A Destination Like No Other
Rich culture, glorious history, virgin beaches, bounty of nature and wildlife abundance of spirituality and a hint of royalty. When in Odisha, there is no dearth of options to explore. Set on the eastern coast of India with the waters of the Bay of Bengal swirling along its boundaries and wedged between the states of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, the coastal state of Odisha is the one-stop destination for all kinds of travellers. With a footfall of nearly a million tourists every year, it is called the ‘Soul of India’. In its long-spanning history, Odisha has been known by several names including Kalinga and Utkala and ultimately rose to become the cultural trove of the country, as we know it today. As you delve deeper into the rich history, you can find several museums across the state that stand testament to its glorious past. Be it the lush green and hilly terrain or its coastal plains, its rich cultural festivals or the Buddhist legacy, its palm- fringed silver beaches or the numerous rivers, there’s an elusive Odisha waiting to be explored.
In anticipation of resumption of post-monsoon tourist activity, the Department of Tourism, Government of Odisha, has been working with the state’s tourism and hospitality sector through advocacy groups such as the Hotels & Restaurants Association of Odisha (HRAO) to ensure high standards of hygiene and tourist safety. District-level teams plan to familiarise management and employees of tourist destinations and service providers across the spectrum, based on the COVID-19 Preparedness Protocols for Tourist Destinations issued by the Department of Tourism.
In organising the Jagannath Rath Yatra 2020, the Government of Odisha undertook comprehensive preventive measures, including screening of over 2,000 servitors and about 30 police platoons for COVID-19 prior to deployment, besides imposing a curfew across Puri to prevent crowding. Prime hotels and resorts in the state have brought in technology-leveraged sanitisation mechanisms to implement safety & hygiene protocols and operational recommendations for tourism service providers issued in May 2020 by the Ministry of Tourism.
Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) was among the early adapters to these protocols. These practices that were put in place while servicing the lodging, boarding and transport requirements of healthcare service providers and tourists have been maintained diligently.
Ecotour Odisha, renowned for its game-changing model of community-managed ecotourism camps across the state’s protected areas, has instituted specialised training for its staff, in collaboration with reputed institutions such as Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology & Applied Nutrition (IHM) and Indian Institute of Tourism & Travel Management (IITTM) Bhubaneswar. The ecotourism workforce has been uncompromising in its commitment to responsible tourism, and has helped preserve visitors’ confidence in quality.
The Department of Tourism has also engaged with all the stakeholders and has provided training on COVID-19 protocols. Consistent with Odisha’s stellar management of the pandemic, the Eco Retreats will be implemented in complete compliance with guidelines and SOPs prescribed by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. Even at the highly anticipated Eco Retreat Odisha the SOPs will be implemented including contactless check-in and check-out, PPE kits for staff, safe procurement of consumables, regular disinfection of all rooms, thermal screening, provision of a comprehensive sanitation package for each checked-in guest, luggage sanitisation, social distancing norms, etc.
Odisha by Road
Odisha has hitherto been known primarily for its beautiful Golden Triangle of Bhubaneswar– Puri–Konark, pivoted on Lord Jagannath’s seat.Several other treasures nestled in the state’s hinterland are waiting to be explored. The state boasts of an excellent road network that is not being sufficiently utilised. The scenic roads of Odisha can put many states on the eastern coast to shame. Largely unexplored, these routes have secrets hidden in every corner. In order to boost tourism, the Odisha Tourism Board recently announced the launch of the ‘Odisha By Road’ campaign. The tourism board has mapped all the important destinations which can be explored by road and has curated driving itineraries for inter- state and intra-state tourists.
The Cascade Trail from Ranchi to Keonjhar not only takes you on a journey across a picturesque route, where you get to see miles and miles of nature on both sides of the road, but also offers a glimpse into the rich heritage and culture of the region. Make a pit-stop at Ghatagaon to pick up a few terracotta handicrafts. The Tiger Trail beginning from Jamshedpur and Ranchi to Similipal Tiger Reserve is a delight for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
Replete with with cascading waterfalls like Sitakund, Joranda, Devkunda, and Dudma, the drive promises to be relaxing and enriching. Reaching for the Hills, an itinerary modelled by the tourism board starts from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and ends at Daringbadi. Set at an altitude of 3,000ft, it is the only destination in Odisha that witnesses snowfall during the winters. Dotted with pine trees, waterfalls, coffee and pepper gardens, it is the home of one of the most ancient tribes of India called ‘Kuthia Kondas’. Often known as the ‘Kashmir of Odisha’, Daringbadi offers an eclectic mix of cultural, tribal and nature tourism. One can also head to Mandasaru from here. Often called the ‘Silent Valley of Odisha’ due to its frequent weather changes, mesmerising beauty and rich biodiversity, it’s a trekker’s paradise. The Mandasaru Gorge ecosystem is located in the eastern part of Kandhamal district of Odisha and is surrounded by dense tropical moist deciduous forest on all sides.
One could also drive up to the Hirakud Reservoir from Raipur or Bilaspur, as part of the ‘Quest for Odisha’s Wild West’ trail. Hirakud is the world’s longest earthen dam and stands across the Mahanadi River. One can make one’s way to the several minarets nearby. The Gandhi Minar, a watchtower located on top of a hill, offers a bird’s-eye view of the Hirakud Dam. The beauty of the Hirakud Dam is best experienced through a stunning 21-kilometre drive across the dyke.
Hit NH-26 from Visakhapatnam to head to Koraput via the Deomali Hills. This monsoon escape itinerary allows you to make a pit stop at Mangalajodi and enjoy the scenic beauty of the Araku Valley. Dotted with forests, waterfalls, terraced valleys and darting springs, Koraput is a treasure trove of nature, tribal life and history. Nestled between the Eastern Ghats and some breathtaking scenery, Koraput has some of the major rivers of Odisha passing through it, namely Machhakunda, Vamsadhara and Kolab. The district is primarily dominated by the indigenous or tribal communities.
The Puri-Konark Marine Drive is among the most popular long-drive routes in the state. While one side of the road is covered in a lush green canopy, the other side witnesses the crashing waves of the sea. The ‘Deep into the Mangroves’ route from Kolkata to Bhitarkanika National Park and the ‘Cruising along the Circars’ from Visakhapatnam to Chilika Lake are also an integral part of the ‘Odisha By Road’ campaign.
The Silent Changemakers Community-Managed Ecotourism in Odisha
“Minds are powerful and inevitable, if tuned appropriately”—this is the transformational success story that the Forest Department of Odisha has set forth before the world. Of the total population of Odisha, around 83 per cent live in rural areas and their role in preserving and conserving the natural resources of the state is vital. Realising their role in forest and wildlife conservation, during the year 2016, the Forest and Environment Department launched an innovative scheme called ‘Community Managed Nature Tourism’ for providing alternative livelihood to the forest- dependent communities. The new scheme has proven to be beneficial for the rural economy of the state. More than 600 locals in different regions of Odisha are employed in 42 ecotourism nature camps and a majority of them are women. This has been an alternative income for them, as earlier they used to rely on forest produce for their survival by poaching, smuggling, fishing, collecting honey, mahua, firewood, etc.
The local folks have raised the revenue of state ecotourism from 47 lakhs during 2015-16 to 6.85 crores during 2019-20. More than 46,000 visitors from different parts of the world have visited the nature camps during 2019-20. Even during the difficult times of COVID-19, they have displayed an enterprising spirit by performing all their duties and following all the guidelines as issued by the government for the pandemic.
It is praiseworthy that Odisha is the only state to have adopted the innovative model of community-based ecotourism, where 80 per cent of the share of revenue goes back to the community. Nature tourism has not only reduced the pressure on forest resources but is also an important tool for converting every tourist into a guardian of nature. It has combined experiences from the wild with responsible travel and sustainability and has increased awareness among tourists about the conservation efforts.
For bookings visit ecotourodisha.com
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