Puri is one of the holiest pilgrimage places in India for Hindus, with religious life revolving around the great Jagannath Mandir and its famous festival of Rath Yatra which begins on 4th of July this year. The town’s other attraction is its long, sandy beach – better for strolling than swimming. If you happen to be in Puri for the festival then look for these places to eat and stay.
Wildgrass Restaurant- Grab yourself a table at this tranquil restaurant, either in one of the thatched pavilions or the air-con dining room, and tuck into excellent house specialities served by super courteous waiters. The tandoori pomfret is stellar, as is the Chilika crab curry. The seasonal vegetable specialities (best sampled as part of the thali) are not to be missed either.
Peace Restaurant- A Puri stalwart that relocated to a quieter location off the main road, the Peace is a pleasant budget option. It does nice work with Western breakfasts and pasta dishes, but excels at simple local thalis and seafood. Save some room for house desserts, including a fried empanada-like banana or apple turnover laced with sugar, cinnamon and honey.
Two States- This excellent restaurant inside the Mayfair Heritage hotel specialises in two cuisines: Odishan and Bengali. Seafood is the star here and all items on the succinct menu are well executed. Try the prawn cutlet or the prawn malai curry (prawns simmered in coconut-milk gravy).
Chung Wah- Inside the Lee Garden Hotel, this place certainly has the look of a classic Chinese restaurant: dark-wood booths, lattice screens and lots of red and gold and dragon imagery. The food is excellent Indo-Chinese – we particularly liked the hot garlic prawns.
Grand- This large, pure-veg local favourite offers plenty of off-menu dishes, so even if you don’t see the bhindi chatpati, gobi Hyderabadi, or kadhai veg on the menu, ask for them anyway. It also has a healthy list of dosas. There are striking views of Jagannath Mandir from the open-air terrace.
Puri Cheesecake- Bikram Sahoo and his six brothers have been churning out the unique Odishan delight known as chhena poda (made from cottage cheese, sugar and cardamom, and cooked in an iron pan over an open flame, it’s a cross between a cheesecake and a flan) for more than 45 years from their sweet shop in Puri’s holy quarters. A real treat.
Also Read: Jagannath Rath Yatra in Puri: Photo Story
Also Read: Festivals of the month: July 2019
Hotel Lotus- Friendly and humbly run, Lotus is probably the most popular budget choice among foreign backpackers, offering a range of inexpensive rooms that are clean and comfortable. The non-AC rooms, with small balconies, are great value.
Backpackers’ Inn- This welcome newcomer on the backpacker scene, hidden on a quiet street off VIP Rd, is run by Heritage Tours. There are common areas for mingling, including the fantastic roof terrace – ideal for sunset-gazing – and you can choose between cosy suites and a dorm.
Hotel Gandhara- Gandhara continues to steamroll the competition in this price bracket for its friendliness and value. The 200-year-old pillared heritage building – the former holiday home of a rich Bengali family – has three wonderfully atmospheric fan-cooled rooms. More expensive but unmemorable, modern AC rooms are in a new block at the back of the lawned garden, overlooking the swimming pool.
Z Hotel- This charming yet understated heritage hotel – the former raja’s home – remains one of Puri’s most atmospheric choices. Rooms are large and airy, and come with high ceilings, chunky wooden furniture and spotless bathrooms. There’s a restaurant, evening films shown in the TV room, and wi-fi in common areas.
Chanakya BNR Hotel- Conjuring up images of the Raj, this splendid 150-years-old railway hotel features beautiful bygone touches throughout, including 90-year-old Lac mural art in the lobby stairwell and restaurant. Inside the enormous rooms, entered through 2.7m-tall wooden doors, there’s period furniture and old framed Indian Railways photographs. The 1st-floor rooms open out onto a large shared verandah with sea views.
Mayfair- The benchmark for Puri luxury, this modern hotel is split between two buildings side by side. The 12-year-old Mayfair Heritage has spacious, stylish rooms and cottages, all with sea views, dotted around freshly clipped gardens, while the contemporary Mayfair Waves has luxury rooms and suites as well as a gym and spa. Both buildings have garden pools and top-notch restaurants.
Worth a Trip: RAGHURAJPUR
The fascinating artists’ village of Raghurajpur, 14km north of Puri, consists of a single street lined with thatched brick houses, adorned with murals of geometric patterns and mythological scenes – a traditional art form that has almost died out in Odisha.
Most houses double as artists’ workshops, selling a mix of crafts, from palm-leaf etchings to colourful silk prints. The designs are copied from Odisha’s Saora people, but Raghurajpur is particularly famous for its patachitra (Odishan cloth paintings). With eye-aching attention and a very fine brush, artists mark out animals, flowers, deities and demons, illuminated with bright colours. Some are traditional designs, of the kind that decorate temple walls; others are more contemporary, but both make unique souvenirs.
To get here, take the Bhubaneswar bus from Puri and look for the ‘Raghurajpur The Craft Village’ signpost 11km north of Puri, then walk the last 1km.