Puri, home to one of the four most sacred pilgrimages of Hindus, continues to be a major tourist attraction of Odisha. While the city is famous for Jagannath Temple and the 24 annual festivals hosted in the city, the shoreline is what attracts the wanderlusters.
Pristine palm-fringed beaches roll in from the Bay of Bengal and are one of the cleanest in the Indian sub-continent. The sights of the sun rising and setting on the horizon are a visual treat for shutterbugs.
Besides the sprawling white sand and the blue expanse of the ocean, there is a feature which is unique to the exotic beaches of Puri- Olive Ridley turtles, a medium-sized species of turtle known to frequent warm and tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. These annual visitors can be seen returning to the shores of Odisha in the month of November for nesting. The exact reason for the same is unknown and is almost deemed a miracle. The beaches of Puri most commonly frequented by these adorable creatures are Gahirmatha and Rushikulya.
Gahirmatha beach is recognised as the world’s most important nesting place for the Olive Ridley turtles and is a part of the Gahirmatha Marine Wildlife Sanctuary. It is the only marine wildlife sanctuary in the state of Odisha and plays an important role in turtle conservation. On a moonlit night during the nesting season, the shores can be seen dotted with millions of turtles labouring their way to favourable grounds for mating and laying eggs. The incredible phenomenon attracts wildlife lovers and scientists alike to the shores.
The sanctuary itself boasts of a rich biodiversity and is home to a variety of flora like bel, babul, teak, sal and bamboo. Other than turtles, the sanctuary abounds in boars, barking deer, bears, leopards, crocodiles, hyenas and antelopes. The forested area around the beach hosts over 2000 species of birds and is also a recognised crocodile sanctuary, being home to the largest number of saltwater crocodiles in India.
Other tourist attractions near the beach are Mahadeva temple, a Shiv Temple built in the 9th century and Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and Natural Park which is the second largest mangrove ecosystem in the country.
Almost three lakh turtles visit the mouth of the Rushikulya river every year to lay eggs. This remote beach comes alive when the turtles arrive in millions overnight for the annual ritual during November. Eggs are laid in the months of February and March. When the gestation period of 50 days is over and tiny turtles hatch around April, it is an incredible sight to see the hatchlings start walking towards the ocean instinctively. The journey of the newly hatched turtles from the nesting grounds to the ocean is fraught with dangers but thanks to a local community of conservationists who have come together to protect these endangered turtles, the number of turtles has been seen to rise over the past few years.
Besides turtle spotting, one can indulge in swimming in the crystal-clear waters or sunbathe on the sandy shores. The beach is untouched by commercialism and is an ideal getaway for the traveller who looks for the roads not taken.
Another place where these turtles can be spotted is the mouth of Devi River. The river is a tributary of Mahanadi and flows through the district of Puri before flowing into the Bay of Bengal. During the annual nesting season, Olive Ridley turtles can be seen visiting the mainland near the mouth of the river.
The government and the department of tourism of Odisha are now actively trying to promote ‘turtle tourism’ while conserving the turtles simultaneously.
The beaches famous for turtle spotting are exotic and pristine but lack accommodation facilities. A wise option, therefore, is to book accommodation at Puri, which not only enables you to visit Jagannath temple but also offers a comfortable stay. Golden Sand, a Sterling resort at Puri is situated at a scenic spot at the confluence of Bhargavi River and is the ideal choice for travellers looking for a spiritual sojourn or turtle spotting alike.
Pack your bags, come out of your shell and travel to Puri this winter….unless you want to miss the incredible turtles! Complement your holiday by staying at the magnificent Puri Golden Sands to wake up to a gorgeous view of the Bhargavi River.