There is a place in every city that truly encapsulates its soul. For the city of Puri in the state of Odisha, the place is Swargadwar Beach that always pulsates with verve and vigor. Puri is famed for two things - the venerated Jagannath Temple and the expansive, golden beaches running into the mighty Bay of Bengal. Located less than two kilometres away from the Jagannath Temple, the Swargadwar Beach is the microcosm of Puri where faith and fun converge. Devotees and regular tourists alike throng the beach to have a good time and make it one of the liveliest beaches in eastern India. If you visit Puri anytime soon, make sure you explore the Swargadwar Beach and the places around it to get the real taste of Odiya culture.
According to Hinduism, it is at the Swargadwar Beach that Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, first stepped foot on earth. Therefore, the place holds great significance for Hindus all over the world. The word Swargadwar literally means the gateway to heaven (Swarga-heaven, dwar- gate). The Swargadwar crematorium, which is right across the road and can be seen from the beach, is the funeral ground of choice for many people. It is believed that the souls cremated here attain salvation and traverse straight to heaven. Catching a glimpse of a funeral pyre while strolling on the beach will make you perceive the cycle of life and death in a new light and thereby value the life in every moment more dearly than ever.
Swargadwar Beach is chock-a-block with not just people but also several things for people to indulge in. Here, you must experience the beautiful sunrise. Go to the beach around 5 AM to catch the sunrise. If waking up that early during a vacation sounds like a nightmare, you can always catch the stunning sunset sometime after 6 PM. Make sure to have breakfast at one of the beach shacks to devour traditional Odiya dishes such as the 'chakuli pitha - alu tarkari' (rice flour and lentil flatbread - spicy potato curry) and 'bara ghuguni' (spiced black gram fritters and chickpea curry). Your next order of business should be visiting the Jagannath Temple and exploring the fascinating temple complex that dates back to the 12th century and covers an area of 400,000 square feet.
On your way back from the temple, do not forget to buy the lip-smacking dessert called jibe goja sold in every shop along the road to the beach. The 'jibe goja' being a dry, deep-fried delicacy, it has a shelf life of a few days and can be carried back home, if you can get the timing right. Once you are done, it is time to take a dip in the strong currents of the Bay of Bengal. Pro tip: lather yourself up in sunscreen as the Puri sun is scorching, to say the least! At the beach, you will find sweetmeat sellers with the famous Odiya dessert 'chhena poda' (roasted cheese). It is an absolute delight! After all this, you will invariably feel tired. So, it is better to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon and even get a light nap if possible.
Swargadwar Beach looks nothing short of a carnival ground in the evening! The beach is lined with shops selling local wooden, shell and marble handicraft items, conch shells, shell jewelry, fabric bags with beautiful embroidery, and a million other knick-knacks. This is the best place to pick up souvenirs while listening to the calming sound of the roaring sea in the dark. For me, another fascinating sight is scores of fried fish adorning the makeshift stalls and satiating the hunger pangs of vacationers. Across the road from the beach, some shops sell jewelry and artifacts embellished with Odisha’s famous silver filigree work. Walk a few hundred meters from these curio shops, and you will come across a market area where huge standalone shops sell the best of traditional Odisha fabrics like Sambalpuri Ikat, Bomkai Silk, Kotpad, Berhampuri Silk, Khandua Paata, Habaspuri, Pasapalli, to name a few. Get your hands on sarees, kurtas, bed linen, upholstery made from the stunning fabrics that will surely add color to your life!
The nearest airport from Puri is the Biju Patnaik International Airport, which is located 60 kilometres away in Bhuvaneswar, the capital of Odisha. The Puri Railway Station is located about a kilometre north of the city and is connected to stations in all major Indian states and cities. Auto-rickshaws are readily available outside the station and will take you to the beach. While you can visit the beach at any time of the beach, I suggest you avoid the months from April to June as that is the peak summertime when the weather becomes extremely uncomfortable. Also, you can choose to stay a weekend at Swargadwar Beach, if relaxation is the key to your vacation.
Swargadwar Beach is crowded like most places in India, but the crowd has a symphony. The chords of devotion and leisure are strung in perfect harmony that results in the zest reverberated all around the beach. Swargadwar Beach and its surroundings make for a perfect day’s outing or a weekend getaway in the state of Odisha. Whenever you are in the eastern corner of India, you must visit Swargadwar Beach in the religious city of Puri.
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