Caressed by the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, Odisha’s 480 km coastline is endowed with some spectacular beaches. Except for the popular ones such as Puri, Gopalpur and Chandipur, many of them still remain as hidden gems of nature, waiting to be explored and developed. No two beaches are the same – at some places, the waves gently lap the shore, while at others, the mighty breakers crash onto the sandy dunes, and at some places the sea recedes far into the horizon. Similarly, while some beaches are fringed with casurina groves others are vast stretches of open sandy bed. One universal factor however is that almost all of them are unpolluted, quiet and serene.
In Odisha, if you ask anyone to name a beach, invariably the first name that will be uttered is Puri. There are many reasons for this distinction. This beach, generally revered as Mahodadhi by the devout, is an integral part of the temple city and the Jagannath culture. Since Puri happens to be a centre for pilgrimage, the town and beach record the highest number of visitors. Its close proximity to the state capital and other conveniences makes it the most favoured beach destination in the state.
The beach has its many moods – early mornings are calm, and as the day progresses, the activities increase and evenings are the noisiest when the beach assumes the ambience of a mela ground. Children enjoying horse/ camel rides, shrill call of vendors, pavement shops, all join the cacophony of crashing breakers. Day time is ideal for bathing, but Puri beach is not recommended for swimming. One can take the assistance of nolias (fishermen doubling as life guards) while bathing. Men can take a relaxing massage from the many masseurs who frequent the beach. Not to be missed here are the beach favourites – jhalmurhi (puffed rice), samosas and rosgollas. Besides there are carts that sell the day’s catch – golden fried fish, prawns and crabs.
Interestingly, the Puri beach is also a venue for many cultural activities. During the annual Puri beach festival, one can enjoy music and dance programmes here. Sand art carvings can be seen throughout the year. On certain auspicious days, one can witness the ritual samudra arti performed by religious institutions. But if one is looking for quiet contemplations, move away from the main beach front towards the marine drive and you can surely find a solitary spot.
Like the sleepy town of Konark, the beach here is equally laidback. Isolated from the town (it’s about 3 kms from the Sun Temple and the hotels located in its vicinity), it is a quiet beach, a far cry from the bustling Puri beach. During the day, buses and vehicles plying on the Marine drive towards Puri, make a brief halt to allow visitors to stretch their legs. However, during evenings, the beach becomes slightly crowded as tourist and locals come here to relax. A few stalls selling shell-crafts and snacks do brisk business at this hour.
Known as Chandrabhaga, the Konark beach becomes active during religious bathing days like Magha Saptami, when people flock here for a holy dip. Incidentally, most tourist to Konark try to catch a sunrise here, as this place is home to he magnificent Sun Temple.
Close to the bustling town of Berhampur in southern Odisha, Gopalpur-on-sea was once the favourite haunt of Britishers during the British occupation. Much earlier, in ancient times, a flourishing port town served as a gateway for the maritime trade between Kalinga (as Odisha was then know) and the distant lands of Bali, Sumatra and Java. Pleasant climate, proximity of the railhead at Berhampur and the abundance of sea food turned Gopalpur-on-sea to a popular summer and winter resort. It attracted some royal families to set up holiday homes as well.
Today, there are a few traces of this flourishing past and many of the old homes have either disappeared or in a dilapidated condition. (The modern Gopalpur portis located a few kms away from the seaside resort.) However, Gopalpur-on-sea remains one of the finest beaches for a relaxing holiday. One can laze on the white sand, sunbath and sip tender coconuts. And relish fresh sea food at prices that will please your pocket. There are no beach activities as such, but if one wants to venture into the sea on a fishing boat, the ever-obliging fishermen will do the needful.
One can explore the tranquil surroundings which include a fishing village and an old lighthouse which offers a spectacular view of the sea from the top. Chilka lake and the hot springs of Taptapani can be covered as day trips. The only times this sleepy beach comes alive is during he annual Gopalpur Beach Festival.
If you want to witness the sea play hide-and-seek, go to Chandipur. Nothing beats the magical experience of watching the rhythm of the tides when the sea recedes and then returns to the shore. At low tide, the sea recedes as far as five kms away, leaving the muddy sandy ocean bed exposed. One can even drive an SUV on this sandy stretch, though it is certainly not recommended or allowed.
However, you can walk with the waves, as they gently head back and forth. The empty sea bed reveals many mysteries – crabs that dart across, fishes in small puddles, sea shells scattered here and there, and a rare red crab found in these parts of the sea. While the sea remains the main attraction, fishing village at Balramgadi and boat rides on fishing vessels are other attraction. Here again, one can gorge on sea food to the hearts content.
As mentioned earlier, Odisha has many other lesser known beaches, many of which are ideal as day trips. To name a few, there is Talsari, a little beyond Chandipur, Pati-sonepur near Berhampur, Ramchandi near Konark and Baliharchandi near Puri. To access some of these beaches, one has to cross a river, but the beaches are truly virgin, scenic and serene.