Exploring Puri beyond the Jagannath Temple

Recently I got a chance to visit the temple town of Puri on the coast of Odisha. Jagannath Puri is one of the Char Dhams of Hinduism and it is said that every Hindu should try and visit all the four dhams at least once in his/her lifetime. Since my childhood I have visited the Puri Jagannath Temple almost every year with family. Usually the trips are limited to a few hours- head there in the morning and be back by evening. So when I got this invitation from Sterling Holidays to visit their property, I was intrigued by the fact that the Jagannath Temple did NOT make it to the two-day itinerary. I knew it right away that this would be a unique trip- it was going to be about exploring Puri beyond the Jagannath Temple. And in hindsight, it turned out to be a very good experience. 

Sterling Resort, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple

Some time back I had read about Sterling’s re-branding with the ‘Holiday Differently’ tagline. I was more than just enthusiastic to learn first-hand what this meant in practice. During the trip, we were taken to explore various sights, cultures and local experiences in and around Puri. These are all available as experience packages that any guest staying at the Sterling Puri resort can avail of. Here are some of the experiences the resort offers that I would definitely recommend if you are visiting the temple town.

1. Raghurajpur Heritage Village

Raghurajpur is located just a few minutes outside of Puri on the highway towards Bhubaneswar. The village has gained immense popularity amongst tourists in the last few years ever since it was given the tag of ‘Heritage village’. 

The most special aspect of the village is that all members of the 140 families who reside here are highly talented in some art form or the other. As soon as you enter the premises you will be exposed to wall art on every house. There are handicrafts, pattachitra, statues and paintings- all created by the villagers and available for sell. If you wish, you can just sit with one of the villagers at work and observe the intricate way they create the masterpieces. 

Local Odia cuisine, Raghurajpur, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
Traditional and local Odia cuisine prepared by the villagers at Raghurajpur

The village also happens to be the birth place of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the doyen of Odissi dance, whose efforts starting in the 1940s got global recognition for the dance form. Additionally, Gotipua, a dance form that is considered the pre-cursor to Odissi and is performed by boys only, also began in Raghurajpur. Mythologically, Lord Jagannath watches the Gotipua performance before heading to bed each night. 

If you are visiting Raghurajpur with Sterling, you can even have a traditional Odia meal prepared in the home of the villagers and served to you. I highly recommend this. 

Time required: 1-2 hours 

2. Sudarshan Crafts Museum 

Sudarshan Crafts Museum, located on the main station road of Puri, is where you can head to experience live sculpting work. The museum was started by Padma Shree Sudarshan Sahoo several decades ago and houses a workshop, a Buddhist Temple and a souvenir shop where you can buy and/or place orders for the statues. If you are there, make sure you take a free tour of the premises to understand the years of hard work that goes into sculpting each statue. 

Time required: 30 minutes - 1 hour

Sudarshan Crafts Museum, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
Sudarshan Crafts Museum, Puri

3. Spotting Dolphins at Chilika Lake

Chilika lake has several entry points. The two most popular points are Balugaon and Satapada. While Balugaon is the ideal place for visiting the Kalijai Island, Satapada is the best location to spot the Irrawaddy dolphins. 

Satapada is located about 60 kms from Puri and takes nearly 1.5 hours by car. On reaching the ferry port, you can hire a motor boat (starts from Rs.1000 per hour for a boat) and head out near the sea. A little off the port is the point where Irrawady dolphins can be easily spotted. The boatmen are your best guides and will ensure good spottings in the right season. These dolphins are shy and if in a joyous mood, they might actually jump out. We managed to spot a few dolphins in the several minutes we silently waited for them. 

Chilika Lake, Satapada, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
Chilika Lake, Satapada

Chilika Lake, Satapada, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
Let's spot some dolphins? Satapada, Chilika Lake

The journey to the sea-mouth takes a little over an hour by boat depending on the direction of the tide. This is the point where the Chilika Lake meets the Bay of Bengal. You can get down at the island here and try some freshly caught sea food- crabs are the absolute favourite. I tried the crabs here and although it was a superbly painstaking and patient task to eat them, it was an experience worth having. For vegeterians, Maggi is never out of reach. 

You can walk to the other side of the small island and enjoy the sea beach all to yourself. Calm water of the lake on one side and the fierce waves of the sea on the other- it was an incredible view. 

Time required: 6-7 hours (including travel time from Puri) 

4. Konark the Black Pagoda

The world famous Sun Temple at Konark figures in almost every Odisha itinerary of people along the Golden Triangle of Bhubaneswar-Konark-Puri. The Konark Temple was built as the chariot of the Sun God. Although the temple is no longer used for worshipping, it is said that the temple was built in such a way that the first rays of the sun in the morning fell right inside its main structure (Garvagriha) and glowed. Visiting the interior of the temple is no longer possible since it has been filled with sand and blocked completely so as to prevent the crumbling down of the ancient structure. The 24 wheels, the carvings on the walls and most other parts of the temple still stand intact. 

I had visited the temple more than 15 years ago and was looking forward to revisiting it but due to lack of time the plan had to be shelved. If you are visiting the temple, try going in the late afternoon so you can marvel at the ancient wonder at length and then watch the sound and light show in the evening. 

Time required: 2-3 hours 

5. Watch the traditional dances

Odissi is the world famous classical dance form with its origins in Odisha. If you are in the state you ought to watch a performance. Along with it are the dance forms of Gotipua and Sambalpuri. In Gotipua, boys dress as girls and perform acrobatic stunts. Sambalpuri comes from Sambalpur in Western Odisha and is a folk dance with fun romantic songs. You can request for a dance performance to be organised for you in the evening during your stay at Sterling Puri. 

Odissi dance, Sterling Resort, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
Catching an Odissi dance performance at Sterling Resorts, Puri

Bonus: Jagannath Temple

In case it is your first time in Puri, do take a couple of hours and visit the Jagannath Temple. The temple has several mystical phenomenon that you can observe while you are there. Say for example, the flag on top of the temple always blows in a direction opposite to the wind and the Sudarshan Chakra on top seems to be facing you from whichever angle you try to see it all across Puri. 

Visiting the temple can be a little hassling for first-timers. It is advisable to ask your hotel to share the contact of a ‘panda’ (one of the temple priests) who will take you all around the temple on a guided tour. This saves the trouble of getting scammed to pay heavy donations everywhere and might ensure a quick tour avoiding the crowds of pilgrims. Do note that only Hindus are allowed inside the temple and no electronic items including phones and cameras are allowed. You can deposit them in the lockers outside the gates. 

Sterling Resorts in Puri is located right at the end of the beach road. The location is absolutely strategic with an almost private access to the sea beach, far from the crowds of the Golden Beach of Puri. The estuary right next to the resort makes for a beautiful sight. The resort boasts of over a 100 rooms in various categories and can be hired for wedding functions and other parties. They have a children’s play area, games/activity room and a sand art area as well. Sand artist Nikunj Nayak had created some incredible sand art while we were there. 

Sterling Resort, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
The picturesque Sterling Resorts, Puri, lit in the evening hours

Sterling Resort, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
Applique handicrafts from Pipili in the lobby of Sterling Resorts, Puri

Sterling Resort, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
View of the sea from my room, Sterling Resorts, Puri

I stayed in one of their classic Sea View rooms. It was comfortable, had easy access to the swimming pool and restaurant, the wifi worked well (although I hope they make it free for guest use as mobile connectivity can be an issue at times in the property), and I absolutely loved how they wrote good night messages on fresh leaves every night and left them on the bed along with some cookies. 

Sterling Resort, Things to do in Puri beyond Jagannath Temple
Good night message on a leaf and cookies, Sterling Resorts Puri

Check out this video from my trip, I am sure it would compel you to head on these beautiful experiences on your trip to Puri: 

I was hosted at Sterling, Puri in August 2018 on a FAM trip. You can book any of the experiences mentioned here during your stay at the property. All views and opinions in the post are completely personal. 

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