Odisha’s beaches are a treat to the senses. We discover their diverse offerings on East India’s first ever glamping festival, Marine Drive Eco Retreat. By Sushmita Srivastav

Marine Drive Eco Retreat
Stunning sand art is a common sight on the beaches of Odisha.

“When do I start running?” I ask, panicking. “You will know,” says the calm voice of the woman next to me, as she rechecks the harness around my waist one final time.

“How will I know?”

“Oh, any moment now! Keep your hands high up. Look ahead. Run!”

Before I can comprehend the series of instructions, the rope tied to the harness is pulled, and with a sudden jolt, I am racing ahead. A few steps into the run, the parachute that had been weighing me down lifts up, and my bare feet are suspended in the air before I know it.

Marine Drive Eco Retreat
The glamping festival features performances by popular bands and artists.

I am flying. The sun is melting behind me, and the sky is a shaken palette of blending colours. I look down to see an endless ocean with its roaring waves hitting the sandbar on my right, a row of Swiss tents snaking along the coastline on my left, and the jeep that’s towing my parachute speeding on the sand in the middle. I float in the air for a few joyful minutes, before it is all over—as abruptly as it had started, like a rushed dream.

Back on the land post my first territorial parasailing adventure, I stroll back to one of the 50 tents pitched on the idyllic Ramachandi Beach in Konark, Odisha. The first edition of Odisha Tourism’s Marine Drive Eco Retreat—the biggest and first ever glamping experience in East India—has me wondering why I didn’t visit this laid-back, sun-drenched land sooner.

Marine Drive Eco Retreat
Parasailing over the coast of Odisha is an exhilarating experience.

The eastern state of Odisha has long been known for its pristine beaches, but the luxury hospitality industry has been rather slow at catching up. Enter a 49-day-long festival hat brings to the table luxurious cottage tents, adventure sports, wildlife excursions, heritage trails, cultural nights, and delicious regional cuisine. While the Indian music industry’s who’s who have been lined up for weekends, there’s also a spa by the sea for therapeutic sessions anytime of the week. Odisha knows the value and vulnerability of its natural resources, so it has designed the festival consciously. “Given the grave impact of cyclone Fani, we had fortified our vision with the principle of sustainability,” says Vishal K Dev, Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Odisha Tourism. “So, the Marine Drive Eco Retreat has been developed as an environmentally sustainable model, incorporating best practices in material utilisation, zero liquid and sewage discharge, and holistic waste management. For the first time, we have created a luxury destination with unique experiences for all ages.”

Marine Drive Eco Retreat
An ATV ride takes you to the farther, quieter end of the beach.

My tented suite’s block-printed canvas complements the king-sized bed with fluffy duvets, a tribal-print frame above the headboard, and metal lanterns on the side tables. There’s also a work table, a living-cum-dressing area with a full-length mirror, and an attached bathroom with shower and toiletries. I head out to explore the beach before dusk falls. This time, I grab a cycle to tread the track that runs along the coastline. The azure sea never leaves my right side, while the frame on the left changes constantly. I cross residential blocks, the spa, a dining space squatting next to the reception, a sand-art section, an activity area, a colossal stage playing a classical number, and numerous beach shacks, to finally arrive at a standalone cabana. Unwinding with a chilled beer, I watch the calm sea that occasionally throws up a surprisingly high wave. This beach, on the country’s eastern shore, reminds me of the susegad that its western cousin is famous for.

Marine Drive Eco Retreat
One of the luxe tented suites at the retreat.

I wake up the next day to the sweet sound of crashing waves. The warm golden sun is out already, and the beach has more guests than the day before. Aditya, my colleague and travelling partner for the weekend, is back from a thrilling jet-ski ride and tells me to give it a shot as the waves are calmer. With a trained jet-ski driver at the helm, I hop on the watercraft. In no time, I am cutting through the sea’s surface, briny water spraying on my face. I come back on land only to try an ATV ride that takes me to the farther end of the beach, where it is rather quiet and the only people to be seen are local fishermen laying their nets in the water.

For lunch, we have a hearty meal with the regional goodness of dishes like aloo potol rasa (potato and pointed gourd curry), saga muga (drumstick leaf cooked with split pigeon peas), vegetable besara (mixed vegetable in mustard paste), maccha (fish) curry, and bhaat (rice) along with rasabali for dessert.

Marine Drive Eco Retreat
A traditional Odishi dance performance.

On our way to the nearby heritage village of Raghurajpur, I notice how stunningly untouched this part of the country really is. The lakes are pristine, the beaches clean, and the farms emerald green. Raghurajpur is a 45-minute drive from the Puri-Konark Marine drive, and is known to the rest of the world as the tiny village that has managed to keep the ancient art of pattachitra alive. The art form involves traditional cloth-based scroll painting with intricate details, mythological narratives, and tribal folktales, all in natural colours.

Prakash Patra, a local artist, says he loves his job. His great-great-grandfather was into the same business, and his grandfather had even received a National Award for his illustration of Ramayana engraved on a palm-leaf scroll. Patra wishes to win such an acclaim himself some day.

Marine Drive Eco Retreat
A one-day excursion to Chilika Lake in Satapada is part of the package.

We listen to Patra talk passionately about pattachitra, about its long history, and about Helena Jelly, the American tourist who came to Odisha and took charge of reviving the dying art by motivating artistes and bringing pattachitra into the limelight. After stuffi ng our bags with artsy souvenirs, we are back on the road, speeding to reach the Konark Sun Temple just in time for sunset. The golden sun is a constant motif in Odisha, and it is breathtaking to see it set behind the marvellous temple complex.

Marine Drive Eco Retreat
Enjoy a beautiful sunset at the Konark Sun Temple.

A 15-minute drive later, we are back at the beach. The sea has turned into liquid gold. I sit on the sand to soak it all up one last time before I leave. There’s a kite festival happening behind me to mark the occasion of Makar Sankranti, and people are making merry all around. But I am fixated on the single star twinkling in the lilac sky right above me. Steeped in a tropical languor and wedded to the sea’s many blues, Odisha has made me fall in love.

Getting There

The airport in Bhubaneswar is well connected to all the major cities in India. Ramachandi Beach is a 90-minute drive from the airport (78 km).

Stay

The package (includes all meals, excursions, and adventure sports) starts from INR 9,000, plus taxes, per night for a Deluxe Room, and goes up to INR 22,000, plus taxes, for Presidential Suite. (prices vary on weekends and special days). Book at ecoretreat.odishatourism.gov.in

Related: Meet The Gods On The East Coast In Puri – The Spiritual Land Of Odisha