Three towns near the southwest coast of India have fascinating temple complexes. During the eighth to 13th centuries, Bhubaneswar, the largest of the three located 300 mi/485 km southwest of Kolkata, boasted 7,000 temples. Today, 500 can still be visited in town and in the nearby Dhauli Hills.

Konark, 40 mi/64 km east of Bhubaneswar, is known for its 12th-century Sun Temple, one of the most impressive shrines in India. The temple is shaped like a chariot for the sun god—enormous "wheels" and other carvings decorate the side of the building. Puri, 37 mi/48 km south of Bhubaneswar, was built in the 12th century as a holy Hindu city, and even today pilgrims stream in to visit the Jagannath Temple. Non-Hindus can't enter the temple, but the area is worth visiting to watch the people come and go. All the buildings are covered with chiseled images of mythological figures, elephants and erotica. Plan three nights for the area. If you're going to Puri in June or July, book early—200,000 pilgrims will be in town for the Rath Yatra Festival, when 45-ft-/14-m-high chariots transport the image of Jagannath through the streets.

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