I went for a three day conference in Puri. However, apart from the conference, the real enjoyment was the local sites and the cuisines.
I will mention the following five places which I saw.
- Hotel Holiday Resort, Puri: Truly the place to stay if one is traveling to Puri. With the perfect beach side view and very good food, it is an amazing hotel situated at the perfect location.
- Peace Restaurant, Puri: This place has very good food. Must try is its Muesli breakfast - contents: lots of fruits, curd, lots of dry fruits, all fresh material with a beautifully looking preparation. Cost: Rs 80 only. Warning: Too much for one person! I have heard it has good fish curry rice too for dinner. However couldn't try that out. The restaurant makes you wait for a good thirty minutes but when the food arrives, you get to know why. Simply because all food is cooked on demand. The place has decent open air ambience too.
- Jagannath Temple, Puri: In my view, this place was rather disappointing. As it happens with most places which become too famous, it has become highly commercialized with all the Pandits primarily concerned with collecting money from people. Let’s get a little deep here. As we, a group of 5 people with a 1-year old girl accompanying us, reached the temple at 5.30am, the usual time for people to visit, a Pandit (an Indian priest) came to us to show us the temple. Good thing - he asked for only Rs 20 for the entire group. He started the visit and much sooner than later, he took us to a place where he asked us to buy Prasad (holy offering) for the lord. The person at the counter put in front of us a Menu card for buying Prasad.
Surprise #1: The rate list had a maximum of up to Rs 500,000 with minimum rate kept as Rs 555. Bit too much one would think (normally we do an offering of anything between Rs 5 to a maximum of Rs 100 at rare occasions). Then they started bargaining, finally coming down to Rs 250. Obviously we didn’t take anything from there and left from that place. The Pandit then took us to another similar Prasad vendor. There the minimum rate on the menu card was Rs 221. One among us in the group, the father of the 1-year girl old took the Rs 221 Prasad. As we were entering into the temple, the Pandit with us asked us to quickly go to the counter to buy the entry ticket.
Surprise #2: It was 6 in the morning, and we came to know the entry ticket counter is already closed. It means no one can now pay heed to the lord Krishna. Feeling bad, we tried to enter through another gate from which a lot of people were trying to enter when we came to know the third surprise.
Surprise #3: The security guard told us 1-year old girl is not allowed to enter inside the main temple. Poor little girl.
Somehow we managed to enter the main temple and it was quite crowded on that morning. In the hustle bustle, as we tried to get out, the Pandit accompanying us just vanished. It goes without saying that they have their commission on the Prasad we buy. Anyway without the Pandit ‘guiding’ us, we went to the Kitchen located immediately at the right of the temple gate (quite possible to miss for a first time visitor). It was a huge kitchen with lots of eatables. We tried the malpua, a fruit cake and a type of drink, all of good taste and at reasonable prices (recommended from my side). And then we came to know of the final surprise.
Surprise #4: The same Prasad we purchased from the counter is being sold in the Kitchen at Rs 100!
My recommendations to all visiting the temple:
You may take a guide Pandit. But be careful not to buy the Prasad from the counters he asks you to get it from. It’s their commissions which make things sell twice the rates.
If you want to take Prasad, go first to the Kitchen in the right, get Rs 100 Prasad box and then go to the temple to make the offering.
Stay away from random Pandits in the temple premises. The first thing they do is ask for money.
Try some of the sweet dishes from the Kitchen. Made of Ghee and other material, the dishes are quite good.
- Chandrabhaga Beach: In the morning, I left at 4.45am from Puri to visit the Konark Sun temple. It is some 30 odd kms from Puri, a 30-40 minute ride by cab. On the way to the temple comes this beautiful beach – Chandrabhaga Beach. The beauty of the beach, among its cleanliness is its spectacular view of the Sunrise. I went on a Sunday morning and the cab person recommended me to watch sunrise at the beach. Being a Sunday, there were hundreds of people on the beach, all gathered to witness the Sun god coming from the horizon. With a cup of tea in my hand, I too sat with those people gazing at the sky as it turned from black to orange to red to blue as the Sun rose from the horizon. As the Sun rose, the people standing at the beach started shouting and making happy noises. Luckily for me and thousands others, the sky was clear and we had a clear and wonderful view of the Sun rising. I never knew one can also gradually see the rainbow colors as one looks at the Sun rising! I would highly recommend anyone to go to that beach in early morning and watch the Sunrise.
- Konark Sun Temple: After watching the sunrise, the cab driver took me to the temple, located only 10 minutes from the beach. I took a Temple Guide who charged Rs 150 (for 1-5 persons) and explained me most of the things about the temple and its architecture and sculpture. I would recommend anyone going there to spend some money and get a guide else the visit would merely be limited to photographs without much understanding of the place. The temple is a monument, similar in design and concept as the Khajuraho temples situated in Madhya Pradesh (guide recommended there too). The temple is built quite beautifully with great amount of consideration on the lifecycle of a man from being a toddler to an adult to finally an old man aiming for higher spiritual goals in life. The concept of the Elephant and the Tiger over the man is interesting. Similar is the concept of the chariot wheel which also indicates the time of a day. (All this I understood from the guide)
All in all, Puri was a wonderful trip. A few disappointments on the way but the Muesli breakfast and the spectacular Sunrise made the trip worth its while.