If you enjoy visiting places that still feel raw and untouched, and where tourists are rare; yet also developed enough that you can easily get there, and enjoy clean toilets, comfortable beds and Wifi, move Orissa—now known as Odisha—up your travel list.
Kirit and I travel here to investigate paika akhada, one of India’s lesser-known martial art forms. I am eager to find out why, in comparison to gatka, kalarippayattu, silambam and thang-ta, Orissa’s martial art seems to be very much on the decline. (For more on my book project, From Kerala to Shaolin, please see here.)
In between our martial arts interviews and exhibitions, Orissa leaves the wanderlusty travellers in us absolutely smitten. Bhubaneshwar, where we begin our journey, is known as the Temple City of India. I am not really one for marvelling at temple architecture, but the stone and wood work is so intricate and unique—unlike all the hundred others I’ve seen in India—it takes my breath away. Moreover, when strolling around Bhubaneshwar’s old city, where the old and new are so seamlessly integrated, one can easily forget what age we’re in. It is one of these “living” old cities.
Other major Oriya attractions—which we didn’t have time for—include Puri, a seaside town which is an important Hindu pilgrimage centre, the Sun Temple at Konark, with its erotic sculptures, and the many forest reserves, including those with some of the best tiger populations around.
You should go before the international airport in Bhubaneshwar, the capital, is complete, because then, as we all know, the floodgates will open. As it stands now, it’s still very easy to get there via Bombay, Calcutta or Delhi. More info below.
For now, I will just leave you with one of the highlights of my trip so far: Chandipur Beach. I love beaches, and have been lucky to spend time on many across the entire world. Chandipur is, in a way, the most special. This is because of its unique topography. The sea bed’s incline is so gentle that the sea recedes up to five kilometres during low tide. Locals call it the vanishing sea.
At high tide, you can see the whites of oh-so-gentle waves forming from five kilometres out and slowly rolling in. At low tide, the topography creates a gigantic low-water expanse for one to explore and play in. You can let your three-year old kids run wild without ever worrying about them drowning.
Click to enlarge any image:
High tide. The whites of the waves form from far, far away, and slowly making their way to the shore
Now the tide is going out. Notice how far away the waves break
Fisherman about two hundred metres from shore. The people in the background are about a kilometre out
About three hundred metres from shore
About four hundred metres from shore
About a kilometre from shore. The never-ending walk towards the sea
About two kilometres from shore. Everybody appears to be walking on water
About two kilometres from shore
Kirit and I had only a day here, it being a (very convenient) stopover from Bhubaneshwar to Calcutta. I could have easily spent a week because unlike so many other beaches, not only do you want to lie down, you also want to walk and walk and walk. Because the water level keeps visibly moving, every beautiful scene you walk into, you immediately ask yourself, “I wonder how this place would look at 9am/3pm/9pm.” In one afternoon and evening I covered some eight kilometres. As you can tell, it often feels like you are standing in a giant mirror, with everything as far as the eye can see reflected below you.
Sun setting behind the shore, about a kilometre away, i.e. I’m standing about a kilometre into the ocean bed, and photographing the shore
Sun setting behind the shore, about two kilometres away
Sun setting. Photo taken from shore
About a kilometre from shore. People slowly walking back from the ocean’s edge
About a kilometre from shore
Morning after. See if you can spot the two people walking out
Two people still walking; the ocean in the distance
Hermit crabs the size of kids’ sneakers
Crow surrounded by hermits
For those who prefer video,
High tide, standing on shore
Low tide, standing a kilometre from shore
How to get there:
Chandipur beach (B) is midway between Bhubaneshwar (A) and Calcutta (Kolkata). If all you want to do is see the beach, I suggest flying to Calcutta then driving south or taking a train to Balasore, the closest town, and the site of many Indian army missile tests. If you have more time, I’d recommend taking a domestic connection to Bhubaneshwar, seeing the city for a few days, and then driving north.
When to go:
I believe the vanishing sea is a year-round natural phenomenon. If you are like me, and prefer low season to too many people, I’d suggest going in monsoon season, like we did, i.e June – August. It may rain a bit more, but so what?
Where to stay:
We stayed at the government-owned Panthanivas Chandipur. It was clean, simple, served good food—including crab masala—and provided direct beach access, i.e. perfect for our needs. There are several small privately run hotels and guesthouses. Many seem decent.