Excuse the terrible pun. I had to because when you go to the tropical paradise beach town of Puri, there’s really not too much to do but kick back, relax and enjoy a little bit of peace and quiet.
I spent my first day in Puri just wandering around the beach and the town. Coming from the craziness of Kolkata I was just excited to get out and have some peace and quiet. Of course, the one main road in town still had motorcycles beeping, but I could escape it and that felt great. The other thing that really struck me is that as you go to a more rural town, you see more cows. Put simply, cows are considered sacred in Hindu culture and it is wrong to bother a cow. This gives them free reign of the roads and they just wander around like stray dogs.
I think Lonely Planet might have oversold the town, but it does fit one of my favorite criteria of travel. It is truly a place that Westerners don’t go on vacation, but Indians do. On my train, I met a couple going there for their honeymoon. It’s a little dirtier than the best place, the roads are all poorly kept, and the restaurants are decidedly local. But that’s okay. It certainly does feel undiscovered by tourists, and I know that is something a lot of travelers desperately crave.
I also learned how to navigate India’s public bus scene. Sometimes, the buses can be even quicker than the trains. Fortunately, every single time I’ve gone to take a bus, all of the locals are eager to help me. Reliably, you just arrive to the bus station and the first person that sees you asks where you’re going and they all whisk you to the bus. You will also be the only white person on the bus so the conductor figures out where you’re going, and tells you exactly when to get off. I’m so thankful that the people of India are looking out for me and I would never get anywhere without being able to ask the thousands of questions to locals and their eager responses.
The place I was going on this first bus adventure was about an hour away to the famous temple of Konark, The Sun Temple. It was built in the 13th Century by a pious King whose name I can’t pronounce and he built a beautiful temple on the ocean facing the sunrise. Since the 13th century, the ocean has receded about 3 km, so now it just sets in a field. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive. The temple is built in a uniquely Orissan style of architecture and while I don’t understand the subtleties of the style, it is unique for having a lot of details on the exterior and a very plain interior. Since the interior of the temple was closed off some 60 odd years ago for safety issues, you are just left with the intricate designs of the outside.
The temple originally had two giant towers, but all that remains is the SMALLER one. That’s right. The giant temple in my pictures is the little guy. Also, the temple was built to look like a giant chariot. It has horses and animals “pulling” the temple and the base of the temple has giant stone wheels that double as sundials! I was left kind of in awe by this very unique temple.
I spent the afternoon going to a couple towns that sell locally made crafts. The towns themselves weren’t that interesting, but they sold beautiful crafts and trinkets. I again got to know the great local bus system visiting the towns of Pipli and Raghurajpur. Pipli has woven goods adorned with tiny mirrors lighting up the stores with a single ray of sunshine. Raghurajpur is famous for their sandalwood etchings. I picked up some good souvenirs and returned to town.
I encountered my first bit of monsoon season in Puri and the town was attacked by a thunderstorm that night. The power went out a number of times while I was eating dinner and in my room – although I was always prepared with my headlamp!
I also had my most near-death experience to date. It was walking down the main street in Puri, a small dirt road wide enough for two auto rickshaws (basically a tuk tuk). As is typical in India, a large group of cows was taking up half the road, just lounging around. There wasn’t enough room to go around the cows on the outside, so I had to go around through the middle of the road. Just as I started to pass the small herd, one of the bulls decided he was bored and mounted the cow in front of him. She was inevitably startled, yelped, and lumbered forward. I was also startled by the cows in heat charging at me and jumped back, further into the road as an auto rickshaw zoomed by honking and actually hit me. I was okay, but was just incredibly startled. I really hate the cows.