Jagannath Temple, Odisha, India

This mighty temple belongs to Jagannath (Lord of the Universe), an incarnation of Vishnu. The jet-black deity with large, round, white eyes is hugely popular across Odisha; figures of Jagannath are tended and regularly dressed in new clothes at shrines across the state. Built in its present form in 1198, the temple (closed to non-Hindus) is surrounded by two walls, but you can spot its 58m-high sikhara (spire) topped by the flag and wheel of Vishnu.

Guarded by two stone lions and a pillar crowned by the Garuda that once stood at the Sun Temple at Konark, the eastern entrance (Lion Gate) is the passageway for the chariot procession of Rath Yatra.

Jagannath, brother Balbhadra and sister Subhadra reside supreme in the central jagamohan (assembly hall). Priests continually garland and dress the three throughout the day for different ceremonies. Incredibly, the temple employs about 6000 men to perform the complicated rituals involved in caring for the gods. An estimated 20,000 people – divided into 36 orders and 97 classes – are dependent on Jagannath for their livelihood.

Non-Hindus can spy from the roof of Raghunandan Library opposite; a ‘donation’, while not officially compulsory, is expected (₹10 is fine, though they will whine about it). The library is closed on Sunday, so touts who will help you to a nearby rooftop prey on tourists and demand ₹100 – easily negotiated down to ₹50. Enter around the back of the building to the right-hand side and follow the arrows and signs through a fascinating ruined monastery.

Visit India Epic India Route © Monika Newbound

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