Road Less Travelled Travel

The lady of the lake

A flock of flamingos in flight at Nalaban Bird Sanctuary in Chilika Lake in Odisha, considered to be the second largest lagoon in the world where over eight lakh migratory birds visit the lake every winter, the sanctuary is off limits for tourists who can view the birds from a distance. The Lake is situated at a distance of 105 kms from Bhubaneshwar and sees migratory birds come from Northern Eurasia, Caspian region, Siberia, Kazakh, Lake Baikal and remote areas of Russia. Photo: K.R. Deepak

A flock of flamingos in flight at Nalaban Bird Sanctuary in Chilika Lake in Odisha, considered to be the second largest lagoon in the world where over eight lakh migratory birds visit the lake every winter, the sanctuary is off limits for tourists who can view the birds from a distance. The Lake is situated at a distance of 105 kms from Bhubaneshwar and sees migratory birds come from Northern Eurasia, Caspian region, Siberia, Kazakh, Lake Baikal and remote areas of Russia. Photo: K.R. Deepak   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

Nivedita Ganguly chugs across Odisha’s Lake Chilika in a motorboat to watch the flight of the flamingo

Dotted with verdant wetlands, Odisha’s Lake Chilika, a little before sunset, appears like a dream crafted from an artist’s palette. After a six-hour journey by road from Vizag, I find myself at the picture-perfect postcard town of Barkul, nestled between hills on one side and Lake Chilika, on the other. The drive to it through the seamless roads of National Highway 5 was as relaxing as the destination itself. Chilika, with its large flocks of winter migratory birds and lush islands, is where one can forget all worldly worries in the pursuit and pleasure of bird watching. We reach Barkul in the evening; the town has a tourist lodge by the lake maintained by the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC).

Not too long ago, the lodge was the only place to stay here. While it still is the best bet if you prefer a standard place of stay, there are quite a few small guest houses and lodges that have sprung up now in the vicinity, which offer value for money. Situated on the east coast of India and connected to the Bay of Bengal through a narrow mouth, Chilika is the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia and the second-largest in the world. The lake is also the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl found anywhere on the Indian sub-continent. Some rare, and endangered species listed in the IUCN Red List inhabit the lagoon for at least part of their life cycle, making the lake one of the hotspots for biodiversity in the country. A number of islands are located in the lagoon, some with and a few without habitation. Prominent among those are Krushnaprasad, Nalaban, Kalijai, Somolo, Honeymoon, Breakfast and Birds Island. Nalaban Bird Sanctuary or Nalaban Island is the core area of the Ramsar designated wetlands of Chilika Lake, which was declared a bird sanctuary under the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973. In the heart of the island, one can see thousands of birds descend during the migratory season. Curiously, the island disappears during the monsoons due to inundation, only to emerge again post-monsoon. An estimated 165 species of birds are found in Chilika during winters. Of these, nearly 100 species are migratory. Over eight lakh migratory birds visit the lake every winter, which is the best season to spot the birds.

BHUBANESWAR, ODISHA, 14/02/2017: Tourists enjoying a boat ride while a flock sea gulls pass by in Chilika Lake near Barkul in Odisha, considered to be the second largest lagoon in the world where over eight lakh migratory birds visit the lake every winter. The Lake is situated at a distance of 105 kms from Bhubaneshwar and sees migratory birds come from Northern Eurasia, Caspian region, Siberia, Kazakh, Lake Baikal and remote areas of Russia. Photo: K.R. Deepak

BHUBANESWAR, ODISHA, 14/02/2017: Tourists enjoying a boat ride while a flock sea gulls pass by in Chilika Lake near Barkul in Odisha, considered to be the second largest lagoon in the world where over eight lakh migratory birds visit the lake every winter. The Lake is situated at a distance of 105 kms from Bhubaneshwar and sees migratory birds come from Northern Eurasia, Caspian region, Siberia, Kazakh, Lake Baikal and remote areas of Russia. Photo: K.R. Deepak   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

By late afternoon, I embark on my first boat ride from Barkul near the OTDC tourist lodge. It’s only a matter of minutes before the scene around me changes dramatically, as I set off into the waters of the huge expanse of Lake Chilika. About 40 minutes later, the silence gets more intense with the land far behind us. With not a bird still in sight, I have an eerie feeling of being watched — a feeling of being an outsider in a new world. Gliding along the waters of the lake, our boatman Behera Babu turns off the engine and we sink into the silence of the zone. As we lose sight of land around us, a swarm of pink figures floats in front of me like a vision from a painting. That is my first glimpse of the magnificent Flamingo. The Flamingos that migrate here are believed to come from the Rann of Kutch and Iran. They stand guard as our boat makes a quiet circle around them. And then, like a glorious dream, they set off in flight. The boat ride lasts three hours, taking me through the periphery of Nalaban, which is the main island where the migratory bird species arrive. En route, we spot other resident and migratory species like Sea Gulls and Spot-billed Ducks. If you are lucky, you can even get a glimpse of the famous Irrawaddy Dolphins of Chilika.

The next morning, I decide to take a 20-minute boat ride to the Kalijai temple, located on one of the islands. Revered by the local populace, the deity is venerated in local folklore and legend. Here, I spot black and red bangles hanging from tree branches. Tukuna Sahu, who owns a stall selling sweet offerings to the goddess, says that the custom of hanging bangles is practised by local villagers yearning for their wishes to be fulfilled. As I head from the island, scores of sea gulls follow us, pecking on the corn chips thrown by travellers on my boat.

After all the bird watching is done, I try out the famous crab curry of Chilika Dhaba located close to the OTDC Tourist Lodge. About four years ago, when not many tourists had discovered this place, the dhaba used to serve lip-smacking dishes and you could enjoy them without having to wait your turn. While I was a tad disappointed to see a fall in standard, the crab curry nevertheless was a befitting farewell to an otherwise spectacular winter retreat.

Meet Ira the dolphin

Conservationist Shekar Dattatri’s third book for children, Ira the Little Dolphin, introduces the reader to an Irrawaddy Dolphin in Chilika Lake. Irrawaddy Dolphins are rare, with only around 10,000 in the world.

How to reach

Air: The nearest airport is at Bhubaneshwar. The distance from Bhubaneshwar to Barkul (Chilika) is 105 km.

Rail: The nearest railway station is Balugaon, six km away from Barkul.

Road: The distance from Vizag to Barkul is 342 km and takes about six hours.

Best time to visit: November to March: This is the time when migratory birds come from Northern Eurasia, the Caspian region, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Lake Baikal and remote areas of Russia.

(This fortnightly column explores lesser-known places and those that are nowhere on the tourist radar)

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 9:10:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/Nivedita-Ganguly-chugs-across-Odisha%E2%80%99s-Lake-Chilika-in-a-motorboat-to-watch-the-flight-of-the-flamingo/article17387213.ece

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