PURI, a prime travel destination of Odhisa, is indeed a fascinating one. At any given day, one will always find a large number of visitors here. There would be two types of visitors, one, who would come for the famous Lord Jagannath Temple, and, two, there is the other group coming for the sprawling sea-beach. I for one made innumerable visits, in large groups with my co-workers, and, would still always love to repeat the experience !
The last time I visited was with a small team – consisting of my wife, my two grand children (Rijul and Ruhani – my daughter’s kids). There are now a good number of trains from Kolkata (Howrah Station), plying daily, and it takes about 9 hours to reach Puri Railway Station.
PURI is quite a nice small station, clean – with a little longish platforms, and, once you are outside the station there will be taxis, auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws. There is a fixed rate for hiring any of these. The best bet would be to name any hotel, located near Swargaduar on the beach, and announce that you already have a booking. If you don’t have one, any rickshaw and auto puller will take you around and find one lodge suiting your budget. Even during the peak tourist season, you will always find some reasonable place to lodge your group.
We booked a place ideally suited for the middle class visitors. It was quite a late night and upon arrival a dhoti-clad man handed over the room-key. It was a large room with a double bed. We told the man to bring an extra mattress, a couple of pillows and bed-sheets, to spread on the floor. It was a tiring day, as we set out from our home quite an early morning towards the railway station (our home is quite far from Howrah railway station). Soon we all started snoring !
Very early morning, it was still dark then, when there was a knock at the door. The same man was in front of the door. He asked “would you like to watch sun-rise ? The staircase is on the left corner and you may go up to the roof-top and enjoy the scenario. There are chairs” . We did not venture out because we already witnessed this site on several occasions during our earlier visits. But it is surely worth it.
Around seven in the morning we woke up as there was again a knock at the door, and, our man was with all smile and asked what would we like have for break –fast and lunch. The man would be around 35 years of age, the name was Basudev. We noticed he already had a bath and this time dressed in all white. He explained food is made to order and the cook is on leave and he is now managing the kitchen . We ordered for pooris and sabjis for breakfast. For lunch we ordered for fried parshe fish, rahu-fish curry and fried potato (no Bengali meal is complete without an item made of potatoes ), along with rice, dal and vegetable curry. We said we will have a late lunch, as we will go for a sea-bath right after the breakfast and might spend a couple of hours.
He enquired “would you like to have the food at our dining hall or I arrange at the open”. We all said in unison “at the the open”.
After a long sea-bath (none of us knew how to swim and hence it was literary taking bath sitting in one place waiting for the small sea waves to drench us).
We came back to hotel hungry and ate our stomach out. Around afternoo we again ventured out. The Beach becomes very lively around four in the afternoon. This is the time you can simply sit at the beach, dig the sands, normally cool beneath, cover your feet with sands and just enjoy the lazy moments. Children around make castles of various shapes and sizes. There will be tea-sellers, rosogolla sellers (you must try, they are delicious, and I vouch quite safe unless you are too finicky about hygiene at a trip like this).
The jhalmuri sellers serves quite a large helping for the price they charge. Around six in the evening you should proceed to Swargaduar side and you will be enthralled by two things. One, a large beach market in the open air which has large number of stalls selling konch-shell handicrafts. Don’t miss to buy a few colourful sticks for your neighbour-hood children. Two, there will be several hawkers with hand-pulled carts selling fried fishes of many variety, crabs and prawns of varied sizes – fried to order in front of your eyes. Once all these are over, go to the khaja (a kind of sweet made of wheat-flour and sugar syrup) shops. They will pack them for you in boxes made of palm leaves to carry them back home. The sweet stays for many weeks and regarded as Prasad, and, hence share them with your neighbours who were unable to make it to Puri.