The pilgrim town is ready to welcome tourists again after the state government lifted all the restrictions imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tourists can now stay in the town for as long as they wish to with no fear of being quarantined for stay beyond 72 hours as was the case earlier.
All the checkpoints on the entry routes to the town, known for its beautiful beach and temples, especially the 12th Century shrine of Lord Jagannath, have been removed. The government has also decided to introduce cruise services in the Chilika Lake, the largest brackish water lake of Asia, Mahanadi, Bhitarakanika and Satkosia gorge.
Puri collector Balwant Singh told The Telegraph: “There is no bar on tourists from entering Puri. We have decided to open up this sector as we have to take care of the livelihood of lakhs of people who depend on tourism. Hotels have started making bookings and there is no 72-hour stay bar on visitors. Tourists can come and enjoy the different spots of Puri. However, our request to them is to strictly follow all the Covid guidelines.”
However, officials maintained that Swargadwara, the cremation ground in Puri, will remain closed to outsiders till the end of this month.
As tourism sector contributes 10 per cent of the state’s GDP, the government is now trying to promote it in a big way with steps like introduction of cruise services in lakes and rivers. The service will run in public-private partnership. Officials hope that international players will join hands with the government in promoting the service.
Chief secretary Asit Kumar Tripathy said: “Cruise service will be introduced in compliance with Covid-19 guidelines. It will boost economic activities by promoting tourism.”
Tourism secretary Visal Dev said: “We have decided in principle to run cruise services in Mahanadi, Chilika and on the national waterway 5 from Dhamara to Paradip. It will also connect the Dangamal reserve forest under Bhitarakanika sanctuary in Kendrapara district. The Inland Waterways Authority has been asked to get all statutory clearances from different authorities. Now we plan to bring international cruise operators to the state so that tourism will get a big boost. We are in touch with three to four international cruise operators.”
According to the plan the cruise service in the Bhitarakanika circuit, known for its crocodile and birds, will be of five nights and six days. It will connect tourists spots like Chandbali-Aaradi-Khola.
“Chilika circuit, known for birds and Irrawady dolphins, will cover three nights and four days. The cruise service will connect Chilika and various islands like Kalijai, Nalabana-Honeymoon island-Mangalajodi-Satapada-Rajhans island-Satapada and Puri,” official said adding that state PPP cell has been asked to chalk out a plan in consultation with the department of tourism.
The state has a long coastline of 482 km, five major rivers, reservoirs and water bodies including Chilika, the largest brackish water lake of Asia.
“All these water bodies possess tremendous tourism potential. To unlock the potential, the department is planning to develop day cruises in select water bodies of the state with private sector participation,” said a senior official.
Officials maintained that Odisha Tourism Policy, 2016, offers many fiscal incentives for projects like water sports, adventure sports, house boats, cruise tourism projects, aquariums, aqua-parks etc. by way of investment and interest subsidy with an intention to promote private sector investments. “Fiscal Incentives are also available under large revenue generating projects of Government of India like cruise vessels, cruise terminals etc.”
The government has already framed Odisha Boat Rules, 2017 to regulate water sports activities in the state.
The Centre has recommended Puri and seven other beaches in India to the International Jury of Denmark for global eco-label “ Blue Flag” certification to the sea beaches under the Beach Environment and Aesthetic Management System (BEAMS) programme.
Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Wednesday tweeted, “Thank PM Shri Narendra Modi Ji and Min. Prakash Javdekar Ji for recommending the Golden beach in Puri along with seven other beaches in India to the International Jury for the coveted global eco-label- Blue flag certification in the forthcoming tourist season under the BEAMS Program.”
The Chandrabhaga beach near the Sun Temple in Konark was the first in the country to have got the tag in 2019.