Location The pear-shaped Chilika Lagoon, a Ramsar Site, is situated in south-east Orissa. It is bordered by the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Mahanadi Delta in the north and the Eastern Ghats in the west and south; it is spread over Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts
Distances Satpada is 50 km SW of Puri; Balugaon is 85 km SW of Bhubaneswar; Rambha is 30 km SW of Balugaon
Route from Bhubaneswar NH5 to Chilika (Barkul) via Khurda, Chandpur, Tangi and Balugaon.
ABOUT CHILIKA LAGOON
Declared a Ramsar Site in 1981, this estuarine lagoon, a wondrous creation of nature, has varied connotations for visitors. For ornithologists, it is an avian paradise. For conservationists, Chilika is a challenge - as there's a constant battle to preserve and protect the many species of fauna and flora that have made the lagoon their home from the adverse impact of intensive fishing and mechanized boats. For world-weary travelers, the lagoon's intense scenic beauty is like a soothing balm for frayed nerves. And for the over one lakh villagers living along its periphery, Chilika is a source of livelihood.
In ancient times, Chilika was a flourishing port used by seafarers and a major gateway to distant lands. Traders sailed from Orissa to South-East Asian islands such as Java and Sumatra as well as Sri Lanka. To mark that golden age of maritime traditions, a festival of sailing colourful, fancy paper boats, locally referred to as biota bandana, is held on the day of Kartik Purnima.
Said to be the largest inland brackish water body in Asia, Chilika spreads over 1,165 sq km. During the dry months it shrinks to about 790 sq km. This varying water spread is affected by the flow from two major rivers, Daya and Bhargavi, and many small rivulets, which bring down to it large quantities of fresh water during the long monsoon season. When the monsoon retreats, saline water from the Bay of Bengal fills up the lake. The cyclic presence of both fresh water and saline water in the lake supports a diverse range of aquatic life, including fish and plants.
The Chilika Lagoon is 64 km in length; its width varies between 18 km and 5 km. The lagoon has many islands, some of which are uninhabited. Nalbana Island in the centre of the lake is a bird sanctuary. Rambha Island lies near the south-west part of the lake while Barkul is near the centre. Between the two lie Barakuda and Pathra. Satpada lies in the east, near the mouth of Chilika.
When to go Chilika is open through the year, but October to February is best, when migratory birds can be sighted. Avoid the monsoon months of July and August as it rains heavily in these parts Go there for Birds and dolphins Wildlifel Forest Dept office
• DFO, Chilika Wildlife Division Balugaon PO, Khurda District, Orissa Mobile: 09437109889; Tel: 06756- 211012; Ranger, Mobile: 09437195477
Panthanivas, Lewis Road, Bhubaneswar Tel: 0674-2432382/762, 2432177
STD codes Satpada 06752, Balugaon and Barkul 06756, Rambha 06810
The lagoon is home to about 230 species of resident and migratory birds. As many as 160 species make it their winter home, flying in from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal and parts of Russia and Central Asia. Over 800 species of fauna have been recorded in and around the Lagoon, including the endangered Irrawady dolphin and the Barkudia limbless skink (a species endemic to the island, first discovered in 1917; the next sighting of the animal came after 86 years in 2003).
As Chilika's ecosystem depends on the amount of fresh and saline water that flows into it, the destruction of the catchment areas of the rivers seriously affects the lake. And though dolphins are no longer hunted for meat, mechanized fish trawlers and tourist boats in the waters have resulted in their deaths.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Chilika is best explored by boat and most of the popular destinations within the lagoon can be covered in a day. However, an overnight stay is highly recom- mended. For a glimpse of island life, one can visit the Parikud and Malud islands. You can hire boats maintained by OTDC. Guides can be hired from any of the entry points such as Barkul, Satpada, Balugaon and Rambha. Many of them are boatmen-cum-guides and charge about Rs 100 per day.
Boat hire charge Rs 550-1,500 per hour, depending on seats Speedboat Rs 1,500
Ferry services are also run by the Inland Water Transport Department, which ferries passengers from the mainland to the inhabited islands on the lake. There are many private boats as well, where charges are fixed on a per passenger basis: for example, a visit to Nalabana and Kalijai islands may cost about Rs 150 per head in winter.
Nalabana Bird Sanctuary
Nalabana Island, spread over 16.59 sq km, was notified as the Nalabana Bird Sanctuary under the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1987. Visitors are prohibited from alighting on the island, and except for a single watchtower (for the exclusive use of Forest Department staff), there is no other construction. The island is usually submerged in water, except in summer, when parts of the land become visible. The place derives its name from the tall grass nala, a kind of reed, found on the island. Fishing is strictly prohibited around the island as it is a dense habitat for thousands of resident and migratory birds. From a distance it appears as if the whole area is strewn with feathers due to the flapping of wings, and flocks of birds that seem to take off as if on cue. While the long-legged species like flamingoes, herons and storks forage in the shallow waters and mud flats, the short ones can be seen resting on twigs, and those like brahminy ducks, geese, pintails and teals can be spotted bobbing on the water.
Pilgrimage at Kalijai Island
The abode of island goddess Kalijai, this is perhaps the most frequented tourist hub on the lake. The many legends and the folklore of Chilika refer to the goddess as the reigning deity of the lagoon. This small rocky island houses a small temple; apart from the temple staff, no one lives on the island. Goats and chicken can be seen roaming around and these are said to be offerings made to the deity. No boatman or fisherman ventures out without invoking the blessings of this goddess for a safe passage. Local folklore revolves around the story of Kalijai, a maiden brought up in a small island of Chilika. When the young bride was on her way to her in-laws' place on Parikud Island, after her wedding, a storm rose and the boat in which she was travelling capsized, and Kalijai disappeared into the dark waters. The temple is dedicated to her memory.
Islands within Chilika
Usually approached by boat from Rambha, Breakfast Island was once used by a British officer named Snodgross, who was the Collector of Ganjam. He stayed in a bungalow on the island. Honeymoon Island and Bird's Island are perching grounds for birds. In fact, Bird's Island gets its name from the deposit of bird droppings that cover the island.
Air Nearest airport: Bhubaneswar is 93 km/3 hrs to Barkul. Taxi costs Rs 1,500 Rail Nearest railhead: Balugaon (8 km/20 mins). Taxi to Barkul is Rs 250-300, auto about Rs 80. Best option to Balugaon Station from Kolkata is Howrah Mail. Puri is 50 km/1 ¼ hrs to Satpada
Road From Puri, take the Brahmagiri Road to Satpada. The road is quite good. Private buses (fare Rs 24) and taxis (Rs 600-650) available. OTDC also conducts a full-day package tour (7 am- 5.30 pm) to Satpada from Puri. Fare: Rs 200 for AC coach, Rs 130 for non-AC. From Bhubaneswar, you are on NH5 to Barkul, the other entry point to Chilika
Cruising the creeks at Mangalajodi
A cruise along the creeks amidst the thick concentration of nala grass is a unique experience. Visitors who have delighted in the birding opportunities on the open expanses of the lagoon can enjoy sightings of a variety of avifauna even along these narrow waterways. This spot is currently being developed as a site for tourists and the construction of a watch- tower is underway. Private boats can be hired for Rs 300 per hour from the jetty at Mangalajodi with local guides (about Rs 50-75 per trip) and food can be cooked and served on the boats on request. To reach Mangalajodi, one has to take a detour from NH5 at Tangi; it's about 7 km from Tangi.
Bird watching at Brahmapura
This stretch of island with casuarina groves is an ideal place to relax and go bird watching. It's bordered by the lagoon on one side and the sea on the other. Brahmapura is generally approached from Satpada (about 45 mins by boat), and this ride also offers visitors a chance to spot dolphins.
Dolphin-spotting at Satpada
Satpada is an entry point to the lagoon on the eastern side, and can be reached by road from Puri. One can also go to Satpada by boat from Barkul and Rambha, but it takes about 31/2 hrs one way. Satpada is an ideal place to spot the endangered Irrawady dolphins. While these charming creatures can be spotted, periodically, in other parts of the lagoon (over 100 dolphins are estimated to reside in the lagoon), the largest concentration is at Satpada and thus chances of sighting them are greater. Also visit the Mass Awareness and Interpretation Centre (Tel: 06752-262013), more commonly referred to as the Visitor Centre and run by the Chilika Development Authority, which has photographs and exhibits on Chilika.
Here today, gone tomorrow?
Chilika Lake is home to an unusual species of dolphin, the Irrawady. Threatened by increasing lake pollution, the construction of dams and the building up of silt following severe erosion, this dolphin with a rounded head and no beak may soon become another dodo. Though most closely related to the orca, the Irrawady dolphin is similar in body form to the beluga whale, only darker in colour. Its flippers are long and broad and its neck flexible. This dolphin, unlike others of its species, does not like leaping in water, but it can dive into the lake and spend up to 12 mins underwater to feed on bony fish. It has been estimated that there are just about 100 Irrawady dolphins in Chilika.
Boats run by the OTDC can be hired at Satpada. Charges for the 20-seater boat is Rs 650 per hour and for the 6- to 7- seater boat it's Rs 450 per hour. There are many private boats, and their charges are slightly cheaper, but remember to check out safety precautions in these.
Nesting turtles at Ruskhikulya River Mouth
Well known as a mass-nesting site for Olive Ridley sea turtles, the stretch of sandy beach along the mouth of the Ruskhikulya River is a distance of 2 krn from NH5 and about 15 km from Rambha. It's close to the coastal villages of Purunabandh and Gokharkuda, which are about 45 km from Balugaon.
If visiting Chilika during February/ March, check with the DFO, Chilika Wildlife Division, Balugaon (Mobile: 09437109889; Tel: 06756-211012) if the turtles have arrived and make a memorable trip to this beach at night when you can sight mass nesting.
Barkul for conservation activities
Barkul continues to be the most convenient base for those wishing to explore Chilika. Balugaon town and the railhead are also close by (6 and 8 km respectively) and public transport is available. There's a Wetland Training and Research Centre at Barkul, maintained by the Chilika Development Authority, which is worth visiting. Those interested in participating in conservation activities, or being part of the bird census, can contact the DFO of the Chilika Wildlife Sanctuary or the Chilika Development Authority (Bhubaneswar Tel: 0674-2436654).
A recent attraction here is a large boat (50-seater), popularly referred to as the floating restaurant, which can be hired at Rs 2,500 per hour. It's generally hired for private parties, and arrangements for food and catering at extra charges can be made by Panthanivas.
WHERE TO STAY
None of the islands in Chilika have stay options, except for Brahmapura. The inhabited islands such as Malud and Parikud do not have any hotels. The stay options are on the shore of the lagoon. Most of these are run by the OTDC and are not very luxurious. There are attached bathrooms, electricity and running water. The Panthanivas hotels are the best option as they are right on the shore.
You can stay at the OTDC-run Panthanivas (Tel: 06810-278346; Tariff: Rs 550-2,000). It comprises 18 rooms, 4 of which are air-conditioned. It also has a restaurant. It has passable rooms; hot water is also available.
A Forest Rest House (Balugaon Tel: 06756-211012; Tariff: Rs 500) with 8 rooms is available here. The facilities are basic. Arrangements for food have to be made by the visitors themselves. Utensils and cutlery are available but there is no stove. Fish, prawns and lobsters are locally available but chicken and mutton are a strict no-no. Contact the DFO's office for bookings.
For staying, there is the state-run Panthanivas (Tel: 06752-262077; Tariff: Rs 400-1,500), which has 26 non-AC rooms, 2 AC rooms and a restaurant. The restaurant serves Indian and Chinese food. The AC rooms have geysers and hot water is supplied to the other rooms.
The OTDC-run Panthanivas (Tel: 06756- 211078; Tariff: Rs 900-1,500) has a multi- cuisine restaurant and a beer parlour, but, being confined to an enclosed room, lacks the right ambience for a relaxing drink. It has clean rooms and bathrooms.
WHERE TO EAT
Chilika is obviously known for its seafood - prawns, crabs, pomfret and lobsters. The cooking style is typically Oriya, with gravy and plenty of masala. Fried fish is also popular. For vegetarians, the options are seasonal vegetables and paneer. Those interested in sampling the truly local flavour should try the dhabas and small restaurants in and around Balugaon, to get their fill of prawns and crab at very affordable prices. The restaurant at Panthanivas in Rambha, and the one at Satpada serve standard fare such as rice, roti and vegetables, as well as seafood specialties such as crab in shell, golden fried prawns and fried fish. There are smaller eating joints that specialize in seafood. The Barkul Panthanivas also has a multi-cuisine restaurant.
There are several places of tourist interest that can be approached from Barkul. The famous Narayani shrine with a perennial stream (10 km away), and the Bhagabati Temple (13 km), are two of them. For nature lovers, there is the Nirmaljhar Waterfall (12 km) and the Berbera Forest (5 km). It's a good option to hire an auto- rickshaw or a taxi to visit these places.