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Chilika Lake (aka Chilka), Odisha: Meet the Irrawaddy Dolphins – Travelogue, Travel Tips, Guide


Improvised sailboat

Improvised sailboat – like all the other jugaad Indians are so good at

It feels only a little different from the ocean. Reminding us that we are at Satapada on the Chilika or Chilka Lake in Orissa/Odisha are slivers of brown and green land that appear intermittently on the horizon and the comparatively milder waves rocking our boat. Otherwise, the vast expanse of water that seems to just go on might fool one into thinking it is the sea.

(THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED FOR COST RELATED INFORMATION ON BOAT RIDES IN CHILIKA LAKE)

 

The view that never seems to end

A view that never seems to end

Our family is on vacation in Orissa and we have made our way from Puri to visit India’s largest brackish water lake. The scenery along the route has been spectacular. I’ve never seen as many lily ponds in my life as I see on this trip.

OTDC Bus on its way to Satapada

OTDC Bus finding its way to Satapada

 

Water lily ponds along the highway to Chilka Lake

Is there anything more divine than these water lily ponds?

 

Violet water lilies

Violet – a new favorite

 

Cowherds at work. Odisha's milk production ranks at 14th in India

Cowherds at work. Odisha’s milk production ranks at 14th in India

 

Thatched hut along the highway to Chilika

This house has no secrets

The OTDC boat (Orissa Tourism Development Corporation) boat we rented is being steered by an elderly, well-baked (the sun is harsh here) boatman. As we pass by, cows are mindlessly munching grass on a patch of land jutting out into the water and herons are busy with their universal routine of putting one stick-like leg awkwardly in front of the other, their eyes intently scanning the lake for fish.

Heron flying over Chilika Lake

The quick, grey heron flew over the Chilika Lake

 

Egrets perched on bamboo poles at Chilka Lake

We are comfortable, thank you. Egrets perched on bamboo poles at Chilika Lake

On another island is a makeshift shelter for fishermen – a small hut on stilts with a blue polythene sheet covering the thatched roof. A kite comes to rest nearby having been chased by crows, greedy for morsels of whatever it has in its beak.

A hut on stilts

A fisherman’s refuge. What would happen in the monsoon I wonder.

As we move in further, the wind whooshes through our boat, making our hats flutter and the cloth canopy flap furiously, as if ticking off the perpetrator. Light on the water turns the world around us into a mass of glittering, rippling silver.

All that glitters....looks like metal

All that glitters….looks like metal

The boat continues fighting its way through the humungous expanse of greyish brown water, noises from its revving Honda engine and those of other boats, disturbing the peace. When it reaches a certain spot, the boatman cuts the engine and the waves make gentle, lapping sounds as they hit the bobbing boat.

Tourist boats on Chilika Lake

Yup, there are more of us. Tourist boats on Chilika Lake

Six adults and three children strain their eyes looking for what we came to see. The kids excitedly point at anything grey. The water and light play tricks on our minds, making us visualize what isn’t there. Then the boatman points in one direction and smiles break out on our faces. “Look, the fin” says one kid breathlessly. “But they don’t have pointy noses”, says another.

And the tail goes back in

And the tail goes back in

The Irrawaddy dolphins come surging through the water, causing it to split and roil.

These shy mammals are found in the coastal regions of South and Southeast Asia. There were only 144 Irrawaddy dolphins in Chilika Lake in 2014. Listed as an endangered species here, they are critically endangered in the Mekong river, where they live in a 118 mile stretch between Cambodia and Lao PDR.

The adults try filming the shiny, snub-nosed creatures – quite a frustrating endeavor given the dolphins’ speed and their knack of going underwater just when the camera focuses well enough to show a clear picture.

After taking a few shots, we decide to just watch two families frolicking around. They dive and reappear in spots we aren’t able to predict. The boatman cruises closer and we can now hear the dolphins snorting, their blowholes making fountains of mist as they surface to breathe. It’s simply fascinating.

Unlike others, the Irrawaddy Dolphins don't have pointy snouts

Unlike others, the Irrawaddy Dolphins don’t have pointy snouts

We know they are only behaving as they always do – there is nothing unusual in a dolphin swimming. But the thrill of being so close to the creature in its natural habitat and the fact that the sighting lasts for a short while, makes it feel like a special encounter.

Watch the dolphins in action here –

If you’re looking for suggestions on which PLACES TO VISIT AND WHAT TO SEE IN ODISHA PLUS TRAVEL TIPS just click here

FACTS ON CHILIKA/CHILKA LAKE –

  1. Chilika or Chilka Lake is Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon. With an area of over 1,100 square km, it is spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Odisha state
  2. The lagoon has three rivers as water sources – Daya, Bhargavi and Malaguni. The Bay of Bengal meets the lagoon at the mouth of the Daya River, the two separated by a 60 km long narrow strip of marshy islands and sand-flats
  3. Islands in Chilika are Parikud, Nalabana, Sanakuda, Berahpura, Tampara, Kalijai Hill, Kanthapantha, Badakuda, Phulbari, Honeymoon and Nuapara
  4. The lake is a wintering ground for migratory birds and one of the most important wetlands in India
  5. The Nalabana Island (Forest of Reeds) in the lagoon is a bird sanctuary. A core area of about 9 square kms attracts around 400,000 waterfowls of different species. Often underwater, the island gradually emerges with the outset of summer
  6. Birds from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and SouthEast Asia, Ladakh and Himalayas visit
  7. Located on another island is the Kalijai Temple, a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali. Pilgrims and tourists flock here during the Indian festival of Makar Sankranti
  8. Mangalajodi is home to a successful wildlife conservation project, supported by local residents who were once poachers
  9. Balugaon and Rambha are major towns serving as entry points for the lake
  10. Best time to visit for bird watching is November-end to February. 

HOW TO GET TO/REACH CHILIKA or CHILKA LAKE

The closest

Airport Bhubaneshwar

Railhead – Balugaon on the Howrah-Chennai line.

Bus stopBalugaon and Rambha are major towns serving as entry points to Chilika.

1) Get off at Balugaon for Barkul. Hire a taxi/auto-rickshaw from here to reach Barkul. Then hire a boat to visit Satapada/islands

2) Get off at Keshpur for Rambha. Hire a taxi/auto-rickshaw to Rambha, then a boat from here for Satapada/islands

You can also opt for a day tour from Puri organised by the Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) The link is here

Car/Taxi – Take the NH5, then drive down to Satapada

TIPS TO MAKE THE CHILIKA/CHILKA LAKE EXPERIENCE BETTER

  1. Odisha/Orissa is very hot at other times, so the best season to visit the state is end-October to mid-March. Don’t go during June to September – it’s monsoon.
  2. There are private boat operators before the OTDC Yatri Niwas. You will need to haggle with them over rates. Make sure that the boat you hire is covered – it gets very hot even in the morning
  3. There is an OTDC Yatri Niwas (guest house) at Satapada where you can hire boats for dolphin watching/going to the islands
  4. OTDC boats are best suited for larger groups and have quieter engines. We took one, not wanting to disturb the dolphins. But with private, louder boats hovering around at the sighting spot, it didn’t help that cause much. Our ears were spared of the phut-phutting sound of those diesel motors for the remaining time though
  5. Apply enough sunscreen if you plan to visit any of the islands/beach. Wear hats and sun goggles, unless it is cloudy
  6. After the dolphin spotting, you can take the boat to the sand bar that separates the Bay of Bengal from the lagoon. It takes over an hour from the jetty at Satapada to the sand bar
  7. If you are vegetarian, order lunch at the OTDC Yatri Nivas before you begin the boat ride – the food is not the tastiest but it’s best to have something when you return after the 3-4 hour trip
  8. If you are non-vegetarian, you can have freshly cooked fish/mussels/crabs on the sand bar
  9. You can also buy coconut water and tea too
  10. Do not buy pearls that the vendors would have supposedly just extracted from molluscs lying in vessels at the sand bar. They would, in all probability, be fake

BOAT RIDES IN CHILIKA LAKE

OTDC offers boat rides to Kalijai from Barkul and to the sea mouth from Satapada. For Kalijai, the rate on the OTDC website currently shows 80 rupees per person and for the sea mouth and back, 160 rupees per person. Both need a minimum of 8 people for the ride to operate. If you have a smaller group, you can hire the entire boat and pay for 8 people.

The prices mentioned here might change, so it’s best to call the OTDC office and check before you reach.You can call this no. 1800 208 1414 (Toll free) or check other numbers at this link http://www.otdc.in/boating.htm .

ACCOMODATION NEAR CHILIKA LAKE

Your best option is the OTDC Panthnivas at Rambha. Though I haven’t personally visited, the reviews on TripAdvisor seem pretty good. Here is the link to the reviews

Here is a link for looking up the OTDC guest house/hotel tariff

The Pantha Nivas at Barkul or Barkula is reputed to have scenic views as well. However, I can’t vouch for it since I haven’t seen it.

And here is a link to the TripAdvisor reviews (old ones though).

While one can stay at the Yatri Nivas, Satapada, virtually right on the lake, it didn’t seem like a very pleasant option when I visited in November, 2014. The place gets quite deserted once the sun has set and the restaurant serves just about edible food.

Here is the link to TripAdvisor reviews

 

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27 Comments

  1. anil

    Hiii. ..I want to visit kalijai, dolphins .sea mouth from where to take boats of otdc with less amount, how much price

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Kalijai boat ride is from Barkul and to the sea mouth from Satapada. For Kalijai, the rate is showing 80 rupees per person and for the sea mouth and back, 160 rupees per person but need a min. of 8 people.

      Am not sure if this price is updated, so it’s best to call and check before you reach.You can call this no. 1800 208 1414 (Toll free) or check other numbers at this link http://www.otdc.in/boating.htm .

      Hope this helps

      Like

  2. Hi Vibha,
    Are you a travel blogger? I started as a travel blogger but switched. We travel a great deal. I have been swimming with the dolphins and loved it.
    Thanks for visiting my site a few moments ago. I am glad you liked my guest author’s Grammarly post.
    Janice

    Liked by 1 person

  3. HELLO..I WILL GO TO PURI ON 27 DEC 2015..PLS GUIDE ME WAT ALL PLACES TO COVER IN 2 DAYS…N WAYS TO DO SEESIGHIN IN CHILKA N C DOLPHINS..ITS A REQUEST..I NEED ADVICE THNKS

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good to see a post about Dolphins in Satapada. I am surprised becuase not many people know about the place even today. When I had posted a photograph of dolphins in 1995 in my hostel (XIM Bhubaneshwar), people couldn’t believe it. You rekindled lot of fond memories. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bablu maharaj

    Va kai bahut mja aaya chilika aur puri trip me mano agar swarg kahi hai to yahi hai ham 4dost the aur hamne kafi injoy kya.

    Like

    • Hey Suchi. Thank you so much. Yup, these are special ones. Actually, there are fresh water dolphins too – like the Gangetic dolphins and then there are marine ones.
      In the course of reading up on dolphins for the post, also came to know about porpoises, which look like dolphins but are apparently different. Had fun writing this. 🙂

      Like

    • The post was a long time in the making so really appreciate your comment.

      What I found strange was that despite their low numbers, the boatman seemed quite sure of a sighting. He kept telling us that it is only on Chilika that they give a guarantee of spotting dolphins. We did see them so I was happy.

      Liked by 1 person

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