Posted on 28th June, 2015
Rooted in history, culture and religion, but rife with poverty and political unrest, Odisha isn't your typical destination. But with beautiful temples brimming with stories, villages conserving ancient arts and a still unexposed - but amazingly delicious -local cuisine, you're guaranteed a soulful and unwinding experience if you give this west coast state of India a shot! And no better place to sample the state than at Bhubaneshwar - its capital and one of the state's top tourist places - renowned for being a city of temples -- after all, there are more than 700 of them!
Most of the temples in Bhubaneshwar - built between the 8th-12th centuries AD -are of an architectural design that's a sub-style of the Nagara style of north Indian temples. It's a combination of what's known as rekha (a sanctum with curvilinear spire) and pidha (square front porch with pyramidal roof). This design is predominantly associated with Shiva, Surya, and Vishnu temples. The building of these types of temples continued for nearly a thousand years in Odisha, from 6th-7th centuries AD to 15th-16th centuries AD.
This crawl takes you through some of these key temples you shouldnt miss along wiht nice interludes of local cuisine and fine drinks. Do note that Bhubaneswar – or Odisha for that matter – is not the place where you should expect the same experience as in the swanky dining spots of Delhi or the Chic Bars of Bombay, but then the greatest pleasures are often to be found in the least trammeled places!
Trident is a luxurious business hotel that is surely one of the better-kept secrets in India. A white-walled minimalist gem, the Trident was built in the 1970’s and could be a posh ashram, a costly rehab center, or a planetarium complex on the campus of some fine California state university. Constructed around an interior courtyard and pool, the Trident is set amid 14 walled acres of manicured gardens replete with a mango orchard, a gravel jogging path, a lathhouse, a potager, and tennis courts. The interiors of the hotel reflect the traditional architecture of temples in Odisha and the walls and lobby are decorated with finely carved copies of the ancient sculptures you see in the temples.
The splendid Lingraj Temple (the king of lingas, the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva) represents the culmination of the evolution of temple architecture in Odisha. Its spire is around 180 feet tall. There are more than 64 smaller shrines in the sprawling temple complex as well. They're magnificently decorated with sculptures of gods and goddesses, kings and queens, dancing girls, hunters, and musicians. Unfortunately, non-Hindus won't be able to see all this up close though. Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple complex (and only those Hindus who look Hindu enough).Non-Hindus can, however, get to see inside the temple complex from a distance. There's a viewing platform around to the right of the main entrance. Do be aware: it's likely you'll get hassled by someone for a donation, claiming it will go to the temple. It won't though, so make sure you don't give any money.
Parasurameswara Temple is one of the oldest surviving temples, built in 650 AD. Though small this temple is lavishly decorated and has some exquisite carvings and sculptures including bas reliefs of elephant processions and even a Buddhist Stupa carved on the side. Enclosed within a compound wall, the deul, facing the West is a square towered, while the jagamohana, instead of being a stepped pyramid, is a rectangular structure with a terraced roof, sloping in two stages. The deul about 13 m high has no platform and is triratha on plan, a dominant style of the early periods. The temple typifies the stage of Saiva Pasupata Sect, illustrated by the frequent representation of Lakulisa. He is sculpted in Buddha-like form, with four disciples at his feet as shown on the last side of the tower, while on the West, above the relief of Nataraja, he looks like the meditating Buddha. The frieze has mostly amorous couples, separated by paneled jalis vidalas.
Next stop – of the finest pieces of 'hidden gem' heritage site in India! Standing 34 feet tall, the Mukteshwar temple is one of the smallest and most compact temples in Bhubaneshwar. However, it's famous for its exquisite stone archway, and ceiling with eight petal lotus inside its porch. A number of the carved images (including lion head motif) appear for the first time in the temple architecture. The magnificence and delicacy combining the ancient and modern are being designed so perfectly blended in the architecture of this temple that this become famous as ‘Gem of Orissa architecture’. In fact this temple of 10th century is one of the fabulous illustrations for Buddhism inspired Kalinga School of Temple Architecture. The temple's name, Mukteshwar, means "Lord who gives freedom through yoga". You'll find ascetics in various mediation poses on the temple, along with figures from Hindu mythology, folk tales from the Panchatantra (five books of animal fables), as well as Jain munis (monks/nuns).
The Rajarani temple is unique in that there is no deity associated with it. There's a story that the temple was a pleasure resort of an Oriya king and queen (raja and rani). However, more realistically, the temple got its name from the variety of sandstone used to make it. The carvings on the temple are particularly ornate, with numerous erotic sculptures. This often leads to the temple being referred to as the Khajuraho of the east. Another of the temple's striking features are the clusters of smaller carved spires on its spire. The spacious and immaculately kept temple grounds are a peaceful place to relax if you want a break from sightseeing.
After all the sightseeing , you must have surely worked up a huge apetite now! You cannot ever visit Odisha and leave withouth trying out their cuisine. Their most famous dish is Dalma and that is why this place is aptly named. You should definitely visit this place even if you are not too fond of east indian food made out of mustard oil. The food with all respect is of good quality. The Oriya mutton is a must. Sadly, the Odiya cuisine has been totally overshadowed by the ever-so popular Bengali cuisine which has gained popularity all over the world from the strets of London to Latin America! So, if you want to try something that is still not 'commercialized' – and not available anywhere else easily - then this is it and no better place to try it than Dalma. Definitely try out the fish curry known as machha jholo.
It is a popular misconception – even within India – that this fabled sweet is actually from the state of Bengal. So much so that the word 'Bengali sweet/food' brings snapshots of these white spongy balls soaked in syrup. But in reality it orignated in Odisha, much before it made its way into Bengal! Savoring Rasagollas in Odisha is one unforgettable experience. Though the best place to savour it is in the village of Pahala – a few kilometres from Bhubaneshwar. But If a trip to Pahala seems hard to accomplish, make your way to any of the Bikala Nand Kar shops in Bhubaneswar. Note: A newcomer, used to the standard "Bengali sweets", would hardly recognize the fluffy, cream-colored wonders, almost as big as tennis balls, that are sold here in odisha as Rasagollas. But that is what they are. As a matter of fact, those are exactly how Rasagollas were supposed to look like for centuries before Nobin Das started marketing their crumbly, chewy descendants, calling them his own in Bengal!
If the cultural heritage of a country is revealed by its arts and crafts then India is for sure very rich. In the Indian sub content itself the formidable maritime empire of Orissa with its ethnic past is enchanting. The diversity of the skills men has been carrying of with the age-old tradition of different forms of art and craft. With the passage of time the artists have successfully retained the ingeniousness of their skills and at the same time have refined them. The various art forms of Orissa like weaving of handloom, saris, basket, stone carving, painting, metal work are popular the world over. Ever wondered where your beautiful trousseau silk sari came from? Amongst the huge collection of the elegant saris and handlooms probably some are from the weavers of Orissa are renowned for their skills. It is the tussar or the tussah variety of silk that is made use of in the production of the fabric. Meher's at Shriya square is one of the best options to pick up a Silk saree – as a souvenir or gift – and Utkalika Odisha State Emporium located in the Market Building is an arts and handicrafts treasure trove.
After the sightseeing and shopping and and some well some well deserved rest – or a sporty swim at the pool – it is time to down the sun! Thankfully, you dont have to step out or go too far as the sundowner spot we are going to hit is right inside the hotel where we are staying. Though it might seem like they didnt even make an effort to come up with a more unique name than simply naming it 'The Bar' – this is a swanky lobby bar located inside the swankier Trident hotel. Lissome apsaras play flutes in a smart, wood-paneled decor. Who knows? Following a dusty day of scrambling around ninth-century stupas and a cold caipiroska at this bar — might even make this your new favorite watering hole on earth!
After the Cocktail, head over to the nearby MayFair Hotel. The last place in the world where you would expect to find a Scottish Bar – esp. One that proudly self-proclaims to be the 'best english pub' in the state without bothering to note the severe conflict of themes! In any case, the ambience is cool, laid back and they have tried to recreate a classic pub – from the Raj era. Best place to chill out and recollect the wonderful sights you went through and digest the heriage buffet you experienced.
Located in the same hotel complex as Baron is Kanika - a theme restaurant designed and developed on Oriya cultire. Needless to say, Kanika serves lip-smacking Oriya food that involves all the intricate Oriya cooking techniques and processes which make the food taste as if it ia actually coming from Oriya kitchen from east. Perect way to end the night – Happy and high!
Do you know more hidden gems in Bhubaneshwar? Let us know in the comments section below. Liked what you read? Share it with your friends!
In addition to being a successful software professional, I am an ardent traveller - having been to more than 400 cities in around 180 countries. The last two decades of intense travelling has not only empowered me with strong expertise in the travel industry, but also with a vision to clearly understand the opportunities, gaps and areas for promoting a destination. You can take a look at some of my captures here. You can find my personal blog here.
Bhubaneshwar, Lingaraj Temple, Raja Rani Temple, Parasurameswara Temple, Mukteshwar Temple, Baron & Baronness Scottish Bar