Tucked away in southern Orissa is Rayagada district — arguably one of the most beautiful districts in the state.
Part of the formerly undivided Koraput district, Rayagada district has everything you can think of: Valleys, ghats, waterfalls, tunnels, caves, rivers, temples and forests.
Rayagada town, the headquarters of the district, is an ideal base for tourists planning to explore the district. Within a radius of 100 km from the town lies some of the best attractions nature has to offer.
The best way to go sightseeing is to either get your own car or book a cab. On the first day, head out west on the Rayagada-Koraput state highway that makes its way through a stunning landscape dotted with mountains, valleys, rivulets and forests.
Barely 20 km from the town on the mountain highway, just before the first of many ghats along the stretch, is a popular picnic spot called Sankesh. A rivulet that originates high up in the hills slows to a gentle flow here and is a major crowd-puller. The cool, sparkling water is so pure that one can drink it.
Further up is another spot called Halwa, a forest with tall pine trees through which another rivulet passes. The pebbles found on the bed of the rivulet have been rounded by the flow of water for hundreds of years, and are smooth to the touch. Tourists are known to take back pebbles for using them in the kitchen as grinding stones.
Sankesh and Halwa can be easily covered in an afternoon unless one plans on driving all the way down to Koraput.
Towards the north of Rayagada is Bissam-Cuttack, a small village that is home to a famous Shiva temple. The winding road that leads to this spot is surrounded by lush expanses of sunflower fields and picturesque green hills that offer wonderful opportunities for trekking, rock-climbing and profile pictures. The ample trees along the route mean you can pull over and set up your picnic lunch anywhere you want.
Just a few km from Bissam-Cuttack is Chatikona, a relatively unknown picnic spot home to a waterfall. There are a few tourists here and the calm and quiet gives you an unmistakable feeling of truly being in the lap of nature. You can immediately sense the freshness of the cool mountain air here, so vastly removed from the polluted atmosphere of the town. The sunlight here, especially during winter, is great for shooting pictures and requires no special settings on your camera to get that perfect shot. The right time to visit the waterfall would be right after lunch, as it would take an hour to get there.
On the way back to Rayagada in the evening, one can briefly halt at the famous Laxminarayan temple at Therubali. Built of marble, the temple has deities of Laxminarayan, Jagannath, Hanuman and Shiva. Thousands of devotees visit the temple through the year.
Rayagada town itself has several attractions. The Majhigouri temple, which is the gateway to the town from the south, holds special significance in parts of south Orissa as well as neighbouring Andhra. Thousands of devotees converge at the temple on religious occasions.
The temple itself has a fascinating history. Legend has it that while the deity was worshipped at the spot for centuries by local kings, the temple itself is a relatively modern structure about 40 years old. It was built to fulfill a prophecy that building a temple will prevent accidents on the ongoing construction of two tall rail viaducts on a gorge just a stone’s throw away. Frequent accidents and worker casualties had marred the construction of the viaducts, but soon after the temple was raised, construction progressed smoothly with no mishaps thereafter.
Another place of scenic importance is Hathipathar. A huge waterfall on the River Nagavali existed at the spot, but a torrential monsoon a few years ago led to the Nagavali changing its course, cutting through an adjoining hill instead. While there is no trace of the waterfall now, there is a mini Grand Canyon of sorts where the river cuts through the rocks.
The town is surrounded on all sides by tall hills, with the tallest among them (Devagiri) said to be 3,000 ft in height. A suspension bridge spanning the Nagavali was built two years ago by the government to connect remote tribal hamlets to the town, and is another point of attraction for locals.
There are several hotels and lodgings in Rayagada that offer a range of services to suit any budget. The Tejaswi International, Sai International Residency, Raj Bhawan and Hotel Kapilash offer AC rooms at a little over Rs 2,000 a day, and also have in-house cab services.
Rayagada town is 300 km from Bhubaneswar. Hirakhand Express is the only direct train, leaving the capital at
7 pm daily and reaching Rayagada at 4 am the next morning.
The town has direct trains to all major destinations across the country, such as Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Going by road is an adventure in itself. There are two routes: One via Berhampur, Palasa, Parlakhemundi and Gunupur, and the other via Berhampur, Adaba, Mohana and Gumuda.
The former route has excellent roads: NH-5 till Palasa, state highway from there all the way till Rayagada, with a ghat road in between. Only buses use the latter that traverses steep mountains and Maoist-infested zones. If you happen to have a tough-as-nails SUV and a tougher spirit, quite an adventure awaits you on the latter route. Bon voyage!