When you think of exotic holidays in India, it is possible that Orissa may not figure on your hit list. This state sandwiched between West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh hasn't been much of a draw with tourists who would rather go to Goa for its beaches or Kerala for its backwaters. But the fact that Orissa isn't uppermost in tourists' minds works in its favour, really. Its beaches and lakes are not as crowded and polluted as other tourist spots elsewhere in the country.
If you want an off-beat holiday, this once, go to Orissa. There too, instead of pitching tent in the state capital of Bhubaneshwar, which would be oh so obvious and boring, we suggest that you go to Gopalpur-on-sea. The name is unusual, so is the place. This quaint and quiet seaside town, 180 km from Bhubaneshwar, is bereft of day-trippers and holiday-revellers. The allure of this place is also heightened by the fact that Gopalpur-on-sea resonates with a rich maritime history.
Rich maritime history
Even prior to the British era, Gopalpur was a maritime hub under the Kalingas, only then it was known by another name, Mansurkota. The British renamed it Gopalpur after an 18th century temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. During the British Raj too, Gopalpur-on-sea was a vibrant sea port from where trade activities were carried out. Rice, silk and pearls found their way to and fro Burma, Sumatra and Bali. As a result of these activities, Gopalpur became quite a happening place and enjoyed a reputation of being a pleasure resort where dance and parties was a regular feature. This was patronized by the British and the wealthy Bengalis. The ruins of a jetty still invoke nostalgia of an era gone by.
Sleepy fishing hamlet
But with the departure of the British, this place fell back into a lull and lapsed into being a sleepy fishing village once again, so much the better for the modern tourist. If the beach at Puri is for the masses, Gopalpur is definitely for the classes. The azure waters, golden sands and casuarina-lined sea front make it a haven for those who seek to soak in the sun and meditate. The sea stretch of Bay of Bengal that presents itself here is great for surfing and sailing. An ancient lighthouse adds to the old-world charm and provides a watchtower view of the bay that is simply breathtaking.
Accommodation for all pockets
Fortunately, there is no dearth of good places to stay in Gopalpur; in fact accommodation is available to suit all budgets, from the exclusive star-class hotels and resorts to beach shacks. Colonial structures and bungalows that are converted into guest houses, serve well, too. For super duper luxury stay, there is the Oberoi Palm Beach, which incidentally happens to be the first hotel that Mr. Oberoi of the famous Oberoi hotel groups acquired.
Sea food is another great attraction out here. Fresh fish is caught and cooked for the tourists, the only catch being that the wait really whets your appetite. And why not, languorous pace is the hallmark of this beach town!
Asia's largest brackish lake
While Gopalpur can be a holiday in itself, you may want to course your way along the east coast upwards to Puri and Konarak. But before you do a trip to the largest brackish water lake in Asia, the Chilka Lake is a must. Chilka is a famous wetland and wildlife sanctuary with amazing variety of resident and migratory birds. Here canoeing, kayaking and boating facilities are available for touring the islets. As you glide through the waters uou can witness the dolphins putting up a spectacular display for your benefit. Around Chilka there are lakeside resorts and hotels to camp in, but in the tradition of that place they are truly laid-back.
Needless to say, the Jagannath temple of Puri, which is one of the char dhams
or prime pilgrimage centre for Hindus, and the Sun temple of Konarak are a must-see. The Sun temple, built in the 13th century, is an architectural marvel and is famous for its exquisite stone sculptures and carvings.
Olive Ridley turtle
The Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary may not exactly be in the line of your holiday itinerary, but it is worth stretching time and distance to accommodate it. These shores are home to the giant and much-endangered Olive Ridley marine turtles. The turtles come in droves (in millions) to nest and roost at the Gahirmatha beach. This place is also rich in its mangroves diversity.
Of course, there is lot more to see in Orissa, even in and around Gopalpur, such as Bhubaneshwar and Nandankanan, famous for its white tigers. Also, when in Orissa, it is absolutely imperative to keep time for shopping for Orissa has some great handicrafts. Some of the things you must buy are applique work canopies, awnings or beach umbrellas, pattachitra
paintings and colourful ikat fabrics.