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Odisha: Gopalpur by the sea.

Summary: The beauty of this place is thrilling in itself one can fall in love with it instantly. An amalgamation of serene lakes, frolicking rivers and wildlife parks, Odisha is a refreshing family escape from the frenzied city life

Gopalpur by the sea

Tranquil beaches, sand dunes and quiet scenic beauty

What: A seaside town in the Southern Odisha district of Ganjam with beautiful beaches. Why: Because it is a potent combination of languid deserted beaches against a backdrop of sand dunes and coconut groves. It was once a flourishing port town during the British rule and was an important trade link with Burma. The town however languished after Independence but gained back some its importance in the last four decades and has turned into an enviable seaside destination. The long jetty framed by thick growth of cashew trees is a lovely sight, while the lighthouse with stunning views from the top is a favourite with children. The beach is usually deserted, especially during the day and week, and the wet sand is full of scurrying red crabs. It is also common to see the local fishermen bring in their catch in the morning which are loaded into baskets by the women and sold in the local markets. Nearby is also the Dabaleshwar beach and temple, which is equally scenic. How: Best time to visit is from November to March but time your visit for December when the colourful Gopalpur Beach Festival is held. The nearest airport is at Bhubaneswar (180 km/4 hours) while the Berhampur (15 km/30 mins) is the nearest railhead. It has some upmarket resorts such as Mayfair Palm Beach Resort www.mayfairhotels.com/mayfair-gopalpur; (0680) 6660101 and mid level ones such as Swosti Palm Resort www.swosti.com Bhitarkanika National Park A birdwatcher's paradise as it is home to eight varieties of kingfishers What: This national park in the Kendrapara district, is among the few parks which is home to virgin mangroves. Why: Because of the unique topography which are crucial for ecological management but also because it is home to some of most distinctive animal species. Irrigated by a number of rivers such as Brahmani, Dhamara, Pathsala and Baitarni the park is home to such endangered species as the saltwater crocodiles, Indian pythons, white crocodiles, king cobras, water monitor lizards, and others. It is also a birdwatchers' paradise, home to a stunning eight varieties of kingfishers. Safaris or sightseeing in the park is done by boats licensed by the forest department. Watch for giant saltwater crocodiles some of which are known to grow beyond an astounding 20 feet. How: Best time to visit is between October and March; though the monsoons are spectacular it could get tough to spot wildlife during heavy rains. Nearest airport is Bhubaneswar (150 km/3 hours) while Cuttack is 120 km away. Boats for sightseeing can be hired from the main entrance called Khola Gate. Estuarine Village Resort (www.villageresort.in; (0)77499 60882 is an ideal place to stay. Hot springs Take a dip in the sulphur springs or long walks at Taptapani What: A picturesque village which boasts of hot springs with curative properties. Why: For the fascination of observing something so spectacular. Amidst the lush green forests and greenery near Berhampur, are located the hot sulphur springs of Taptapani (literally, hot water). The bubbling natural springs are believed to originate in the forests nearby and are piped into a pond where visitors can bathe. It is believed that the hot water from the natural spring are laden with medicinal properties and the devout even revere it for this reason. The springs overlook the forested slopes of the Eastern ghats are also conducive for long nature walks and treks. A deer park maintained by the forest department is a hit with children. How: Nearest airport is Bhubaneswar while the nearest railhead is Berhampur (55 km/1.5 hours). The only accommodation at Taptapni is the Panthanivas resort run by Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (www.otdc.in) with clean cottages, decent food and spectacular views of the forested peaks around.

Beach bonding Visit Gahirmatha, which is India's home to the Olive Ridley turtles What: A scenic beach and the only place in India where Olive Ridley turtles come to lay eggs and hatch.Why: Not just for the sheer novelty and uniqueness but also because it is such a fascinating quirk of nature. Gahirmatha occupies a vantage position between the sea and the Bhitarkanika mangroves, making it ecologically crucial enough for the entire area, of more than 1,400 sq km to be declared a marine sanctuary. Thousands of turtles arrive with unerring accuracy from distant shores to mate, lay eggs and disappear. Nearly two months later, the eggs hatch and the hatchlings scamper to the sea under a moonless night, find a current and begin their lives only to repeat the cycle every year. Apart from this, the beach and the marine sanctuary itself are also interesting places to visit. How: Best time is between November and March. The nearest airport is at Bhubaneswar (150 km/3 hours). There are very basic, dorm style forest rest houses at Ekakula, Habalikhati and Gupti. The Orissa Forest Department (www.odishafdc.com) is a good resource for visit and stay options. Spot the tusker Rare sights and breathtaking views at Chandaka Elephant Sanctuary What: A sanctuary dedicated to elephants with scenic stretches and panoramic views. Why: Because it is fascinating to see pachyderms at close quarters. Relatively small at just over 175 sqkm, it spreads over the Khurdha uplands in the Eastern Ghats. The forests exhibit at least six types and the vegetation includes bamboo, teak, sal, medicinal plants, ground orchids and mosses. Even though elephants are the main stay of the sanctuary, you will also find chital, leopards, barking deer and rock pythons. Apart from jeep safaris, stop at one of the many watch towers to observe wildlife. The ones at Kochilaberana, Pitagadia and Charichhak are ideal to spot birds and animals. How: Best time to visit is between October and May. The sanctuary is 25 km from Bhubaneswar, where the nearest airport, railhead are located. You can also contact the Odisha government forest department (www.odishafdc.com) for safaris and stay. Quiet days Dig into fresh seafood and see awe-inspiring sunsets at Chandipur What: A small seaside resort town in Baleshwar district on the Bay of Bengal coast that is mostly off the tourist map. Why: Because not only is it beautiful but hardly has any tourists, especially during the week, and hence makes for an ideal relaxed family holiday destination. Also called Chandipur-on-sea, the beach is unique owing to a strange phenomenon: the water recedes anywhere from one to four kms during low tide. As a result the beach supports a wide biodiversity such as horseshoe crab. It also supports a fisherfolk community and watching them haul in their catch at daybreak and dusk is an intriguing experience. Interestingly, this is also an important location in terms of the country's defence--the Integrated Test Range from where nuclear-capable missiles such as Akash, Agni, Prithvi and Shaurya have been tested. Don't miss feasting on fresh prawns, crabs and a variety of fish cooked in local style. How: Nearest airport is at Bhubaneswar (210 km/4 hours), the nearest railhead is at Balasore (18 km/30 mins). There are only basic but clean hotels at Chandipur such as Panthanivas. www.panthanivas.com/chandipur; (06782) 270 051/ Odisha's Kashmir Coffee plantations, waterfalls at Daringbadi What: A languorous and pretty hill station full of waterfalls, coffee plantations, rivers and a wildlife sanctuary, for a relaxed or activity-filled holiday. Why: Located at an altitude of almost 3,500 feet above the sea level, Daringbadi is surrounded by rainforests, pine jungles, sweeping valleys, slopes carpeted by coffee plantations interspersed with black pepper and turmeric gardens. It gained its epithet due to the fact that it is the only place in Odisha where the dew which settles on the grass overnight encounters freezing temperature at dawn and turns the ground into a sheet of ice making it surreal and captivating. The two coffee plantations are lovely places for long walks and are also a birdwatcher's paradise. The Hill View Point offers breathtaking panoramic views of the valley. Doluri river and Putudi waterfalls are scenic and ideal places for a relaxed picnic or short treks. How: The best time is to go is during winter. The nearest airport is at Bhubaneswar (250 km/hours) and railhead is at Berhampur (120 km/3 hours). Stay at Utopia Hotel www.hotelutopia.in; (06849) 245 385 or the DEERS resort www.ecotourism.org.in; (0) 94384 22452.

Art village at Raghurajpur Discover the heritage artforms amidst lush coconut groves

What: A heritage village near the temple town of Puri that is known for its textiles and tradition of crafts, especially for the famous patachitra or watercolour paintings. Why: Because it is among the handful of towns in the country that are defined by the rich tradition of artistry handed down through generations. Not just the handicrafts but the village itself is such a charming and utterly fascinating place. Located amidst lush groves of coconut, palm, mango and jackfruit, the village has two streets with over 120 houses, most of which are decorated with colourful murals in which reside painters who practice pattachitra. Walking around, visitors can also find other crafts such as traditional masks, stone idols, papier mache, sculptures, wooden toys and applique work items. There are trained villagers who conduct heritage walks and explain the history and tradition of the village so it is a good idea to undertake it and shop for unique items. For a change of scene, head to Puri to see not just the temple but also to lounge by the beautiful beach. How: The nearest airport is at Bhubaneswar (50 km/1 hour) and the nearest railhead is at Puri (10 km/20 mins). Puri has plenty of accommodation options such as Toshali Sands Resort www.toshalisands.com; (0) 99370 03223 or a hotel run by Odisha tourism. Secret Chilika lake

Chilika Lake, Asia's largest brackish water lake, is probably the most visited in Odisha after Puri and Konark, and is known for the Irrawady dolphins that are seen here. However, the lake has many islands which go unnoticed. Among them is Birds' Island, a haven for all kinds of birds, almost at the Southern end. The striking feature here are the massive hanging rocks, made more dramatic as they seem to be painted white but are actually due to the folic acid from bird droppings.

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Publication:India Today Travel Plus
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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