[Wooden Catamarans at Puri, Beach of C.T Road]
I am left counting the stars on my ceiling, the sound of the ocean soaks in, as the sand riddles the sole of my feet. The sky in its burnt dusk slowly burns a light pink till it eventually gives away to an almost neon blue. A full moon night in June on the cleaner side of the beach in Orissa - bliss. A light drizzle and the clumsy trudging of feet wake me from my momentary calmness. This is Puri, for in its dysfunction lies its beauty. A few hours earlier we had arrived here on a crowded bus, the kind that will stop anywhere for anyone as long as they can pay the fare of a few rupees and are willing to ride on the top of the bus if they have to.
[Crowded Bus to Puri from Bhubaneshwar]
Even if Puri was not a temple town steeped in history it would have survived for its stretches of golden sand, crusty waves lashing the shore and an unblemished skyline that greets you warmly. The beach, which is lined with local women selling an array of crystal and shell
jewellery and fishermen displaying their catch of shiny fish and glistening prawns, is a whirl of activity. The conical hatted local young men who double as lifeguards are as much a part of the beach as the surf and the sand and are a safe bet against the treacherous undercurrent.
[An old man greets the Bay of Bengal with as much enthusiasm as the children to his left]
Puri was once the weekend resort of maharajahs and wealthy Bengalis from Calcutta. When the British came to the coast to bathe away some of the dust, they built or rented large beach villas; many retained them after independence some well into the 60's. Today these properties are now owned by not-so-wealthy Bengalis and are leased as company guest houses. I was told that till about five years ago they were the only buildings facing the bay, and it was rare, indeed an
imposition, to share that glorious beach with anyone except the fishermen and occasional shrimp peddlers.
[Fisherman hauling in the nets at Pentakota near Puri.]
Anyway, we stayed at an LP recommended, strangely named Z Hotel, which excuse the falsely futuristic name, was once owned by the Raja of Serampore, and had still managed to keep its bougainvillea filled old world charm. Our stay there was pleasant even though our
auto-rickshawallah on arrival at Puri had given us the impression that it was raided and closed down by the police permanently - he quickly backtracked when I proceeded to remove my cell phone and call them.
What else is there to do after a 14 hour journey but to sit back, relax and watch the Bay of Bengal change her tides.