Anyone who has spent much time in India already knows that most of the popular tourist destinations are incredibly crowded, mostly just with locals except for a few places like Goa where the crowds are largely the tourists themselves. Finding a place to chill in India can be challenging, and the small beach resort called Puri is one of the better ones.
With huge natural sand beaches on the Bay of Bengal, Puri is a combination of a holy city and a popular beach resort, plus it’s also frequented by hippies and backpackers who are exploring India for longer periods. Perhaps its best feature is that the tourist district is quite small and not very dense, so you can walk along the street without being among 1,000 other people within earshot.
The vibe in Puri, India
Speaking only of the main tourist beach area, Puri is exceptionally mellow for India. It’s popular for beach holidays with middle and upper-class Indians, but all the hotels and guesthouses are of modest size so the town just can’t fit the huge numbers that you become used to seeing in the country.
The main beachfront road has perhaps 20 hotels along it as well as about the same number of outdoor patio restaurants serving similar fare. It’s one of the few places in India where you’ll meet a lot of tie-dye-wearing budget travelers who often spend weeks at a time just hanging out in Puri.
The beach is huge and is said to be one of the best in the country. It might be 50 meters of sand during high tide, so there is more than enough room for people to spread out. You’ll also see an area lined with fishing boats that pull right up onto the sand because there is no harbor in the area. The locals sunbath in modest clothing so it’s recommended that tourists remain at least somewhat modest as well, but they also seem to be somewhat understanding.
The many restaurants lining the main road generally are set among nice, if not perfectly manicured, gardens. Several have only about 10 tables set in an area that could fit 50 tables if not for the flowers and plants between them, so it’s a very relaxing place to just hang out and extend mealtime.
There’s no nightlife to speak of, except for a somewhat seedy-looking local bar where tourists rarely go. In fact, the bar is the only place where you can legally be served alcohol. It’s easy to assume that this is because Puri is considered a “holy city” but in fact it’s because licences to serve alcohol are unusually expensive. So, as they do in many parts of India, you can order a beer pretty much anywhere and they will buy it at a local shop and ask you to keep the bottle out of sight. It’s hard to imagine many people being fooled by this, but it’s kind of fun to be part of it anyway.
The cost of things in Puri, India
Another great feature about Puri is that it’s quite cheap, even by Indian standards. Hotels start at below US$10 per night, and you can get something air conditioned and even a bit posh for around US$20 per night. A few hotels charge much more than that and we’ll assume they are even nicer.
A breakfast, lunch, or dinner can be had almost anywhere for under US$2, and US$4 will get you almost anything on the menu. This is true of every restaurant in town, except for perhaps restaurants within the most expensive hotels. You can actually get an all-you-can-eat thali meal for under US$2 at most places if you go for the vegetarian option.
Beers cost around 100 rupees, which is about US$2, at most places, and that’s for the 650ml bottles of Kingfisher and the like. The price in the little markets is a bit less than that, and the restaurants only add around 10 rupees to buy it and serve it to you.