A crocodile in a palace?

Taran and his family explore the Kanika palace in the Bhitarkarnika National Park.

February 07, 2023 09:14 am | Updated 02:12 pm IST

What’s a crocodile skull doing in a palace?” I asked.

We were bumping along a muddy road looking for Kanika Palace and had travelled 125 km from Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. Appa said we were almost there and I was excited.

“Well, the Bhitarkanika National Park has the second largest mangrove ecosystem in India. said Amma.

“What’s a mangrove? Do you get mangoes there?” I joked.

“Haha! Forever thinking of food. No, we don’t get mangoes in mangroves. It’s a marshy wetland. The roots grow above the grounds. But you do get a variety of animals and birds like kingfishers, snakes, crocodiles and gharials.”


“And, to answer your question, the skull that made it to the palace is of a crocodile was shot by Raja Rajendra Narayan Bhanjadeo in the 1920s. It is said to be 75 cm long.”

“That is long,” I said, trying to measure my skull with my fingers. “Mine must be about 15 cm.” Finally, we reached a large wrought iron gate with a white palace behind it. As we walked into the four-acre property, we were told one section had been converted into a museum. I rushed in and searched for the crocodile skull.

“There it is!” It was huge. There were some other skeletons and stuffed animals that looked rather life-like. Appa said stuffing animals for show was called taxidermy. I thought it was a bit creepy. Just a century ago, people were allowed to shoot animals and stuff them. Perhaps it was to study them.

“Hunting was a sport. Of course, now it is banned,” said Appa, reading my thoughts.

I wandered around and saw the paintings, clothes and weapons of the Kanika dynasty. Raja Rajendra Narayan Bhanjadeo, who built the palace, was the last Kanika king before Indian Independence. I found myself on a large wooden staircase. I thought about the people — the kings and queens — who had used the stairs before me. The palace was like an old elegant queen. Faded and a bit tired, but not giving up.


‘Bhitar’ means inner and ‘Kanika’ means beauty. Bhitar Kanika means the land of inner beauty,” exclaimed my mother.

“It is beautiful,” I said looking up at the large stained-glass arched windows. We watched some white herons hop about outside the window. “The Kharasrota and Baitarani are two big rivers that flow nearby. The Raja certainly picked a beautiful spot to build a palace.”

“Fun fact: crocodiles can climb stairs!” boomed Appa, huffing and puffing up the stairs behind us.

“Oooh! I wonder if any crocodiles climbed these stairs,” I chipped in.

“What say we take a boat and go crocodile spotting in the mangroves?” asked Appa.

“Let’s go!” Amma and I chimed in together.

“But first, something to eat,” I added. “Anyone for some Bara Ghuguni?”

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