At the outset, I would like to mention that I understand we are living in unprecedented times due to an ongoing global pandemic situation ( COVID-19 virus) because of which the hospitality industry has taken a brutal hit. However, a life lived in fear and without traveling isn’t worth living and sooner or later we shall overcome this. Government’s will lay down uniform SOP’s for the hospitality industry to start functioning. Odisha will soon be easing down on the travel ban and therefore, I hope to spark in you the urge to travel again because in the current scenario, many stakeholders from the tourism industry are dependent on us and ‘Staycations’ will serve as the most immediate demand.
I believe that we don’t have to travel far for a break and a change of scene – by supporting local businesses and local economies in a sensible and phased approach, we can start to help them with the rebuilding process of the tourism realm when the time is right.
The more you traverse through Odisha, you will realize why Odisha Tourism’s tagline affirms it as “India’s best kept secret”. From iconic temples to architectural wonders, from tiny art settlements to vibrant water bodies Odisha cocoon all that a curious and adventurous traveler could ask for. If you drive the state’s entire coastline, you’ll get the best of both worlds – sunny beach life and the breezy forests.
Just before the nationwide lockdown due to Coronavirus, I had embarked on a three day ‘solo turned into soul’ roadtrip to my favourite ‘Travel Triangle’ in the state i.e. Chilika, Gopalpur/Behrampur and Jirang Monastery.
Day 1 – The first layover for me was the Rambha side of Chilika in Ganjam district of Odisha which is a major cultural and economic hub. Just a couple of hours away from Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, Chilika Lake is Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon, spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Odisha. The landscape of Chilika offers the ultimate escape and is a destination where you can discover genuine solitude.
I decided to check-in at the Rambha Panthnivas ( Government owned hotel chain) whose cottage offers the most stunning scenery of the Chilika lake. The price of the cottage is quite reasonable considering its location and the food (especially sea-food) is worth a try too.
Cottage at Panthnivas
Evening brings extravagant views of the lake with migrant birds scattered all along its shoreline and silhouetted figures of fisherman drawing their nets for fresh catch. It indeed is the perfect time to hitch a boat trip to ride into the waters and travel to the Breakfast Island inside the lake. The Breakfast Island is a small monument with just a room surrounded by water and I like to call it as my “Serenity Spot”.
Sunset at Chilika Lake
According to history, the Breakfast Island or ‘Beacon Point’ was built by “Thomas Snodgrass” in 1791 and was used for discreet meetings and as his fishing spot.
No one knows Chilika waters better than locals and I made a new friend in my boatman plus guide Mr. Maheswar Behera. I could see the twinkle in his eyes as he explained to me about life on the island for the communities currently settled there. Chilika Lake is also an archipelago and many people reside on isolated islands. Their only way out of the water in via boats. Chilika community is globally known for being self-reliant. In case, you decide to travel on this itinerary, which you must, you should definitely give Mr. Behera a shoutout and seek his seamless assistance. He can be reached on +919937471522
Boatman and Guide – Mr. Maheswar Behera
Situated only an hour away from Rambha, is the vibrant yet laidback hamlet called ‘Gopalpur’. Once you get rolling to the beach vibes of the place and the delicious road side treats like ‘fried crabs and fishes’ , you’ll never want to leave the city’s ocean view behind.
The ideal thing to do at the beach is unwind and gaze at the horizon. Luckily, the beach has just about the right numbers of tourists which helps you to maintain the distance and enjoy the panoramic view. Also, if you have some beachside cravings, you can further indulge into some freshly made ‘Bhel’ ( puffed rice with onions and spices). My advice to the swimmers and surfers is to take advice from the lifeguards deployed and only then venture out into the sea.
Fisherwoman walking by the beach in the morning
Ganjam’s capital Behrampur ( 30 minutes from Gopalpur) is well known for its ‘Behrampuri Silk ‘ and that was the focus of my travel inland. The Berhampuri silk saree is unique due to its typical Odissi style of weaving and kumbha, particularly phoda, temple type design. The zari work border design is different from others. The weaving technique is said to have originated over 200 years ago. The finely woven sarees were known to be exported to southeast Asian and other countries through the Gopalpur port in the days of yore. The sarees also adorn the deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra at the Jagannath temple in Puri.
I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to visit several artisan’s house and see/learn part of the process of creating a ‘Behrampuri silk saree’ which at the outset I must admit is both strenuous and tedious. Local families have been involved in the making of Behrampuri silk since eons and they pass on the skills to their kids as young as 8 year old. It takes around 15 days for them to create one single saree which is valued at starting from Rs. 15K in the market. If you wish to explore buying authentic ‘Behrampuri Silk sarees’ , you may get in touch with Mr. Bheemraj , President of the Silk Society in Behrampur.
Artisan at work
The final part of my trip was the visit to the peaceful Jirang Monastery also known as the ‘Tibet of Odisha’. Its usual compliment of visitors is an eclectic mix of international visitors and those seeking a chill, calm vibe. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to step inside the temple as it was closed for a week long ‘World Peace’ prayer session where hundreds of devotees participated. Regardless, the chants of the prayers were quite soothing and the beautiful garden opposite the temple provided for a good space to just sit and absorb the positive energy of the place.
The Tibetan refugees who stay at Jiranga or which is also popularly known as Chandragiri call this place as Phuntsokling, which in Tibetan translates to -“Land of Happiness and Plenty”. Accord for the monastery was given by the Dalai Lama in 1998.
Built in the magnificent Atanpuri style of architecture of Nalanda by architects from Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan assisted by local masons. It is 70 feet, five stories high, and is built on 10 acres of land surrounded by lush forests. It features a 23 feet high Buddha statue and a 17 feet Buddha Padmasambhava.
Around 200 monks are resident in the monastery, which is named after Acharya Padmasambhava (who was born in Oddiyana), who is believed to have spread Buddhism to Tibet in the 7th Century. This is a school for Tibetan studies and there are students staying and reading different courses here. The five-storey monastery has a huge meditation shrine hall and other small temples, institute and hostels inside the well spread-out complex. There is an old temple located at left side of main entrance of the temple.
The monks are quite friendly and have a strict routine of waking up at 4am for their prayers and daily chores and devoting most of their time learning Buddhist values. However, its not just all work and prayer for them as they also play football on weekends. The spiked shoes kept outside their rooms gave that away and later my conversation with the caretaker of monastery Khenpo Pema confirmed the same.
The main source of income for the Tibetan community living around the monastery is agriculture and this is ( below pic) how they store their maize.
When to Travel : With the ongoing situation, keep checking for SOP’s laid down by Odisha Tourism – https://odishatourism.gov.in/ . Weather wise, summers and winters are advisable as during monsoon its not safe to venture into water bodies.
Where to Stay – Odisha Tourism has prime properties situated in prime locations and at reasonable prices ( starting from Rs. 3,500 per day) . Log on to – https://www.panthanivas.com/
How to Travel : My advice would be to use your own vehicle but if not, you can hire via OTDC. Log on to https://odishatourism.gov.in/content/tourism/en/plan/food-accommodation/otdc.html
P.S. We can still travel maintaining the ‘social distance’ norms and being cautious and careful