The hoteliers in Puri have made brisk business as around 15 lakh devotees thronged the pilgrimage town to witness the famed 'Rah Yatra', the annual car festival of Lord Jagannath on Tuesday.
The hotels and restaurants of all categories in Puri have been packed till the end of the nine-day festival, while several organisations have erected makeshift accommodations to give shelter to the devotees and tourists coming from across the country and abroad.
Around 4000 rooms in about 350 hotels, lodgings and dharmasalas of different categories have been fully booked.
Similarly, several star hotels in Bhubaneswar also witnessed a surge in influx of foreign tourists, who are visiting Orissa to witness the festival.
"All our rooms have been booked till July 25", said the manager of a Puri-based hotel. The hotels and lodgings, located in the three-km 'Banda Danda' (Grand Road) stretch were more in demand than those located elsewhere in the town.
The hotels located in the Grand Road are the most sought after because the chariots of the lords roll there, said Damodar Padhy, district public relations officer, Puri.
"We can not estimate the exact business volume during this annual festival, but we can say the period has meant brisk business for us", said a hotel owner in Puri.
The district administration, East Coast Railway and several non-government organizations have also erected temporary sheds to accommodate the visitors.
Amid tight security arrangements, the festival begun with the ceremonial procession of the deities- Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra and the rolling of the chariots. All the rituals were held well in advance of the scheduled time, said a spokesperson of the temple administration. By the evening, the three chariots had reached the Mousima Temple, the final destination of this divine sojourn.
Meanwhile, a woman lost her life and four others were injured in the stampede during the pulling of the chariot of Lord Balabhadra. Earlier, the temple administration had tied up with Oriental Insurance Corporation to insure the life of devotees for Rs one lakh from July 11-24
The state government has made elaborate security arrangements with more than 5,000 policemen deployed across the town to maintain law and order. Closed Circuit security cameras have been installed at different places to keep a vigil on trouble mongers, sources said.
Apart from Puri, the festival was observed with lot of fervor in different parts of the state and the country while reports of chariots of Lord Jagannath being pulled in some prominent cities abroad have also been received.