Lofty temples and rock-cut caves set amidst elegantly manicured parks make Bhubaneshwar a city worth visiting. While history aficionados would rejoice in the architectural splendour of the numerous temples (there are nearly 500 at present), the city offers other sights to hold your attention. A stroll through the fascinating cactus garden, shopping for local handicrafts, a sumptuous seafood lunch at a unassuming eatery. Take your pick.
Tradition shares space with modernity in this quaint city, popularly referred to as India’s Temple City. With a history that dates back almost 2000 years, Bhubaneshwar is now poised to take that giant leap forward, as an Information Technology hub. Leading IT companies such as Infosys, Satyam and Wipro have set up base in the city. Like any other metropolis in India, here too the pressures of modern living have taken their toll on the residents, including a rapidly burgeoning population and traffic snarls at important thoroughfares not to mention the glitzy malls and western-style coffee bars. However, the beaches of Puri and the famous Sun Temple at Konark nearby offer an idyllic weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life.
An Ancient Heritage
Bhubaneshwar, or Kingdom of God, was the capital of the ancient empire of Kalinga spread across central-eastern India. It was here that Mauryan King Asoka fought a bloody battle around 260 BCE and, distressed by the bloodshed that ensued, converted to Buddhism soon after. Diverse religions have left their mark on the people and landscape of Bhubaneshwar. Here you will find Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples dotting the cityscape - a grand Lingaraj Temple, serenely beautiful Vishwa Shanti Stupa and the impressive Mahavira Jain Temple in Khandagiri nearby. While several shrines have been destroyed by Muslim invaders, the ones that remain are a silent testimony of the city’s glorious past. The state of Orissa also has a large population of tribals.
Reaching the City
The capital of Orissa, Bhubaneshwar is located on the eastern coast of India. The city is surrounded by the Bay of Bengal in the east and by the state of West Bengal in the northeast, Bihar in the north, Madhya Pradesh in the west, and Andhra Pradesh in the south. Spread over an area of 60,119 square miles (155,707 square kilometres), Bhubaneshwar has a population close to one million. Oriya is the main language spoken but people also understand English, Bengali and a smattering of Hindi.
One can reach Bhubaneshwar by road, rail and air. Most airlines operate daily flights to the city from New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata to name a few. The Biju Patnaik Airport is the only airport in the state. The Government has plans to set up an international airport complex soon. There are also daily express trains to Bhubaneshwar from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad. Bhubaneshwar is connected by road to all the major cities in India.
The best time to visit the city is between late September and early February – the colourful festive season, which begins with Durga Puja and ends with Basant Panchami. Summers can get terribly hot with temperatures rising to more than 45 degrees celcius.
Sights and Sounds
No trip to Bhubaneshwar is complete without visiting its famous temples. Plan day trips to as many temples possible. The popular ones are the Lingaraj, Mukteswar, Parsurameswar, Vaital Deul and Rajarani Temple. The Lingaraj Temple, constructed around 11 Century BC is most representative of Orissa’s temple architecture with its grand 180-ft high deul or spire and intricately carved shrines. While non-Hindus are barred from entering the temple, there are viewing platforms constructed alongside from where one can get a good look at the main temple and surrounding shrines.
The Bindusagar Tank, which lies north of the temple, is believed to contain water from various holy rivers in India. The 10 th Century Mukteswar Temple with its exquisite sculptures is also worth a visit. Interestingly enough, the main deity in the Vaital Deul Temple, built in the 8 th Century, is an eight-armed Chamunda with a necklace of skulls, seated on a corpse with a jackal and owl beside her. The Rajarani Temple made out of red and gold sandstone and the Parsurameswar Temple on the road to Puri are some of the smaller temples worth visiting. The sculptures are so exquisite, you will need several hours to get a good look at the temples.
West of the city, one will find the twin hills of Udaygiri (Sunrise Hill) and Khandagiri (Broken Hill). The caves within the two hills were carved to create dwellings for Jain monks around the first century B.C. The caves and the inscriptions on the rocks tell tales of bygone eras, of kings, queens and their exploits. It is truly difficult to walk away from these caves without a feeling of wonderment, and awe. Udaygiri has very interesting caves such as the double storeyed Rani Gumpha or Queen’s Cave with scenes of dancing women, kings and queens. Other caves worth checking out are the Chhota Hathi Gumpha (Small Elephant Cave), Ganesh Gumpha and Bagh Gumpha (Tiger Cave). Khandagiri has 15 caves filled with carvings of old Jain symbols.
The famous edict of King Ashoka lies at the base of the Dhauli Hill where the emperor declared the tenets of his new religion of spiritual conquest. The Vishwa Shanti Stupa was built on top of the hill in the early ‘70s. Another interesting temple is the Chausath Yogini Temple built in the 9 th Century. This is a circular temple dedicated to the 64 forms of the goddess Shakti or the sacred feminine. The idols are carved out of black chlorite stone.
The Orissa State Museum is a must for history buffs who can revel in the musuem’s fascinating collection of Buddhist and Jain sculptures, antique coins, painted manuscripts, tribal arts and jewellery.
After the temple and museum tour, one could unwind by taking an excursion to elegant parks such as the Biju Patanaik, Indira Gandhi Park and Ekamra Kanan.
Sightseeing in Bhubaneshwar complete, tourists should hit the sandy beaches of Puri nearby and visit the Jagannath Temple and famous Sun Temple at Konark. The Jagannath Temple which was built in the 12 th Century is similar in design to the Lingaraj Temple. Here too, non-Hindus are not allowed into the temple. The roof of the Raghunandan Library across the road offers a good view of the temple.
Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Shiva, his sister Subhadra and brother Balbhadra are worshipped by a rapidly increasing band of followers in India. Inside the temple, the three deities are bathed, fed and worshipped in elaborate rituals and during the annual Rath Yatra (chariot festival) held in June/July, the deities are taken out in enormous decorated wooden raths or chariots.
While the beaches of Puri are not always safe for swimming due to dangerous currents, local fisherman double up as lifeguards to help those willing to brave the waters. There are secluded coves where sunbathers can relax away from prying eyes.
The Sun Temple at Konark is in the shape of a giant chariot with 12 pairs of wheels to carry the Sun God, Surya, across the skies. Exquisite sculptures of gods and goddesses vie for space with more erotic sculptures of men and women. The Temple is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Do not forget to buy ethnic Oriya handicrafts such as silver filigree, stone and wood carvings, Pata paintings and traditional textiles. Browse through local shops or stop at one of the Government emporiums. While prices are fixed at Government-run showrooms, you can have the pleasure of bargaining for that beaufiful piece of silver jewellery at a local shop. Ekamra Haat, where tribal arts and crafts are sold at reasonable prices, is one of the best places to do your shopping from.
You can do most of your local sightseeing and shopping using taxis, autorickshaws and cycle rickshaws. If you need to travel long distance, you could always hire a car, or use a tourist bus. Check the fares with the hotel and try to negotiate the best price possible. The Orissa Tourism Development Corporation Ltd (OTDC) also runs sightseeing tours to Puri, Konark and nearby areas.
Finding a place to rest
Accomodation, depending on your budget, is available in plenty. While the Oberoi Group operates the only five-star hotel in the city, there are others such as Mayfair Lagoon (INR 5,000 to 20,000), Swosti Plaza (INR 4,000 to 15,500) and Trident Hilton (INR 5,100 to 14,000) that cater to travellers looking for luxurious digs. Then, there are lesser priced hotels such as Garden Inn, Hotel Swosti and Bhubaneshwar Hotel that offer well-appointed, comfortable rooms and a range of cuisines to choose from. The tariff ranges from INR 2500 to around 7,000. There is also the Orissa Government-run Panthanivas that offers decent, budget accomodation for travellers. Those on a shoestring budget can choose from a variety of low-cost hotels in the city. Do your homework before you travel so that you can zero in on the best value for your money.
Arts, Crafts and Local Culture
Orissa has a rich tradition of fine arts, handicrafts and performing arts. The state’s large population of tribal communities have added their stamp. The Odissi and Chhau dance are respected art forms globally and textiles from Orissa find pride of place in exclusive shops and showrooms across the country. The Odissi is a classical dance form that originated in the ancient temples of Orissa while the Chhau is a rather fascinating war dance, similar to martial arts. Orissa’s textiles include the simple tribal cotton weaves to more elaborate silk, painted textiles. The silk Ikat weaves are very famous featuring motifs of birds, fish, seashells and temple spires.
Various festivals celebrating the state’s varied cultural heritage are held throughout the year. During the week-long Tribal Mela held in January, the state’s tribal population exhibit their dances, music, arts and crafts. During Ashokastami (Mar/Apr), the deity of Shiva from the Lingaraj Temple, travels in a chariot to be bathed in the Bindusagar Tank. There is much music and dance during the Konark Dance Festival where classical dancers perform on an open air stage throughout five days.
A Gastronomic Journey
With an increase in the number of hotels, there is a range of food you can choose from. From five-star hotel food to plain sandwiches and coffee, you can decide what suits your palate. If you are interested in trying out some good old-fashioned Oriya food, this is what you need to know about the state’s cuisine.
Oriya cuisine is similar to food eaten in Bengal and Bihar. Vegetables, fish and seafood are eaten by most people in the state. A variety of spices such as cumin, mustard, fennel and fenugreek are used to flavour vegetable and fish stews which are eaten with rice, the staple diet. Fish, lobsters and crabs from the nearby coast are favourites. Creamy yogurt and coconut milk is also consumed in plenty.
A traditional Oriya meal always ends with a dessert. Most of the sweets are made with sugar, paneer (cottage cheese) and ghee (clarified butter). Sweetmeats such as Rasgulla, Rasmalai, Khirmohan, Rasabali, Kalakand are very popular and should not be missed. In fact, the famous Rasgulla (dough balls made of paneer in syrup) is believed to have been invented in Orissa. The caramelised, custard-like dessert Chhenapodapitha is probably the best way to end a traditional Oriya meal. Most restaurants and hotels offer traditional Oriya cuisine as well as standard Chinese, Continental and North Indian dishes.