ONE OF India’s most important pilgrimage centres, this seaside town is dominated by the towering Jagannath Temple. Early European sailors, for whom its 65-m (213-ft) high spire was an important landmark, called it the White Pagoda, to differentiate it from Konark’s Sun Temple which they named Black Pagoda.
The Jagannath Temple was built in the 12th century by King Anantavarman of the Eastern Gangs dynasty. Surrounded by a 6-m (20-ft) high wall, its main gate is guarded by a pair of brightly painted stone lions. Non-Hindus are not allowed in, but can get a good view of the complex, with its multitude of small shrines and its courtyard thronged with pilgrims, from the roof of the Raghunandan Library across the street from the main gate. The temple is similar in design to the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar with three smaller shrines adjoining its tall sanctuary tower. The elegant stone column near the entrance, topped with the figure of Arun, charioteer of the Sun God, was brought here from the Sun Temple at Konark in the 18th century.
From the temple, Puri’s main street, Sada Danda, runs through the town, crammed with pilgrims’ rest houses and shops selling food, religious souvenirs and handicrafts. Local specialities are the colourful pattachitra paintings and round Tanga playing cards painted with religious themes. Purl’s beach is its other attraction, though not always safe for swimming because of dangerous undercurrents. The long beach front is crowded with stalls and groups of pilgrims along Marine Parade. Sunbathers and swimmers should therefore head to the eastern end, which is cleaner and more secluded, or to the beaches attached to the better hotels. Local fishermen wearing conical hats serve as lifeguards on the beach, and take visitors out to sea in their boats to watch the sunsets.