Bhubaneswar – Then and Now

It was in mid 1960s, much before I was born. My mother shares her experience about Bhubaneswar at that time.

The new capital was under construction, quite apart from the old town. There were vast open scrub fields, mostly covered with laterite soil and bushes, ups and downs surface, for miles around. The link between the two settlements, one a historic corridor and the other a baby town were only a few dusty narrow roads. The main mode of commuting was bicycles and occasionally a few cars and government jeeps.

As my mother recalls the serenity of the old town, full of tranquilities, and the water pond at Kedar – Gauri was so fresh and pure. As a child she with her friends used to take dips in the pond whenever she visited Bhubaneswar. There were hardly any tourists except a few Bengalis from neighbouring Calcutta (now Kolkata) who hopped on their ways to and return from Puri at Kedar – Gauri.

Cuttack was the largest town (it was not a city though) in Odisha. There were a few government run buses (one in every hour, from morning to evening) connecting between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. People working in the new capital had to travel to the central bus stand near the AG square to commute to Cuttack. It used to take one hour. For all major purchasing, the residents of Bhubaneswar solely depended upon Cuttack.

At that time most of new Bhubaneswar’s population worked in the state secretariat and other government offices at clerical level. Their earning was meagre. So, in the first half of the month, the market saw hectic activity and the second half almost nil.

In the 60s and early 70s, the whole of modern Bhubaneswar, on the other side of the national highway 5 was covered through Chandaka Forest. Today’s major residential, educational and IT hubs were covered with forest. In-between there were tiny villages, like Patia, Kalarahanga, Damana, etc. The villagers from these villages who were growing country vegetables in their fields used to go all the way to new capital to sale their produce. In the evening they used to commute back in groups riding their bicycles. On the narrow lanes there were criss-crossing of nallahs, near Acharya Vihar, Sainik School and Damana. They used to burn tires or dry straws for light and to protect from wild animals, mainly tusker elephants while commuting back to their villages. This may sound like fairy tales for the generation that have not seen the Bhubaneswar of past.

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In the mid 1970s, I was a child growing up in Sambalpur, a town, 300 km away from Bhubaneswar in western Odisha. I remember once we had gone to Bhubaneswar on a holiday. We stayed with one of mother’s relatives in Unit – IV AG Colony. On a Sunday we went to Nandankanan for a picnic. We boarded in a bus which took us to Nandankanan via Khandagiri caves and the Chandaka forest. The present Nandankanan Road, which is a hub for IT industry and other corporate houses, was either not existent or not significant. It took us nearly two hours to reach. The journey was through a dense forest tract and in-between valleys. There were no settlements for miles around, quite contrast to what today the road has been transformed.  There are now high-rise apartments and high-tech research and incubation centres.

In the early 1980s Bhubaneswar’s look changed dramatically. Large circles were laid at Rajmahal and Master Canteen showcasing the heritage of Odisha. Roads were widened and lit with halogen bulbs. Slowly new shopping centres emerged at important junctions; one such was the Asoka Market at Master Canteen.  There were scores of swanky shops opened up at Market Building, the famous being the Kalamandir, and near Station Square. The residents of Bhubaneswar no more dependent upon Cuttack except when they had to buy material in wholesale for the occasions like wedding. There were also town buses introduced in the city in 5 or 6 routes connecting Mancheswar, Lingaraj Temple, Nandankanan, Vani Vihar and Old Town.

But despite all these developments Bhubaneswar had full of open spaces. Cycle rickshaws were the main mode of public transport. One could count the number of auto rickshaw plying on Bhubaneswar’s roads in finger tips. The airport was too small. There was only one direct flight to Delhi and one to Kolkata. I remember there used to be heavy demands to introduce direct flight to Mumbai, the country’s financial capital.

There were not many schools in Bhubaneswar. Odiya medium schools were mostly preferred by middle class children. The Capital High School in Unit 3 was most sought after. Among the residential schools, Sainik School was well-known. The DM School in the campus of RIE (formerly RCM) was yet another sought after school. In English medium schools, only elite mass could afford. The popular ones were St. Joseph Convent, Stewart and DAV Unit 8.

BJB College was the only major college for higher education. Only those secured very high percentage could get admission in BJB. The other government colleges were Ramadevi for girls, Rajdhani and College of Basic Education in OUAT. The opening of XIMB in late 80s opened up a new chapter in management education. There was one private engineering college, Orissa Engineering College at Rasulgarh.

I remember, as a middle class boy I had also desire to become an engineer. But there was no scope for me in Bhubaneswar and I could not be selected through the joint entrance examination. The only option was in Bangalore or other locations in South India, which never worked out.

Street food has been always popular in Bhubaneswar. In the 80s when we were growing up it was bara and gugni, which were so tempting through their fragrance, size and taste. Now days we miss them. There was also local chat which we enjoyed a lot. Towards the end of 80s, the influence from Kolkata was witnessed in Bhubaneswar’s street food as roll, cutlets, chops started dominating. Still Chinese food was not a part of Bhubaneswar’s street food culture. Restaurants were very few. Only Priya in Unit 3 and Venus Inn were major joints selling South Indian snacks.

Among the high-end hotels, the late 80s was the beginning. Hotel Swosti, Hotel Oberoi, Hotel Konark and Hotel Kalinga Ashok had opened up sops catering to the demand of high-end tourists and VIP visitors. With relation to entertainment, Bhubaneswar had hardly anything to offer. There was no night life, no pub, no bar, and no multiplexes. Keshari and Sriya complex were only theatres. But their conditions were far better. Odiya cinemas drew huge crowds in 1980s. I remember as a child I often watched Odiya movies. But after 90s all that changed as I moved to Pune for higher studies.

All those of years of my childhood and teen I had strong attachment with Bhubaneswar, a city which was laidback and sleepy, yet was deep rooted in tradition. But today when I visit Bhubaneswar I find it yet another city of India. It has lost its old world charm. It has become more cosmopolitan in terms of people and culture. Today I see, students and job seekers from other parts of India are flocking to Bhubaneswar as it has become a hub for education and IT industries. The food culture has changed much. People have money. Cars of all models and brands are plying on its burgeoning roads. High-rises up to 22 storeys have changed the skyline of Bhubaneswar. Malls, multiplexes and high end speciality restaurants have emerged all over. The taste for food has changed dramatically. Pizzas, hotdogs, Mexican, Chinese, continental, sea food have been the flavours of the town. There are more than a dozen of cafe coffee days. There are also dominos, subways, baskin robbins, pizza hut, and so on. People, especially the younger generation prefer to talk in Hindi rather than Odiya.

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The air and train connection have increased dramatically. Now Bhubaneswar is connected to all metros and major cities by air and train. Very soon it will have connectivity with international destinations.

Its internal commuting system has also changed drastically. City buses now connect with most parts of the city. There is also mushrooming of auto rickshaws.

Amidst all these developments I find myself sometime lost. People have reduced visiting to their friends and relatives houses. There are no more addas of youths as it used to be in the 80s and 90s. I still do not know how to react to the speedy change, but as long as it is happening organically I think we should all appreciate the process of change.

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54 thoughts on “Bhubaneswar – Then and Now

    1. Thank you Satyashiva for reading and commenting. I agree with you Bhubaneswar occupies a special place in our hearts. The city is a true representation of blending between tradition and modernity, and between history and future. Many times I feel so proud when I travel back to Bhubaneswar 2,300 years before, to the event of Kalinga War, when for the first time in human civilisation, Bhubaneswar showed that path of liberty and non-violence through Ashoka’s transformation. Thousands of years later Gandhiji followed Asoka and the symbol of peace (four lions and pillar) that evolved aftermath of Kalinga War became India’s national symbol.

    1. A nice reading on a Sunday evening. For someone who was born and raised in BBSR and now settled in Delhi, those years gone by as we saw our city transform, seem so eternal to me. Romanticising of the late 80’S, I can still feel the serene breeze of the evening, the wafting fregrence of the flowers by my window and the calmness all around as evening descended. I wish they remained the same today. Alas!

  1. beautifully written sir. but i would like to make a small correction, name of that only private engineering college is “orissa engineering college” not “orissa college of engineering” .. 🙂

      1. Hey Jitu, Very well written about Bhubaneswar. Kindly change the name as suggested by Tapas coz it feels bit awkward to here the alma mater’s name other than the original one. I hope you understand. Cheers…..

  2. Nice piece of writing. I still remember sounds in night made by people of nayapalli for elephants who come upto present kalinga stadium. My cycle ride to nandan kanan via patia. Big piles of mud for construction of Rbi bldg, bda bldg & housing board bldg. We are warned by our parents not to go near that site because of rumuors of human sacrifice by contractors.

  3. Wat a narration… Thanks a lot sir…. I feel like I am watching one live documentary on the city of Bhubaneswar… I came to bbsr in mid of 90’s to one of my relative… “Sakala Tirtha to Charane” and Suna Panjuri was the first two movies I saw in alternate days…

  4. Your narration made me nostalgic. I was quite young around one and half years when my family moved to bhubaneswar. We used to live in a rented house in sahid nagar. back in 1986, sahid nagar was so open place to live. sahid club was one of the dominating addas but verything has gone. back then we used to go to rupali chhak for chat and gupchup which is now replaced bmc vending zone. in terms bbsr has achieved ecomonic growth but has lost its serene beauty. chandigarh modelled along with bbsr by same architect still retains its beauty. i miss old old days of bhubaneswar. rightly said u narrated 50 yrs story in a 2 hrs movie line. gr8

  5. Lovely commentary about Bhubaneswar…A nice reflection of the bygone era…brings a smile on the face involuntarily….like they say…Change is the only thing that is constant….we can just hope (TRY) that the change is for the better…..

  6. Absolutely mesmerizing! Thanks for sharing the info! Really the way Bhubaneswar looks today is the passionate work of Govt there to improve the livelihood of people there; Thanks so much for sharing; God Bless

      1. Really thankful to you that you have described the city so well; Today I see the 4 lane road and beautiful malls, but the traditional portrait of yours is very nice!

  7. I was in orissa for many years and remember my Bhubaneswar days with nostalgia after reading your postings.Thanks a lot for the nice writing.
    S panicker

  8. Hi Jitu, very nicely written article that made me nostalgic. With your permission I would like to share this article on one of my blogs with original credits and link. Please let me know if it is OK with you. Regards.

  9. Hello Jeetu Bhai and all other friends who have shared their thoughts here. Really nice to see all of us from different batches/years come together to feel the gradual transformation of Bhubaneswar. In my part also it is so true. I am a regular at visiting BBSR from 1989 when I was in class V. My father worked with water resources and we had to get accustomed to many places every 2-3 years. But I feel very emotionally connected to BBSR through the years. I did my engineering also from BBSR and during that 4 years I lived my youth life to the brim at BBSR. I roamed around all the areas which Jitu Bhai was sharing about and many more places that also have come up alive now. The temple areas, the central BBSR, the Khordha zone, Cuttack zone and Puri zone of BBSR. Recently I was overlooking the new IIT campus, NISER and AIIMS campuses which almost connect towards Khordha road. Many bypass roads that have come up now around BBSR which may become outer ring road in future. As Jitu Bhai you told yes there have been infrastructure improvement both private and government works but that is good only, till people and their attitude towards the development is not changed or make them more careless. Because to give a proper shape to BBSR a lot have to be done and long way to go as a smart start up promising city. Else I fear (touch wood not) BBSR may land up as another messy city like Bangalore (pls excuse me who don’t agree). Along side this I would like to also share my happiness of experience of another few very beautiful towns like Sambalpur, Bramhapur, Balasore, Baripada which are also catching up the theme. Rourkela and Cuttack I didn’t mention as they were already grown up w.r.t BBSR. It feels to me like whole of Odisha I am able to connect when ever I close my eyes. There are a lot of scope for scenic tourism in Odisha which every Indian would love to experience. In other words those which I experienced during my engg. years. I still cherish those days and feel so overwhelmed when I read those articles as you wrote in 2013 and the ones we read and refreshed in 2016. I come from Puri the abode of my Lord Jagannath and I pray n wish for all prosperity and growth of every odia sadhab Pua and jhia (yes that is what we odias are known for as a banika community in the ancient history of this odia civilisation) in what ever we do for our, our nation’s interest. May all of us achieve all new feats and many things in our this short life spans. Jai Jagannath.

    1. Thanks Satyanarayan for such an exciting note. Yes, we are all happy the way Bhubaneswar and the whole of Odisha is changing fast and at the same we must act together to preserve its heritage and culture.

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