With sacred sites defining its spirit, Puri in Odisha is one of the four destinations on the Char Dham pilgrimage circuit of Hindus. But its golden sands, beach carnivals, and annual chariot festival ensure that this eastern coastal town has something for every kind of traveller. Here’s how you can make the most of a day-long stopover. By Sushmita Srivastav
WITNESS A SURREAL SUNRISE
There’s no better way to begin your day in the city than by visiting Puri Beach (also known as Golden Beach) at the crack of dawn, when it is bathed in an early morning glow. Located on the shore of Bay of Bengal, sporting choppy waters and a splendid coastline, the beach is the proud owner of the prestigious Blue Flag eco-label. It is cloaked in silence at this hour and is perfect for a morning stroll.
MEET AND GREET THE DEITIES
As the city slowly comes to life, make your way to the 11th-century Shri Jagannath Puri Temple to watch the morning aarti (Hindu ritual of worship). Over 120 holy shrines dot the temple complex that is girded by a pair of high walls, and devotees queue up to say prayers to Lord Jagannath, the main residing deity. Visit the nearby temples—Lakshmi, Gundicha (the summer retreat for Lord Jagannath’s idol), Lokanath, and others—to know why Puri is called the ‘temple town of East India’.
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
Before heading out of the temple complex, sample the mahaprashada, an elaborate devotional offering of 50 sacred food items that is prepared in a community kitchen. It is first offered to the deities, and then served at the dining hall. Or drop by Honey Bee Bakery & Pizzeria for pancakes, pizzas, toasties, hot brews, and breakfast fry-ups.
WATCH ART COME ALIVE
Raghurajpur Artist Village is a hamlet located 15 kilometres north of Puri. It is home to craftspeople who preserve the 900-year-old art form of Pattachitra, and the houses here feature fascinating wall murals. Settle down on one of the verandas to watch an artist at work, and buy Pattachitra scroll paintings, palm-leaf engravings, shadow puppets, tribal masks, or wooden toys.
READ STORIES IN STONE
Established and run by Padma Shri-awardee sculptor Sudarshan Sahoo, Sudarshan Crafts Museum recreates the ambience of traditional temples. The centre exhibits and sells stone and wood carvings along with other handicrafts and paintings. It also has a Buddhist temple built in Japanese style, a well-stocked library, and a workshop. sudarshancrafts.com
HAVE AN ODIA LUNCH
Grab a table at Utkala, the multicuisine restaurant at Sterling Puri, or the Wildgrass Restaurant on VIP Road for the best of Odia cuisine and seafood. Try dishes like daab chingri (prawns cooked in tender coconut shell), Chilika crabs, chenna tarkari (cottage cheese balls in a savoury gravy), and tandoori pomfret.
ENJOY A GOLDEN SUNSET
It takes an hour to reach the Konark Sun Temple from Puri, but the 13th-century masterpiece is worth the drive. The colossal granite temple shaped like a chariot drawn by seven horses is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Make sure to reach on time to catch the sunset. The rays bouncing off the intricate carvings on the walls make for a surreal sight.
The serene beaches of this coastal town are ideal for laidback evening strolls. Other than the Puri Beach, Swargadwar, Baliharachandi, and Balghai are some of the beaches you can visit for some quietude. While colourful kites vie for space in the sky, camels rule the beach sands, and the coastline flaunts impressive sand-art sculptures during festivals and fairs.
EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY
Bring your day-long trip to an end with a dinner of Odia and Bengali dishes at MAYFAIR Waves’ sea-facing multi-cuisine restaurant SAMUDRA, and later, move on to the hotel’s pool-side bar, THE SHACKS, to sip on your favourite nightcap while enjoying delightful views of the bay.
The closest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is connected to major Indian cities. Puri is 63 kilometres from Bhubaneswar.
MAYFAIR has two stunning properties in Puri—pick MAYFAIR Waves for a luxury boutique experience by the beach (starts from INR 12,000/USD162) and MAYFAIR Heritage for cottages with traditional design and ocean views (starts from INR 9,000/USD122).
October to February.
Beach bums, art lovers, and history buffs.
Visit the Chilika Lake (104 kilometres from Puri) to spot the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins from a boat. Nalabana Bird Sanctuary in the core area of the wetlands of the lake is home to thousands of migratory and indigenous birds. Udaygiri and Khandagiri Caves on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar are second-century rock-cut caves that make for a great exploration from Puri.