Planning a visit to Puri for the Rath Yatra of the Puri Jagannath temple ? Here is a guide on what you can do in 48 hours in Puri.
It is the wee hours of the morning and the sun has still not kept its date with the sky. I wake up gingerly, a little surprised that it is still dark, even though I am in Puri, in Odisha where the mornings are often very early. It is hazy as we drive past the empty boulevard along the beach. Every inch of the road is lined with resorts and hotels facing the sea and they are all wrapped in a cloak of silence. As we enter the main temple road, the occasional car drives past as the rickshaw guys wake up. Life is slowly stirring here as the sun strides up the sky, its rays glancing upon the 200 feet tall tower of the Puri Jagannath Temple, the shrine around which the town revolves. If you have just 48 hours in Puri, then your trip is planned around temples, architecture, crafts and a sunset cruise.
Puri is essentially a holy city and it forms part of the Char Dham itinerary where pilgrims visit Dwaraka, Badrinath and Rameshwaram. I enter the temple only to find it bustling with devotees and devotion. It seems like the entire city is here – tourists, locals, pandas, all vying with each other to get the first darshan of the lord . We sway through the crowd and manage to find a little corner where we have our own private spiritual moment and a silent communion with the triad deities. Mesmerised and overwhelmed by the sight of these larger than life brightly clad wooden deities of Jagannath , Balabhadra and Sulabhadra, I forget for a moment, the jostling and the elbowing before heading out of the shrine into the vast open space . I have the entire 400,000 sq feet of space around the temple to explore .
Puri Jagannath Temple
If you have just 48 hours in Puri, the Jagannath temple is clearly the first on your agenda, even if you are not on a pilgrimage. The 11th century temple built by King Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty was believed to be designed by Vishwakarma, the architect of the Gods and the deities were carved from neem wood by none other than Vishnu himself in the guide of a carpenter. Surrounded by a 20 feet wall , there are more than 120 smaller shrines in the temple complex. Crowning the temple tower is the Srichakra of Vishnu. There are four gates here – the Lion Gate which is the main entrance, while the others are called Elephant Gate, Tiger Gate and Horse Gate. The temple itself has four separate sections. Besides the main sanctum or the Garba Graha, where the deities are placed in a throne of pearls or Ratnavedi, there a Nata mandapa or the dancing hall, the Bhoga Mandapa or the offerings hall and the front porch or Mukhashala. But the area that has the maximum buzz besides the main shrine is the kichen. One of the largest kitchens in the world, more than 50 different types of offerings are prepared for the deity and food is prepared in earthen pots and water drawn from the two wells in the temple complex. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi supervises every morsel prepared here for the Gods.
The temple is filled with legends and the most fascinating legend is about the discovery of the deities. A panda tells me that Vishnu himself directed a local king of the ancient times to the shores of Puri where he found a log of wood floating in the waters.
Everything revolves around Lord Jagannath and his siblings – from the motifs of the Patachitra, the local craft to the designs and colours of the sarees hand woven here .Besides the Rath Yatra , Puri’s festivals are centred around the temple. It is celebrated when the deities go for their annual bath every year called the Snana Yatra or when they go on a vacation or Anavasara every year. The deities then are kept in a secret place, hidden from public for a fortnight, as they are supposedly recovering from fever. Another ritual involves new deities replacing the old after the latter are buried.
The Beach in Puri
If Puri’s identity is claimed by the temple, then in tourism parlance it is emerging as the beach resort destination of the east. A weekend getaway to most tourists from the neighbouring states, it is thronged by people . I walk around the beach in the evening to find it completely crowded. Besides the kites and balloons flying around, camel rides seem to be very popular here. A local sand festival has just been concluded. In Puri and Konark, the shores are usually filled with sand art as artists here try to weave in social messaging through their designs. Save the environment is one of the popular themes. While local festivals happen around the Rath Yatra or during new years eve, the annual beach festival in Puri happens around November- December every year, where one can see the sand art of the famous artist Padma Shri Sudarshan Pattnaik who even runs an institute here to promote the craft.
Raghurajpur – Heritage Craft Village
If you have just 48 hours in Puri, then I recommend that you head to Raghurajpur. A mere twenty minute drive from Puri and I am ushered into a world of paint and colour in a small hamlet located barely 15 kms from Puri. A Crafts Village , Raghurajpur is home to over 100 craftsmen who have been creating and preserving the 900 year old craft of patachitra, which literally means scroll paintings on cloth. I walk around and see homes huddled together, with fascinating murals on the walls, while the verandahs turn into studios. I stop by to watch a Chitrakaar at work. On a canvas of cloth, he is painting a vignette of Lord Krishna with his Gopikas.
The pata or cloth is prepared for the artist by soaking it in water with tamarind seeds and it is then coated with chalk and gum. Another later of cotton is then attached to it and rubbed with stones so that the canvas is smooth and has a glossy finish. The Chitrakaars usually prepare their own natural colours and they use very fine brushes. Their subjects are usually stories from Indian mythology but it is Lord Jagannath who inspires them. A Chitrakaar tells me that a patachitra of the triad deities is worshipped when the Gods go on their fifteen day holiday or Anavasara.
I stop in front of a temple to pay my respects when a group of Chitrakars invite me to their homes. On the colourful walls I see an eclectic mix of various crafts being displayed. Besides the patachitra, there are palm leaf engravings with portraits of Gods and Goddesses and tussar paintings which display tribal motifs. The paintings here do not depict landscapes or monuments, but only stories from mythology. Motifs of trees, flowers, birds, leaves border the paintings, while the portraits are defined by fine brush strokes. No pencil or charcoal is used. I see a variety of masks, wooden toys and even toys made of cow dung. A woman shows me her coconut shells painted with the triad deities . On her neighbour’s house , I see a mural depicting them. I can spend an entire day in Raghurajpur watching the artisans at work, but it is time to leave.
Konark Sun Temple
Another temple, not to be missed, even if you have just 48 hours in Puri is the Konark Sun Temple. The 13th century Sun Temple , a World UNESCO site, known for its erotic carvings is about 35 kms from the Puri town . It takes me an hour’s drive from the town only to find it crowded with tourists. What I see is a magnificent temple, almost in ruins, designed like a chariot drawn by seven horses with twelve intricately carved massive wheels .Built by King Narasimhadeva 1 of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty in granite, it was referred to as the Black Pagoda by the British. The sun’s rays stroke the erotic sculptures as my guide nonchalantly points out to every passionate carving on the walls .
I see the temple under renovation and it is believed that the Vimana or the tower of the temple which was over 200 feet in height had collapsed many years ago Facing east, the temple is best recommended during sunrise so that one can take photographs of the first rays of the sun striking the sculptures. The annual Konark dance festival is held usually here every year during February Tourists visiting Konark also head to the confluence of the Chandrabaga river and mouth where the temple was once located.
Sunset Cruise in Chilika Lake
There is nothing to beat a sunset cruise . I leave Puri late in the afternoon and head towards Satpada, a small town along the Chilika lake, one of the largest brackish water lagoons in the world . Satpada actually means a cluster of seven fishing hamlets and the 50 kms journey takes a couple of hours as we reach the jetty post lunch. We have a boat to ourselves and we go cruising along the vast expanse of Chilika, looking for dolphins. We stop by to see some locals showing us cultured pearls from oyster shells, trying to con us into believing they were obtained through deep sea diving. We almost fall for the con . We see buckets of red crabs caught by the locals. Our boatman takes us to Rajhans Island, where we can see the lagoon on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. We stop for a while and then continue looking for the elusive Irawaddy dolphins. An hour later, we are greeted by a couple diving into the water, while some of them swim close by, their fins peeping above the surface of water. Although this stretch of Chilika is not the haunt of migratory birds, we do see flocks of ducks in the distance. As we keep cruising, we realize that light is fading away past. It is hardly five in the evening and the sun is already touching the horizon, kissing the day goodbye. And with a sigh, we return to our jetty. A trip to Satpada can be arranged as a day trip from Puri or for those keen on a sunrise cruise, one can stay in the town as well. But if you want to do on a birding trip, then you must visit Mangalajodi, a small hamlet on the Chilika Lake.
Where to Stay in Puri
Puri is filled with resorts as it is promoted more as a beach destination than a holy town. Almost all the hotels are located on the beach road. The beach is private and is very clean. The rooms are large and comfortable and there is a choice of a single, double or a studio apartment.
Getting there to Puri
Puri is a coastal town located in the Puri district about 60 kms from Bhubaneshwar and 500 kms from Kolkata. The closest airport is at Bhubaneshwar which is connected to most of the key cities in India. If you are flying from Bangalore or Chennai, then one can connect via Hyderabad or Visakhapatnam. Taxis and buses will reach you to Puri from Bhubaneshwar. Puri is well connected by trains from all metros and other cities. Buses connect Puri to Kolkatta as well .
Getting around Puri
Besides private taxis which can take you around Puri, one can take buses to Satpada or Konark. The cost of the vehicle depends on the car you choose and the number of kms/hours that you use it. Cycle rickshaws are available to take you around the town. Most hotels will arrange your transport
Best time to visit Puri
The best time to visit Puri is during the winters. The temperature is between 10*C and 18*C but be warned, the sun sets by 5pm and it is pitch dark in an hour. Summers are usually very hot, with temperatures touching 45*C during April – May. While the monsoons are moderate to heavy, the town is sometimes prone to cyclones as well.