Nine Days of Bliss in RURAL ODISHA- wetlands, jungles, beaches, tribals

  • By Rajat Jain
  • February 17, 2023
  • We covered Aul Palace, Bhitarkanika National Park, Crocodiles, Gajlaxmi Palace, Jungle walks, Adivasi villages, Daringabadi hill station, Turtle mating, Gopalpur Beach and Chilika Lake. Payment in villages was through UPI.

In an earlier travelogue I wrote about our visit to Gandikota – The Great Canyon of India. This one is about a recent visit to Odisha’s forests, lakes, wetlands, villages and tribes. Here is a day wise account. 

Day 1 AUL Palace

We flew from Delhi to Bhubaneshwar (The City of Temples) and drove straight from the airport to AUL palace. It was a three to four hour drive. We were a group of nine so hired three Innova’s for the trip.


Unlike in Rajasthan, the AUL palace is where the former ruler and his family (wife and two daughters) stay too. I gathered that former rulers have many properties to maintain with few resources. What better way than to convert it into a home stay palace hotel. It is a 16th century palace of which 5-6 rooms are for guests.

We enjoyed spending time with the royal family. Food tasted like home food. Every evening something new was organised for us for e.g. bonfire, karoke etc. We spent the night at AUL. I would recommend a stay.  

Day 2 Bhitarkanika National Park

In boat entering the national park. 

We drove to Jayanagar Jetty and hired a boat for visit to Bhitarkanika National Park. It is the second largest mangrove ecosystem in India after the Sunderbans in West Bengal. It is a network of mangroves and rivers that eventually end up in the sea. One can get off the boat and trek in the jungle. Also saw lots of birds near the Surajpore creek. One can spot Kingfisher birds there too. 

18 feet crocodile spotted by us. 

The water is known for crocodiles, the biggest being Kalia at 23 feet. If you fall into the water they will eat you up. The Guide told us that if we fell into the water none would jump to save the person who falls.   

It is a 2-3 hour boat drive, carry your food as nothing is available during the boat ride. It was a unique and enjoyable experience for all of us.


The Maharaja of AUL has a private island where we had tea and Kayats were provided. We had a great time. 

According to the Odisha Tourism website, “The National Park is essentially a network of creeks and canals which are inundated with waters from rivers Brahmani, Baitarani, Dhamra and Patasala forming a unique ecosystem. Bhitarkanika is home to the largest congregation of the endangered Salt Water Crocodile in the country. The Salt Water Crocodile is the apex predator of the region, besides it, the park is home to numerous reptiles like the water monitor lizard, pythons to name a few. Bhitarkanika is also home to numerous animals like the deer, hyenas, wild boar etc and migratory birds which make it their home during the winter season lending a vibrant hue to the eco system.”

We spent the night at AUL Palace.

Day 3 Dhenkanal (staying in the forest), Mahima Dharma Ashram, Dhokra Art

It about a three hours drive from AUL to Dhenkanal. Enroute we stopped by and saw the monasteries of Ratnagiri, Udaygiri and Lalitgiri. Enroute we stopped by at Cuttack, ladies bought a lot of Silver Filigree (local name TARAKASI) that Cuttack is famous for.

Ratnagiri Monastery. At one end is Mahakala Temple. 

To see album of Ratnagiti Monastery and others

Former Member of Parliament Brig K P Singh Deo (retd) is part of the royal family of Dhenkanal. We drove through the town straight to Gajlaxmi Palace i.e. run by a member of the royal family. This is again a home stay palace like AUL with 5-6 rooms given out. Wife of royal family is from Udaipur royal family. Current ruler of Udaipur Shriji’s daughter-in-law is from Odisha, do not know from which the place though. 

Overview of Palace amidst forest.

Inside Gajlaxmi Palace.  

This is a place for elephants, hence the name GAJ. They usually move around in herds. Our hosts took us for a Jungle Walk in the morning and a Night Safari where we saw foxes and deers but not elephants. I must appreciate how the erstwhile royal family have immersed them in the tourism business.

View from balcony of Gajlaxmi Palace. Courtesy Odisha Tourism. 

Mahima Monks. 

In the evening we went to Joranda Ashram where we saw monks belonging to the Shunya Cult.

“Joranda is well-known as the religious centre of Mahima Dharma and is home to the samadhi of Mahima Gosain, the preacher and proponent of the Mahima Cult. Sunya Mandira, Dhuni Mandira, and Gadi Mandira are three other sacred temples.” Source

Also read   Mahima Dharma history and teachings

Our stay at AUL/Gajlakshi palaces gave us unique & memorable experiences.

Dhokra Art on sale. 

The same day we visited village Nuagaon i.e. famous for Dhokra Art. Payment was made through Paytm. This art form is also found in the Bastar area of Chhattisgarh.

Also read about Dhokra Art and Bastar Craft Album to see how made

Day 4 Naupatna and Daringabadi hill station

We left for village Naupatna i.e. famous for Ikkat weaving products. We had a simple and nice meal at a celebrated weaver’s home. 

Ladies in our group bought saris worth app Rs 25,000/ and paid by Google Pay, such is the penetration of Digital India.

Double Ikkat Sari. Courtesy

Also read About Handloom Saris of Odisha  

We then visited Champeshwar Mahadev Mandir (video 2.20 minutes) and a Turtle Hatchery.

Next was a seven to eight hour drive to Daringabadi, also called the Kashmir of Odisha (to see 3 minute video). It is at a height of 915 metres and is in Kandhal district and in the heart of Odisha’s tribal belt.  

Pine Forests at Daringabadi. 

We stayed at Utopia Resorts. Functional and nice.

Also read   Odisha Tourism site on Daringabadi

Day 5 with Kondh Kutiya tribes in Daringabadi

We went to the villages to meet the Kondh Kutiya tribes. The women tattoo their faces. Once done tattoo remains for a life time. The younger generation is not fond of getting tattoo done.

Women with Tattos in village, my sister in front. 

We visited the local school, quite nice and distributed stationery to the kids. We had lunch with vanvasi women.

Eco friendly meal, loved the food.

We returned to Utopia resort. Then, visited Coffee Plantations.

Like all hill stations Daringabadi has may points like Sunset, Loverspoint. These are essentially touristy places. The points reminded me of Mahableshwar near Mumbai.

Day 6 Gopalpur Beach

Hotel Mayfair at Gopalpur.

It was a five hour drive from Daringabadi to Gopalpur beach. It has the usual beach game facilities like water scooter. Enjoy the beach.

Net connectivity was good. I could finish two Board Meetings virtually.  

Our group at Gopalpur Beach.

Day 7 Turtles at Rushikulla

Olive Redley Turtles.

In boat enroute to see turtles.  

January is mating and nesting time of Olive Redley Turtles. To see them mating visit Rushikulla, Gahirmatha Beach i.e. about 40 kms away.  

Turtles mating. Pic is from a video that I borrowed.

Female turtles digging hole on beach to place eggs. Pic from a borrowed video.

After mating the female turtle comes to the beach, digs a hole 1.5 to 2 feet deep and lays eggs in the hole that she digs. Then she returns to the sea.

The ladies visited a Shaktipeet close to Gopalpur, Tara Tarini Mandir.

Day 8 Chilika

From Gopalpur-on-sea we drove Chilika Lake. It is famous for birding. The lake is huge and eventually joins the sea. If you are lucky you get to see dolphins.

Manglajodi is the wetlands in Chilika. Take a boat, miles of water. 

Bird at Chilika. 

We spent the next two to three hours seeing all types of birds. They come from the colder areas of Russia and China to enjoy the warm summer.

We stayed at Swosti Resorts, very good. They serve good food, at half the price.

To see  album of Chilika Lake

Day 9 Caves, Dhauli Stupa, Yogini Mandir, Lingaraja Mandir

We had breakfast and left for Bhubaneshwar. Enroute we visited – 

Udaygiri Khandgiri Caves.

Chausath Yogini Mandir. All yogini temples are round in shape.

Dhali Stupa and Ashoka’s Edict. 

We also had darshan at Lingaraja Temple. Thereafter, we took the flight back to Delhi.

We had a great trip. More Indians should visit Incredible Odisha. 

See albums of Udaygiri Caves, 64 Yogini Mandir, Dhauli Stupa including temples of Bhubaneshwar

Author Rajat is a senior marketing professional and avid traveller. Unless stated all pictures by author.  

Also see

1. Album Sun Temple Konarak

2. Album of Pattachitra Paintings at Heritage Village, Raghurajpur

3. Album Mukteswar Temple, probably the best temple   

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