Images and text copyright Chris Wormald and may only be used with written permission
New Year 09
A New Year’s day on the toilet and/or in bed with food poisoning, a visit from a nice old doctor and several food-less days afterwards, as my stomach recovered, in a town called Puri (which I re-named Pooie because of the extraordinary litter of bowel contents on the tide-line) are, thankfully, not the only memories of a couple of weeks in Orissa.
Puri has outgrown it’s infrastructure in no uncertain terms, despite efforts to install a proper sewage system. A huge number of hotels line the foreshore, stretching several miles, resembling a Costa and the densely populated area towards the old fishing village is home to a variety of rooms, cafés and restaurants, not all of which are safe, as I found to my cost.
When you arrive in Puri make every effort to outwit the nauseous touts who greet every train and follow western travellers around, trying to “introduce” them to accommodation providers in return for a kick-back. A better plan is to walk to the village and find a healthy looking traveller who has been in the town for a week and ask where to eat and if there are rooms going, to avoid my grim induction to Pooie.
I will not be as rash as to make any food or accommodation recommendations in this text; things inevitably change from year to year, cafés change hands and acquire new staff. However if you are careful (more careful than I was); it is possible to sleep and eat healthily in what can be described as Paignton sans Sewers.
One of the highlights of Puri is the enormous Jaganath Temple in the market place that towers above everything else. It covers an enormous area and is reported to employ 400 cooks to prepare the prasad (blessed food). It must be truly stunning inside; but however much I wanted to go in, I had the wrong colour skin, for it is one of those places that are only for Hindus. Westerners, such as myself, with a genuine interest in Hinduism and decidedly Shakta leanings are forbidden. It annoyed me as much as it would, if I was a Hindu, to be forbidden to enter St Paul’s Cathedral in London or Notre Dame in Paris.
Thankfully, there is more to do in Puri than dodge poos on the beach or hanker after forbidden temples. The stunning, elaborately carved, Konark Sun Temple ruins is a short taxi ride away, and there are many villages in the beautiful watery Orissa countryside outside the city, including the fascinating arts village of Raghurajpur, where boys are trained to paint in the local style, and other villages have small craft enterprises using local materials such as coir.
There are also miles of fresh, pooless beaches and an enormous fresh/saltwater lake full of birds further down the coast. The Temple City of Bhubaneswar is 60 miles by train where I stopped for a few days to look around the many temples, some of which are elaborately carved and open to all, before taking the train for Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu.
Puri is a good relaxing, stopover point for a week, but some of the people I met had been trapped for months. You know the type – too old for Goa (as am I), too young for Bognor Regis or Worthing. Ditto!
Follow me to Tamil Nadu and my first visit to Pondicherry – https://chriswormald.wordpress.com/a-little-bit-of-france-in-tamil-nadu/