Saturday, July 16, 2016

Exploring Chilika, a beautiful part of Odisha

Layers of blue and green seen from the road
Waves and waves breaking along. Layers of blue and green criss-crossing each other all the way. The endless stretch of highway from Bhubaneshwar and a small descend to a village hidden along a very well maintained bypass. And suddenly you find yourself face to face with a long narrow jetty that is surrounded with celeste blue water on both sides; boats parked, moving with waves. And yes this is in India and it is not a sea but a huge lake called Chilika.

First view of Chilika at Barkul Panthnivas
On my recent visit to Odisha I ventured out to see the largest brackish lake of India and the second largest coastal lagoon of the world and without a doubt, it is one of the must sees of India. The vastness of Chilika is overwhelming and the very view of this huge lake would make you think if you are still in India. 

Map of Chilika, just to give you an idea
Chilika is one of the most unexplored charms of Odisha and is so vast that you can’t cover it in a day. So when I had to choose the area to visit I chose the most interiors of Chilika that gave access to a very old Island temple and a bird sanctuary inside the lake. Yes, now you get the size of it right?

The abundance of marine life in Chilika has made it important to fisherfolks of Odisha
The ride from Bhubaneshwar to Barkul takes about 2 hours and tells you how well Indian Highways have become in recent times. Upon reaching Barkul Panthnivas (OTDC Guest house), I kept hunting for the elusive jetty while we had to do our tickets for Kalijai. (The receptionist at Barkul Panthnivas did not give us access and tickets to Nalband Bird Sanctuary, citing lack of birds and no official OTDC letter as the reason) I was understandably upset, but one sight of the blue waters of Chilika and I forgot all about Nalband.

INS Training hill on the shores of Chilika
Flanked by lush green hillocks on all sides, the boat ride to Kalijai Island was a sheer delight. And guess what 10 minutes into the boat ride and I realized we didn’t actually need to travel to Nalband to see birds, they pay you a visit during the boat ride. While I was gazing at a group of fishermen setting up nets in the traditional way for crabs and prawns, a spoonbill swiftly flew past our boat. 

Setting up nets the traditional way to catch prawns and crabs
Some more time gazing the INS base on the shores of this great lake and I spotted two Brahmani Kites circling the nets! And I was enjoying every dip of the numerous waterfowls around like a five-year-old kid! Admiring all these and the flocks of egrets, herons and storks we finally reached Kalijai Island that lies amidst the bobbing waters of the Chilika.

Waterfowls everywhere taking a dip in the water
Kalijai island is one of the smallest islands inside the Chilika Lake but is the most visited one all thanks to Faith. According to folklore, a girl names Jai was married in Parikud village inside the Chilika Lake. On the day when her father and other relatives were bringing her to her husband’s place, seemingly clear day got stormy and the water of the lake became turbulent. In the storm, some believe, Jai drowned, some believed she scarified herself to save the others. (no one else died) 

Kalijai Temple and Island
Close to where this incident happened, was an inhabited island where a temple was established in her name and Devi (Goddess Kali’s) puja is done there till date by the locals of different islands of Chilika. Truth or not, the current of Chilika is strong near this island and the island is very peaceful and pretty in its isolation. At Kalijai, I got a chance to talk to locals who told me how they believe this temple saves them during their everyday travel in turbulent waters and specially during the rainy season.

People are dead serious about their devotion to Kali Jai Ma
From there I headed back to Barkul and went to my next Chilika stop – Rambha. Rambha was the name of an apsara (most beautiful ladies) of Indralok so make the connection of the place with that name – it is bang on! Ramba Panthnivas and jetty is the most beautiful of the Chilika ends. Secluded, jutting out between rocky hills, right next to a green village, Rambha Jetty is also the oldest and the longest of all the Chilika jetties. From there one can access Dinosaur or Honeymoon Island and Breakfast Island. I decided to not take the boat ride here and instead talk to the local fishermen resting near the Jetty.

Right next to Rambha Jetty. Now you know why it is pretty
I met a guy, Loknath at Rambha, who told me that Breakfast Island was earlier called Beacon Island since Britishers had place a huge reflector on this island to help in navigating boats and smaller ships to shore. But Odisha tourism, somewhere in the 80’s made a small rest house there which was marred by the regular cyclones and now this vacant place known as the Breakfast Island has a white hut like structure which is painted regularly only for photo ops and shootings. 

Not Santorini and not a foreign place. This is Breakfast Island in Chilika 
He also told me that there would be no dolphins near Satpada till August hence a trip there would be a waste – yes I took his advice. And after a long chat with him I immersed myself in the surroundings again, listening to that mellifluous song of wind and water, loud, whizzing and in sync.

End of Rambha Jetty
Chilika gave me everything, nature, myth, stories, reality and a chance to interact with locals, but the best part about the place was that it helped me connect with myself. I was wandering literally, looking forward to cover it all about this lake, but it showed me a way to be still and imbibe the surrounding and the peace around. It lets in life from the ocean and lets them go. It was dying some years back, not anymore. Let things get to you and let go of things when needed – that is the secret to peaceful existence. Maybe I got too philosophical, but that is the secret to the beauty of Chilika Lake.

A catch before the sun sets

How to get there –
Take the Bhubaneshwar Balugan Highway and then Barkul and Rambha bypass to get to Chilika Shores of Barkul and Rambha. Best option would be travelling by a local cab.



How to get to the Islands –
At both the Panthnivas, go straight ahead to the jetty and hire a local boat. Panthanivas costs are higher and the boatmen will not stop randomly in between locations on your request. For a boat to Kalijai it is INR 600-750 per boat or RS 100-120 per seat depending on the season.
Where to Eat –
Chilika Dhaba or Barkul Panthnivas. At both places, if you love sea food, Crab Curry is a must!

The only birds that posed for my pics.

Personal recommendations:
1.   Get Nalband permit from OTDC office in Bhubaneshwar to avoid any issues at Barkul.
2.  Boat ride to Kalijai and Nalband is totally worth it in any season. Though the best time to visit this area is from November to March.
3.  Boat ride at Rambha didn’t seem worth it, but the jetty is indeed the prettiest.
4. Do not let your boatmen go very close to the Irrawady Dolphins in Chilika. These dolphins are very shy in nature and stressed by the noise of motor boats. 

Have you explored any very offbeat place recently? Do let me know about your experience in the comments below.

Fly Away

16 comments:

  1. Hey thats a nice post. I have lots of memories of Odisha and chilka lake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ani! Didnt know you had visited Chilika before :)

      Delete
  2. you have refreshed my memories of Chilka, a place 100 kms away from my home town.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad I could bring back some good memories :)

      Delete
  3. Beautifully written article... The place is definitely surreal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much...Glad you liked the post :)

      Delete
  4. A lovely lake! Loved the article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you liked the post Indrani :)

      Delete
  5. Lake Chilika has been on our list for a very long time. We haven't had the time to make it there yet, but your pictures are so inviting...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hope you get to make that trip to Chilika soon because the place is just beautiful :D

      Delete
  6. Fantastic Vaisakhi, even though I don't see myself visiting Orrisa in the next few months, I plan to be there in trhe first quarter of the coming year. And I am sure going to be keeping a day or two for this, the fact that it's noty far from Bhubaneshwar only helps the matter ;)

    Cheers,
    Rajiv

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Rajiv. Hope your Odisha trips happens soon. And yes Rambha and Barkul are very close to Bhubaneshwar while Satpada is very close to Puri so anyways you should be able to visit Chilika :)

      Delete
  7. Replies
    1. Thanks Rupam...Glad you liked it :)

      Delete
  8. Amazing write-up Vaisakhi! ��

    ReplyDelete