ok... so heres a bit of diary about that experience.
Puri is one of the four most important places in the Hindu pilgrimage spots. Along with Bhubaneswar and Konark, it forms the "golden triangle" of Orissa. Its has the Jagganath temple, that houses Lord Jagganath (jug-un-nath).
Getting to Puri is no biggie. To get there from Calcutta, there are lots of trains, the most preferred one being the Puri Express, that starts in the evening and diposits the tourist at Puri at dawn. There are trains from Delhi and Mumbai too, but these involve long journeys, and thus i'd suggest would be travellers from Delhi and Mumbai to break journey, and see some other tourist spot in between, before continuing for Puri.also from the South, (chennai and hyderabad) there are nights trains that involve 10-12 hour journeys.
But the best way to get to Puri is by road. Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa is well connected with almost all cities in india (except those of western india) and is itself a must see (loads of Temples, including the Lingraj Temple, plus there's the Nandan Kanan zoo and other stuff). From Bhubaneswar, Puri is about 2 hours by road, as is Konark. Buses are easily available to either place, so take your pick. We went to Konark first and went by car (we = me + parents). After seeing the famous (U.N world heritage site) Konark Sun Temple, we had a light lunch there, and then headed for Puri, which is about 1.5 hours by road from konark.
This stretch of road runs along the Bay of Bengal for the most part and is aptly called the Marine Drive. Anyway once in Puri, there are only 2 attractioins, 2 things on the "to do" list. See the temple and see/savour the beach, the last of which is an agenda that could take a good 7-8 hours. Not that the beach is the greatest in the world, but there's a lot of activity and fun that goes on around it, so its unlikely anyone can get bored easily.
The temple in Puri, is the only one i know in all India, that has a ban on non-hindus. Even Indira Gandhi, the ex-prime minister of India was refused entry, because she had married a Zorastrian and was thus technically a non-hindu (Indira Nehru married Feroze Gandhi to become Indira Gandhi). No other temple follows tradition so strictly. Anyways foreigners have to make do with views from outside, and even so for indian Christians and muslims. There's a library building on the opposite side fo the street, that allows visitors to climb up to its terrace and take pictures of the temple for a modest fee (about 10-20 rupees).
The town of Puri is small and congested. One good idea is to hire a cycle and have a look around, in the lanes & bylanes. Or hitch a ride in a rickshaw, for about 30 bucks or so, that'd show you a bit around the town, take you past the beautiful governor's house and finally deposit you on the beach front. Or just see the temple and head for the beach. Which is what most people do. The hotels in Puri fall in 2 categories - those that line the beach (there's a road that runs parallel to the beach) and those that don't.
By those that dont, i mean the one's that fall beyond the stretch of main road lining the beach, or that lie on the next parallel lane, behind the road that lines the beach. Needless to say, the latter are cheaper, since they dont quite provide a view of the beach from either window or balcony. Top hotels include Hotel Marina, Sea Hawk, New Sea Hawk, Asian Inn and others. These have rooms of in and around 1000 bucks (say 800 to 1200) for the ordinary kind and about 2000+ for deluxe and/or A.C. veriety. There are many cheaper hotels (350-700) too, with a beach-view but one has to book in advance. One thing that tourists should not be foolish enough to do, is to check into one of the more expensive hotels and end up in a room that doesn't face the sea. So make sure you get a room with a view (unless you want to waste money), and if you can't, then head for the cheaper hotels.
Since there's little else in puri to describe or specify, aside of the beach and the temple, i'll now shift the style of writting from a "How to" (mode) of Puri, to a "What i did" (mode) of Puri. We had not booked in advance and ended up in one Hotel Roopam (2nd lane = cheaper, lol) near the Lighthouse. The original plan was that I'd stay back and my parents would return the same evening (14th august), But last minute change of plan was that they'd all stay back, and that my Dad would return early on 15th August (he has to attend flag hoisting ceremony at office, on every 15th august, independence day) while me and mother would return later in the day on 15th. When we reached Puri from Konark on the 14th it was about 4.30 in the afternoon. The rush was understandable - because there were 3 consecutive holidays (sat, sun, mon), the whole place was choc-a-block.
After we had some tea, my parents decided to have a late lunch.I suggested that they should drop me on the beach front (about 150 metres walk) on the way to the restaurant and that i'd have grub on the beach itself. At the end of the mud-road connecting our hotel to the (metalled) road that lines the beach, there was a lot of sand. We thought it was just about 20 feet of sand before we reached the main road, so we pressed on in the car, but we got stuck in the sand !! It wasn't fun, pushing the car out, & we had to take some help from the locals who were on the beach.
Anyway, once on the main road, i had myself dropped near the hotel New Sea Hawk and then walked into the beach. The whole stretch of beach can be divided into 2 approximately equal halves - with hotel Sea Hawk (not New sea hawk) being the mid point. It was very cloudy plus late afternoon (about 5) - so there weren't many people in the water, though lots were around, digging the beach atmosphere. I guess these people had had long baths (in the sea) in the morning, then had a sound sleep after lunch and had come out to freshen themselves up, before a night at the "bazaar" that happens on the main road every night. There was a light house on the far end of the beach and about 30 people were taking top-views from its balcony.
Every kind of hawker was present on the beach - let me divide them into two kinds. the "chaat" and "non-chaat" variety. The former included Bhel Puri wallahs, and "Jhal Muri" wallahs (these were of the mobile kind, those who carry all their grub ingredients in a basket and a empty tin on which they place the basket, before whipping out some spicy Jhal Muri/ Bhel Puri, served in a paper cone. Helpings were of 5 and 3 bucks). For the uninitiated, Jhal Muri is a "drier" version of bhel-puri, and a Bengali name. Beside these two twin kinds of mobile hawkers, there were the "stationary" types - pani puri/"phoochka"/Gol Guppa stalls, that had about half dozen (each) chairs lined out in front of them. These were cheap wrt the rest of India (ie. in most other places in india its costlier) - 6 gol guppa's, for 2 rupees. And then there were "chhola" (chick peas) wallahs as well. Finally there were the "samosa" wallahs, who sold there wares in 2 modes - in one you could buy samosas for a buck apiece and in the other mode, you could have 3 samosas broken , garnished and sprinkled with a sort of "chhola-curry" and served as a "chaat" (5 bucks). samosa wallahs also fall in the "stationary hawker" (aka ramshackle wooden stall) sort. So much for the "chaat" types.
Amongst the non-chaat types, the most common were the tea stalls, which did brisk business and (each) had about 6-7 chairs lined up in front. And there were the "camera wallahs" - guys who walk the beach armed with a camera, looking for potential customers. So if you'd like to have your picture taken, maybe in the backdrop of the sea or the sun set, you pay him between 15-20 bucks (rates differ) and he takes a pic and lets you know which studio he works for. After some time, say 3 hours, you go to the studio and collect your pic. Or if you are going to be hanging around the beach for a long time, then he delivers the developed pic to you, when they are done. Needless to say, these guys are "mobile hawkers". And finally amongst the non-chaat types, were the most mobile of them all - dudes who sold horse rides!! I dunno how much they charged - i didnt try a beach-trot, but lots of others did. There also were a couple of camels-ride wallahs !! From all these types, chaat and non chaat, mobile and stationary, i had only Jhal-muri, tea, and Phuchka.
So there - a fun filled dynamic (as in dynamic equilibrium) chaotic crowd covering the beach with humanity and er.. cigarette stubs, wrappers, packets etc. Now this was the description of the action on the beach - as in ON the beach. This would last till the last rays of the sun sank below the horizon (the sun unforyunately neither rises not sets on the water, since the beach is in a east-west direction). While all this was taking place, another set of people were getting ready for action - the venue this time being BESIDE the beach, on the road. Here the action starts when the "ON the beach" action stops and the sky becomes dark and street lights come on. The grub on offer, is similar to the previous set, but also incorporates "higher" level stuff. Also this is a totally "stationary" affair, in that all the selling is done from the scores of wooden stalls that line the edge of the road, between beach and road.
the beach now begins to become desolate with only the hangers-on and the "pairs" (ie. a bird and a bee. or 2 birds or 2 bees as the case may be) enjoying the solitude and perhaps the darkness lol. the street meanwhile gets into top gear. people sit on the railing/wall sipping "chai" (indian tea) and talking the evening away. the "hep" types go for ice cream instead of "chai". the old-faithful sea breeze is always strong and soothing though. on the street, there is a mass of moving humanity - people shopping, eating, walking, smoking, groping (ok i made that one up. i never groped anyone, for the record), hoping (yes i did hope), doping, or just seasoned "hangers" doing some well practised "hanging" (as in "hanging around").
there are two sides of the road, literally and otherwise. on the footpath thats towards the beach, you get all those "wooden and temporary" condiment shops. but on the side where the hotels lie, you have real "shops" - generally clothes and footwear and general consumer-goods shops, a few photography studios, ordinary-to-decently-good restaurants etc. i guess the hotels let out a few purposely built "openings" in their ground floor. which these shop keepers rent. Anyways the two kinds of shops on the two sides of road leave you with 2 choices - either shop for something, like maybe an indian dress (very popular amongst foreigners), or buy a pack of chips and coke etc. OR hit the grub side of the road.
I'd mentioned earlier that it was "higher level stuff". Thus you'll find fried crabs, pomfret, mackrel, carp(small sized), bhetki koral ("c0ck up" - damned tasty) lobsters, shrimps, chicken legs etc. They have all the fish,, crab, lobsters, chicken legs (the last 2 are invariably covered with mashed potato) all arranged on the barrow in a "semi-fried" state. The rule is you got to select the one you want. Then they dunk it in a "besan" paste (paste made of chickpea flour) and fry it lightly. I had Pomfrets and Bhetki and both were money's worth. The price depends on the size of the fish and the type of fish too. Bhetki comes for 8 bucks or 10 or 12 depending on size. Pomfret can be 15, 20 or 25 depending on the size. Crabs are between 6 to 8 bucks per piece and i think chicken legs are about 12 bucks each. Besides these you get "rolls" in some of the barrow-shops. That include Egg roll, Chicken Roll, Veg Roll, Mutton Roll or a mix of the above. Again the price differs - between 8 to 18 bucks depending on what you go for.
For those of you who know how to roast/grill fish on a sort of "camp fire" - here's a piece of info that could help. In the morning, say about 9, if you are on the beach, you'll see the fishermen returning on their boats, with the fresh catch. You can buy stuff there, straight of the boat, as they untangle the fish from the nets (which makes for a very good photograph too). Fresh full grown Pomfrets come for 10 bucks (1 usd = 45 indian "bucks" approx) a piece !! Then its up to you - you could fry/grill/smoke it yourself on the beach or give it to the hotel cook to prepare for you (for a price). With a pack of Ruffles Lays chips this makes for a potent combo. Anyway comming back to the road-after-dusk story, you will get those pani puri and bhel puri wallahs too in the evening, but for some reason, people prefer the "higher" kind of grub. So, beside every barrow you'll see people standing with a plate in their hand, picking their way through the fish-bones and then eating the fish with enthu.
The crowd behaves like a sort of bell curve - it starts lightly about 6-6.30 and then peaks in the 7.30 - 9 region and then again starts waning. After about 10, the nature of the crowd changes somewhat. By now everyone has had dinner, either from some of the Thali shops, or in their hotel or in some of the restaurants or in the most adventurous cases, from these street side shops - and many come back for a late night stroll, or often a cigarrete. The shops meanwhile start winding up slowly, like bring the displayed artefacts inside etc. There are also booze shops on the "hotel" side of the road, and many buy their poison.Some of the top restaurants double up as bars. If i hadn't gone with parents i'd most likely have gone to the oceanfront with a beer bottle and some fried fish. Anyway, in the silence that ensues when the crowd finally dies out almost totally, the roar of the ocean provides a sort of constant CMBR type noise. Crime isnt common here, and all is safe. The lights in most hotel rooms and all the shops are gradually switched off (the barrow shops are vacated, after everything is safely tucked away in the "box"), and tourists and locals alike, call it a day.