Jagannath Puri is not supposed to be crowded after the Rath Yatra in July and I planned a trip post Diwali in November. Unlike all the other three dhams which were probably the only attraction in the city, Puri had other attractions too like the beaches, Konark temple and Chilika lake. The first thing that struck me at Puri was the unemployment of the youth and their resorting to mechanisms like stopping cabs and claiming a self levied tax. Imagine they have formal Associations of the Unemployed Youth! Anyways, I was glad that we had booked ourselves in a good hotel and not taken a “we’ll figure out when we reach there” approach. The city was dirty and the one thing which was a blessing was the cottage in the hotel.
Having reached the city in the afternoon, we planned to make a visit to the temple in the evening itself. The auto dropped us about 500 meters away from the temple. The whole road to the temple is a commercial market. Again shoes, mobile phones, leather goods etc are not allowed in the temple and there is no organized place to keep them as well. You have to entrust one of the shops outside the temple which of course do not give you any receipt. The temple was huge and yet it was brimming with the crowd. The architecture was beautiful and I really wanted to spend a few minutes to observe it, but there was just no space to stand still and do that. We kept moving with the crowd and finally reached the main temple for the darshan. The Jagannath Puri temple has the childhood depiction of Lord Krishna, his sister Subhadra and brother Balram. The deities are colorful and very beautiful. The inner temple was brightly lit with a broad entrance. Even amidst the massive crowd, each of the deities were clearly visible. That one minute sight was worth the visit! We were pushed out of the temple alongwith the crowd.
Everything at the Puri temple comes with a price. Even the charnamrit which is water and free for all was being selectively distributed. Everyone wanted to sell something to us or collect a payment. There was fresh hot food like rice and dal or kheer being served as Prasad (it has to be purchased of course). But it is something that needs to be consumed immediately and cannot be carried back. It was delicious and even though flanked by the crowd from all sides, I didn’t mind having it then and there. By the way, there are no spoons provided ( it is to be eaten by hand) and if you try to get a spoon, people get offended as they feel you have no reverence and are considering it as something dirty.