1999 super cyclone that had devastated millions of lives, both humans and domestic animals in coastal Odisha. Lord Shiva had shown his extreme form, tandav leela. It was one of the darkest moments in Odisha’s modern history. It took years to recover what Odisha had lost. But the lesson learnt not only made Odias cautious but Odisha became a successful model for disaster management worldwide.  Much has been written and filmed about Odisha’s adorable initiatives in cyclone management, but very little about Charu Maa, a woman in her 50s from Gudalaba Village near Astarang on the coast of Bay of Bengal. You see the face of Durga Maa in her, who has been leading a group of 90 women from her village consisting of both Hindus and Muslims for the protection of forest and wildlife from the time their village was devastated in the wrath of 1999 cyclone.

Travel Tips

Gundalba Village is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Gundalaba Village, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Gundalba is located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood. 


Charu Maa in the left at Gundalba Village

 

 

 

 

Gudalaba is a small village of farmers and fisherfolk near the Sufi shrine of Pir Jahania at a stone throw distance from the sea. A thick forest of Casuarinas separates the sea from the village. To the north of the village is a network of creeks of Devi River which meets the Bay of Bengal at Sahana. Nature’s paradise, the beach is also part of the rookery of Olive Ridley Turtles.  The casuarinas trees, a native of Australia had been introduced more than a century ago by the British to prevent sea erosion. However, ecologists have a different viewpoint. According to whom, the alien trees have been least protectors from sea erosion. These have only become a good source of fuel. On the other hand once dominated by hundreds of species of native mangroves, now most of it lost, thanks to intensive shrimp farming and agriculture. The loss of mangroves is taking toll of destruction year after year.  

Also, Read Here:

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret


Pir Jahanaia Sufi Shrine


Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned boat at Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned house at Pir Jahania Beach – Behind it the thick Casuarina Forest


Casuarina Forest


Depleting Mangrove Forests and Estuaries 

 


Near Devi Mouth


Commercial Fishing in Devi Mouth


Subsistence Fishing in Devi Mouth 


Intensive Rice Farming – The Harvesting Season


Harvest of Gold

Gudalaba has also been a nurturing ground for ideas related to wildlife conservation and sustainable living. Here you meet Bichhi, the turtle man, who has dedicated his life for the conservation of Ridley Olive Turtles. You also meet a group of youngsters led by Soumya Ranjan Biswal, who are continuously engaged in generating awareness on beach cleaning and environmental protection.


Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtle – a severe environmental issue – This one is one of the first deaths sighted this season due to trawlers movement

 

It was on 4th November night I was first introduced to Charu Maa at her residence and while talking to her I felt the best geography teacher I have ever met in my life. There is so much of understanding about sustainable living that we have taken for granted as dwellers of large cities. I heard the first-hand experience coping the most severe disaster in the living memory of Odisha. I saw the face of Durga Maa in Charu Maa. It was decided to film her interview on the daylight the next day along with her other women companions.


An early morning scene at Devi Mouth 

Here is what she narrates:

Charu Maa has turned crises into opportunities and it is an eye-opener for each of us. Truly she celebrates the idea of Durga Maa.      

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

From time immemorial living on seacoast has been a major attraction for humans across cultures. It is true that sea with its pristine beauty can often turn ugly (tsunami and cyclone) and take the lives of both people and animals that have a deep attachment to it in no time.  But when it is calm it is a source of plenty, from fish to crab, which often forms as a buffer food base during the time of drought and other calamities.  For coastal people, the sea is Mother Nature.

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Odisha is one of India’s best-kept secrets for any nature and culture-sensitive traveller to explore her timeless charm, especially her unexplored sea coast (500 km of Odisha is her coastline), is a major attraction.

Also, Read Here: 

Mangalajodi– Where Ashoka is Born and Dies Every Other Day

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My journey to one of such hidden secrets of Mother Nature begins at 4.30 AM through a branch of Devi estuary at Sahana Village. Everywhere is eerie silence. I get into a fibre boat with Babu Behra, Odisha’s most skilled lifeguard as the boatman to delve into the ghostly darkness of the estuary water. Slowly the sky opens up in the eastern horizon and you see clouds forming various patterns with the dimming crescent-shaped moon in the backdrop.

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The sail through the estuary turns noisy with the chirping of birds nesting atop branches of mangrove trees on both sides. Your camera shutter goes ‘click-click’.

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Now the morning drama reaches to its climax as the narrow estuary opens up to a wide expanse of blue water – you are at close proximity to Devi’s mouth. The country boats are in their best of actions, each forming a picture postcard setting.

Travel Tips:

Sahana Beach is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Sahana Beach, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Sahana Beach has located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood.  Your local contact is Soumya Ranjan Biswal (+91 7327963897). 

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Now your boat is anchored on the beach. You stroll down to witness a spectacular sunrise with no human souls around. The only sound is the sea’s gusting waves. For a moment you are lost and the child in you demands for time to pause. The sea, sky and the sands turn into a golden carpet with patterns that appear as Lila of Almighty.

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You are in a dreamscape and the only friends of yours are the innocent white crabs that play hide and seek around you.

Also, Read Here:

The Slow Death of Odisha’s Living Marine Heritage; the Olive Ridley Turtles

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A little walk along the beach takes you to the mouth proper, the meeting place of two worlds, river and sea. Here ends the journey of the River Devi that starts 80 km offshore near Cuttack. And this is the place of plenty, a fisherman’s paradise. Here you see them in actions, all breaching the gusty sea waves.

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Then you get into a no man’s island to witness red crabs. Also known as ghost crabs they prefer silence and live in colonies.

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Now it is the time to return to village Sahana – the time is 8 AM. On your sail back under the well-lit sky the eeriness is gone and you are navigating through mangrove creeks with birds nesting on both sides. The scene is a miniature version of the land of Amazonia. Your soul is lifted.

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So what makes you wait! Come and lose yourself in the lap of Mother Nature at Odisha’s best-kept secret!!

Author – Jitu Mishra. He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com