With foam flecked waves of the Bay of Bengal breaking on its sandy shores, Odisha on the eastern coast of India, is home to some of the best beaches in the country. Except for a few places, where they lie at the edge of touristy towns, the beaches are mostly unspoilt and uncrowded. When you visit the state for the 2018 Men's Hockey World Cup in November, extend your trip to enjoy the beauty of these gorgeous beaches. After all, the best time to visit these beaches are in the winter months.
Home to Odisha’s guardian deity Jagannath, Puri is not only visited by hundreds of pilgrims round the year but also a much favoured holiday spot for travellers from neighbouring West Bengal. Therefore in season and out of it, the beach at Puri is the most vibrant place along the state’s 485km-long shore. Watching the sun rise, bathing in the waves, boat rides in the sea are some of the popular activities. Go shopping for locally made handicrafts or the unique textiles of Odisha among the kiosks or shops that line the beach. When in Puri, do not miss tasting the local fish and seafood, cooked in typical Odisha style. Part of the famous Golden Triangle circuit (the other two places being Bhubaneswar and Konark), Puri usually holds an annual beach festival in November.
Off the Marine Drive that connects Puri with Konark, the latter famous for its Sun Temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), are some of the lesser known beaches of the state like Balighai, Ramachandi and Chandrabhaga. You may stay at any of the resorts on the Marine Drive and explore these near-solitary beaches. Among them, Ramachandi Beach sees some crowd during winter tourist season, mostly over the weekends, as it offers boating and water-sports activities.
About 15km from Brahmapur (formerly Berhampore) town is Gopalpur on Sea. An ancient sea port, its tranquil, laid-back atmosphere attracted Anglo-Indian employees of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway (BNR, now South Eastern Railway), who built their retirement homes here. In the 1950s and 60s, many of them opened their homes and kitchen to visitors. But all that is history. Today, Gopalpur on Sea is a popular seaside retreat but relatively less crowded than Puri. Most visitors gather at the beach at the crack of dawn to watch the sun rise. Fishermen set off in their boats to catch fish. You may find them back in the later afternoon to auction off the day’s catch on the beach before returning home.
Chandipur on Sea is about 12km from Baleswar (Balasore) town and is a popular weekend getaway, especially during winter. The sea recedes during low tide exposing an almost five km long shallow water beach. The more energetic visitors walk a long distance to reach the water’s edge. But when the tide comes in, the sea rushes back. Chasing the red crabs on the beach can be fun. If you are the artistic kind, you may scout for driftwoods.
Not far from Odisha’s border with West Bengal is Talsari beach. Visitors to Digha, a popular beach in West Bengal, often make an excursion trip across the border to visit the Chandaneswar Shiva Temple and the beach further down. Hemmed by casuarina trees, Talsari is generally uncrowded except during winter holiday season when people flock here for a dip in the sea and to picnic. Here too the flow of the waves is influenced by the tides.
Getting there: Bhubaneswar, the state capital, is connected to the rest of the country by air, road and rail. Air Asia operates direct flights between Biju Patnaik International Airport and Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport. There is a Rajdhani train connecting New Delhi and Bhubaneswar. Dhauli Express and Shatabdi between Howrah and Bhubaneswar are two of the most convenient trains. Bhubaneswar is well connected with Puri (50km) and Konark (55km) by road. Gopalpur on Sea is 165km by road from Bhubaneswar.
The Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC; panthanivas.com/) runs tourist lodges in Bhubaneswar, Puri, Gopalpur, and Chandipur. Privately run high end hotels and resorts are available in and around Puri and Gopalpur.
A word of caution: Although Odisha’s beaches fall among some of the best in the country, the combination of underwater current and the slope of the land may prove treacherous for the unwary swimmers and bathers. Do not drink and get into the water. Do not venture far into the sea even if you are strong swimmer. Follow the instructions of the life guard. Try to be in the area where most people are.