Other States

Puri’s golden beach has never been this quiet

A 2018 photo of the beach in Puri.

A 2018 photo of the beach in Puri.   | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

The loudest sound to be heard is from the waves crashing on the beach

Silhouetted fishermen disappearing into the deep sea in canoes and catamarans long before dawn; hundreds of visitors preparing to dive into the waves; servitors at the 12th century Shree Jagannath Temple preparing for intricate rituals — all of these make Puri a tourist haven on India’s eastern coast. But with the lockdown in place for the coronavirus pandemic, the constantly bustling 17 sq. km. pilgrim hub has turned into ghost town.

Trains have stopped pulling into Puri and there’s barely any traffic on the NH16, which used to have thousands of tourist vehicles racing over it every day. Now, policemen man barricades and emergency vehicles whiz past occasionally, while hardly anyone is to be seen on the 65-km-long drive from the capital city of Bhubaneswar to Puri.

Puri paints the picture of a beautiful temple town without devotees. The 3 km-long Grand Road leading to the Jagannath Temple is dotted with temporary fences. Without a valid COVID-19 pass, devotees cannot have a glimpse of the recently revamped temple complex. The crowds of people shopping at hundreds of craft shops and other outlets flanking the Grand Road are absent.

‘Not only Puri’

“This never-seen phenomenon is not associated only with Puri — it prevails the world over. We hope for an early return to normalcy so that devotees throng the town again,” said Balwant Singh, Puri’s District Collector.

“The Jagannath Rath Yatra, scheduled for the month of June, is going on as per plan. The contours of this year’s Rath Yatra have not been discussed by the temple administration. As things will evolve, the chief administrator of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration will take a call,” said Mr. Singh.

Although logs for the making of new chariots famously crafted annually for the temple have begun reaching Puri, the enthusiasm that accompanies them is conspicuous by its absence.

The Puri district administration had followed the same strategy it did before Cyclone Fani hit the city in 2019. Days before the formal alert was issued, the administration had vacated all hotels and directed tourists to leave the town. By the time the lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic was enforced, not many outsiders were seen stranded in the city, which left the administration with only 2.5 lakh residents to oversee.

Hit hard by the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the 800-odd hotels in the city, with the capacity to accommodate 35,000 tourists, are now desolate. Thousands of security guards stand watch over the large and empty buildings.

Long way off

“We have asked most of the hotel staff to stay indoors. I don’t think things will improve as soon as lockdown restrictions are lifted. When people do not have money to spend on basic necessities such as food and medical expenses, vacationing will be last thing on their minds. Normalcy is not expected to return for the next eight months,” said Raj Kishore Patra, a leading hotelier in Puri.

Meanwhile, not a single person can be seen enjoying the vast blue waters of the Bay of Bengal at the famous beach. “I had never witnessed such silence on this beach in my life,” said A. Bhagwan, a lifeguard, describing it as a silence that was becoming frightening. He recalled, “Most days in a year, more than 10,000 tourists visit the golden beach. Even after three devastating cyclones in the past two decades, people turned up here the next morning.”

Now, the loudest sound to be heard is from the waves crashing on the beach.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 6:36:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/puris-golden-beach-has-never-been-this-quiet/article31301875.ece

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