Puri is one of the holiest pilgrimage places in India, with religious life revolving around the great Jagannath Mandir and its famous Rath Yatra Festival. However, there’s much more to see and do here beyond visiting the temple and the beach here. An interesting anecdote about Puri is that in the 1970s, travellers on the hippie trail through Asia were attracted here by the sea and marijuana, putting it on the global map.
Here’s how you can make the most of your trip to Puri:
A trip to Raghurajpur
It’s fairly easy to get to this beautiful village. Take the Bhubaneswar bus from Puri and look for the ‘Raghurajpur The Craft Village’ signpost 11 km of Puri, then walk for a bit and voila! you’re here.
This one’s a fascinating artists’ village and consists of a single street lined with thatched brick houses, adorned with murals of geometric patterns and mythological scenes, a traditional art form that has almost wiped out in Odisha. Most houses double up as artists’ workshops, selling a mix of crafts, from palm-leaf etchings to colourful silk prints. Raghurajpur, however, is particularly famous for its patachitra – Odishan cloth paintings. With attention to detail using a very fine brush, artists mark out animals, flowers, deities and demons, and fill them in with bright colours. Some are traditional designs, of the kind that decorate temple walls; others are more contemporary and make for unique souvenirs.
This mighty temple belongs to Lord of the Universe – Jagannath, an incarnation of Vishnu. Built in the 12th-century, the temple is surrounded by two walls, but you can spot its famous 58m-high spire topped by the flag and wheel of Vishnu, from a distance. The deity of Jannagath is hugely popular across Odisha; his images are tended and regularly dressed in new clothes at shrines across the state. The eastern entrance also known as the Lion Gate to the temple is the passageway for the chariot procession of the annual Rath Yatra.
Puri is not like Goa; you don’t go there expecting a palm-fringed paradise. But what you do get are wide beaches that are rather great for evening strolls than swims. Model Beach, especially, is a great beach, because it’s part of a sustainable, community-run beach tourism initiative, therefore offering a 700m stretch of sand that’s easily Puri’s finest and cleanest. There’s palm umbrellas there for shade, cabana boys known as Sea Riders who hawk fixed-price beach chairs, give massages, and are responsible for rescuing you should you need it.
These hallowed cremation grounds are the end stop of choice for eastern India’s Hindu population and beyond – some 40 bodies are cremated here daily. You can watch or walk among the open-air ceremonies as long as you behave in a respectful manner and avoid taking photos. It’s an obviously solemn affair, but a fascinating glimpse into Puri’s role as one of India’s holiest cities.