SUBJECT :Jitu Mishra, traveller and educationist, talks about Odisha governments new dictum of intra-state tourism post-lockdown and all that Odisha has to offer to a tourist — from tribal to textile tourism 

During one of the trips organised by Jitu Mishra | (Pic: Jitu Mishra)

By: Seema Rajpal

Odisha, May 16, 2020: Intra-state tourism will be the focus of Odisha post-lockdown, the state government announced a week back. And indeed, Odisha is a hidden treasure when it comes to tourism. Educationalist and Odisha tourism enthusiast Jitu Mishra was invited by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of Odisha, to deliver a webinar on Tribal Heritage Tourism of Odisha on May 12. This was part of the series of webinar Dekho Apna Desh initiated by the government. So we got in touch with the 49-year-old to understand what the scope of tourism in Odisha is like. 

Connection is critical

"It is high time that we move away from materialistic, high-budget and superficial tourism to minimal and compassionate tourism where there is an exchange of ideas, traditional knowledge and more life-changing experiences," asserts Jitu Mishra who along with Shailaja Shah started Virasat -E-Hind Foundation, a blog that informs people about India's hidden heritage and tourism. He urges everybody to see Odisha beyond the golden triangle of Bhubaneswar, Konark and Puri, which sometimes includes Chilika Lake as well. "We need tourism to be connected with the story of people for it to be richer in the true sense of the word," he points out.

A snap from a tour | (Pic: Jitu Mishra)

About one-third of Odisha is covered with forests and mountains that house interesting and indigenous tribes. There is scope for tribal tourism, nature trails, trekking, wildlife tourism, ecotourism and so much more.

For example, did you know the wetlands of Odisha offer a tremendous opportunity for tourism too? Ansupa in Cuttack, Hirakud in Sambalpur/Bargarh, Kolab in Koraput, Hadagada in Keonjhar, Russelkonda in Ganjam, Kuanria in Nayagarh, quite an exhaustive list the travel enthusiast gives us. Exploring another facet, that of tribal tourism, he talks about the warm and friendly Kondh tribes. You might know Kandhamal district for Daringbadi, the hill station of Odisha, but this tribal-dominated district also houses Kondhs — Panga or Desia Kondhs, Kutia Kondhs and Dongria Kondhs. "Panga women are known for the intricate tattoos on their faces and they continue to practice traditional ways of farming. They also have their own craft and dance. Their food is also so different. Though Odisha is known for dalma and chhena poda, the kondhs use a tiny, mustard-like rice, known as kuiri rice, which is so fragrant, it can beat our basmati rice any day and makes for a very tasty kheer," he explains enthusiastically. Truly, one can experience a completely another side of Odisha through tribal tourism.

Clothes and crafts

When we say textile and craft tourism, you might think of the heritage crafts village Raghurajpur, near Puri but Jitu Mishra, who has conducted a few trips for others, including a delegation from Bangkok, says there are terracotta textiles, Sambalpuri textiles and the textiles of the Dongria tribe that offer a lot of tourism opportunities too. Then there are mystical experiences like what Joranda has to offer. A religion that is a curious mix of Buddhism and Sufism called Mahima cult is followed there and it is interesting to understand the life of their ascetics. "There is more to any location than the scenery, if you connect with the locals, you'll really have a shot at understanding the place," he explains.

During a trip | (Pic: Jitu Mishra)

The traveller himself has been touring Odisha vigorously since 2018 and strongly believes that if a government creates a database of all the places, families and tribes who are ready to open up their homes to people, an exchange of ideas can occur. "It will also help locals earn a livelihood with dignity," he points out. So, is Odisha on your must-see list, yet?