Waking up at dawn to the sound of loud, crashing waves, I decide to take a walk along a narrow stretch to the sea. Street lamps illuminate my path. As darkness disappears, I see black specks far away, and realise that those are catamarans riding the voluminous waves. The chimes of temple bells in the distance complete the mystic morning scene on the Puri beach.

Like the ancient town that is its home, the beach, known as Mahodadhi, is held to be sacred. It’s impossible to separate the beach from the mythological legends attached to it – it’s believed that Lord Jagannath was found floating as a log of wood on these shores. One often comes across devotees who pay obeisance to the ocean, taking a handful of saline water and sprinkling it on their head as if to cleanse themselves. Other visitors choose to relax on the beach, and some, like me, go searching for tea and food, both of which are sold by vendors. I sip tea and snack on hot samosas and rasgullas – absolutely refreshing. I take a stroll towards the far end of the beach, where I find an entirely different setting. A few catamarans, those specks I had spotted at dawn, have come ashore and there is a flurry of activity around them. Waiting fisherwomen sort the catch, quickly fill their cane baskets with fish and then head towards the bazaar. Their work for the day done, fishermen roll their nets and head home to rest. And thus begins another day at the beach.

Courtesy Incredible India
A sea of people gather to seek blessings from the holy trinity
A sea of people gather to seek blessings from the holy trinity

BEACH WATCH

Said to be one of the finest beaches in the country, the flat, sandy beach in Puri is bound to delight any beach lover. However, the shimmering blue waters can at times be deceptive as strong undercurrents have been reported. If you intend to swim and aren’t a strong swimmer, do take the assistance of nolias (fishermen). It’s inadvisable to sport beachwear in Puri.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

The main beachfront, near Puri Hotel, is full of tourists and vendors. While mornings are relatively less crowded, the beach comes alive in the evenings.

For devotees, Sri Jagannath Temple is the main draw, but many smaller temples and religious institutions are located in Puri.

On the beach

The beach resounds with shouts of vendors selling jhal murhi, samosas, tea and coffee. Walk around and admire the long beach stretch. Children can opt for horse and camel rides (₹30 per ride).

Cultural programmes, exhibitions and festivals create a vibrant atmosphere round the year in Puri. The beach near the Mahatma Gandhi statue is the venue for the annual three-day Beach Festival held in November.

The beach behind Hotel Pink House (CT Road) is the venue for BYOFF, or Bring Your Own Film Festival (Cell: 09830378903; byoffpuri.in), every February, when filmmakers gather to screen their films.

Swapan Nayak
Idols of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra
Idols of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra

Adventure by the beach

Rangers Adventure Foundation or RAF (Cell: 09437003284; Tariff: ₹4,500 per person with meals;  rangersatv. web.com) takes you camping, beach trekking, flat water surfing and you get the chance to ride an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) with a professional. RAF also organises a three-day international India Surf Festival during winters every year off Puri-Konark Beach in which around 20 countries participate. Their campsite is on Puri-Konark Marine Drive, 16km from Puri.

Jagannath Temple Complex

The Sri Jagannath Temple’s lofty spire, with its flag, can be seen as far as 7km away. The famous temple is said to have been built by Yayati Keshari (10th century CE). The annual Rath Festival at the temple, held in July, attracts millions of devotees.

WHERE TO STAY

Accommodation options in Puri range from cheap hotels to posh resorts. Toshali Sands (Tel: 06752-2375800, Cell: 09937003223; Tariff: ₹4,500–14,000) is a four star hotel, 8km from Puri on the Puri-Konark Marine Drive.

Mayfair Heritage (Tel: 227800; Tariff: ₹13,000–25,000) is a top-end hotel with its own private beach. Hotel Holiday Resort (Tel: 222440; Tariff: ₹2,500–7,500) offers great views of the sea from its four rooms. The Hans Coco Palms (Tel: 230038; Tariff: ₹5,500–14,000) is located close to the beach.

For a feel of the bygone British era, stay at the heritage Chanakya BNR Hotel (Tel: 222063; Tariff: ₹3,000–4,000), which has wide verandahs offering spectacular sea views. The Byke Vijaya (Tel: 222702; Tariff: ₹4,500–8,000) is on CT Road. OTDC Panthanivas (Tel: 222562/ 740; Tariff: ₹2,200–4,000), also on CT Road, is a no-frills place.

Puri Hotel (Tel: 222114; Tariff: ₹700– 4,000) on Beach Road offers sea views. Puri Beach Resort (Tel: 231788/ 888; Tariff: ₹2,700–5,000), on Marine Drive, is sea-facing too. If you are in Puri during Rath Yatra, stay at Neelachal Bhakt Nivas (Tel: 222053, Cell: 09437284108; Tariff: ₹600–1,240) on Grand Road, to be close to the Yatra venue.

WHERE TO EAT

In Puri, one can find delicious culinary delights at both wayside foodstalls and posh restaurants.

The local delicacy kheera (similar to rabri) is available in most sweet shops. Restaurants and Marwari bhojanalayas on Grand Road offer vegetarian thalis.

If you are looking for a four-course Continental meal, place your order at the Chanakya BNR Hotel.

For Chinese, Chung Wah on VIP Road is a great option, and the prawn delicacies here are highly recommended. Sea food at Wild Grass on VIP Road is value for money. The restaurant in Puri Hotel caters primarily to Bengali tourists and the small cafés on CT Road are popular. Try the fish, prawn and crab dishes sold on carts on the beachfront.

For Indian and Continental, head to Hotel Mayfair or Holiday Resort. Towards the far end on CT Road, there are small cafés serving Italian and Continental fare.

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Biju Patnaik Airport, Bhubaneswar (56km/ 1.5hrs). Taxi costs about ₹1,200 to Puri

Rail Puri Railway Station is connected by direct trains to New Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Haridwar. If travelling from the south, you’ll find it easier to get down at Bhubaneswar and proceed to Puri by road

Road NH203 from Bhubaneswar to Puri. If going via Konark, the distance between Konark and Bhubaneswar is 65km and between Konark and Puri, it’s 34km. The roads are good Bus Private deluxe buses connect Bhubaneswar and Puri; the trip takes 2hrs. There are many travel agencies from whom taxis can be hired, such as Discover Tours (Tel: 0674-2430477, 2435751)