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The website of Odisha Tourism’s tagline goes like India’s Best Kept Secret. This cannot be untrue. The state is a hidden gem with most of the mainstream travelers often not finding it on their lists. A particular landscape isn’t famous here like some states known for their gigantic mountain ranges, some are famous for their beaches. A typical experience of Odisha in its entirety should not be tagged with a particular geographical landform. It has different regions, namely North, East, West, and South Odisha, to uniquely cater to your wishlist.

Odisha is largely inundated by pilgrimage tourists. The most popular town being Puri, one Hindu holy city forming the Chaar Dham Teerath circuit. Like many, my visits to the states have been to Puri in particular, without exploring much of the other regions. Puri lies in East Odisha, a little over an hour from the state capital, Bhubaneswar. The general itinerary I followed was going about Puri, Bhubaneswar, and Konark (known as the Golden Triangle). These three cities won’t ever disappoint any form of traveler, be it a solo traveler, a geeky one, a family vacation, or explorers. I’ve been to the state so many times, it almost feels like a second home now.

The last time I’d been there, it was different. With the blistering cyclone Fani hitting in 2019 April-May, a lot of it has changed. The restructuring by the state tourism has been centrally focusing on making it more organic and real than it ever was. It wishes to attract more visitors by making it hassle-free and facilitating more exposure of the ritual travelers to nature.

This short Odisha journey, Bhubaneswar-Puri-Konark, is not apt but it captivates the soul. A particular leg, which I find interesting and surprising is undoubtedly the Puri-Konark Marine Drive. It covers a short distance with well-built roads, windy almost every time, low traffic, and ecstatic natural beauty with the magnanimous sea running alongside. Imagine yourself driving on a smooth highway with the Bay of Bengal’s waves crashing at a close distance! I would pay the world for such an experience.

This experience is really like the most scintillating ones in India. Every meter you move, another picturable scene welcomes you. You won’t get a hold of the excitement that comes from the road trip: the thick forest covering the roads, an excellent shade; the sea that never fails surprising its spectators, numerous temples and awesome beaches on the go; surfing stations, resorts; lastly, the Sun Temple in Konark to end (or begin another leg towards Bhubaneswar).

The covered Puri- Konark Marine Drive Road; credits: Anindita Das on Unsplash

The Marine Drive, what I’d recommend, should be tried with a personal car or a hired taxi or even bikes on rent. The sight-seeing shuttle bus services from Puri will only halt at Chandrabhaga Beach before reaching the Sun Temple in Konark. There’s a lot more exploring and a lot of photos to be taken before reaching Chandrabhaga Beach that only a private taxi or a personal vehicle can enable. During this 45 minutes ride, you can stop at various fascinating hotspots. There’s also a great chance to spot an animal crossing your way.

A few hidden gems that are bound to surprise you on this road trip. The journey will, nothing but compel you to wonder (as it happened with me) why didn’t I plan this trip earlier?

Balukhand- Konark Wildlife Sanctuary

The Balukhand Sanctuary Beach Drone View; Credits: @pure_odisha on Instagram

The Balukhand- Konark Wildlife Sanctuary covers the distance between Konark and the holy city of Puri with its thick green patch, sandy beaches, and coastal dunes. This Wildlife Sanctuary extends from Banki Muhan near Puri to Keluni Muhan near Daluakani covering a small area of 87 square kilometers. The flora at the sanctuary includes a cashew plantation, Casuarina trees, and mangroves. There are resorts within the Sanctuary that offer captivating Eco-tourism opportunities for visitors.

The area is particularly famous for its rich population of herbivores (deers, blackbucks, and spotted deers), a wide variety of birds. The famous Olive Ridley sea turtles can be seen nesting on the beaches around the sanctuary. As you pass by the sanctuary, there is a high chance of spotting a wild animal crossing your path.

The excitement of finding an animal quietly looking for its way makes for riding slow throughout the Marine Drive. The calmness and solitude you experience riding through the woods with sparkling beaches alongside make a memorable experience. You tend to forget every worrisome engagement and just get served by nature in its full bloom.

Ramachandi Temple:

Sunset at Ramachandi Beach; credits: Sudhansu Sekhar on Maps

Goddess Ramachandi, as believed by Hindus of the region, is the presiding deity of this temple. Anecdotes and legends about her protecting the temple from destruction are popular as the Goddess is hailed for her ability to guard the temple. The shrine is highly regarded for its ambient environment and the soothing beach-side winds. The temple is located alongside Marine Drive, a little over 5 kilometers before Chandrabhaga Beach. The small temple has a serene beach in its backdrop.

The strong waves can be heard within the temple compounds. Since the temple is located within the Balukhand Wildlife Sanctuary, you can witness deers, monkeys, spotted deers, dogs, jungle cats, hyenas sometimes visiting the shores.

The beach is, however, about one more thing. You can also take a shot at adventurous beach and water sports like motorboat rides, jet skies, etc. The activities are cheap and without many people trying them out, you can have a great time finding the blood-pumping and thrill gushing your ride in the quiet waters.

In addition to captivating vibes, local vendors selling refreshing coconut water, a plate of Dahi-vada, and pouches of prasadam are found here. This can serve as a good breakfast.

Lotus Eco Retreat

Wooden huts at Lotus Eco Retreat: Credits: @the_explorer_n_wanderer_ on Instagram

Lotus Eco Retreat is a beach resort located near Konark. The resort offers a renewed experience of accommodation in the area. It has a beautiful location- facing the Bay of Bengal and river Kusabhadhra running in backdrop. The natural retreat can provide a wholesome experience in coming closer to mother nature and finding solace in the arms of the tranquillity of the sea breeze. The resort is a much-needed getaway for all the urban dwellers. There are various types of stays in the resort that can bring you closer to falling for the ecstasy and grace of the location.

The beach here offers beautiful vistas of the sunrise and sunset. The delicious sea-food experience, the enriching stay in wooden huts, enjoying the freshness in the early morning breeze and sipping tea, experiencing the moments wherein you come to accept the minuscule nature of human lives and being part of something bigger than yourself, the chilly and foamy waves touching your toes is worth trying when in Odisha.

Chandrabhaga Beach

Sunset at Chandrabhaga Beach; credits: @bibek_wildlife on Instagram

Chandrabhaga is one of the cleanest beaches in India, on its way to get Blue Flag certification. The location of the beach is near the Sun Temple. The place has great significance in Hindu mythology, earlier famous as a natural cure for leprosy. The peaceful beach is a popular hideout for peace-seeking individuals. Though now food stalls, souvenir shops, and beach sports have become popular at the beach. The beach is also famous for its large crab population. The calm setting of the Chandrabhaga has great healing fatigue and destressing.

In addition to being chased by the waves coming at you, eating roasted corn, and buying items from local stalls, you can try out beach sports like 4WD in the sand or Jet Skies in the Chandrabhaga waters.

Sun Temple, Konark

Konark Sun Temple; credits: Adarsh Baraiya on Unsplash

According to Hindu mythology, the Sun Temple of Konark is one of the chief attractions for visitors in Konark, largely because of its archaeologically wonderful structure and its historical past.

The cause of its destruction remains controversial to date. Dedicated to the sun Lord Surya, the temple embodies sculptures portraying the lifestyle of people, indicating the time around it was built. The temple walls embrace the traditional style of Kalinga architecture.

The temple’s infrastructure is fascinating, taking you through a journey in the great Kalinga kingdom that once ruled the land. This can bring a joyous end to your marine drive experience. However, one can always find multiple things to go or places to visit from Konark. You can revisit the road trail back to Puri or head towards Bhubaneswar.

There’s a lot, as far as Odisha is concerned, that remains untouched by the explorers. The serenity that you’ll be experiencing on this Marine drive, is just a pinch of what you will get to see throughout your journey, once you embark on exploring the state in its entirety.

Well, as far as this particular leg of the journey is concerned, nothing ends just after Konark temple. You can further continue till Bhubaneswar, as visitors normally prefer. This will be a cultural sneak-peek into the lives of Odia people. You can visit the art village Pipli, after grabbing a bite at a roadside dhaba (another good thing about Odisha is you can find your choice of food easily). Who knows, the unknown network of roads takes you to such beautiful places you’d have never imagined.

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