Tourism

Aiming high

Print edition : April 14, 2017

Chilika lake. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

Migratory birds at the Chilika Lake. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

Sudarsan Pattnaik giving the finishing touches to a sand sculpture on the beach in Puri. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

A Dongria woman of the Niyamgiri Hills. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

The mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles on the Rushikulya beach. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

Olive Ridley turtles mating near the Rushikulya coast. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

A waterfall near Chahala inside the Similipal National Park. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

Odisha has started implementing a vibrant tourism policy with the intention of making the State a one-stop destination to experience history, culture and natural beauty. Text

WITH a steady increase in tourist footfall in Odisha over the last decade, the government has started implementing a new policy aimed at making tourism an important part of economic activities, with the focus on development of ecotourism destinations. The idea is to get more and more tourists to mingle with nature.

The government has already begun the process of developing as many as 30 ecotourism destinations under a self-sustaining mode, all situated in various wildlife divisions that come under the Forest and Environment Department. An action plan has been approved by the Eco-Tourism Board.

The ecotourism spots are Mangalajodi and Berhampura in Chilika Wildlife Division; Barakhandia and Dhodrokusum in Hirakud Division; Kumari and Jamuani in Baripada Division; Deras and Godibari in Chandaka Division; Bichitrapur and Rissia in Balasore Division; Bedmul in Mahanadi Division; Tarava and Chhotkei in Satkosia Division; Daringibadi and Belghar in Baliguda Division; Nuanai in Puri Division; Anjar and Kanjipani in Keonjhar Division; Dangmal in Rajnagar Division; Barbara in Khordha Division; Ansupa in Athgarh Division; Mandasaru in Phulbani Division; Ramatirtha and Chahala in Similipal Division; Gudugudia in Karanjia Division; Saluapali and Lasing in Ghumusar North Division; Jacum in Kalahandi South Division; and Bhimdungri in Balangir Division.

The Forest Department has been advised by the Board to create more employment opportunities for local youths through these projects so that they can provide various services to tourists. It has also been decided to keep these spots open throughout the year. The government has advised the department to give these destinations wide publicity through tour operators, tour websites and hoteliers in national and international forums.

In order to make it work, the government has started preparing a master plan for the comprehensive development of these eco-spots. Bookings can be made online through the website www.ecotourodisha.com. This portal has been integrated with a billing and payment gateway, along with an SMS and email information system. Apart from ecotourism, the new tourism policy, formulated in 2016, aims to promote other types of tourism such as beach tourism, heritage tourism, religious tourism, knowledge tourism, medical tourism, travel tourism, caravan tourism, wellness tourism, cruise tourism, sand art tourism and adventure tourism. An outlay of Rs.293 crore has been set aside in the State budget for 2017-18 for the overall development of the tourism sector.

With a view to attracting foreign tourists, the government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Air Asia to launch direct flights between Bhubaneswar and Kuala Lumpur. A policy to promote tour packages to South-East Asia in collaboration with Air Asia will also be prepared.

New initiatives such as the Jagannath trail, coastal treks, coastal cruises, cycle tours, food festivals and weekend getaways are being organised by the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.

Hoping that the new policy will boost Odisha’s tourism sector, the government has started branding Odisha Tourism at strategic places such as airports, metro stations and international convention centres.

In fact, nature tourism destinations in Odisha have been attracting tourists from far-off places for years. The endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles’ annual visit to the State’s coast for mass nesting in January and February every year is one such popular attraction.

Podampeta village, situated 142 kilometres from Bhubaneswar and a part of the Rushikulya rookery in Ganjam district, off National Highway 16, is a particularly popular site. Lakhs of sea turtles come to lay eggs on the beach near the village every year. Hundreds of tourists throng the place to witness thousands of tiny Olive Ridley hatchlings emerging from the sand pits on the beach and crawling into the Bay of Bengal in early April.

Between Bhubaneswar and the Rushikulya rookery is Mangalajodi, a perfect ecotourism destination where birds can be seen throughout the year. The village is located on the northern banks of the Chilika lake, the largest brackish water lake in Asia and the largest wintering ground for migratory birds in India.

In Mangalajodi, the villagers themselves are involved in protecting the birds throughout the year and will take visitors into the wetland by wooden boats for birdwatching.

Many tourists also visit Satapada, located on the south-eastern part of the Chilika lagoon and home to the Irrawaddy dolphins. A visit to Satapada can be clubbed with a sojourn in Puri town, where the Jagannath temple is located, and a trip to the Sun Temple in Konark. Built in the middle of the 13th century, the Sun Temple is also known as the Black Pagoda

The golden triangle

Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark are popularly known as the golden triangle. After a 60-km drive from Bhubaneswar, one reaches the serene beaches of Puri.

Apart from offering prayers at the Jagannath temple, tourists can enjoy a stroll on the tranquil beaches nearby. They can also get to see sand sculptures carved on the beach by many sand artists. Sudarsan Pattnaik, Manas Sahoo, Ranjan Ganguly and Sudam Pradhan are some well-known sand artists. Sometimes students of the sand art institute that Pattnaik runs in the town also create sand sculptures on the beach. Pattnaik has represented Odisha and the country in many sand art championships.

Since sand art at Puri’s beach has started drawing international attention after Pattnaik became famous and was presented the Padma Shri award, the government has decided to establish a sand art museum there as part of the tourism infrastructure.

President Pranab Mukherjee visited the Puri beach a few years ago to see Pattnaik’s sand sculpture. The sand artist plays a key role in the Odisha government’s annual International Sand Art Festival held in Konark.

About 50 sand artists from different parts of the country and abroad attend the sand art festival, which coincides with the Konark Festival, a five-day festival of the classical dances of India, starting December 1 every year. The Konark Festival is held against the backdrop of the Sun Temple.

Sand art’s popularity has also been growing across Odisha in recent years. Subal Maharana and many other sand artists who are not from Puri also create sand sculptures on various occasions, issues, and themes from time to time.

Ideally located

Odisha, dubbed as the soul of “Incredible India” by the Tourism Department, is cradled between the Bay of Bengal and the forested hills of the Eastern Ghats. The State boasts of a 33 per cent forest cover, two national parks, 19 wildlife sanctuaries, three tiger reserves and many spectacular waterfalls, apart from a number of rivers and reservoirs. Hundreds of ancient temples and Buddhist sites add to Odisha’s beauty and tourism potential.

The wide variety of mangroves and the saltwater crocodiles of the Bhitarkanika National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary are popular destinations. The park is also home to the white crocodile, the Indian python, the wild pig, the rhesus monkey, the chital, the cobra, the water monitor lizard and the black ibis, the darter and many migratory birds in winter. Oliver Ridley sea turtles also nest at Gahirmatha in Kedrapara district and other nearby beaches.

The Similipal National Park and Tiger Reserve in north Odisha is yet another hotspot for nature lovers. Known all over the world as a major biosphere reserve, Similipal is located in Mayurbhanj district. It is home to the royal Bengal tiger and the elephant. It has several waterfalls such as Joranda and Barehipani.

Niyamgiri Hills, about 450 km from Bhubaneswar, is another major eco- and ethnic-tourism attraction. Spread across Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, Niyamgiri is home to about 10,000 Dongria Kondh tribal people. They organise the Niyam Raja Festival on the last Sunday of February every year to worship the hill, their source of livelihood. The two-day festival atop the bauxite-rich hills is a fantastic experience.

To promote Odisha as a one-stop destination to experience history, culture, society and natural beauty, the authorities have decided to adopt a strong multi-modal approach and synergise the activities of the different departments and stakeholders. The government is also planning to prepare a water sports policy to give ecotourism a boost.

The government needs to remain committed and people need to be made aware of the State’s tourism potential and the need to welcome guests and treat them well. As road, railway and air connectivity improves, for Odisha tourism, the sky is the limit.

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