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A Puri City Guide – temples, festivals, and sandy shores on India’s eastern coast

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At first glance, Puri’s buzzing cacophony of traffic and people might be overwhelming, but this colourful, chaotic, coastal city has an eclectic charm, thanks to its oddball mix of a modern beach resort caught up with a buzzing Hindu pilgrimage centre, and backpacker hangout. As one of Orissa’s three golden temple cities, Puri draws in thousands of Hindu devotees each year, all looking to worship Lord Jagannath – the Lord of the Universe – at his temple.
Beach hotspot

 

 

Religious centre it may be, but Puri’s other appeal is its long stretch of golden sand. Take off your flip-flops and stroll the shoreline, feeling the grains of sand in between your toes, as you watch fishermen mending their nets, surfers enjoying the waves – thanks to a steep shelf, the beach has one of India’s best surf scenes – and citied-out families picnicking and playing on the sand. It might not have the same pull as Goa’s bhang-filled shoreline, but Puri Beach has harboured a continual stream of backpackers since the 70s, too.

 

Temples and lakes

 

 

Religious sites should be top on your list of places to visit in Puri. As well as Jagannath Temple, the city’s smaller temples are equally as colourful. Non-Hindus aren’t allowed in Jagannath, but can visit some of the smaller ones for a minimal fee. Gundicha Temple is surrounded by lush tropical gardens, and has a series of small colourful shrines. Near to Gundicha, Indradyumna Tank – one of Puri’s sacred lakes – is a place to watch pilgrims bathing in the holy waters.

 

Things to see and do

 

 

If you fancy heading out of town, the saltwater lagoon of Chilika Lake is a haven for birds and amphibians. In fact, the adorably snub-nosed Irrawaddy dolphins, so different from Bottlenose dolphins, have also been spotted in the waters. Meanwhile, another destination on Puri's outskirts is the heritage craft village at Raghurajpur – with its colourful mural-covered homes – is brimming with artists and artisans, who make traditional handicrafts such as papier-mâché figurines, cloth paintings, and wood carvings.

 

Travel tips

 

 

Puri’s climate is generally hot, and the monsoon hits between June and October, so avoid these months if you’re not fond of sitting on the beach in the rain. During Ratha Yatra – normally in June – Puri sees an influx of thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all over Orissa and further afield. It’s an incredible spectacle and the city’s streets are full of colour, devotional songs, and people. If you’re after a quieter getaway, you might want to plan your visit for when Puri’s less chaotic.