Unseen Odisha – Exploring Ecotourism around Chilika Lake

Lake Chilika was waiting for us with its wonderful spread of natural beauty after soaking ourselves in Odisha’s culture for past two days. We had decided to stay in Mangalajodi. It is a small village on the banks of northern Lake Chilika in Khordha district of Odisha. We reached Mangalajodi EcoTourism Camp late afternoon where we stayed for next two days.

Journey of Mangalajodi – from poachers paradise to birds’ paradise

Magical Sunrise at Mangalajodi
Magical Sunrise at Mangalajodi

The area around Mangalajodi village is huge marshland around fresh waters of Chilika Lake. The marshland is connected by channels that cut through its reed beds with the brackish water of Chilika lagoon. These numerous channels that crisscross through green patches harbor rich variety of acquatic birds – both migratory and native. In fact, the entire northern part of Lake Chilika’s brackish estuarine region has been declared as an Important Bird Area (IBA). During migratory season (October to February), this place is every birder’s delight.

Interestingly, Mangalajodi had earned notoriety as ‘poachers’ village’ until a decade ago due to involvement of villagers on a large-scale poaching of water birds. But due to collective efforts of Forest and Environment Departments, individual conservationists and villagers themselves, the place transformed from poachers’ village to ‘birds’ paradise’. The unique eco-friendly conservation lifestyle adopted by the villagers, plastic free environment and all-round hygiene has resulted in the highest congregation of migratory birds in the Chilika Lake.

After freshening up, we started with our favorite activity in the evening – walking in the village and interacting with the locals. Mangalajodi village consists mainly of fishermen communities, who go fishing every evening to Chilika Lake and come back the next morning with fresh catch. Local communities still dwell on the indigenous methods of catching fish wherein country made fishing nets are made out of bamboo which do not pose a threat to aquatic life. The fishermen were proudly showing their catch to us. Undoubtedly, we had become center of attraction for locals and also subject of making fun in their local language. After having wonderful dinner, we slept early as were supposed to start our day very early to explore Lake Chilika.

Fresh catch from Lake Chilika
Fresh catch from Lake Chilika

No matter how good you are with your travel research, some places just hit your wicket right through the curve ball. My experience with Lake Chilika was just like that. As we entered Lake Chilika, we were greeted by beautiful sunrise. This place is a paradise for photographers. As we boarded the small boats of Forest Department, we soaked ourselves in the morning sun-rays. Our photographer friends took ample pics and that activity continued throughout the day. One more photographer’s delight were white and red lotus in the almost all the ponds of Odisha. Even with an average mobile phone, you can take Instagram-worthy pics.

Instagram worthy lilies in Lake Chilika - Photographers delight
Instagram worthy lilies in Lake Chilika – Photographers delight

Although it was just the starting of ‘Birding Season’, our birding list was quite lengthy. We spotted Northern Pin tails, Brown headed Lapwing, Wood sandpiper, Whiskered Tern, Red Crested Pochard, open billed Storks to name the few.

Besides, we also spotted purple Moorhen, sandpipers, Great egrets, Wagtails, Jacanas, pond herons and Kingfishers. Some of my favorite shots of Black winged Stilts and Open Billed storks are from Mangalajodi. For nature lovers and birders, our Oikoessence group has catalogued all birds spotted here.

Birds at Manglajodi in Lake Chilika
Birds at Manglajodi in Lake Chilika

As sun started setting the whole Lake was covered by Magical light along with humming sounds of hundreds of buffaloes returning home. We could see those hundred of buffaloes making their way through marshy muddy waters. Mangalajodi turned out to be one the pleasant surprises of our Odisha Camp. With beautiful memories of great sightings, amazing landscape, delicious food and full memory cards and above all happy souls, we waved our  goodbyes to Mangalajodi. On our way back to Bhubaneshwar on next morning, we visited village’s Patita Paban Temple.

On returning to Bhubaneshwar, we visited the famous Nandan Kanan Zoo. We saw variety of tigers such as Royal Bengal, White Tigers along with other wild animals. We definitely recommend this zoo to everyone who visits Bhubaneshwar. Next day morning we were set to enjoy hospitality of Indian railways by Konark Express.

If I sum up my Odisha visit, it will be like a perfectly balanced old traditional Odia thali – it has simplicity (and poverty) of bitter Karela Bhaja, uniqueness of Dalma, richness of fish and sweetness of Chenna Poda. This state has it all – amazing delicacies, naturally beautiful landscapes, huge water bodies like Chilika lake topped with rich heritage like Konark Sun Temple and blessings of Shri Jagannath Puri. It is an experience to be experienced.

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