Unseen Odisha – Exploring Bhitarkanika National Park

Odisha is spectacular and sacred; yet humble and honest state of Incredible India. It offers everything to a discerning traveler. You crave for experiencing nature, wildlife, culture, heritage, architecture and Odisha satisfies your cravings with utmost humility and simplicity. In October last year, we visited Odisha with our group Oikoessence. We started our journey with curious minds with Bhitarkanika and were ready to embrace all surprises this state had in store for us.

Lingaraj Temple Bhubaneshwar - source Wikipedia
Lingaraj Temple Bhubaneshwar – source Wikipedia

We believe in traveling in trains to experience real hinterlands of India. After enjoying Indian Railways “hospitality” for almost 48 hours in Mumbai-Bhubaneshwar Express, we reached to our destination early morning. After freshening up, the first thing we started was looking for breakfast. Not surprisingly, we found a lovely South Indian spread with local touch near out Hotel. Our Gadiwala aka Driver had timely informed us that it was going to be a long journey till our next destination i. e. Bhitarkanika. So we grabbed the opportunity to stuff more of what was available.

Our first stop en route Bhitarkanika was the centuries old temple complex of Lingaraja. It is Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the vicinity of Bhubaneshwar. The temple complex was built in 11th century although some believe it existed since 7th century. The temple complex is a typical example of Odisha architecture. The temple is built in the Deula style that has four components namely, vimana (structure containing the sanctum), jagamohana (assembly hall), natamandira (festival hall) and bhoga-mandapa (hall of offerings), each increasing in the height to its predecessor. Unlike other ancient temples in Bhubaneshwar, Lingaraja temple is still actively visited by pilgrims. The visit to Lingaraja Temple gave us positive start for our Odisha Exploration. Then we started towards Bitharkanika Sanctuary and National Park.

A short wiki on Bhitarkanika

Bhitarkanika Region
Bhitarkanika Region

Bhitarkanika National Park is a national park located in Kendrapara district of Odisha in eastern India. It spreads over 672 km2 (259 sq mi) and is surrounded by the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary. The national park is home to Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), Indian python, King cobra, black ibis, darters and many other species of flora and fauna. It hosts a large number of mangrove species, and is the second largest mangrove ecosystem in India. The national park and wildlife sanctuary is inundated by the rivers Brahmani, Baitarani, Dhamra, Pathsala.

Stay at Bhitarkanika

Our stay at Bhitarkanika National Park was in a place named Kendrapara. As we approached Kendrapada, we observed few villagers in a procession with men carrying idols and dancing to the beats of drums and Manjira. As always, we also soaked ourselves in local festivities. We were followed by children and their mischievous expressions. When enquired, the villagers mentioned they were celebrating Kumar Pournima worshipping Lork Kartikeya, elder son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. That’s all we could gather from locals as we were not able to understand local language. But this languare barrier did not stop from enjoying festive spirit.

We reached Estuarine Tourist Hut, Kendrapara by lunch time. They served us simple humble Odisi food Karela bhaja, Dalma, Begun Bhaja and of course plenty of local rice and vegetables. They also served us delicious chutneys and pickles using local ingredients. Elephant Fruit Chutney was a pleasant and delicious surprise for me. After lunch, we accompanied our hotel manager to look around in the village. We were as usual followed, guided and giggled upon our interactions with villagers.  The village was typical example of Oriya Culture. Small huts made using mud and Bamboo while roofs were made of dried haystacks and coconut leaves. Walls were painted with simpler drawings like bullocks, peacocks, human. I couldn’t help noticing overall cleanliness maintained by the villages. I hope excess tourism will not ruin its pristine beauty. Walking and exploring, we reached near a small jetty where locals catch ferries for travel from one island to other. It is also a sunset point for tourist. Sunset is my favorite time of the day. Sunset followed by delicious dinner at hotel was a perfect end for day one.

Exploring Bhitarkanika 

Exploring Bhitarkanika Mangroves
Exploring Bhitarkanika Mangroves

Early morning, we got ourselves ready for boatride in Bhitarkanika National Park. Sightseeing is done on boats which have got forest department licenses. The boat ride from Khola to Dangmal or vice versa is highly recommended which we were doing today. After completing forest department formalities, our boat slowly made its way through muddy water and its  rich and luscious Mangroves. Mangroves are salt tolerant, complex and dynamic eco-systems that occur in tropical and subtropical inter-tidal regions. Bhitarkanika is one such location of rich, lush green vibrant eco-system lying in the estuarine region of Brahmani- Baitarani. Within few minutes of our boat ride, we saw a baby of Salt water Crocodile basking on the banks.  And closeby, a Huge Crocodile made its appearance on riverbank from nearby grasslands. It was one of the adult male Crocodile from Bhitarkanika. We also observed Water Monitor Lizards laying on Bank. Bhitarkanika is Ideal place for birding of mangrove birds like the rare Black Caped Kingfisher. Typical to the mangrove area, this is a beautiful bird with usual kingfisher type beak and blue color having Black mark on Cape(Head).

Wildlife at Bhitarkanika Sanctuary
Wildlife at Bhitarkanika Sanctuary (credits Rupali Gurav, Prasad)

Bhitarkanika has a very rich historical and cultural past. It used to be the hunting grounds of the erstwhile King of Kanika . The hunting towers and artificial watering holes can be seen at many places including Bhitarkanika trail and at Dangmal. It is also the home of medieval Hindu temples which can be found dotted throughout the sanctuary. But the major attraction remains the wildlife wealth.

We saw varieties of kingfishers like Rudy, Stork billed, Common, Small, White throat and my favorite Pied kingfisher.  There is a huge variety of waders in this area. Few of the birds we saw are Red Shanks, Eurasian Curlews, Pond Herons, Purple herons, Grey herons, Red wattled Lapwings, Sandpipers, Plovers and many more. In between Ride we got down for a small walk in Mangrove patch. It was a pleasant walk and the flora around was mixed like mangrove varieties, small shrubs, trees like acacia. We saw a huge roosting site of Open Billed storks. We also spotted waders like black winged Stilts along with their young ones. It was photographer’s and nature lover’s delight.  We also went to a small but busy dock while returning. As the sun started setting it was time to return to our stay for lovely dinner. We indulged our night discussing within group members about our day’s experience. It was indeed wonderful day enjoying nature and culminating with a beautiful sunset.

Happy faces enjoying sunset
Happy faces enjoying sunset

Odisha is slowly emerging as eco-friendly tourist center with Bhitarkanika National Park being a prime example of its natural beauty. With almost non-existent tourism until few years to increasing tourists visiting in recent years. It is upon responsible citizens like us to not malign its natural habitat for hundreds of wildlife species and the rare mangroves.

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