This was the time of the year to travel to the eastern shores and enjoy the spring season. With my wife, we decided for the darshan and aashirwad of Bhagwan Shri Jagannatha at Puri and explore the nearby famous Sun Temple of Konark. I arrived at Bhubaneswar, an emerging city and one of the top-most shortlisted for the Smart Cities Mission of GoI. The promise of spending time by the Puri beach, visiting temples, and enjoying the drive from BBSR to Puri and Marine drive from Puri to Konark lay ahead. We included the Heritage Village of Raghurajpur in our itinerary too making it a perfect blend of heritage, religious pilgrimage, and sand tourism. Temple Complexes of Jagannath Puri and Konark has always attracted me from my school days.
Boarding a local bus from Bhubaneswar to Puri, driving along NH, catching glimpses of fields, coconut gardens; we arrived mid-day at Puri Bus Station. After hassling with the local Autos and Rickshaws, we struck a deal and arrived at the hotel. In the evening hours, we decided to explore and walked to the sea beach which has been packed with people mostly pilgrims and tourists from all over India but a good percentage from West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, and southern states. As we continue to explore the sea beach road of Puri, which has innumerable hotels, we came across the Sea beach market packed with people and shops selling everything under the sun.
Puri is the dhama of eastern India established by Adi Shankaracharya but its history and legend dates back to time immemorial. The main temple in Puri is surrounded by about 30 temples, small and big, and houses the three deities namely, Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra worshipped in the Puri temple. It is one of the grandest temples dedicated to Shree Vishnu, Shree Balram and Devi Subhadra. As it is well known that the icons of most Hindu deities are made out of metal or stone, the image of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are wooden. An interesting line of thought shared by the scholars mentions that this representation of Lord is more inclusive.
The Grand road hosts the famous Rath Yatra. Overall atmosphere is electrifying only to be interrupted by the Pandas and the local shopkeepers who have occupied almost every inch in and around the temple and the grand road. The pandas wants you to take to the temple to get the poojas done and after that the Dakshina and on the other hand the local shopkeepers does not have left an inch of space for the pedestrian.
However, after struggling with keeping our cameras, purses, mobile phones, belts secured, we finally deposited them to a shop and joined the queue chanting Jai Jagannath. As we entered, the temple was buzzing with activities since it was around the auspicious occasion of full-moon. Pilgrims and visitors were everywhere. As we made our way to the natya mandapam, we realize that due to some restoration work of the temple, the garbha-griha was out of bound. Even though we still got a good sight of the Lord and moved to see the other deities in the complex. As I curiously continue to watch the exterior work, pillars, large and small temples, carvings and shimmering Vimana with its pataka, I always feel speechless. Another grand spectacle is viewing the temple complex by night which gives a whole new dimension to the temple complex. This time I walked around the temple complex clicking pictures from different directions.
Our next destination was the heritage village of Raghurajpur renowned for its patachitra, a traditional form of painting, a place where arts and crafts have reached its stage of brightness. Its a small village in Puri district just off the BBSR-Puri Road and easily accessible by taxi or autos. As the only village in the country, where each family is engaged in one craft or the other for example patta paintings, palm leaf engravings, masks, wood carvings, stone carvings, papier mache toys and wooden toys, cow dung toys and tusser paintings etc. We spent over an hour and interacted with few artists. Since the tag of heritage village it seems that modernization has moved in and traditional art has caved in. Again reminded by the situation that we need to train people at various levels.
While back in Puri, we stopped for lunch at the famous Wild Grass restaurant to feast on the veg-thali and mutton-rice speciality.
After two days of Puri sightings, we were ready to visit Konark and attend the famous Konark Sound and Music festival. We cruised past the famous Chandrabhaga beach and arrived at Konark. Our accommodation was just next to the Konark Temple complex in a PWD guest house and inspite of limited facilities, it is a great place to stay.
In the afternoon, we went to see the Konark temple complex full with people. Recently, they have been focused at landscaping of the compound and active restoration work has been in progress. Hoping that the local untrained labourers do less harm than the actual conservation, we reached to the Konark Nataya Mandap to participate in the 30th Edition of the Konark Dance and Music Festival.
We watched some amazing performances especially by Uma Murali who is a dancer of unprecedented and graceful intensity, of the Bharathanatyam and
Kuchupudi Schools of Classical Indian dance and her troupe. The evening in Konark is pleasant in comparison to the day time and it is highly advisable to make a night halt and watch the Sun temple with lights. It looks different! By now, we were reminded of our worldly duties and we made our move from Konark to Bhubaneswar with a promise to come back.
Do's and Don't at Puri and Konark: -
1. Be ready to be ripped by the auto and rickshawala's. So negotiate hard otherwise for 2 kilometres they will charge Rs. 150-200.
2. While visiting the Jagannath Puri temple, you will be interrupted, cajoled and insisted by the pandas standing on the road and particularly everywhere and almost shadowing unless you strictly tell them politely to be not interested.
3. Try the local sweets especially Rabri and Khajas.
4. At Raghurajpur, ensure that you go all the way up to the village. Its in T-shape and interact with locals there. Do not fall for middleman in between.
5. Both Puri and Konark are in general quite clean, still maintain cleanliness.
6. Enjoy the beach and the beach market. Its not Goa and so do not expect it to be like any Goan beach market.
7. Enjoy local tea (Usually priced Rs.5/-)
8. Buy Conchsell from Puri, take lots of pictures and spend evening at Konark.