I spent the last week in Puri, Odisha. My main objective: visiting Lord Puri Jagannathan (Lord of the World). I am not much of a traveler but I really enjoyed this trip… even with my busted knee.
These are the top five things I loved about Puri: i.e. places you should check out if you go there.
1. Lord Jagannathan Temple: Beautiful architecture and the cutest deity. Lord Jagannathan, unlike most Hindu deities, is not made of stone. He is made of wood. He is modeled after a tribal idol with beautiful big eyes, a smiling mouth and a small disproportionate body. In Puri, He is accompanied by his brother Balaraman and sister Subhadra. The temple architecture is very different from the Chola architecture seen in South India. The best part is, you can get really up close to the deity. They don’t stop you a mile away like they do in Tirupathi. If you plan to visit, please read up about the history of the temple and Lord Jagannatha. It is a beautiful story. The temple also has one of the largest kitchens in the world and feeds thousands of people with its prasad.
2. Sakchi Gopal Temple: Although we visited various other bigger temples, this little one captured my heart. The simple reason: Its a Krishna temple. Lord Krishna in all his glorious dark skin and beautiful smile playing his flute! The little story behind the temple of how Lord Krishna came to bear witness to a poor but righteous man so that he may marry the woman he loved is also very sweet. There is also a little sannidhi for Lord Ram just outside the temple. When I came out of the temple and walked a hundred yards or so, I came upon this cute little park. The centerpiece of the park was a diaroma of Krishna’s Rasa-Leela: life size figures featuring Lord Krishna with Radha (playing the flute of course) surrounded by His Gopis. Unfortunately, the park was closed but I was able to get some photos from the outside.
3. Dolphin sighting at Chillika lake: We were not in the right time of the year to observe the migratory birds at the lake. But we did see about 4-5 dolphins swimming and frolicking. It was an exciting sight and I barely had any time to get any good pictures. However, it was well worth the two hour boat ride during with my kids drove me crazy with their fighting.
4.The Konark Sun temple: A world heritage site and rightly so. Its beautiful and breathtaking to imagine how it was built in a span of 12 years in the 13th century. Such intricate stone sculpting. Shopping in the little shops outside the temple was a lot of fun.
5. The sea breeze and the people: Puri is set on the coast like Chennai and that made me feel very much at home. The Bay of Bengal is the same, but the temps were lower than Chennai and so was the humidity. I loved walking along the beach road and shopping. The people were kind and friendly and found us pretty exotic. They are more familiar with Telugu people and Tamil was quite alien to them. The only frame of reference our boat driver had to us was the IPL! He was excited to meet people who came from Chennai, the land of the Super Kings!
I have lived in 3 different countries, but I am not much of a traveler. I prefer to do my traveling through a book while curled up on a comfortable couch. However, this trip gave me hope that I might be able motivate myself to see a few other places. One place I definitely want to visit in India is Mathura: the land of Lord Krishna. One factor that limited my traveling within India was language. I was always intimidated by places where I might need to speak Hindi. To my surprise, my diminutive Hindi skills were more than enough in Puri, especially after I got over my initial fear of trying to speak the language. I do realize my grammar must have been terrible, but oh well, you do what you need to survive.
Here are the top five things I didn’t like in Puri: aka things you should watch out for
1. Temple “guides” and others who are waiting to rip you off: I have never visited temples where they expect you to “donate” money at every single stage of the seva process. Charlatans hover around the temple in hoards and expect you to pay them for no reason. It was very annoying and also a little sad. The worst offenders were at the Sakchi Gopal temple.
2. Dearth of vegetarian food: Apparently the people of Odisha love their meat and sea food. Even with a huge Hindu temple in its midst, it was quite hard to find good pure vegetarian food. Tip: Check out ISKON for veggie food.
3. Chappathis: Ok, this is just me. Rotis/chappathis are my least favorite food, but was the only thing that was commonly available. Within four days I was craving idlis and dosas!
4. Language difficulties: They want you to talk in Hindi or at least Telugu. The hardest part is when they quote prices in Hindi or Oriya.
5. My bad knee: My knee injury has not healed fully and I had to use a walking stick everywhere. Now that I am back home, I am following a rigorous rehab program to break the inflammation cycle and get it back to normal. But it sure made things difficult while I was there. Note to self: Ensure you are physically fit before travel.
All in all, the good outweighed the bad and that’s all you can ever ask for.