Jajpur – Where the Future lies in the Past. These words line up to form a sentence in my mind, as I stand amidst vast tracts of Buddhist archaeological ruins and listen intently to the guide who is narrating tales of this place which has been hitherto unheard of by me.
I am at Jajpur, Odisha and I am excited to be a part of a media tour which is showcasing the treasures which this district holds. The place is intriguing and I quickly post an Instagram story, unable to contain the thrill of my discovery. In moments a friend messages me frantically, asking me why I have mentioned Jaipur, Odisha when it is actually in Rajasthan. Puffing up with a sense of superiority over my newfound knowledge, I amusedly reply to her saying – ‘This is Jajpur, with a J and NOT with an I as in Jaipur’. I smile at her obvious reaction of ‘Oh I was not aware that such a place exists’.
Well I am sure that most of you who are reading this are probably reacting similarly, so allow me to throw some light on my recent enlightenment as we step into the territory of the Enlightened one and traverse through excavated Buddhist sites which have yielded a rich collection of stupas, monasteries, sculptures and such like.
Jajpur also holds the distinction of being a bountiful hub of various arts and crafts that are being preciously protected from extinction. Apart from safeguarding them for posterity, this will also bring pilgrims, devotees and tourists to Jajpur and thus ensure a sustainable future for this place, which is poised on the threshold of emerging as a popular destination for tourists across a wide range of interests.
Come, wander far back into history as I take you on a trail of this gem of a district which lies in Odisha, a state which in itself is bejeweled with precious treasures that span heritage, arts, crafts and culture and let us learn how to be a part of sustaining and keeping alive these riches.
Yes the Past is going to ensure the Future of Jajpur and the Present is going to take the responsibility to cherish and preserve that Past.
A 2 part series featuring my experiences at Jajpur, Odisha and covering the overview of the place and the specific list of things to do here.
About Odisha –
In 261 BC, Emperor Ashoka invaded and conquered Kalinga, wreaking so much havoc and bloodshed, that he himself could not bear to see the destruction he had caused. This prompted him to turn to Buddhism, after which he became a totally different person, going on to be one of the greatest emperors in Indian history.
My history lesson pops into my head as I plan my trip to Odisha. This is my first visit to this state, which is the very same Kalinga that my text book spoke about. Also known as Utkal, this is one of the few states that have pride of place in our Indian National Anthem. Do remember that, the next time you sing the line Dravida Utkala Vanga!
Odisha lies on the East coast of India and is famed for being rich in culture and heritage. It is the keeper of some of the most renowned temples like the Sun temple in Konarak and the Jagannath temple in Puri. Apart from this, it is a vibrant place with an abundance of natural beauty, unique art forms, traditional crafts, delectable cuisine and other such attractions which make it a much sought after pilgrimage and tourist destination.
About Jajpur –
Like the land in which it is embedded, Jajpur district too has its share of bounty, with its own array of temples, historical sites, scenic beauty and arts and crafts.
This district of Odisha is privileged to contain famous pilgrimage sites like the Ma Biraja temple where devotees flock in thousands through the year.
It is also home to vast archaeological ruins of Buddhist monasteries from where thousands of precious remains have been unearthed and thousands still await excavation.
Jajpur is also referred to as Tantra Khetra or Kshetra, which is defined as a sacred location where tantric rituals and practices are performed while worshipping the goddess Shakti. The spiritual energy that this places exudes, draws innumerable devotees and hence it is a very important pilgrimage center.
Apart from its cultural and spiritual prominence, Jajpur is also endowed with rich mineral deposits and is one of the major sources of iron, coal and other minerals. Hence it has a strong commercial presence too with several mines, coalfields and related industries like Tata steel and Jindal steel.
Lights, Camera, HACT’ion –
In order to revive, strengthen, sustain and place Jajpur’s cultural assets on the tourist map, the district administration of Jajpur has initiated the HACT Jajpur project which is working towards preserving and promoting the Heritage, Art, Culture and Tourism of this district. Ernst & Young are the consultants for Jajpur District Administration and are currently managing this venture through various programs and events.
Things to do –
Jajpur district is a gold mine of interesting attractions for the tourist. It is home to a multitude of ancient temples, Buddhist archaeological sites, villages teeming with local arts and crafts like silk weaving, grass weaving, terracotta and stone sculpting, musicians who keep traditional music and instruments from going extinct and other such enticements, especially for those interested in tourism involving heritage, arts and crafts … or as I like to call it, HACT’ual tourism 😉
The prominent temples include the Ma Biraja Temple, Barahanatha Temple, Dasaswamedha ghat and Jagannath Temple. The Buddhist ruins lie in the hills of Udayagiri and Ratnagiri (Lalithgiri also forms a part of this trail which is known as the Diamond Triangle but it falls in the neighboring district of Cuttack). But you need not limit yourself when you visit, so do make sure to complete the triad on your tour.
Many of Jajpur’s villages like Gopalpur, Antia and Sukhuapada are hubs for various arts and crafts like Tussar silk weaving, golden grass weaving, stone sculpting and terracotta work.
Odisha is also a state with an event driven culture. The Jajpur District Administration conducts exhibitions, shows and fairs frequently through the year in order to showcase its various features.
My experiences are too many to compress into this post. Hence they have been accorded their own space which you may access by taking the trouble to lift your finger and click here – Jajpur, Odisha – Things to do. I assure you it will be worth the effort 😎
However, for a start you may have a quick glimpse of my whirlwind tour from start to finish.
Getting around in Jajpur –
This is a small town and hence there are no app based cab services. Autorickshaws and general taxis can be hailed or hired to get around. The fares are variable and have to be fixed prior to the ride.
Rented cars are also a convenient way to travel.
I was a part of a tour and hence had a bus to travel in. A bus which needs special mention because it also provided us great entertainment in various ways, apart from ferrying us around 😀
Where to stay in Jajpur –
Jajpur is a developing district and the actual town has plenty of options for budget stays. However, if one is looking for a bit of luxury, then the industrial town of Vyasanagar around 45 minutes away, has better options for comfortable stays. Hotels like Brahmani and the brand new Jajati Courtyard which is poised for a March 2023 launch, are the popular choice. It is said though, that more luxury hotels are under development and in future there will be more possibilities to pick from.
I had the privilege of a pre-opening stay at the Jajati Courtyard and it was a very pleasurable experience indeed. This 60 room hotel provides all the usual amenities of a star hotel, including luxurious décor, well appointed rooms, conference rooms, restaurant, well maintained gardens etc.
The delectable cuisine and attentive service also adds to the satisfaction.
A swimming pool, spa, multiple restaurants and other facilities are also on the anvil.
Where to eat in Jajpur –
If I get started on food, I will forget everything else 😁 hence I have wisely completed giving you most of the information before continuing on to the pleasures of the plate.
Odisha cuisine is delightful. Simple, healthy and hearty, this is the kind of food that satisfies both body and soul. From what I understand, the cuisine is pretty much uniform across the state and hence Jajpur district too enjoys similar fare as the rest of its counterparts.
The usage of fresh produce which grows in abundance in this region, the homely touch accorded to the meals even by the cooks of large restaurants, the simple and yet delectable flavors, the easy availability of local cuisine, the evident warmth and hospitality of the people and other such factors, make this place a foodies paradise especially for people like me who get hyper excited about anything hyper local 😎
I am no expert on Odiya cuisine but having a few Odiya friends in Bangalore has given me the opportunity to taste and understand this food to some extent.
I was delighted to enjoy 2 of my meals which consisted of purely Odiya dishes.
The Odiyanee restaurant is a place one should not miss. A huge thali consisting of over 35 vegetarian dishes is served at an amazingly low price of Rs 160/- and the non vegetarian accompaniments like fish, chicken and mutton can be ordered separately.
This is not an activity to be taken lightly, for you will require at least 2 hours to savor every dish, before you eventually cease all activity and lie in a stupor, wondering how you are going to move yourself after all that indulgence! And yes they also have some local desserts too!
My second meal during my stay in Jajpur, was organized via a Self Help Group. This is a group of local women who get together and cater home cooked food, a luxury indeed for people who want to experience authentic meals straight from an Odiya kitchen. Needless to say, I continued to remain amazed at the sheer variety and exotic nature of the items.
Let me torture you with a quick glimpse of it, so that you seriously consider planning your trip 😉
Best time to visit Jajpur –
October to February are the cooler months, which are very comfortable for tourists. Summers from March to May are quite hot with temperatures in the 40 deg c range and outdoor activities are not going to be pleasant.
The monsoons are usually from June to September and can get quite messy due to heavy rains. This period is generally not recommended for tourism purposes.
Getting there –
The nearest Airport is Bhubaneswar which is around 110 km to Jajpur. The Biju Patnaik airport is well connected to some important cities in India. It is also an international airport.
Of course the work of the world renowned sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik of Odisha, is one of the major exhibits to greet the visitor at the airport.
The nearest Railway Station is at Jajpur Road, 30 km from Jajpur town. Bhubaneswar also has a well connected railway station.
By road – The National Highway NH 16, connects Jajpur to Bhubaneswar and also to other major cities along that route, being an arterial road that runs from Chennai to Kolkata.
Going by road is the most convenient way to travel. The drive takes around 2.5 hours and there are a few decent restaurants en route with washroom facilities.
I stopped at the Big Cup Café which is at a place called Pahala on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. The washrooms are very clean here and the food and ambience is also pretty good.
Do not miss their Nolen gurer ice cream and nolen gur rasgulla. They are divine.
Please Note –
This trip was in collaboration with the Jajpur District Administration and I thank them for the hospitality. My narration is based on the inputs I received from various sources as well as my personal experiences.
Feb 8th – 10th, 2023