As soon as our train stopped at the busy railway station of Puri, I was excited to see the city after a long time. Puri is one of the most visited cities in the Indian state of Odisha where people come in search of spirituality or solace for a few days.
Only 60 km away from Bhubaneshwar, Puri is home to the famous 12th-century Jagannath temple which draws almost half of the total visitors to Odisha (formally known as Orissa). Puri is also known as Sri Jagannatha Dhama after the Jagannatha Temple and is one of the original Char Dham pilgrimage sites for Hindus.
During my first visit to Puri which seems like a long time ago, I was accompanied by my parents and my grandfather who is no longer in this mortal world. This time, I came here with my husband and in-laws to seek blessings for my married life ahead. I cannot help but think about all the places we had visited earlier and was excited to see them with my new family.
The history behind the name
Puri is also known as Shrikhetra in the local dialect, has many ancient names in the Hindu scriptures. In Rigveda, it is mentioned as a place called Purushamandama-grama meaning the place where the creator of the world, worshiped on an altar or mandapa near the coasts. Over time the name changed to Purushottama Puri and eventually shortened to Puri and Purusha came to be known as Jagannath.
If you are visiting Puri, always keep a few days in your hands to soak in the culture and relax a bit at the beach. There are a ton of things to do in and around Puri, so take your pick.
Things to do in and around Puri
Seek blessings at Jagannath temple
Offering prayer in the famous Jagannath temple should be the very first thing on your itinerary. The Jagannath temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath, a form of Lord Vishnu and doesn’t allow anyone who is not Hindu to enter the temple. The temple has four gates, each named after the animals guarding it – Singhadwara (the Lion Gate), Hathidwara (the Elephant Gate), Vyaghradwara (the Tiger Gate) and Ashwadwara (the Horse Gate).
On any morning, you can see crowds of pilgrims and the pandas wearing white lungis (loincloth) running around in the temple courtyard. Many of the pandas, work in the temple’s kitchen to prepare the daily offerings for Lord. The Mahaprasad that is distributed among the devotees includes 52 types of dishes, first offered to Lord Jagannath and later offered to Goddes Bimala in the grand temple (SriMandir).
Note: Photography is not allowed inside the temple premises. Covering up head, shoulders, and legs are the norms in the temple premises for ladies.
Jagannath temple is famous for its annual Ratha Yatra (Chariot Festival) in which Lord Jagannath and his siblings Lord Balaram and Subhadra are placed in a huge ornamentally decorate chariot and pulled on streets as a procession. This event gave birth to the English term Juggernaut.
Checkout Raghurajpur Artist village
Every hotel in Puri has hunged up Pattachitra paintings of Lord Jagannath with his siblings in various sizes in their lobbies. When you ask them about it, they will tell you about Raghurajpur, an artisan village only 14 km away from Puri that is famous for its Pattachitra paintings and palm leaf engravings.
Half a day trip to Raghurajpur is a must if you are an art enthusiast or simply looking to buy such beautiful traditional paintings.
Head to Konark’s Sun temple
Konark’s Sun temple dedicated to Sun God Arka is one of the most magnificent Sun temples in the World. This 13th-century temple is built in the shape of a chariot pulled by twelve horses carved out of stone. Due to its marvelous architecture, it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the last decade, the Government officials have taken steps to restore the temple, especially after the recent cyclones. In 1903, the temple was filled with sand and sealed by the British authorities to stabilize the structure. Due to this, a gap of 17 feet has been found. The government now is contemplating whether to add more sand or just remove all of it altogether and place an alternative support system.
I would love to visit Konark during the Karnak Dance and Music Festival that takes place every year in the month of December with the Konark temple as the backdrop. You can plan your trip around this festival and get more information here.
We opted for a great one-day tour from Odisha Tourism Department Corporate Ltd (OTDC) that included Lingaraj temple, Khandagiri, Udayagiri, Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda) at Dhauligiri, Nandankanan zoo, Konark’s Sun temple, Ramchandi temple, and Chandrabhaga beach, costing us Rs 400 per person.
The trip started from the Government guest house called Pantha Nivas in Puri and ended by dropping us near our hotels. Even though covering so many places in one day looks hectic but it was totally worth it.
Watch beautiful sunsets at Puri beach
Nothing beats sitting on a beach, digging your feet into sands and enjoying the sun setting down on the horizon, watching the sky speak in a thousand colors.
Many of the residents depend on income from tourism and that is why you will find the beach lined with many seaside food stalls selling tea and other evening snacks. They also offer chairs to their customers to enjoy food while watching the waves rolling onto the beach. A win-win situation for everyone, who wants to spend some time on the beach before heading back to the hotel.
If you are feeling up for it, you can also ride a camel or a horse on the beach for Rs 200 for a short distance.
Talk a stroll through the Puri markets
There is no dearth of pearls and shells available in Puri like any other seaside city, that you can take home. In fact, you will find many more interesting things to buy like miniature Jagannath statue, Konark’s Sun temple showpieces or even other knick-knacks for home decore.
But Puri is also famous for its Ikat clothe materials. Ikat literally means tie and is a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles which includes dyeing on the yarns prior to dyeing and weaving the fabric. I find Ikat dress materials a great souvenir option for my friends and family as they have made a come back in fashion.
Don’t forget to buy some Khaja
Khaja is a sweet made out of wheat flour fried in ghee and dipped in sugar syrup. It is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Puri, even though it is believed to have originated from the former state of Oudh. It is often offered as a dry prashad in Jagannath temple and a must to bring back home.
Kakatua Misthanna Bhandar has made a name for itself selling great khajas that stay soft till after a few days of purchasing it.
Visit Sudarshan Pattnaik’s Sand Art Museum
Only 10 mins away from Puri’s Swargadwar beach, the Padma Shri awardee Sudarshan Pattnaik has opened a sand art museum showcasing his talents of modeling sand into artistic forms.
We were thrilled to see his artwork and meet him in person in this new museum, inspired by Japan’s sand museum. He made a beautiful animation of Maa Durga in the sand for us.
The sand sculpturing in Puri isn’t a new phenomenon but its at least 700 years old. Some say that it has started from a time when Poet Balaram Das, the author of Dandi Ramayan was denied the gesture of climbing on to the chariot of Lord Jagannath during the annual Ratha Yatra and offer his prayers. Due to the rejection, he carved the statues of Lord Jagannath and his siblings in the sand and offered his prayers to them. Now, no historical fact is present to back this story of the devotion of Balaram Das but people still believe this as the origin of the sand art in Puri.
Visit Chilika lake
Chilika Lake is Asia’s biggest brackish water lagoon shared by the Puri, Khurda, and Ganjam districts of Odisha and very popular with the crowd. The lake has a ton of big and small islands that are frequented by migratory birds during the winter season. As a matter of fact, Chilika is home to one of the world’s largest breeding colonies of flamingos among others.
Chilika Lake sanctuary boasts an abundance of aquatic wildlife and also houses Irrawaddy dolphins which are different from the other dolphins due to their less prominent color and dorsal fin. Apart from its avifaunal species, the region also highlights varied wild animals such as blackbuck, golden jackals, spotted deer and hyenas, making it an ideal place for nature enthusiasts to visit.
Boating is one of the prime attractions of the lake which is known for its breathtaking sunrise and sunset views.
Where to stay in Puri?
You will find tons of hotels of various ranges lining the Puri beach. We personally like to stay near the beach because of the easy access but you can stay in one of the eco-resorts as well, away from the madding crowd. We stayed in the hotel Gajapathi near the ISCKON temple of Puri.
After the recent cyclone Bulbul, many establishments have been affected and under restoration. If you had earlier been to any hotel, then make sure to call them up and check if they are operational.
Puri was our first stop in our two-part Odisha journey, Daringbadi being the other one. Head to my Daringbadi post to know about a place in Odisha that receives snowfall. If you have visited Puri, tell me about your experience below! If you liked this post, share it with your friends and family.