Not being very religious minded, going to the temple infested town of Puri wasn’t my idea of a fun-filled vacation. But the word ‘sea beach’ created waves of excitement and soon I found myself in the holy city which is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage site and one of the ‘char dhams’ because of the Jagannath Temple. It’s amazing to see how the swirling pinnacle of this 12th century temple made in the typical Kalinga style of architecture com- mands the landscape for miles around. Soon after having a darshan of Lord Jagannath with the help of a local panda (without which it would have been a sacrilege on my part), I literally dragged myself out from the sea of pilgrims at the temple and rushed towards the sea which fortunately wasn’t very far from the temple.
The sea with all its essential ingredients – sun, sand and surf- was waiting for me as if it was a gesture of mutual admira- tion. Throwing the garb of a pilgrim, I soon made my way into the pearly waters- not to take the traditional holy dip to wash my sins off, but to get completely soaked by the crash- ing surf. It was December- the best time to visit Puri climate wise, but worst time to be there – population wise. The pil- grims-turned-tourists throng this place around this time.
The Puri beach offers a rare opportunity of witnessing the colourful sunrise and the sunset where you can bathe and laze around for hours on the golden sands. Watching local fishermen in large groups, plying their catamarans or sail boats and drawing into their nets rich catches of crabs, prawns, pomfrets and other fish could be a sight of a life- time. You will also find people breaking shells and taking out (fake) pearls and corals right in front of you.
On this beach, for the first time I saw sand turning into a stunning examples of art. There was a group of students under the tutelage of world famous sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik, showing their creativity in sand, by carving huge face of Lord Shiva or a sleeping Buddha or a saint in deep meditation. The students would go leaving their creations behind only to be washed away by the waves that come to the shore in the evening.
On being told that Orissa has many more sea beaches be- sides Puri, the beach- lover in me couldn’t help exploring the beauty of other beaches. Nearest to the Puri beach is Balighai beach. This is a casuarinas fringed beach with a Sea Turtle Research Centre situated nearby. If you wish to enjoy just the tranquility of a beach side and the gurgle of the sea waves then this could be an ideal spot for you.
Chandipur a small town 16 kms away from the bigger town of Balasore, is a unique beach – unique in the sense, where sea water recedes about 5 kms during low tide and advances to the shoreline again during high tide, each day giving rev- elers the ultimate pleasure of walking into its shallow depths with fearless abandon. The swaying casuarinas trees and the shimmering waters of this seaside resort have made Chan- dipur a favourite haunt for a small coterie of beach lovers. The beach offers gorgeous views of dynamic seascapes and timeless dawns.
A trip to Orissa is incomplete without a visit to Konark, where the famous Sun Temple built in the 13th century AD stands as the crowning piece of Orissa’s architecture and sculpture. After visiting this religious and historically fa- mous site, a short drive (about 3 kms) brought me to the Chandrabhaga beach. According to a myth, the Sun God is believed to have sought a beautiful sea- maiden named Chandrabhaga. After chasing her upto this point, she is said to have disappeared into the sea. As another legend goes, a river by the same name Chandrabhaga is supposed to have existed just 3 kms away from the temple where Shamba, the son of Lord Krishna prayed to the Sun God for 12 years to be cured of leprosy. In memory of Shamba’s successful pen- ance, the Chandrabhaga Mela (festival) is held every year. During the full-moon phase in the month of Magha, the fes- tival is marked by certain rituals. People bath in the pond at night and then watch the sunrise over the sea the next morning.The strong currents of water do not make it either safe or easy for swimming but the picturesque view of the sunrise and sunset at this place is enchanting.
One of the most pristine beaches of Orissa, Gopalpur is a surfer’s delight and is excellent for sailing too. This qui- et beach is a splendid retreat for sea-worshippers, located about 16 km from Berhampur. Once a humming seaport, Gopalpur offers its visitors a slice of serenity in environs that are conducive to introspection and conviviality. You can still see the crumbling walls and pillars of the jetty, witness to its past glory of commercial activity. Now, plans are on to revitalise the port again and make it fit for modern ships. The pleasures of the blue beach and the blue bay with her backwaters continue to lure the water babies.