Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Day in Chilika Lake : December 2012

In continuation from Trip to Konark-Puri.

When we planned our visit to Odisha tourist triangle – Bhubaneshwar-Konark-Puri, we had not included Chilika Lake in the itinerary. We felt that  we required at least two extra days to fully explore the Chilika Lake. Furthermore, those interested in watching migratory birds may require a couple of days more depending upon the progress in bird sightings. One can add in the itinerary Gopalpur-on-Sea while covering Chilika Lake. Since we had only one week at our hand, there was no point in undertaking a hurried trip to Chilika Lake. However, when we realised how close Satpada village, one of the three main entry points to Chilika Lake, from Puri (about 50 kms), we decided to do a day trip to the Lake from Satpada covering the boat ride to watch Irrawaddi dolphins, the mouth of Chilika Lake (lagoon) and stroll on a virgin Rajhans beach near the lagoon.

I normally hire a car for our sight-seeing tours to have flexibility of timing without any restriction on spending time at each of the sight-seeing places. So I talked to the Manager of OTDC’s Pantniwas at Puri about a car hire for our day trip to Chilika. He, however, suggested that from the logistic point of view, OTDC’s conducted tour would be convenient for us as apart from a cheap alternative, the number of tourists in the bus would get us a steadier big boat without a wait fill the seats. Since the drive is only about 50 kms each way to Satpada, there was no point in hiring a car with full day hiring charges.

The restaurant of Pantniwas which generally opens for breakfast at 7.30 a.m. agreed to provide breakfast to us at 6.30 a.m. as OTDC bus was to pick us from Pantniwas gate at 7.00 a.m. Bus came on time and our journey to Satpada village began. By 8.00 a.m., we were at the junction of the road to the left which goes to the Alarnath temple.  Since road to Alarnath temple was narrow, we walked for about 10 minutes to reach there. There is nothing much to talk about the temple in terms of architecture but it has some mythological stories which  connects it with Puri Jagannath temple. Hence this temple is revered. After spending about 45 minutes around the temple when a few of tourists also took the opportunity to have tea breaks, we resumed our bus journey to Satpada.

The road to Satpada goes through the paddy fields and in some places, cashew trees can also be seen on both sides of the road. As we came nearer to Satpada village, Chilka Lake was visible at a distance. From here onward, there are some cultured prawn farms on both sides of the road probably due to the proximity to Chilika Lake. We reached OTDC’s Satpada Yatri Niwas. In Satpada, Yatri Niwas is the only reasonable place to have lunch for which each one of the family in the tour bus was required to place the order for lunch in advance with payment so that the lunch is kept ready as tourists return from Chilika Lake. Although vegetarian lunch is available, being close to Chilika Lake, there are good options for those interested in fish dishes.
OTDC's Yatri Niwas, Satpada
Satpada boat jetty seen from Yatri Niwas
Boats at Satpada Jetty

A brief about Chilika Lake will be in order to understand as to why this lake is important. The lake is situated at the south eastern part of Odisha covering the three districts – Puri on the east, Khurda on the north and Ganjam on the south. The lake is spread over 1100 sq. km. There are many islands in the lake, the prominent being 24 islands. There are 132 villages in islands and the periphery of the lake. The lake is a source of employment for over 1,00,000 people living in the islands and peripheral villages.  Within the lake is Nalabana Wildlife Sanctuary which is the winter home for nearly 225 species of birds. The lake is also the home for a rare Irrawaddy dolphins which are 158 in number as per the census conducted in 2010. There are over 300 species of fish found in the lake.   

We proceeded to boating jetty which is less than 10 minutes of walk from Yatri Niwas. All the boats though motorised were made of wooden planks. The boat journey was to take about 3 hours 30 minutes covering sighting of Irrawaddi dolphins, going near the mouth of Chilka Lake where it meets Bay of Bengal. This place is also called  Chilika lagoon. We spent about one hour in Chilika Lake for sighting Irawadi dolphins. While we could see 5-6 dolphins barely above water level, we were not fortunate enough to see them jumping above the water level. Another odd thing about this part of Chilika Lake was that though it was the peak season for migratory  birds to Chilika Lake, we could not find any birds during our 3 hours of boat ride. Probably, being close to Bay of Bengal, migratory birds may prefer the interior of Chilka Lake.

A boat carrying passengers, tourists and motor cycles in Chilika Lake. There are 132 villages -both in islands and periphery of Chilika Lake. Boat rides are the fastest way of travelling between on e village to another. 
Satpada village as seen from the boat ride in Chilika Lake.
One of 132 island and peripheral villages around Chilika Lake
Cattle grazing on a strip of grassy patch on the banks of Chilika Lake.

As our boat came close to about one km from the Chilika lagoon, waves in lake water become prominent, shaking the boat. We could see the Chilika lagoon which separates the two points of island from either side. At this juncture, the boat driver decided that it was risky to go nearer to the lagoon. So he turned the boat for the return journey.  Very close to this point was Rajhans Island beach. We alighted from the boat and walked for about 10 minutes to reach the beach. Actually, the beach sand begins from the boat jetty itself. From here, the sea is not visible as one has to take a slightly ascending walk on the sand to reach closure to the sea. In fact, from the end of the ascending point, one has to descend to reach the beach. 

Rajhans Island beach sand is of golden colour and it is a virgin beach as there is no human habitation anywhere in the island. Only a couple of temporary sacks are located near the jetty which serves tender coconut water, refreshments and lunch. This longish island is surrounded by Chilka Lake on one side and Bay of Bengal on its other side. After spending about 30 minutes on the beach, we walked back in a warm afternoon to the jetty and waited in one of the sacks to enjoy the cool shade sipping tender coconut water.
Chilika Lake mouth (lagoon) is visible between two beaches on either sides of the picture. We could have gone still nearer to the sea mouth but for the high tide which was riskier venture with wooden boat. The beach visible on the right side is the part of Rajhans island beach.

Walking on Rajhans island beach. Looks like walking on a desert as sea is not visible. At the end of background is Bay of Bengal ( not visible as one has to get down at least 20 feet to reach the sea beach.

It was a very warm day on Rajhans beach even in December. Fortunately, there was no sweating. Chilika Lake is partly visible in the background with a couple of sacks on the left.

We resumed our return boat ride to Satpada at 1.00 p.m.  In about one hour we reached Satpada jetty. After spending 30 minutes in the museum of Chilika Development Authority, we proceeded to Yatri Niwas for lunch thinking that our lunch would be served immediately since we had already ordered in the morning. But it took nearly one hour to get a vacant table for lunch. We commenced our return journey from Satpada around 3.30 p.m. and reached Pantniwas, Puri by 5.00 p.m.

Next day, we hired a SUV from Pantniwas, Puri which dropped us at Bhubaneshwar airport around 10.30 a.m. With this, our long pending Odisha tourist triangle trip came to a happy ending.  

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