Nestled in the heart of the coastal Odisha (Orissa) is the Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon named, Chilika Lake. It spreads across a massive 1166 sq kms (from the district of Puri to the Ganjan district) in the east Indian state of Odisha and is separated from the Bay of Bengal by a narrow strip of marshy islands and sand-flats.
Boats on the Chilika Lake
Attracting millions of tourists, Chilika lake is the only home in the Indian subcontinent where the endangered fresh water dolphins called the Irrawaddy dolphins are found in abundance. The lagoon is also a favorite of migratory birds with nearly 225 species flocking to it during the winters, offering it’s visitors a spectacular display of its colorful avian charms. During these wintry months of November till January, the lake and its reed islands gets crowded with nesting birds like white bellied sea eagles, ospreys, golden plovers, sand pipers, flamingos, pelicans, shovelers and sea gulls. Many of these migratory birds comes flying great distances from as far as Central Asia and from the frigid parts of Siberia. No doubt why it’s a paradise for bird watchers and nature lovers alike.
Birds in Chilika Lake
Chilika Lake is an integral part of the local Odia culture and its economy. As for more than 1.55 million people inhabiting on its banks, solely depends on its waters for their livelihood. Some of the prominent islands like Honeymoon island ,Kalijai, Nalabana and Rajahansa are inhabited by many small and medium subsistence fishermen families and are quite popular destinations for the daily boat rides for dolphin and bird sighting trips.
Flamingos in Chilika lake, PC : savingcranes.com
Kalijai Temple on the Kalijai Island
Horse Idol at Kalijai Temple Entrance gate on the Kalijai Island, Chilika Lake, Odisha
The largest of all island, Nalabana Island (Forest of Reeds) covers about 16 sq km was declared a bird sanctuary in 1987. It remains underwater for most of the year and gradually emerges with the outset of summer. And it’s core area measuring more than 10 sq kms attracts each year thousand of species of waterfowls of different species. Because of rich bio-diversity in it’s vast wetlands and also for it’s socio-economic importance, Chilika lake was designated as a Ramsar site in 1981 to afford better protection.
Irrawaddy-dolphins , Chilika Lake . PC: Odishatv
FACTS ON CHILIKA/CHILKA LAKE –
- Chilika or Chilka Lake is Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon. With an area of over 1,100 square km, it is spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Odisha state.
- The lagoon has three rivers as water sources – Daya, Bhargavi and Malaguni. The Bay of Bengal meets the lagoon at the mouth of the Daya River, the two separated by a 60 km long narrow strip of marshy islands and sand-flats.
- Islands in Chilika are Parikud, Nalabana, Sanakuda, Berahpura, Tampara, Kalijai Hill, Kanthapantha, Badakuda, Phulbari, Honeymoon and Nuapara
- The lake is a wintering ground for migratory birds and one of the most important wetlands in India.
- The Nalabana Island (Forest of Reeds) in the lagoon is a bird sanctuary. A core area of about 9 square kms attracts around 450,000 waterfowls of different species.
- Birds from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and Himalayas visit Chilika lake during the winters.
- Located on another island is theKalijai Temple, a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali. Pilgrims and tourists flock here during the Indian festival of Makar Sankranti.
- Mangalajodi is home to a successful wildlife conservation project, supported by local residents who were once poachers.
- Balugaon and Rambha are major towns serving as entry points for the lake.
HOW TO GET TO/REACH CHILIKA OR CHILKA LAKE
The closest Airport to reach Chilika Lake is the Bhubaneshwar (BBI) international Airport. The Nearest Railway station is the Puri Railway Station which is at a distance of 50 kms from the nearest entry point- Satapada via NH5. One can get easy access to hired taxis and government run luxury buses from the Puri town and also from the capital city of Bhubaneshwar. Depending on the entry point selected it takes no more 2-3 hours to reach Chilika Lake. You can also opt for a hassle free day tour from Puri organised by the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) The link is here.
HOTEL ACCOMODATIONS NEAR CHILIKA LAKE
Your best option is the OTDC Panthnivas which are government run chain of hotels at Rambha. Here is a link for looking up the OTDC guest house/hotel tariff. The Pantha Nivas Hotel at Barkul is reputed to have scenic views as well which can also prove to be other good alternate option to stay near Chilika Lake.
BOAT RIDES IN CHILIKA LAKE
Easiest way to move around in Chilika is by hiring a boat. These can be done from the government recognized boat hiring offices near Barkul panthanivas hotels. Depending on your team size or requirements the boats of various sizes and capacity can be hired at cheap rates. Rates may seems to be on slightly higher side but are all worth for the fascinating rides on the waters of the Chilika Lake.
One can also make a day trip to the famous Kalijai temple combining with a trip to Nalabana island or may decide to go up to the sea mouth where sea water dredge into the lake providing an awesome view during the golden hours of Sunset. The latest rate chart for the Chilika Lake boating fare can be found here.
Typical Boat available for a boating ride in Chilka Lake
TIPS TO MAKE THE CHILIKA LAKE EXPERIENCE BETTER
- The climate of the state of Odisha is typically scaled at very hot through out the year. So the best season or time to visit Odisha is end-October to mid-March. The months of monsoon are meet with widespread thunder strome and heavy torrential rainfall. So it is not advised to visit during peak monsoon time.
- If you are adventurous for a boat ride on the Chilika lake to visit the various attraction in Chilika Lake. plan during the early morning hours. Late lunch time it gets very hot.
- Boats for dolphin watching can be hired from the Satapada village. It typically takes a 4-5 hours of round trip.
- OTDC boats are affordable when you are in a larger groups. The typical rates are quite same for most boat operators. You need to do a hard bargain.
- Sunscreen lotion, caps and sunglasses are the essential things to carry apart from ample water bottles while on a boat trip for Dolphin or Bird watching trips.
- After the dolphin spotting, you can take the boat to the sand bar that separates the Bay of Bengal from the lagoon. It takes over an hour from the jetty at Satapada to the sand bar.
- There are plenty of local food options available at quite an affordable rates. Restaurants or hotels providing Vegetarian food are quite uncommon.
- If you are planning for a private hired car trip to reach any of the entry point’s for Chilika Lake it is advised to plan accordingly to reach during daylight for the roads are quite jerky at some spots and whole ride can turn uncomfortable.
- The probability of sighting Irrawady dolphins in Chilika is much higher during the morning hours.