Meandering through the Brackish Backwaters of Chilika

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.

A postcard from Chilika

About Chilika
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.

A begoggled tourist

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!

The Mangroves, note the highest water level

But no, as we moved forward, boats started to appear from all directions, though most from the opposite.

The traffic was substantial

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.

Welcome World Family

Majhi Naiya Dhundhe Kinara

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.

No prize for spotting the dolphin-it is certainly not flying

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.

A bird in ascent of its flight, in backdrop the seafood paradise

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.

The red crab saying cheese

…and scurrying through into its hideout

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.

A snap from the back-far far back-tribute to Nandan

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.

…This one to Manish Khamesra

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 birds, identification left to you

The photoshoped view

Walking on the Mars-there is water

Rearing for take off

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.

The Seamouth, there are boats at the horizon

…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.

The Seafood establishment

Still a long way to go

A lonely crab corner, spot the bird

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.

Ah…the sun rises, sight to savour

Hold hands and stand still

The molten gold showering from the heavens

The pot brimming over with the precious metal

“Jesus ‘does’ want me for a sunbeam”

A daughter mother duo


  • Smita says:

    Very nice account and Really beautiful pictures – especially the final lot. Dolphins – I never believed that one could spot them here, till i came to know about the Gangatic Dolphins, that can be seen at Garh Mukteshwar – I don’t know how close they are to the ones we see on TV, but they’re there.

    I have not yet come across a description of a day-on-the-beach so in-depth and articulate. kudos!

  • Rajeev says:

    Smita, Thanks so much for all the compliments. I guess my release has garnered a bumper opening.

    The dolphins are definitely not as attractive as depicted on TV. Moreover, it was not easy to spot them overwater.

  • nandanjha says:

    Free style writing where you cover things like , Why did Toyota stopped making Qualis, to accommodations which Orissa tourism department has to offer. Its a easy-read material since you make it so much fluid even though there is lot of information.

    Its like being in large 11K Squrare KM post which flows like water.

    Very good snaps and captions. Thanks for dedicating one shot to me. Manish Khamesra is going to be a happy man as well.

  • Rajeev says:

    Thanks Nandan, though I will look forward to more from you after you finish sailing through the 1100sqKms.

    Would also seek your response to my latest comment on Sarnath Trip.

  • sameer sharma says:

    Very detailed writeup. To add to the cream, we have all these pictures speaking more than 1000 words each. It is so amazing to be a part of huge mass of water and that is when one realises that 2/3rd of our earth is water.

    Atleast I got that realisation when I was travelling on board MV Samrat from Calutta to Port Blair. Bay of Bengal is as blue as the parker ink and one is humbled by the sheer volume of water around. What about any tortoise sightings because the same stretch of beaches is well known for the Olive Ridley turtles laying their eggs all across this stretch.

    Good work worth all the praises.


  • Shubha Tewari says:

    There is a very well saying that beauty lies in he eye of beholder. In the same manner, the real description of the place lies in the hand of writer. Hats off to you Bhaiya. The way you had desribed the trip with your words and pictures is highly appreciable. It will promote others also to visit these places.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Beauty lies in point of view.

  • Rajeev says:

    Sameer, Thanks for the kind words and it is gratifying to see one’s efforts being appreciated. When you see the huge mass of water, you realise, how precariously we are living. Even mildest abnormal shaking of the pot can bring mass devastation, when the cup brimmeth over.

    Unfortunatley we only got a sorry sight of a dead tortoise washed up on the Puri beach.

    Shubha, Thanks a lot for your compliments, which inspire me to try posting on Konark temple etc.

    Nandan, Thanks for the quote of the day.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    You have come out with yet another enthralling post with some excellent pictures. Your eye for details is simply superb.

    Though I have seen dolphins in the books, movies and in the dolphinariums, it is good to know that you were able to spot them in the sea.

    One of your pics ” the molten gold —-” did remind me of an old number from one of the early movies of Guru Dutt as a Director- “Jaal” and it was one of the finest melodies by Lata ji –

    “Pighla hai Sona, door gagan par,
    Phail rahe hain shaam ke saaye”

    I don’t know if any one has heard about this, but it remains one of the finest compositions of Sachin Da (S D Burman).

    Look forward to your post on Konark

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    Dear Ram,
    I am feeling rewarded with your kind words about me and the post. Any appreciation coming from you is like a certificate.
    I have gone through your comment on the Florence post and the insight that you have added is simply spectacular. Would look forward to your notes from 83.
    Thanks for linking the snap to the work of the genius. Its humbling.
    I can recall the more popular song from the movie Jaal ‘Ye raat ye chandni fir kahan…’

  • swastishipra says:

    Wonderful entry with beautiful description n classic pics.The snaps are really very refreshing. I loved reading it. The entry made me remember my trip to Puri and Chilika.
    The jumping dolphins are really very attractive. I still remember me and my brother plotting the dolphins in the vast water field.

    Thanks a lot for giving others including me the opportunity of traveling mentally without tickets.

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    Thanks a lot. Your comment made me have a narcissistic relook at my post and the snaps. I am so happy to have you as a fellow traveller on our trips.

    Spotting dolphins was fun and we could have about 7-8 sightings. But they were not jumping and would just come on the surface for a very short duration.

    Looks like I will have to post on rest of the places (Konark etc) as well.

  • Rahul says:

    Very well detailed post Rajeev.
    My best memory of Chilka is at the sea mouth which was beautiful with the lake and sea waters merging, and where we had fried king prawns, freshly caught. For Rs. 5 a piece, that’s the cheapest delicacy meal I’ve ever had.
    Good memories revived, thanks for that!

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    Thanks Rahul.
    That’s true, fresh seafood delicacies, especially made of prawns and crabs are one of the main tourist attractions of this place.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Dear Rajeev,

    Very detailed account and it really made me think about going to Chilika at the first available oportunity.

    Three pictures of rising Sun are awesome :) and yes even if the wild animals, dolphins are evasive in their wild habitat, its the best place to spot them. I too, like Smita was not aware of spotting Dolphins in and around India, but we all are now knowing and learning many things :)

    Thanks for the beautiful post :)

  • Nandan Jha says:

    When’s Konark coming ?

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    Thanks a lot for your visit and the encouraging comment about the writeup and the pohotographs. Yes, dolphins were truly elusive. No jumping like seen in movies.

    Konark is stuck in non-writers’ block, and also probably in non-writer’s preparation for a TN trip. Though, I hope to soon bring it on. Thanks for the follow up :-)

  • Rajarshi says:

    I plan to trek all along the chilika lagoon covering puri,khordah and ganjam district can anyone provide me the route map along the shores of the lakes with main hubs of towns and villages on d way?


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