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Beyond Words - Issue #26 The Pilgrim's beach

Beyond Words - Issue #26 The Pilgrim's beach
By Nandini Chakraborty • Issue #26 • View online
This is not a beach that will make it to the pages of a beach holiday advert. Its pictures are not of emerald calm and pearly sand. This is a roaring entity where large waves and strong currents beat upon scorching sand, as majestic and demanding of respect as the images of Jagannath that reside in the famous temple which give Puri its place of importance.

Puri Beach, Orissa, India
Puri Beach, Orissa, India
On the eastern coast of India, in the state of Orissa lies the city of Puri. Travellers, mostly pilgrims, take a twenty minute ride from the railway station in rickshaws and autos to reach ‘Swargadwar’- the doorway to Heaven, a stretch of coarse sandy beach bordered by hotels and eataways. As the road turns gently right to enter Swargadwar, one cannot but be awed by the sight of the Bay of Bengal crashing on to the sands in a churning mass that reminds one of the mythological story where Goddess Laxmi rose from the foam of the wild seas. This is not a beach that will make it to the pages of a beach holiday advert. Its pictures are not of emerald calm and pearly sand. This is a roaring entity where large waves and strong currents beat upon scorching sand, as majestic and demanding of respect as the images of Jagannath that reside in the famous temple which give Puri its place of importance.
The Swargadwar beach wakes early with people gathering to witness sunrise. Fishermen start their day, setting out on boats or hauling in their nets if they’ve set out pre-sunrise. As the day progresses sea bathers throng the edge of the waves, the cooler waters giving relief from the heat that emanates from the dark and coarse sand. This is the only beach in my experience where people enter the water fully clothed. Swimsuits are unheard of, much less bikinis. Women in saris and salwar suits, men in vests and shorts are the norm. A conservative place, made more chaste with its pilgrimage status, the Puri beach seems to invite people to enjoy the waves but subtly discourage revelry.
No one dares to swim out far into the waters unaided. The brave venture perhaps around 30 metres or so, with rubber tubing around their waists. The ordinary like me, crowd around the fringes of the waves near to the shore or within 15 metres or so. The waves crash very near to the shore, sometimes heaving to around six metres before they dissolve into foam that races over the crowds, tugs them to the beach and then pulls them back in with the strength of a giant, to face another volley of heaving waters.
Within the crowds local people make a living. Plastic chairs and umbrellas are rented out for those who would rather enjoy the waves from a distance; ‘nulias’ (fishermen) with their characteristic pointed hats and skins darkened to a polished black by sun and salt water try and persuade people to venture further under their guidance with the security of a rubber tube around their waist; vendors try to sell their wares ranging from coloured beaded necklaces to spiced cucumber and sweetened cottage cheese.
The crowds thin during afternoon siesta time. Come twilight, they are back in evening finery, refreshed by an afternoon nap. The beach turns into a colourful market place. Vendors spread out their wares on stretches of cloth or plastic, their temporary shops lit up by a generator that runs until 10 pm. Conch shells, strings of pearls, stone and wooden handicrafts, piles of embroidered bags and all manner of trinkets make brisk business over hard haggling. The sand has cooled and heat now emanates perceptibly from the water with every wave that rushes in. The foam is tinged with phosphoresce that glows in the dark. The sight of the sea in full moon is unforgettable.
Puri has pulled me at every important juncture of life- to reflect, to give thanks and move on. The wild sea will always be my favourite, awe inspiring, untamed, strong from the core. Every time I have seen another beach, another sea, I have thought that the gentler sea in before me, touches the sea at Puri through currents that join the seas and oceans of the world.
I watch the waves, their rhythm,
beating endlessly on the shore.
For what eternity has their music
resounded on the sands, whispering
tales from distant lands?
The water runs thru’ my fingers,
I yearn and hope that the touch
will course through the ocean,
and flow into my old sea.
Currents know no boundaries.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Did you enjoy this issue?
Nandini Chakraborty

Stories from travel. There is nothing that teaches us more than human interaction, culture, and history. Travel breaks misconceptions, challenges assumptions and teaches us the true worth of this world of ours.

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