Despite being one of India’s poorest states, Odisha – formerly known as Orissa (many road signs and web addresses still carry the old name), boasts a rich and distinctive cultural heritage. The state’s coastal plains have the highest concentration of historical and religious monuments – Odisha’s principal tourist attractions. Puri, site of the famous Jagannath temple and one of the world’s most spectacular devotional processions, the Rath Yatra, combines the heady intensity of a Hindu pilgrimage centre with the hedonistic pleasures of the beach. Just a short hop off the main Kolkata–Chennai road and railway, the town is a popular destination for backpackers. Konark, a short way up the coast, has the ruins of Odisha’s most ambitious medieval temple, whose surfaces writhe with exquisitely preserved sculpture, including some eyebrow-raising erotica. The ancient rock-cut caves and ornate temples of Bhubaneswar, the state capital, hark back to an era when it ruled a kingdom stretching from the Ganges delta to the mouth of the River Godavari.

Away from the central “golden triangle” of sights, foreign travellers are few and far between, though you’ll see plenty of Bengali tourists travelling throughout coastal Odisha. In the winter, the small islands dotted around Chilika Lake, a huge saltwater lagoon south of Bhubaneswar, is good for birdwatchers. Further north, in the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary, a remote stretch of beach is the nesting site for rare Olive Ridley turtles.

From the number of temples in Odisha, you’d be forgiven for thinking Brahmanical Hinduism was its sole religion. In fact, almost a quarter of the population are adivasi, or “tribal” (literally “first”) people, thought to have descended from the area’s pre-Aryan aboriginal inhabitants. In the more inaccessible corners of the state many of these groups have retained unique cultural traditions and languages, though dam builders, missionaries, “advancement programmes” initiated by the state government, and the activities of Maoist rebels continue to threaten their way of life.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

India features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A first-timer's guide to India's Golden Triangle

A first-timer's guide to India's Golden Triangle

From busy bazaars and hurtling tuk-tuks to tranquil temples and majestic mosques, the Golden Triangle is a fantastically varied introduction to the sights and s…

02 Jan 2017 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding ways to explore the world. Whether you'd rather spend it on a desert island or in a frenetic new city, here are th…

21 Dec 2016 • Rachel Mills camera_alt Gallery
The most beautiful places in India

The most beautiful places in India

We asked the Rough Guides team in Delhi to vote for the most beautiful places in India. After much deliberation, here are the results... 10. Chilika Lake, …

16 Dec 2016 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month