Thanks for all the praise showered on the Jagannath Puri Series.
As promised, I am back with the latest in the remainder write ups on Chilika, Konark, Bhubaneswar (Lingaraj Temple, Nadan Kanan Park), Pipli and Dhauli. In the current part, however, I will cover only the Chilika lake.
As many of us might already know, Chilika is a lagoon, popularly known as the biggest Brackish water lake of Asia. It is a habitat to some biodiversity, the Dolphins and a wide variety of migratory birds being the major components. It is spread over 1100Sq. Km comprising of wetlands and shallow water, depth of which is dependent on the tide condition. There are many islands within the lagoon with their own attractions/spots, with the Kalijai being the most revered temple with its own legend. No, I am not going into the details:-), though Mrs Mohapatra had given us some tips.
As written in the previous posts, after the visit to Puri Temple, we started off for Chilika in our bursting-at-seams Toyota Qualis. I do not know why Toyata withdrew this model, despite of the fact that it was ruling the segment on its merits – it had got space, power and comfort too. Probably they wanted to get rid of the commercial vehicle (read Taxi) image. But Innova is driven in commercial class only, mostly. Moreover, Innova has lesser space at the rear and since the side rear window pans are fixed, it cannot be used in non AC mode, and that means to seat more than 5 people comfortably, excluding driver is difficult.
We were heading to Satpada tourist spot which is recently developed and most easily accessible from Puri at 48kms. The road from Puri to Satpada is a state highway. For other spots, we would have had to circumnavigate through Khurda along the Kharagpur Vijaywada GQed highway NH-5. This would have been a much longer drive – of more than 120Km.
The migratory birds land in winters and we did not hope to see them, neither were we too keen as I have never written birdwatching as a hobby in my resume at anytime. In any case the season was almost past its prime. However, for kids, seeing the dolphins was a big draw.
While we drove along the not so wide, but well laid and maintained road, the driver told us about the devastation brought about by the cyclone that hit Orissa coast in 1999 and a recent cyclone of lower intensity. The area looks rehabilitated and the road, except for a very short stretch, did not betray any signs of calamity. I felt that the government was doing a great job in taking care of the infrastructure, the basic requirement for development and sustenance of tourism. With the treasure of art and history that lies scattered all over in Orissa, it is logical for the government to enable and aid tourism by developing the circuits well, giving the world a window to the treasures of our rich and ancient heritage. Logical things do happen.
Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) has got its Panthnivas chain of Rest Houses in this area with AC and Non AC accommodation at Barkul, Rambha, Balugaon, Satpada (only Non-AC). Though we were not going to any of those as ours was going to be a day-cruise.
We had decided to go to the Satpada from where we would take motorboat for our cruise. On the way, we saw orchards of Cashew, though the season was not there, we decided to stop and get hold of some souvenir of green cashew fruit. The driver was quite knowledgeable and he enlightened us on how the Cashew nut is actually extracted from the big fruit and it was some task, quite like extracting metals from raw ore, and that the ratio of the finished goods obtained per unit of raw matter was very thin. This is probably the reason behind the kind of extortion-ful landing prices of cashew and other similar labour intensive commodities prevailing in places where we live. At some tourist places later we visited, they were selling these for as low as Rs. 200 and less, a Kg and there lies some trick. But I will keep that story for another day.
We reached the Satpada at about Noon. The days was a ‘diffuse’ one and the breeze made the temperature easily bearable. May be a clear blue sky would have led us to a better experience. We booked our motorboat from the booth at Satpada (for a sum of Rs.900, if I remember correctly), and we were advised to take the package of Dolphin point, Bird point, Red crab point and some other points:-)as only this was possible starting that time of the day. The duration of this trip was about 2:30 hrs. There were other longer circuits which included the Kalijai temple also, for which one needed to start earlier in the morning as it was a whole day trip. We purchased our fill of Chips, biscuits, cold drinks and of course water to keep us nourished during the next three hours on high sea, well, kind of.
Setting Sail from Satpada Harbour in Chilika
We reached the boat harbour and were awestruck to see the limitless expanse of water in front of us. It was like sea, albeit with some islands and mangroves visible at distances (more clearly through my handycam’ modest telephoto). As we were 10 persons, we were allotted a bigger boat. We gallantly boarded the boat and took our places for a trip which was definitely some adventure, for the old and the young ones at least. However, we were not worried much as we knew that the water is shallow and weather normal. Nonetheless, in the beginning of the sail, my mother remained chanting some Mighty Mantras. Kids were chanting dolphin-dolphin, as the latter were the biggest draw for them. When we started, we saw that there was no traffic around us and we thought that we had missed the bus, thinking most tourist would already have taken all the fun away and we would get only some leftover!
But no, as we moved forward, boats started to appear from all directions, though most from the opposite.
The out of phase and/or frequency purring of multiple two-stroke engines was creating a kind of white noise, especially when our boat would cross or run parallel to others. There were tourists of all hue, but mostly Indian and among those most looked like Bengalis. As we crossed other boats, there used to be a lot of waving of hands and return-waving from both sides, well in return also in most cases. This reamined a ritual all through the cruise.
There were fishermen, in their tiny canoes, spreading their nets with a wide a variety of objects used as floats for the fishing nets. We had lost all the sense of direction and even the sun was of not any help as it was right at the zenith. So while we thought that the island that was looking like moving towards us was our destination, in no time it would disappear or come by our sides, without us noticing that we had changed course.
At the Dolphin Point
After a probably what was circuitous sail finding route through sufficiently deep water, of about 30 minutes duration, our boatman announced that we should look out for dolphins as we were in the territory. He brought the notches down and let the boat sail in the vicinity. I was wondering whether in this purring of multiple two stroke engines, any dolphins would dare to venture out. What was a greater shock was that we had to scout of dolphins right from the boat, whereas I was thinking that we will be taken to some well decorated pond, where we would hold out some foodstuff and they would jump out of the water to snatch it from our hands, making squeaking sounds. We were expecting to see some blue (our imagination going wild, and another case of CQ challenge, probably) dolphins. But till then, we were only going round the area scanning the waterscape, with a couple of more boats for company. Suddenly our captain shouted “see there” and there it was circumvoluting and it definitely did not jump out of water and we could hardly see it before it went under water.
We remained there for about 30 minutes and had many fleeting sightings of the elusive creature-the Irrawady (Irawati) Dolphins, of which 135 members are said to live in Chilika. We saw a couple, as if racing together with our boat at a safe distance. Poaching was not uncommon till not so recent past and for this very reason and to protect and develop the biodiversity of Chilika, Chilika Development Authority has been constituted, which manages all the related affairs.
Afte having seen enough glimpses of the grey-coloured creature, we signalled our captain cum marine guide to take us to the next ‘spot’. We are totally dependent on their ilk for telling us which spots were worth visiting and which were waste of time. For example, he told us that going to the sandwitched landstrip which ran in between and parallel to the sea and the Lagoon would be a waste of time considering our culinary preferences, as the only attraction there was the stalls of a wide variety of seafood. But in the hindsight I feel, we should have anchored there also for a while and spent some time. Anyways, he was taking us to the Red Crab point.
The Red Crab Spot
We sailed for about 10 minutes, before we heard some code language (actually Oriya) conversation between our captain and another one. He slowed our boat, and told that teh information was that the water is very shallow ahead and he had to be careful in choosing the route or else the boat could bottom. Indeed, I could see the surface of the land below water where our boat was. He slowly navigated the boat towards what looked like surface of moon, or mars it was! He anchored the partially bottomed boat at a few feet from the shore. I was the first to jump out of the boat into uncharted-untested (well it was no exactly un-tasted as I had taken a sip and it was all salt:) waters. The land ahead was the home of Red Crabs. Suddenly, we saw a red crab in the hands of our captain. He was skillfully holding it without being bitten by it. We said hello to it, requested to say cheese and took photographs. After this I asked the captain to let it go and the crab hurriedly scouted for a hole of right size and swiftly disappeared into it. It moved in a mnner of a wheel with spokes rolling.
Slowly, all of us came out of the boat and onto the land. Children had a variety of emotions after seeing this spectacle and the Mars (read red) land sprinkled with holes of all sizes. One of them was not willing to walk on his own feet, and needed a lot of persuading to accompany us to the point where migratory birds were supposed to be there. After all this was our next ‘spot’ to reach where we had to walk on the wetland.
We were aware that not many species of birds would be there, but since, we had to go through the ritual, we walked. But, it was some experience walking in solitude surrounded by a variety of waters and signs of habitation being at some distance. We felt as if we were the first to anchor on that island. We kept collecting souvenirs from the surface.
After walking for about 700 meteres, we could see a group of some birds (Experts to please identify the birds) sitting on the wetlands at some distance. They looked like some pigeons, and with no Siberian Cranes in sight, we decided to do the rest of birdwatching through the telescopic eye of our humble handycam, and return without troublng out already put-to-test legs anymore.
The Sea Mouth
The next point on circuit was the seamouth, the area where the sea is connected to the backwaters. The length of the mouth would be about a few kilometers. The froth was spilling out the secret that beyond lay the big – big waters of the Bay of Bengal. We saw boats sailing across in the screen of camera, to bare eye those looked like some tiny dots on a frothy surface. Curvature of earth was playing its role and we were not able to see any sea beyond the frothy area where boats seemed to suddenly emerge from underwater.
…as you can see above
We were directed by the parents against taking a voyage through to the open seas, for which transshipment was required and we did a ‘passing by’ the Seamouth. Attached with the Seamouth lies the beach strip that I mentioned above. It was scattered with eatery hutments and thatched umbrellas and looked picturesque. I could see the activities of tourists on the island through my Handy-telescope. They were basically eating.
This was all that was included in our package and we had to head back to our base. In another thirty minutes, we were anchoring at the harbor, wearing the light salty tan that the sail through the lagoon had imparted to our bodies. After alighting, we unexpectedly played a slightly unnerving game by a name like “find the driver and the cab or spend night at Satpada” in which we loitered through the streets of the tribal fishertown, before we spotted him waiting for us at the expected location, and set off for our base of Puri. We were hungry but that was not reason compelling enough to compel us to venture into restaurants specializing in seafood, so much in toursit demand. Some “A/C restaurant” 48 Km away at Puri was waiting for us with its special Masala Dosas.
This has again become long. My writing is becoming like a gas, which occupies all the space available, even if there are just two molecules.
Please do not forget to leave you comment. Thanks. I am leaving you with a few snaps of the sunrise at Puri Beach. Please bear with the numbers and quality or lack thereof of the snaps, as as mentioned earlier, these are frozen from videotapes.