It was a cold February morning that woke me up way before the sun had even decided to take a peek and there I was scurrying to reach the train station. Partially sleep deprived and partially panicked I scampered on to a train that delivered me to Ranchi, the capital of this little state called Jharkhand. It served as ground zero as I rendezvoused with a friend and we were off again for a bout of beach therapy to the coastal delights of Orissa.
The overnight train assisted with the re-acquainting and the “catching up” and the filling in and the gossip but thankfully sleep arrived much like a shower for those who need it. We dreamed happy dreams and before these dreams perceived any true form we were in Bhubaneswar. Beams of sunlight drilled through as we walked across the platform trying to find answers to our very legitimate queries. But The next train to Puri was in two hours and they did say there was a bus. Impatience eventually dominated judgment and we managed to get onboard a decently crowded bus that took us straight to Puri.
I had relinquished the power of holding on to time the day I was born human but then what’s the point in complaining now. I might as well make the most of what I get. Thusly, I volunteered to sit by the window but instead I sat next to someone who had seated themselves against the window(Yes, You Maurisse! :P). It did distort my view a wee bit but then again there wasn’t much to see save the ridiculous resemblance the road to Puri had to my idea of Kerala, or well maybe the most advertised aspects of Kerala. I found myself looking out at beautiful blue skies and tall tall tall coconut trees. Smiley people looking up into the bus and a strong whiff of the salty air that hung below these sun kissed clouds.
It didn’t take us more than an hour to reach the beach town but landing there without prior hotel arrangements drove us into the clutches of the commissioned “Auto Wallah”. He insisted and he tried and he scouted and he implied and he steered and he directed but to no avail. Finally we asked to be offloaded at the closest beach that coincidentally happened to be the Chakratirth Beach and then we finally saw what we were here for.
The ocean in all its blueness devoured the brown sands, coming back for more. Always coming back for more.
Without a roof and without a plan we put down our bags and resumed the vacation. One bag a pillow and the other a source of entertainment and I was already soaking in the sun. Sadly, it didn’t last. About a quarter of an hour later, my companion decided to take charge of the situation and wandered off to survey a room with a bunch of local fishermen, to what they called their boss’ “Guest House”. With a skeptical eye I advised against but I have never really learned the Art of Convincing. So she tottered off as I waited on the beach watching the relentless sea trying to chomp off the beach slowly but steadily.
She returned as the minute needle took its 15th turn and so it turned out it wasn’t half as bad. With dirt cheap tariffs this little guest house was perfect. As I OK-ed the Big Green Guest House, she triumphantly declared,
“Sometimes you have just got to follow the drunk fishermen.”
Bags in place a little unpacking and a little packing, and post one “medically advised” sigh of relief, we had assumed the Must-go-to-the-Beach state of mind. And here we were under these sunny skies amidst the naps and the observing and the painting and the writing and the soaking, basically any activity that is customary to perform while on the beach. Honest. There’s like an official list and everything. Seriously.
I would hate to hide behind a veil of perfection as I tell you this story and I would also hate to elude from certain harsh realities of this beach town just to preserve the aestheticism of your idea of Puri. Hence, I will dip into it a little bit but you need to know Puri is quite cool.
I spent just about four days there, and already having been documented as the lazy kind I spent most of my time on the beach. Hence, my geographical markers are going to be defined in “Beach”. But first, one must acquaint themselves with the people of the land. The land belongs to the Oriya, but the Telugu live with the Oriyas in harmony(they sometimes hit a few rough patches) even though I did see a couple of fights. Nevertheless, I did not hear of even one fight resulting out of socio-cultural differences. There are primarily two beaches in Puri: The Golden beach, a very Indian Beach that doesn’t really welcome those of the white skin, and the Chakratirth Beach, she on the other hand, welcomes these outcasts with arms wide open. The Golden Beach is devoid of a single speckle of sand that shouts “No human contact”. Crowded to the brim, the beach wasn’t as clean as I expected but it wasn’t too bad. Scores of families rode the waves as children giggled and played games of their own. Pearl sellers on the beach sold their wares as the Ice Cream guy made a little money. The CT Road Beach on the other hand, took f lesser human traffic. Not a very clean beach but much better than the one that claimed to be golden. Proximity to the fisherman’s village lent this beach a more casual atmosphere but it wasn’t in all its entirety completely and absolutely safe post sunset.
Food was in abundance and delightfully inexpensive. Fish right out of the catch of the day. Puri was infectiously slow and mellow. Every day was just as “chill” as the last one and every day was beautiful. We walked mostly and took Rickshaws otherwise. But beware, when I say Puri is lazy, I mean LAAAAZZZYYYY. We got caught in town past three, one afternoon and there was not a single local soul that thought it necessary to stir at that hour. Puri sleeps as the afternoon sets in, shutters are rolled down, autowallahs nap in their autos, and Restaurants turn away customers. So, if you plan to do anything in the afternoon, don’t.
This trip though, couldn’t have been timed any better, as we managed to catch a few shows at the Konark Dance Festival. With expectations that didn’t amount to much, we drove to Konark to see an Odissi dance recital, and well we were quite dumbfounded. Brilliant use of space and impeccable choreography , made a really good presentation. Sadly though, we couldn’t watch for too long and had to run back to Puri in hasty retreat.
There was one last thing to do at Puri before our departure, and that was to find the best beach in or around town. Thankfully we did and we weren’t too disappointed. Some twenty kilometers from Puri, a private beach lay still in eternal perpetuity. Strewn with the skeletons of dead turtles, this beach was an awful lot of quiet and perfectly crafted for activities that concerned themselves with “chilling”. Picturesque and empty, I believe I had found the rock on which I would build my house. As I played out these dreams in my head, it was time again to leave. Thus ensued a chatty ride back to the Guest House.
Reminiscing over the last couple of days, we packed feverishly, but unhappily. But then again, there were new adventures to be had, there were new places to be seen. Puri, you managed to squeeze your way into these memoirs and you deserve to be in it. I met numerous different people, from different countries, with different interests and different lives, I suppose I’ve been added to their lists too. They assisted perfectly in the accumulation of my varied experiences. So here’s to Puri. I hope I see you again.