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Chilika Lake

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Swarming with birdlife, thick with fish and dotted with lush green wetlands along its shores, the Chilika Lake seems like a vision crafted by some imaginative artist in the mists of prehistory. In truth, Chilika is one of Asia's largest lagoons. Arguably the finest wetland on the Indian subcontinent, it sustains over 25,000 small fishermen and is a declared international Ramsar Site attracting large numbers of aquatic birds, the migrants among which are the focus of an intense on-going study.

During the rains, the waters cover about 1,000 sq. km. and shrink to 750 sq. km. in the summer. The estuarine wetland also loses around 1.5 sq. km. annually on account of the deposition of silt resulting in a closure of the mouth to the sea. At this rate, Chilika Lake will probably die a quiet, gradual death in another 500 years. 

  • Plan your trip
  • Wild life
  • Habitat
  • Places to see
  • Useful tips
  • History

Best season

The temperature ranges from a hot 450C in summer to a comfortable 120C minimum during the winters. The rainfall averages about 135.23 cm. Winds flowing over the sea and then onto coastal areas, make it seem cooler than it actually is.

The lake is pleasant throughout the year and one can enjoy Chilika in any season. The period from October to March is the best because winter invites a greater number of migratory birds to the area.The lake is best visited in the early mornings although one can easily spend the entire day there. Round it off with a glimpse of the gorgeous sunset

Accommodation

Accommodation is available at several tourist lodges around the lake.

Barkul Panthanivas, Balugaon – 752030. Tel.: 06756-20488. 
Tariff: A/C Double: Rs. 700; Non-A/C Double: Rs. 350. 

Rambha Panthanivas, Rambha – 761028. Tel.: 06810-87346. 
A pleasant and friendly place, overlooking the lake. Tariff : A/C Double: Rs. 500; Non-A/C Double: Rs. 250.

Satpada Panthanivas, Satpada, Orissa. Tel.:0674-432177.
Located 50 km. south of Puri, it offers well-ventilated clean rooms with balconies. Tariff: Double: Rs. 150.

Hotel Ashoka, Balugaon – 752030. Tel.: 06756-20408/ 20409. 
Tariff: Single: Rs. 150; Double: Rs. 350.

Transport

By Air: The Biju Patnaik Airport at Bhubaneswar is the nearest, an accessible 100 km. away. 

By Rail: Balugaon to the west of the lake and Rambha at the southern tip are the nearest railway stations on the South-Eastern Railway. Barkul also has a railway station. These towns are well connected to major cities like Calcutta, Puri, Chennai, Hyderabad etc.

By Road: From Bhubaneshwar, Balugaon (100 km.), Barkul (110 km.) and Rambha (130 km.), are more or less equidistant. From Behrampur, Balugaon is 84 km. away, Barkul 75 km. and Rambha 50 km. These towns on National Highway 5 from Chennai are good access points to Chilika.

Around the lake: Chilika is best seen by cruising around the lake. OTDC [Orissa Tourism Development Corporation] has launches from Barkul and Rambha. Revenue Department's launches can be hired at Balugaon. You can also avail of launches run by Inland Water Transport (Commerce and Transport Department) from Balugaon and Satpada. Private operators run launches from Barkul, Rambha, Balugaon and Satpada, where country boats can also be hired.

Aquatic fauna predominate. As many as 158 varieties of marine creatures are found here including prawn, crab, mullet, perch, threadfin and catfish.Crabs, oyster, coelenterates and gastropods also form a substantial population at the lake. A crowd of crustaceans at Chilika makes these among the most abundant species at the lake.

Zooplankton is found at various depths, and a variety of amphibians inhabit the area.A few species of lizards are resident in the area as are skinks, the evolutionary link between lizards and snakes.The estuarine sea snake, Asiatic file snake, beaked sea snake, Javan wart snake, dog faced water snake and smooth water snakes form part of the snake population.

Rat snakes, tree-living cat snakes, bronzebacks and sand boas are the others in the family.Sea turtles nest on the sandy ridges, and insects hover about their watery home.

Crocodiles were also once reported in the area, and mammals spotted in the lake include dolphins.Spotted deer and blackbuck live on land in the surrounding hills and forests. Jackals, hyena, the jungle cat and the fox are also present. Feral cows and buffalo graze in exposed areas where there is not much forest cover. Blacknaped hare, rats, squirrels and porcupines can also be seen. Bats, monkeys and the common mongoose have all been recorded here, as also an insectivore called the Pachyura.

Chilika is justifiably famous for its birds. There are as many as 151 species counted at the lake, including 93 migratory species. Some of these come from as far away as Ladakh, Tibet, Mongolia, Mansarovar, the Caspian Sea, Siberia and Northern Asia. These home in on the shallow waters around Nalbana, where they are able to rest and feed.

Shovellers, pintails, Tufted Pochards and Barheaded Geese are also on Chilika's guest list. Brahminy Duck, Garganey, Redcrested Pochards, Common Pochards, pelicans, widgeons, dabchicks, coots and gadwalls all cluster here in the cold winters.Spotbill or Grey Duck, Lesser and Large flamingoes, Painted Storks and Spoonbills are found here. Herons, Egrets, Kites, Eagles and over 100,000 waders are seen around the lake.

Silent, brooding Cormorants make a sport of catching fish and frogs executing superb dives. Pheasant-tailed Jacanas wander around in search of food.The White Stork, White Ibis and the White bellied Sea Eagle provide the austere white against the tranquil background of the lake.The Little Tern, Gull billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Black winged Stilt, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Grebe, Peregrine Falcon, Pond Heron, Ringed Plover, Eastern Skylark and the Small Indian Pranticole are only some of the birds that lend this lake its cosmopolitan character as a residential locale for birds.

Chilika is a shallow lake, about 70 km. long and 15 km. wide. Spread across both the Puri and Ganjam districts of Orissa, it is bordered to the west by several small hillocks which form a part of the Eastern Ghats. Chilika obtains its freshwater from the river Daya, which is an arm of the Mahanadi. Several other streams and rivulets including the Bhargavi, Kusumi, Nuna and Salia feed the lake from northern watersheds. The forest cover around Chilika is scanty. Sandy ridges rise at its southern mouth, and tend to close up periodically, cutting the lagoon off from the sea.

Tidal ingress is felt only along the outer channels, parallel to the sandbar. Thus, the virtually landlocked lagoon waters are brackish. Fresh river waters drain into it and saline seawaters are found outside the narrow 200 m. opening into the vast Bay of Bengal.

The silt borne down by the rivers has no access to the sea and spreads into the lagoon promoting a proliferation of weeds that thrive off the rich organic matter. Clay, sand and mud are found in the central portions of the lake, while shelly sands are present in the marginal areas. Several islands with a total area of 28.53 sq. km. dot the lake.

Chilika has marked seasonal fluctuations in temperature, salinity and depth of water. The salt content, which is almost zero in the monsoon, rises to a maximum of 36 ppt. in the summer. The temperature of water can vary between180C in January to 270C in May, with the level falling by an average of two cm. daily. As summer approaches, the fall can be as much as five cm. At the peak of summer, water levels fall to an all time low of 15 cm. at Gerasara in the southeastern portion of the lake, though near the Kalijai temple the depth remains around 27.5 cm.

The Nalbana Island is completely dry, but is inundated with around 18 cm. of water, during the wet monsoon months.

Vegetation/Flora

Weeds abound in this lake, their growth enhanced by the silt that settles in the lagoon. This growth tints the waters muddy-yellow to green. Waterweeds are predominant in these areas, especially in the central and southern stretch. Many tolerate wide variations in salt concentration and can grow irrespective of the depth of water. Some form a thick mesh where fish and crabs get entangled.

Eichhornia is the floating common water hyacinth that has established itself in the northern expanse of the river. Freshwater weeds like Hydrilla hinder the navigation of fishing boats.Aquatic plants of different varieties are found in the lake and on sandy soils, you will find Halophila ovalis growing.The Nalbana Island, which is dry during the summer, reveals tattoos of vegetation patterned on its barren depths.

Head towards Somolo, located 50 km. from Puri, to feast your eyes on the resident dolphins. It offers a remarkable view of the lagoon from the eastern shore. The endangered Irrawaddy dolphins are found in the Satpada-Magarmukh zone, also around Kalijai and Balugaon.

The Somolo and Dumkudi Islands were once part of the Eastern Ghats. The area abounds with a variety of animals and birds of diverse species.Terrestrial mammals are found in the hills, forests and islands around the lake as well as the sandy ridges.

Though birds are seen all over, the maximum concentration is at Nalbana, Gerasara, Bhusandapur, Mangalajodi and Sorana. These areas shelter lakhs of birds that feed and roost here.

Several interesting islands dot the lake and are worth a visit. Beacon Island is so called because of a conical tower standing on a submerged rock. It is located at a mere 3 km. distance from the OTDC at Rambha.

Birds' Island earns its name from the many birds that converge here in winter. It is also known for its algal extravaganza. The island is located 4 km. from the OTDC at Rambha. Huge granite rocks with overhanging shelves that attract the birds as perching grounds characterize the terrain. Birds' Island is the ideal location for an amateur birdwatcher interested in a large number of sightings of diverse species.

Barkuda Island is located 5 km. away from the Rambha jetty. It is exquisitely pretty with clear, deep-blue waters. The limbless skink was first spotted in the loose soil of the Barakuda islands as early as 1917. You could sight one there too.

Parikud Islands are a group of islands also called the Garh Krishnaprasad Block, which are an ideal spot for birdwatching in the winters.You could visit the bungalow at Sankuda Island constructed by The King of Khalikote.

The town of Puri nearby is a religious pilgrimage spot. Manikpatna, along the outer channel of the lake, is an old port that is reminiscent of a 'busy trade route' with the Far East. An old mosque in ruins and the Babakundaleshwar temple honouring Lord Shiva still exist here.

The Kalijai temple dedicated to the goddess is an excellent place. In the month of January every year, a huge gala fair is held during the festival of Makar Sankranti. Barunkuda, with a temple dedicated to Lord Varuna; Nabagraha near Behrampur and the Choubar Shiva temple near the village Alupatna are accessible from Satapada.

Located about 22 km. from Rambha, the temple dedicated to Goddess Narayani is situated atop a hill with a very picturesque view of the plains. Nirmaljhara a mere 11 km. from Rambha is a 'pure stream' emerging at the feet of an image of Vishnu at this place.The city of Banpur is about 42 km. from Rambha. It was the capital of the Sailodvaba dynasty and is well known for the Bhagabati Devi temple.

The Dakshya Prajapati temple is exemplary of beautiful Oriya art. Several Buddhist images contributed by the Vairayan cult of Buddhism still exist at Banpur.

Powerboats are not allowed in the sanctuary. It is a dream to circle the lake in a quiet, slow engine-less boat that synchronises better with the placid rhythm of the place.

Wear light cotton clothing but ensure that you carry light woollens for a windy night around the open lake. Guard against bad weather and fierce winds.

The sunsets are absolutely spectacular on the lake. Make sure you provide time for viewing at least one.

Chilika is well connected to Puri, enabling you to plan a combined trip.

Carry packed food, binoculars and a camera for a day at the lake.

Go armed with a bird book!

Do not treat Chilika as a picnic spot. It is a sanctuary and a paradise for birds. Fishing and hunting are banned within the precincts of the sanctuary. Report to the Wildlife office if you chance upon such illegal activities that are detrimental to the wildlife in the area.

Do not pollute the lake by throwing wrappers or other waste around.

Do not disturb the serene surroundings by making noise or playing loud music. 

Permits to visit the sanctuary can be obtained from the Wildlife Office counters at Balugaon or from the Divisional Forest Officer. A document such as a passport, containing name, age, nationality, occupation and address is required along with a declaration stating the purpose of your visit.

Entry fees levied are nominal. Permits for professional photography and scientific research must be obtained from the Divisional Forest Officer only. A scientific study team can include a maximum of five members.

Useful contacts

Tourist Office, Jayadev Marg, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa – 751002. Tel.: 0674-431299.

Chilika Development Authority, BJ-45, BJB Nagar, Bhubaneshwar – 751014. Tel.: 0674-434044/ 435374; Fax: 0674-434485.

Divisional Forest Officer and Wildlife Warden, Chilika Wildlife Division, 8, Shaheed Nagar, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa.

Orissa Krushak Mahasangh, 14, Ashoknagar, District Puri, Bhubaneshwar – 751009. Tel.: 0674-400305.

The Chilika Lake was declared a sanctuary in 1972 and later, in 1981 declared a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. In December 1987, 15.53 sq. km. of Nalbana island was also declared a sanctuary. Years ago, when Chilka was a deep and open bay, merchant ships used to drop anchor en route to Sri Lanka, Java, Sumatra and Khamboj – the fabled spice lands of the East.

The relatively new sandy ridges that now give Chilika its unique pear shape prevent it from being used as a deep draft harbour any longer.An interesting 4th century tale told to explain the birth of Chilika goes like this – Raktabahu (Red Arm) was believed to have travelled across the seas in an armada to plunder the rich and holy town of Puri. But the citizens of Puri deserted the town in anticipation of the attack.

Raktabahu was enraged that the approach had proved futile and therefore directed his fury towards the sea that had betrayed him. The sea parted to let the army march in before the waves turned in and smothered the entire lot in its tides. At this point where the sea parted, lies Chilika Lake.

 
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Harish Sahoo

September 4, 2017, 11:53 PM
 For accommodation, a new luxury resort in Chilika has been recently opened from Swosti group-the largest hotel chain in Odisha. It has lake view luxury cottages, global cuisine restaurants, game zones, sports bar, cycling pad, spa, and much more. Sightseeing the bewitching Chilika lake along with a stay in this resort would make your Odisha travel a memorable one and double your happiness.