Chilka ( also written as Chilika) Lake is actually a brackish water lagoon formed on the Bay of Bengal. At 1100 square kilometres it is the world’s second largest water body of this type. Theoretically all the various parts of the lake can be visited from the land side but there are only three major locations from where lodging and boating facilities are available. Two of them are on the west side of the road and one on the eastern side facing the sea. We decide to explore the lake from all three spots- Rambha, Barkul/ Balugaon & Satapada.
The southernmost of such spots is the facility provided by OTDC at Rambha. We are greeted at the entrance to the town by this religious procession associated with Veerabhadra, a form of Lord Shiva.
The OTDC complex provides large cottages as well as rooms, with fabulous views right on the lakeside.
Exploring the lake is possible only by a boat and there are plenty of them available. We have those operated by the OTDC and also those owned by the private operators. The first place we are taken to is called Breakfast Island. The story is that the British colonials used to visit this rock on weekends for their breakfast and the structure was built for the purpose. It has survived well.
The next stop is at the Bird Island. A smallish island which hosts a large number of migratory birds during the season. We are well into March and cannot expect the migratory birds at this time of the year.
We have to make do with the sighting of the local deity with whose blessings the migratory birds make a safe passage back to their respective places in the north.
The lake hosts a large number of other animal species. The endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin is one. We could see a few but the photographs did not come off well.
There is a small bivalve mollusc resembling the Green Mussel growing on the lake. At first glance, it looked like the young of the Green Mussels but the boatmen clarified that this is the maximum size this species grows up to and they are not edible. I guess this would be the food for some of the birds visiting the lake.
There is another place on the eastern shore of the lake near Rambha which houses a shrine to a Goddess and one has to crawl through a tunnel in the rocks to reach it. We decide against this adventure and return to have a meal with fresh lake fish at the resort.
Our next stop is Barkul. Barkul with it’s neighbouring Balugam has been a tourist place for quite some time. We had stayed here about 20 years back. Barkul is busy the year round, birds or no birds. It has a naval establishment very close by and there is an island with a famous temple which is accessible economically from this place. The Goddess Kalijai has a huge following in this part of Odisha and visitors keep coming continuously. Add to this the birding season and you have a perfect commercial place. To make things more attractive the OTDC has developed a Water Sports Complex on the lakeside.
We reach Barkul late and decide against a boat ride and stick to the sunset.
After some early morning birding the next day, we proceed towards Puri, passing Balugam on the way.
Whilst at Rambha we had contemplated visiting Satapada from the eastern side, the seacoast side. As we were driving the people at the resort discouraged us from the journey. There are a number of water crossings on the way and the roads are not good. There might be work going on a bridge. Nobody was certain if we could make by that route. The other option was to go to Puri and then drive southwards to reach Satapada, only place having accommodation on the eastern shores of the lake. We decide on the Puri option.
The road to Puri is through several villages and an enjoyable ride. We stop at many places as we go to look around.
We stop for a drink of the tadi, the sap of the palm thinking that it is the Borassus palm sap. It happened to be the sap of the Date palm. This is the first time we had an occasion to drink the sap of the date palm and it predictably tastes sweet.
Here is a house at the village Pattajoshipur with masonry walls with elaborate decoration but with roofs of the palm fronds.
This temple on the side of a small lake has sunk on one side and appears tilting to its right.
This arch looks incongruous in the village. Perhaps it belongs to another era when this was a rich town.
This method of lifting water for irrigation is still being practiced not far from the capital city of Odisha.
The drive from Barkul to Puri is more than 143 Kms. Puri to Satapada is 48 Kms and Puri is also a place we need to visit as it is a coastal town, we decide to halt at Puri. For the sake of continuity, allow me to skip Puri for the time being and jump on to Satapada.
This part of the drive is through another set of villages and small towns and through an area which is more densely populated. A few kilometers from Puri we are greeted with a huge flock of Glossy Ibis foraging in the wet fields.
A wild growing tree in the region grows seeds of large size. They are dried for extracting oil. Edible? No. They make soap out of the oil.
Cashew trees are in flower. It appears a bit late for the first flowers. I call up my brother in Goa to check up on the status of the tree on the west coast. I get the information is that the fruit came up on the west coast more than a month ago. Now it is the time for the ‘Hurrak’, a liquor made out of the fruit juice. Here in Odisha it is just flowering.
We come across a traditional method of fishing in shallow waters of paddyfields- very interesting and probably very efficient.
This video shows the action:
( Link is at the end of the post.)
We reach Satapada in good time to check in at OTDC and take a late morning boat ride to one of the islands towards the sea and there are many of them. The boatman offers to take seven ‘points’. In all tourist places in India they have ‘point’- five, seven, nine, eleven etc. The price differs with the number of ‘points’ done. One of the points offered by this boatman is ‘dolphins’, as if they were a tree.
What one can see all along in the lake is the fishing nets. The water is low with the right amount of salinity and the bamboo sticks planted in the lake basin allows the nets to be spread in wide areas.
And here is the fabrication work going on :
The boatman has started showing us the seven ‘spots’. Here are two:
‘the island is one.’
‘and the other?’
‘the small temple under the tree’.
For the third ‘spot’ we are taken a bit towards the east to show us some water which is supposed to be seawater entering the lake.
For the next ‘spot’, we have to scan the lake for the dolphins. We then move on to another island. This one is formed with the soil dredged from the lake bed. And it is here that we can have our lunch. It is another matter that it is counted as another ‘spot’.
The lunch with fish and fresh crabs is delicious even when served in aluminium foil.
We return to the resort and wait for another glorious sunset on the lake.
On our way back to Puri the next day we visit the famous Alarnath Temple.
In many parts of Odisha a house is painted on the occasion of a marriage ceremony and this fact is duly recorded in paint. Now, this paint and the fact of the wedding ceremony will remain intact until a fresh coat of paint is given which probably will come at the time of the next marriage ceremony.
Next we meet at Jagannath Puri.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Photographs by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik
Video by Veena Naik