Offbeat Puri: Beyond the beach and temple

Offbeat Puri
Offbeat Puri
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One of the most popular beach destinations of Orissa, Puri is primarily known to be a sacred pilgrimage site. Most people usually visit Puri for the Jagannath Temple and other holy sites. But when I visited this beach town with the agenda of adventures, I found that this religious hotspot has a lot more to offer to its visitors than the ancient temples and beautiful beaches. Because only those who seek can find the hidden treasures of Puri, from history and heritage to rich natural landscape, and everything in between.

A couple of months ago, we were on a family vacation to Puri. We booked a licensed taxi in Bhubaneswar, which would stay with us throughout the trip and take us to different locales. It was only a 60 Km drive and we reached in less than two hours, with one, quick tea break.

After the must-do temple visits the first day, it was time to discover the offbeat side of this temple town.

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Discovering the folk art

Orissa is known for its handloom textiles and folk art. Our first destination was the artistic village of Raghurajpur. It was a 20 minute- drive from Puri town. The village evolved with a community of rural artists and artisans. There were at least 100 houses, each painted and beautifully adorned with rural motifs. The villagers here specialized in palm leaf painting called Pattachitra, and other handicrafts made of palm trees, paper mache, and or stucco. Most of the works were based on religious themes and mythological legends. Every home would display their homeowner’s talent and the artists would exhibit their artworks at the local market or village fairs. This village is also the birthplace of Odissi dance maestro Kelucharan Mahapatra. I was in awe of their simplistic yet colorful artworks.

folk art Offbeat Puri
folk art Offbeat Puri

From there, we headed to Pipli. This village is home to another artist community of Odisha, known for their applique work. It was day time, and the market was bustling with artisans exhibiting their work. The entire place looked like a collage of colorful items. Almost every possible home décor like giant umbrellas, bed sheets, lamp shades, bags, and wall plaques were made with a patchwork of colored fabric, sequins, and mirrors.

Exploring wildlife

On day two of our trip, we decided to explore the wild side of Odisha’s nature. And Konark Wildlife Sanctuary was where the wild things were. While Konark is known for its ancient Sun Temple and stone sculptures, this was a side to the temple town, even I wasn’t aware of. The wildlife reserve was in Baragarh district, 25 Km from Puri town. It is also known as the Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary and lies along the coast between Banki Muhan near Puri and Keluni Muhan near Daluakani. Although technically a forest, it appeared more like a vast stretch of sandy grounds with thick clusters of casuarina and cashew trees.

Offbeat Puri wildlife
Offbeat Puri wildlife

It was not as dense as usually typical forests are. The entire area sat on a marshy shoreline and the forest cover was quite scanty. Without much density of trees, animals like deer and nilgai would often tread into the neighboring villages for food. As our car rolled down the sandy trail, I could smell the sea on the other side of the forest. The Nuanai and the Kushabhadra rivers cut through the sanctuary and make for watering holes for the animals. We reached the eastern edge of the sanctuary, where the forests opened up to the beach. It was a short walk along the forest trail before we reached the clean and empty beach. The sand here is grainy with broken seashells, pebbles, and home to tiny red crabs.

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A day at the largest lake

On day three of our vacation, we decided to go for a day picnic to the famous Chilika Lake. It was about 104 Km from Puri with a short two-hour drive. The lake is recognized as the largest saltwater pond in Asia.  The lake channels both freshwater and seawater from the Daya River and an inlet of Bay of Bengal respectively. The lake had was a tourist hotspot

Offbeat Puri chilika lake
Offbeat Puri chilika lake

with boating, birding, and picnic options. In some part of the lake, they also allow fishing. The lake surface was dotted with small islands with mangrove trees, where the water birds nested. It was still spring and we could see flocks of painted storks and herons treading around for food. We took a boat ride and toured the lake. Later in the day, we sat and watched the sunset and did a lot of photography. It was felt so rejuvenating that we didn’t want to go back yet. Fortunately, there was a lovely resort on one end of the lake where we stayed over for the night.

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My recommendations:

Travel smart and book a comfortable and cheap Bhubaneswar to Puri cabs.

For nature explorations, travel between November to March for conducive weather.

Always check for peak season when birding in Chilika Lake.

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