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There are several places around Bhubaneswar, Odisha's capital, that can be explored by a road trip. But the drive to the port city Paradeep is unique, especially when you choose to take a detour through Lalitgiri. The route passes through Odisha's rural heartland, by small villages and towns, lush agricultural farms, and several places of spirituality, with the majestic rivers of the state keeping you company along the way. During monsoon, the landscape becomes even more verdant. Start from Bhubaneswar a little early in the day to avoid city traffic. Also, as the route leads through Cuttack, one of Odisha's biggest cities, it is best to start before the rush-hour traffic. The travelling time between the twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack is not more than 30 minutes. Take the Nandankanan Road towards Trisulia Bridge. On the way, the popular Nandankanan Zoo will fall on your left. As you cross the zoo, the city starts giving way to open green fields on both sides and soon you will reach the the 3-km-long Trisulia Bridge spanning the Kathajodi river. After heavy rains, the gushing Kathajodi makes for a memorable sight.
Visit Cuttack’s cultural centres
Cuttack, the former capital of Kalinga kings, and Odisha's second largest city, Cuttack is a unique blend of historical sites, natural splendour and commercial centres. What to see: From the Barabati Fort, which has seen the rise and fall of many dynasties, to the Netaji museum dedicated to freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the city's many sites bear testimony to its place of importance in the shaping of the region.
What to do: If you want, you can spend an entire day exploring Cuttack. From Cuttack, there are two major routes to reach Paradeep. The first, and the shortest is the Cuttack-Pradeep highway, around 84 km long and it takes about two hours to reach the port city. On this route falls the much revered temple of Devi Sarala, around 50 km from Cuttack. For this, take the first exit from Cuttack's OMP Chowk towards the Paradeep road.
Good to know: But if you want to enjoy a drive through Odisha's farmlands and villages with a sneak-peek of its Buddhist heritage, opt for the road through Chandikhol.
Spend some time at the Chhatiabata temple
On the road that passes through Chandikhol, as you cross the bridge over River Mahanadi near Jagatpur, you realise that you are leaving Cuttack behind. A broad freeway leads you towards your next destination, Chhatia. What to see: Otherwise a quaint town in the heart of Odisha, it's extremely popular for the Chhatia or the Chhatiabata temple, believed by devotees to be the second home of Lord Jagannatha, after Puri. Believers say, that since time immemorial construction has been going on at the beautiful white temple decorated with vibrant murals and a grand gate. They believe that the temple is renovated in the expectation that one day the Lord himself will pay a visit.
What to do: Tour the temple complex and listen to the prayers being recited. Inside the campus is an ancient banyan tree, where devotees offer prayers. The memorial of the 15th century saint Hadi Das is also housed inside the complex.
Good to know: There are plenty of refreshment stalls here and you can halt for lunch.
Explore rural Odisha
After Chhatia, the highway weaves through even smaller villages, lush green paddy fields stretched out till the horizon, ponds filled with white lilies and pink lotuses, lush green forests, and friendly people who smile and wave at you when you slow down at crossings. This is rural Odisha in all its glory! As this is not a much-preferred route, the traffic is not heavy, just the odd two-wheelers. Small shops intermittently line the road.
What to see: Lalitgiri, along with the neighbouring Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, make the triad (also called the diamond triangle) of the once-flourishing Buddhist monasteries. Standing between the Parabhadi and Landa hills and wedged between the two mighty rivers of this region, Birupa and Chitrotpala, Lalitgiri is said to be the earliest Buddhist monasteries in the state. It has some monuments dating back to the 1st century. Also known to be the state's most scared Buddhist site, a massive stupa has been excavated here, where a relic of Lord Buddha was discovered inside a stone casket. It is said that the casket contained the Lord's teeth. The casket itself is a priceless and is kept in the museum in the complex.
What to do: There are ruins of several structures here -- the Mahastupa (main stupa), a Chaityagriha (prayer hall) and several votive stupas, that were generally erected after the fulfillment of a wish or a vow. The remains of a large idol inside a cell make for a poignant stop. The ruins of a bygone era – red bricks cocooned in lush greenery – makes Lalitgiri both serene and majestic. Don't' miss the small sculpture shed in the compound, where all the sculptures excavated from the site have been kept.
Good to know: You will require about an hour to explore the ruins and the museum within the complex, which closes at 5 pm.
Click pictures against the stunning coastline
From Lalitgiri to Paradeep, the road offers an extremely smooth drive and the only traffic snarl you may face is when you cross Kendrapara, the bustling headquarters of the Kendrapara district. Within minutes of crossing this town you enter Paradeep, the busy port city with a stunning coastline.
In the winter months, between October and March. But the weather is pleasant during monsoon as well, when the rural countryside comes alive.
Pack light clothes. During monsoon, carry water-proof clothing. Be respectful of the environment and religious sites and do not litter.