Puri, the abode of Odisha’s guardian deity, Lord Jagannath, attracts pilgrims round the year. But what prevents Puri from turning into a typical pilgrim centre is the nearly 400 metre long golden sea beach that borders the town. Excursions from Puri include dolphin sanctuary in Chilika Lake, artists’ villages, etc. Puri is one arm of Odisha’s Golden Triangle, the other two being Bhubaneswar and Konark.
Standing at one end of the Bada Danda (Grand Road) is the Jagannath Temple whose spire can be seen from a long distance. Built in the 12th century AD, the richly sculpted temple rises to a height of 65 meter. The three main deities, Lord Jagannath and his siblings, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra, reside in the sanctum sanctorum. The idols go through a lot of rituals, from dawn until bed time and the opening/closing of the sanctorum for visitors is regulated by these activities. There are a host of other temples inside the precinct. Apart from the daily rituals, there are several festivals associated with the temple that draw a lot of pilgrims, especially the Snan Yatra (Bathing Festival) and the Ratha Yatra (Chariot Festival).
Remember: The temple is open to Hindus only. Shoes, leather accessories, cell phones, backpacks, etc., are not allowed inside the temple. Temple remains closed from Snan Yatra until the last day of the Rathayatra. Details about deities and rituals available on http://jagannath.nic.in/?q=home.
Caution: The temple’s priests and their attendants aggressively pursue visitors to make an offering to the deities. You will even find them approaching travellers at railway and bus stations. To avoid any untoward incident, it is best to ask the hotel where you are staying to refer you to their in-house priest, if you are likely to offer ‘puja’.
Lying to the east of the town is Puri’s famous beach on the Bay of Bengal. The surf mostly breaks ahead of the beach and the foam-flecked waves gently roll on to the golden sand. The main beach extends north to south -- between Chakratirtha and Swargadwar. By day, a large crowd gathers on the beach to bathe and swim in the sea. Although the surf is relatively safe, it is always better to remain on the side of caution. In the evening, a part of the beach turns into a fairground, with kiosks selling snacks and souvenirs. The hours of sunrise and sunset also attract a lot of viewers. You may catch sand artists at work on the beach. The Beach Road is choc-a-bloc with hotels, restaurants and shops, the area around Swargadwar being the most crowded.
Located at the other end of the Bada Danda is the Gundicha Temple, where the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra travel to in their chariots during the famous Rathayatra and stay for seven days. Built in typical Kalinga style of architecture, the temple is located in the middle of a garden.
There are several other temples, such as Sonar Gouranga, Tota Gopinath, etc. in Puri, which are popular with pilgrims.
Odisha is known for its handicrafts. Raghurajpur, about 12km by road from Puri, is a crafts village that has been around for a long time. You can watch the traditional artists pursuing patachitra painting, palm-leaf painting, wood craft, etc., here. The artists’ homes — with beautifully painted walls -- double up as workshops and you can also buy handicrafts directly from them. Raghurajpur is also the birth place of late Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra, the notable Odissi dancer and teacher. If you are fond of traditional arts and crafts, budget at least half a day for this village.
Pipili (40 km from Puri and 20km from Bhubaneswar) is the traditional home of applique artists of Odisha. Apart from making the covering for the chariots used during the Rathayatra festival, including that of Puri, these artists also make a variety of room decorations, bags, parasols, etc. Travelling along the highway meandering through the village gives the feel of driving through an open air art gallery.
About 20km from Puri by road, Brahmagiri is known for its temple dedicated to Alarnath. A popular pilgrimage centre, the temple sees a surge in visitors during the fortnight prior to the Rathayatra, when the deities of Jagannath Temple in Puri stay in seclusion and the temple remains closed. You can combine a visit to Alarnath with a trip to Satapada.
Located in a corner of the Chilika lagoon (or Chilka Lake), Satapada is about 50km by road from Puri. You can take boat rides into the lake from here; apart from birds (especially in winter), you may also catch sight of river dolphins. Carry sun protective gear, drinking water and snacks during boat ride. Usually, people visit Satapada on a day trip from Puri. But you may spend a night at the OTDC tourist lodge that overlooks the lake.
Information: Although Puri can be visited round the year, the best time is between November and February. Bhubaneswar is the nearest airport. Puri offers accommodation to suit every budget. But do make advance reservation in any hotel of your choice if you are visiting between October and March. There are daily tours from Puri that cover Bhubaneswar and Konark Sun Temple.