Situated in the eastern India, near to Bay of Bengal likes the Chilika Lake . It is said to be the Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon Extending from the borders of Bhusandpur village in Puri district, to North of Rambha-Malud in Ganjam district and separated from the Bay of Bengal in the south by a 60 km long narrow strip of marshy islands and sand-flats Chilika lake has a water spread ranging of around 1170 sq kms.
It is an integral part of the local culture and economy and plays major role in shaping the economy of Odisha state. With millions of people living in its bordering 132 villages this lagoon is also a favorite of migratory birds. Surveys says that nearly 225 species of exotic migratory birds make this lake a safe place to flock during the winters while some of them reaching this place by covering as much as ten thousand kms. Some of the names of nesting birds are white bellied sea eagles, ospreys, golden plovers, sand pipers, flamingos, pelicans, shovellers, gulls. Definietly making it a bird watchers paradise.
It was during one of the many trips to Odisha, I got a chance to have a glimpse of the grandeur of Chilika Lake. I went Solo, travelling on your own and disappearing on the off the beaten track. One of the experience that I got was that it had filled me with lots of thrill about not really knowing what’s around the corner, and essentially having to be your own tour guide.
I started off visiting and spending some time discovering the many temples of Bhubaneswar, I then headed down the coast to Puri on a really old and somewhat packed local bus plying between Bhubaneshwar and Puri. Puri town , If someone may know is a famous seaside getaway. Spending some time exploring the grandest Hindu temple of Puri , Lord Jagannath Temple I decided to head further south and see what else Odisha had to offer.
Puri Jagannath Temple
Of course, I didn’t realize just what was in store for me when I left Puri,is its proximity to the World Heritage Site, the Sun Temple of Konark. I had to visit the Konark Sun Temple. Magnificent and an absolute marvelous piece of architecture simply mesmerized me to my roots. While exploring the Sun Temple, the words of Rabindranath Tagore kept on ringing in my head “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of human”. How true it is.
Next Day, I boarded a bus at the Puri bus station,and headed to Chilika Lake. I reached the town of Satapada from where I booked a short boat ride to explore Chilika Lake and to head to Kaalijai Island, that lies right in the heart of the Chilika Lake.
Chilika Lake is the largest brackish lake in Asia, renowned for being the perfect place to observe many of the birds of India. Many of the famous lakes in India are in the North, particularly in the Himalayas; I was interested to see what treasures this lesser known place had.
Within 5 minutes of leaving the jetty we encountered some Irrawaddy dolphins, diving playfully in and out of the water. The boat ride took me through small villages dotted along the coast and to the sea mouth. Birds flew around our boat as we sailed along in silence. There were no other tourists in sight, it was bliss.
I visited the Kalijai island temple and paid my homage to the goddess Kalijai. Maa Kalijai Temple is considered the abode of the revered Goddess Kalijai who is believed to be an incarnation of Maa Kali or Goddess Kali. The Temple is highly revered by the local populace and the deity has been venerated in the local folklores and legends. I would have loved to tell the interesting folklore, but it will increase by blog post. Anyways Interested readers can read the amazing yet interesting folklore story of Maa Kalijai here in Original Odiya and in English language .
Maa Kalijai Temple
I returned from the island of Maa Kalijai. Upon requesting make this trip a more memorable one. I requested my Boatman to take me off the regular touristy place. I reached a place where the sea mouth was a long sand bar, the lake on one side and the sea on the other, with a relatively small break that allowed the salt water into the lake. There was nothing except the gleaming beauty of the Chilika Lake under the evening sun. Heavenly !!!
A small tea stand was selling hot cups of chai and some snacks. And that sealed my memorable trip . With a steaming cup in hand, I headed back to the shore. Whilst it wasn’t part of my plan, my short stay there was one of my favorite memories of Odisha. A lazy lakeside town, where dolphins play, birds glide gracefully in the sunshine and the scent of salt fills the air.
Facts On Chilika 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 400,000 waterfowls of different species. Often underwater, the island gradually emerges with the outset of summer
- Birds from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and SouthEast Asia, Ladakh and Himalayas visit
- Located on another island is the Kalijai 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
- Best time to visit for bird watching is November-end to February.
How To Reach Chilika Lake
Airport – Nearest Airport is the Bhubaneshwar International Airport
Railhead – Best Option is to alight at the Puri Railway station and then book a private taxi to reach Satpada.
Bus stop – Balugaon and Rambha are major towns serving as entry points to Chilika. To reach there you need to catch a bus from Puri . Below are two of the most popular road route , that may help you.
- Get off at Balugaon for Barkul. Hire a taxi/auto-rickshaw from here to reach Barkul. Then hire a boat to visit Satapada/islands
- Get off at Keshpur for Rambha. Hire a taxi/auto-rickshaw to Rambha, then a boat from here for Satapada/islands
You can also opt for a day tour from Puri organised by the Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) The link is here
Tips to Better Your Experience While Visiting Chilika
- Odisha/Orissa is very hot at other times, so the best season to visit the state is end-October to mid-March. Don’t go during June to September – it’s monsoon.
- There are private boat operators before the OTDC Yatri Niwas. You will need to haggle with them over rates. Make sure that the boat you hire is covered – it gets very hot even in the morning
- There is an OTDC Yatri Niwas (guest house) at Satapada where you can hire boats for dolphin watching/going to the islands
- OTDC boats are best suited for larger groups and have quieter engines. We took one, not wanting to disturb the dolphins. But with private, louder boats hovering around at the sighting spot, it didn’t help that cause much. Our ears were spared of the phut-phutting sound of those diesel motors for the remaining time though
- Apply enough sunscreen if you plan to visit any of the islands/beach. Wear hats and sun goggles, unless it is cloudy
- 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
- If you are vegetarian, order lunch at the OTDC Yatri Nivas before you begin the boat ride – the food is not the tastiest but it’s best to have something when you return after the 3-4 hour trip
- If you are non-vegetarian, you can have freshly cooked fish/mussels/crabs on the sand bar
- You can also buy coconut water and tea too
- Do not buy pearls that the vendors would have supposedly just extracted from molluscs lying in vessels at the sand bar. They would, in all probability, be fake.
How To Book A Boat Ride In Chilika Lake
OTDC offers boat rides to Kalijai from Barkul and to the sea mouth from Satapada. For Kalijai, the rate on the OTDC website currently shows 80 rupees per person and for the sea mouth and back, 160 rupees per person. Both need a minimum of 8 people for the ride to operate. If you have a smaller group, you can hire the entire boat and pay for 8 people. The prices mentioned here might change, so it’s best to call the OTDC office and check before you reach.You can call this no. 1800 208 1414 (Toll free) or check other numbers at this link http://www.otdc.in/
Where To Stay When Visiting Chilika Lake
Your best option is the OTDC Panthnivas at Rambha. Though I haven’t personally visited, the reviews on TripAdvisor seem pretty good. Here is the link to the reviews
Here is a link for looking up the OTDC guest house/hotel tariff
The Pantha Nivas at Barkul or Barkula is reputed to have scenic views as well. However, I can’t vouch for it since I haven’t seen it.
And here is a link to the TripAdvisor reviews (old ones though).
While one can stay at the Yatri Nivas, Satapada, virtually right on the lake, it didn’t seem like a very pleasant option when I visited in February, 2012. The place gets quite deserted once the sun has set and the restaurant serves just about edible food.