Birds flock together

Nestling in the heart of coastal Orissa is India’s biggest inland lake and Asia’s largest salt water lake, Chilika. Spread over 1,100 sq km, it is wedged between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the eastern ghats on the west, stretching across the length of the districts of Puri, Khurda and Ganjam.

The best time to visit Chilika is during winter when it becomes a temporary refuge for the Siberian crane. All year round, it is the natural habitat of birds such as cranes, golden plovers, sandpipers, ospreys, flamingos, gull, hawks, the white, bald sea eagle, grey geese, purple moorhen, jacana and heron. A boat-ride down the water can provide a wonderful sight of the birds. Schools of cavorting dolphins can be sighted near the mouth of the lake where it meets the sea.

It is interesting to see the lake’s colour changing according to the passing clouds and the shifting sun. The lake surface is dotted with many islands such as the Honeymoon island, Breakfast island and so on. On one of these islands is a shrine dedicated to Goddess Kalijai which draws thousands of devotees daily. A huge fair is held annually on Makar Sankranti during January.

Close at hand, Nalabana is a cluster of islands famous for its prawns, which are exported to all parts of the world. Rambha, situated on a hill that separates the lake from the small town, offers a spectacular view of the sunrise.

Satapada is ideal for water sports and watching dolphins. Banapur, famous for its deity Bhagawati, and the Narayani temple provide a panoramic view of the lake.

Chadheihaga hill, a beautiful white hill so called for the bird-droppings, which has been referred to as the elephant of Indra in the `Puranas’, can be best-viewed from Balugaon.

The lake provides livelihood for the large fishing community of the area. The traditional, colourful sailboats seen here remind us of the ancient Kalinga Sadhavas heritage.

Fact file

How to get there:
By air: Bhubaneswar, 100 km away, is the nearest airport.
By rail: The nearest railhead is Balugaon.
By road: Balugaon, Barkul and Rambha can be reached through NH 5 which runs along the lake. Buses and taxis are available from Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Puri and Berhampur to Chilika. Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) provides luxury coaches and cars from Bhubaneswar and Puri.
How to get around: Boats can be hired from Balugaon, Barkul and Rambha. Wooden boats can also be hired from the fishermen.

Where to stay: OTDC runs `Panthanivas’ at:
Balugaon — Ph: 20488.
Rambha — Ph: 57346.
Accommodation is also available at:
Hotel Ashoka
Ph: 20408 and 20409.

For further information contact:
Rambha Tourist Office — Ph: 57344
Puri Tourist office — Ph: 22664

by Snehasis Das

(Published in Business Line, December 25, 2000)