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India's Odisha gradually opens up to hardy globe-trotters

A wooden chariot pulled by thousands makes its way down Grand Road in Puri, during the Rath Yatra festival in July. (Photo by Tom Vater)

PURI, India "Jay Jagannath! Jay Jagannath!" A sea of people chants the sacred mantra while pulling on thick ropes hauling three massive, 14-meter-high wooden carts decorated in red and gold. The carts, loaded with dozens of priests, carry statues of Jagannath, the Hindu lord of the universe, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra.

There are almost no foreigners among the 700,000 visitors who have made the pilgrimage to Puri, this coastal city in India's eastern state of Odisha, formerly Orissa -- even though the Ratha Yatra, as the cart festival is called, is one of the larger and most colorful religious events in India.

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