Seaplanes, Luxury Train, New Airports- Odisha Tourism to get a boost

Odisha is all set to get its second commercial airport this week with the inauguration of the Jharsuguda Airport in Western Odisha and the launch of daily short haul commercial flight services to Bhubaneswar, Raipur and Rourkela. Air Odisha will be running these flight services and if rumours are to be believed, the airport will be welcoming A320 aircrafts by the end of the year. Can’t wait to fly directly to Delhi or Mumbai from here!

Odisha Tourism, Sand Art, Sudarshan Pattnaik
A Sand Art on the Puri Sea beach by popular artist Sudarshan Pattnaik

Rourkela and Jeypore airstrips are also being developed concurrently and these will host flights under the government's UDAN scheme. Utkela airstrip in Kalahandi district will be added later. This is superb news not just because Odisha is finally getting its second airport but also because this will give a huge boost to tourism in the state which until now has been limited to the Bhubaneswar- Konark- Puri circuit. 

Most of my friend and professional circles are from Delhi and Mumbai. While it feels great when someone says they have been to Odisha, I feel like giving a scorn as soon as they say they have been to Bhubaneswar- Konark- Puri. There is nothing wrong with these places. It’s just that Odisha is a huge state and this segment is just a 60 km zone and that’s it. The state has so much more to offer!

But of course people can’t be blamed here completely. The state government and the tourism department barely made an effort until very recently to start promoting the state’s tourism potential. I have seen Odisha Tourism ads on TV several times in the last few days and that makes me happy.

Seaplane services in Odisha
News has it that Spicejet is exploring starting seaplane services in India and has a keen eye on Odisha. The planned routes include Bhubaneswar to Chilika Lake and Puri, Bhubaneswar to Bhitarkanika and Chandipur and Bhubaneswar to Hirakud Dam in Sambalpur. Chilika is the largest saltwater lagoon in the country, Bhitarkanika is famous for its mangroves and crocodiles, Chandipur is where you can see the sea water receding by 5 kms during low tide every single day (It’s brilliant!) and Hirakud Dam is the longest earthen dam in the world.

These routes are of course just draft plans and may get changed when plans get finalized (which might take years).

Water Festival at Hirakud Dam
With the starting of Jharsuguda Airport, travel to IIM Sambalpur will be a breeze and Hirakud Dam is bound to get more tourists. There are plans of starting a water festival at the dam in lines with Madhya Pradesh tourism’s Jal Mahotsav. The festival will have water sports, adventure and celebrations. I honestly feel that with the influx of tourists, the tourism department should plan a permanent water sports facility at the dam. It will be a huge tourist magnet.

Odisha to get a Luxury Train
The news that actually got me excited to write this post is the one about the introduction of a luxury train in the state in the lines of ‘Palace on Wheels’, ‘Maharaja Express’, ‘Deccan Odyssey’ and ‘Golden Chariot’. I love trains and have always wanted to travel on one of these ultra luxury trains which have been recognized as some of the absolute best trains in the world.

The railway board has expressed interest in starting a luxury train in Odisha in collaboration with the state government. The destinations to be covered could include places like Bhitarkanika, Chandipur, Konark, Puri, Similipal, Chilika, Balugaon, Debrigarh, and Sambalpur. This might take several years to fructify but this one is the one I am rooting for the most.

(I wonder what they will name the train. Any suggestions?)

Earlier this year Indian railways started running the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express on a diverted route via Rourkela-Jharsuguda-Sambalpur on one day of the week. I hope in the next year or two, the frequency of this train is improved and this service is made a separate one i.e. one Rajdhani via the original Tatangar/Adra route and one via Sambalpur. There definitely is a huge demand (huge waitlist numbers in the peak season currently) and Indian Railways ought to consider doing this soon.

There are plans of promoting Odisha as a ‘21 night destination’ beyond the current Bhubaneswar- Konark- Puri circuit. The state is abundant with natural hotspots including several wildlife destinations, ecotourism spots, Buddhist tourist spots, watersport destinations and more and they ought to be explored.

I do have a few suggestions for the Odisha Tourism department and hope these things are taken care of in the months to come as tourism grows:

  • The government resorts are located at the most beautiful spots but are in a desperate need of refurbishment, maintenance and repair. Maintain them.
  • Improve the number of hotels, resorts and star hotels so tourists don’t shy away from visiting a place because of lack of good places to stay. In the wildlife sanctuaries promote sustainable eco tourism with eco huts, safe camping opportunities etc.
  • Promote tourist circuits- western Odisha, wildlife, the tribal belt, adventure and water sport activities- that would place Odisha on the radar of people of all ages from across the country. Let Jagannath Puri and Konark Sun Temple not be the only places people know about.
  • Bhubaneswar airport is already serving international destinations in Thailand and Malaysia. The number of flights has grown from just 20 to over 40 in the last one year alone. This number is bound to grow both for domestic and international destinations. Make use of this. Let it not be just a cheap transit place to arrive in India for international tourists. Give them a reason to want to visit the state as well.
  • Become more active on social media- twitter, facebook and instagram. To start with it, Conduct regular and engaging contests, and do integrations and FAM trips with popular travel bloggers of the country.

Do leave your comments below on what you think regarding these new developments on the fringe. If you have some other suggestions about the improvement of Odisha’s tourism, do write them in the comments below.

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