Not many visitors to Odisha take the leap of faith that is required to bridge the gap between Puri and Sambalpur. It’s not just the 400 km across bumpy roads that keep a certain type of traveller away from this part of western Odisha. There aren’t any fancy hotels; there isn’t much by way of local cuisine on display; it doesn’t quite have a rustic charm but big city comforts are absent as well. There is a half-hearted attempt to market ‘tribal tourism’ but the city is too far from the real heart of tribal Odisha and urban enough to give any real sense of indigenous lifestyles. 

But here is what Sambalpur has to offer those who have patience and a good local driver. Lots of quaint little temples, dusty villages where you may stumble upon a weaver creating that perfect Sambalpuri sari, local village haats, the Hirakud Dam, and even a wildlife sanctuary.

Tribhuvan Tiwari
A weaver at work, Sambalpur
A weaver at work, Sambalpur

THING TO SEE AND DO

One way to get to the heart of Sambalpur is to just follow the Mahanadi. Everything important and exciting in these parts is in some way connected to the river.

Temples

The river will first take you to Samalai Gudi, a temple dedicated to Samaleswari, the presiding deity in these parts on the banks of the river. The other temple within the city is the Budharaja Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and perched atop the Budharaja hill. Then follow the river to Huma, where lies one of the most important of the many temples here. An uneventful 30-km drive will take you there. A few complicated twists and turns close to the destination and you see the main gate of the leaning Bimbaleswar Mahadeo temple. Take a little walk around the temple and you’ll spot the lovely shimmering waters of the river studded with rocky islands, both big and small. Observe that the temple leans at a precarious 80 degrees. The cheerful priest here will be more than happy to walk you around the temple and tell you the story of the sacred fish.

Samalai Gudi, a temple by the Mahanadi
Samalai Gudi, a temple by the Mahanadi

Legend has it that one particular species of fish called kudos must not be caught in the vicinity of the temple. These fish belong to Lord Mahadeo and catching them brings grave peril.

Bucolic Pleasures

Taking a boat ride, skipping stones across the water and just sitting on the ghats and staring into space are the most relaxing ways to spend your time here. This is also a good place to start the search for that Sambalpuri sari. There are several little settlements in Huma where you’ll find weavers. But a good local driver will be able to take you to other villages where the entire village is involved in the craft.

The Sambalpuri weave is a type of ikkat – handloom where the yarn is tie-dyed before the weaver begins work. Like most other ikkat fabrics the Sambalpuri fabric is also woven on a pit loom. There are many motifs that are typically associated with Sambalpuri weaves but the most common is the Passapali, a chess-board like pattern. Local shops and wholesalers supply the weavers with the threads, the dyes and the patterns. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to walk through such villages as you explore more of the area and the best places to buy are the local haats.

Hirakud Dam
Hirakud Dam

Hirakud Dam

This is the most popular tourist destination in the area. Hirakud Dam is also the longest dam in the world, and forms the largest artificial lake in Asia. Be prepared for many U-turns and sudden left and right turns, because apparently it is quite easy to get lost on the way to Hirakud. Once you’re there, however, it’s a rather serene drive over the 21-km-long dyke. There are two towers on either end of the dam, Gandhi Minar to the north and Nehru Minar on the south, from where you can see the length of the dam.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Sheela Towers (Tel: 0663-2403111; Tariff: ₹1,995-4,695) on VSS Marg has AC rooms. Hotel Uphar Palace (Tel: 2400519; Tariff: ₹995-2,995), also on VSS Marg, has double rooms. For budget travellers there is the Panthanivas (Tel: 2411282; Tariff: ₹700-1,400), a stategovernment run guesthouse. All have restaurants.

WHERE TO EAT

The options to sample local cuisine are limited to luridly coloured mithais and some varieties of chaat. Do try the dishes on offer at the New Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant on VSS Marg. For dessert there is a Vadilal’s right next to Hotel Sheela Towers.

When to go October-March is the most pleasant Location On the banks of River Mahanadi in western Odisha Air Nearest airport: Raipur (Chhattisgarh) and Bhubaneswar Rail Nearest rail: Sambalpur

THE INFORMATION

Tourist/ Wildlife Offices

Department of Tourism

Govt of Odisha, Paryatan Bhawan

Lewis Road, Bhubaneswar

Tel: 0674-2432177

W orissatourism.gov.in

Tourist Office

2nd Floor, Paryatan Bhawan

Lewis Road, Bhubaneswar

Tel: 2431299

OTDC

Central Reservation Counter

Pathanivas (Old Block)

Lewis Road, Bhubaneswar

Tel: 0674-2430764

W pathanivas.com

Odisha Tourism

Utkalika

B/4, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, New Delhi

Tel: 011-23364580

Tourist Office

Govt of Odisha

Adjacent to Pathanivas

Buxi Bazaar, Cuttack

Tel: 0671-2305225

Odisha Tourism

At & PO Hill Patna Post Office

Opp NCC Office

Berhampur

Tel: 0680-2222980

Odisha Tourism

Pathanivas Building

Police Line

Balasore

Tel: 06782-262048

 

THE INFORMATION

Sambalpur

Tourist Office

Govt of Odisha, Pathanivas Complex

Brook Hills, Sambalpur

Tel: 0663-2411118

STD code 0663

Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary

Eco-tourism Cell

Satkosia Wildlife Division

Near Circuit House, Angul

Tel: 06764-236218, Cell: 08763102681

W satkosia.org

Regional Chief Conservator of Forest

AT & PO, Hakimpada

Telefax: 230941, 230304

Office of the Divisional Forest

Mahanadi Wildlife, Nayagarh

Telefax: 06753-253971

STD code 06764

Chilika Bird Sanctuary

Chief Wildlife Warden

Prakruti Bhawan, BDA Apartment

5th Floor, Nilakantha Nagar

Nayapally, Bhubaneswar

Tel: 0674-2564587, 2565019

DFO, Chilika Wildlife Division

Balugaon PO, Khurda District

Tel: 06756-251125

Cell: 09437133489

Tourist Office

Govt of Odisha

Baghra Road

Near Pvt Bus Stand, Baripada

Tel: 06792-252710

STD code 0674