If you are looking for a place off the beaten track for your next holiday, Bhitarkanika could well be your destination

On one fine day we decided we should finally go to Bhitarkanika National Park. This was on my list of places to visit for so long. Surprisingly, all of my family members were game for the trip. Ten of us in a mini bus on an adventurous trip.

A few words about Bhitarkanika first. A biosphere in itself, it is referred as mini Amazon. Located in Kendrapara District of Odisha, this place is a hotspot of diversity of flora and fauna–home to second largest area of unique habitat of Mangrove Forests criss-crossed with numerous creeks and mud flats only next to the Sundarbans, the estuarine or salt water crocodiles and the Olive Ridley turtles.

You cannot reach Bhitarkanika directly by train or bus. Nature has projected this dense forest from human invasion by separating it by series of rivers and tributaries.

Journey from Bhubaneswar to Chandabali

Coming back to our journey, we started around 8 am from Bhubaneswar. On our way we took small breaks for tea and snacks. It is around 4 hours drive from the Capital. We decided to do a detour and covered Buddhist circuit –Lalitgiri, Udayagiri and Ratnagiri (details in another blog) before reaching Aranya Nivas in Chandabali, our abode for the night. It is was decent accommodation. The food was also decent and the rooms were clean, given the fact that it is a small town, one should not expect a lavish stay. The river Baitarani flows right across the street of the hotel and the boats are readily available there .However, I would suggest to book beforehand if you are looking for covered and motorised boat.

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Our abode,our boat !It was admirable to see a western toilet in the boat,but to know that it opens out into the water below us was a little discomforting

We had sumptuous dinner followed by hasty retreat to bed for an early morning Bhitarkanika expedition. Around 7 am we were at jetty. Our breakfast was packed by hotel staff which we ate halfway through the boat journey. Some of us ate bread toast and omelette, others ate Puri and dalma (Oriya cuisine).

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Cruising through river Baitarani. The weather was pleasant, air crisp and our hopes high!

As the motorboat started to sail, sunrise on the banks of pristine Baitarani River greeted us.  We cruised down the river about one hour and reached the confluence point of river Baitarani, Brahamani and sea. So gorgeous and relaxing!

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Confluence point of river Baitarani and Brahamani

Our boat driver slowed down in some areas so we could start taking those picture perfect .We took right turn and navigated on Brahamani River for another one hour and reached Khola ghat; this is where you get a permit for the journey into the mangroves forest.

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Our boatman and his assistant waiting at forest department check post, Khola ghat

As we started our onward journey, the muffled thrum of the boat was the only sound in the mist coated forests of one of the world’s largest estuarine deltas. The mangrove forest of the Bhitarkanika forest breathes in and out in drips. Trees emerged eerily in the dew soaked exhalation of the land.

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Mangrove forests welcomed us from both sides

We tourists were still recovering from our early morning wakeup call and the world here seems reluctant to free itself of the cloak of night. We started to see mud flats which seem to be lifeline in such an ecosystem. The crocodiles, the birds, whole flora and fauna seem to survive. Gradually the sun burned off the early morning mist, the forest was awake with screeches and flutters. Beneath and endlessly blue sky the tide begins to recede, exposing the spiked roots of the mangroves.

As we entered the mangrove area, the first sighting was a kingfisher bird, I couldn’t stop marveling at how beautiful it was. As soon as I took out camera to click photo,it flew away.

We kept asking our driver and guide when we will get to spot crocodiles. While we were excited to see them but scared at the same time. On our way we saw a large estuarine crocodile sunbathing on the shore. This reminds me to recommend the travellers that the best time to visit this place is during the winter and/or spring season as the crocodiles come out in the open for sunbathing and there is also less chance of rain during these seasons.

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First sight of the monster crocodile
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A seemingly endless landscape of mangrove studded islands and small streams, this almost silent world is inhabited by glimpses of shadows and shapes half guessed at
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Boats parked at Dangamal jetty
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Spot our journey from Chandabali to Dangamala on Google Map

Dangamal Forest division

We landed at a couple of spots within the park islands and tracked through paths in the dense mangroves. Our first stop was Dangamal forest division. Accommodation facility is available here also. Our guide informed us, in the evening, spotted deer and wild boars come close to the forest guest house which is a sight to see. It also has an Interpretation Centre which houses 6 m long crocodile skeleton and breeding facilities for salties. There are toilets and small cafeteria at this place.

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Walking inside Dangamal forest division
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6 m long crocodile skeleton at Interpretation centre,Dangamal
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 Gori,the white female Salt water crocodile

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 We spotted few deer marking their way gingerly through the mud in search of food near the cafeteria
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Jungle trail :We went back to the jetty through a small trek in the forest accompanied by the guide of course. This one is relatively less dangerous than other national parks since there are less chances of running into carnivores .However, we were repeatedly advised by the guide not to go near water and watch our steps while walking

Our next stop was watchtower. Here you can get an idea of different species of trees found in mangrove forests and if it is winter one can spot large number of migratory birds. We went sometime in February, so could not find any migratory birds in the vicinity.

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View from the watchtower.In winter one can spot migratory birds from this place

Our driver who has more than 30 years of experience cruising in that area, informed us we will get to spot more crocodiles in our return journey. Soon the boat driver shouted, “There is 18-20 ft crocodile to your left.”

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What a sight it was to see majestic creature basking in the sun
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We spotted almost a double dozen salties – big and small, far and near, at the shore and inside the water. Could we ask for more?

Soon we reached Khola ghat, from where our boat had taken off in the morning after getting permission and lo and behold – we again saw a huge crocodile at the opposite bank and it was a huge one too. Since it was quite far away and quite camouflaged and I was tired I didn’t take any picture.

Return journey appeared never ending. It was already late in the afternoon and we were little exhausted by now as sun was shining bright overhead and we were hungry and our snacks stock was almost over. However enthusiasm was still there. Back on the Baitarani River, towards evening, we saw several birds heading home in the setting sun.

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Heading back towards river confluence
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Beautiful sunset clicked from boat in picturesque Baitarani river before we reached Chandabali jetty

After spending almost ten hours in the boat, we were back in the hotel .We were treated with mouth-watering dishes for lunch, served hot around 5 in the evening. Soon after lunch, we freshened up and headed back on bumpy roads to Bhubaneswar. Our journey back home was not smooth one as our bus got stuck on half constructed road. With the help of locals we were back on track and reached home around 11pm. Tired, exhausted yet satisfied.

Our two days and one night package tour was organised by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC).

This was our little trip to a mini Amazon forest, the memories of which will linger around for some time. I say, this tour definitely one should not miss. The mangrove forest is such a gorgeous view that gives you a relaxing feeling while going around in a motorboat. We really were lucky to witness something which maybe not even be there for the coming generations to see- the magic of the mangrove forest. A weekend well spent!

Tips for Bhitarkanika Travel

Every places has its own norms which tourists have to follow. When it comes to wildlife tourism, it is a must to follow the regulations even more strictly. These tips will help you know some basic rules for Bhitarkanika travel

  1. Best time: It is necessary to do a thorough research for any tours. Best time to visit this place is during the winter and/or spring season as the crocodiles come out in the open for sunbathing and there is also less chance of rain during these seasons. Also one can spot migratory birds in winter.
  1. Accommodation: Book well in advance during the peak seasons and stay overnight to experience the gift of nature in depth. You can book through Odisha tourism website or Forest department website. There are private operators which operate at Gupti and provide tent accommodations.
  1. Carry identity card: Keep your address proof and identity credit is a must to get permission to enter wildlife sanctuary.
  1. Carry a light luggage: While packing do not forget to pack antiseptic cream, a raincoat, a mosquito repellent, a small torch, band-aids, water bottle, first-aid kit, and personal hygiene products.Take some light snacks and enough water with you. The boat ride is really long, almost 10 hours. Don’t forget to carry cap and sunglass and yes wear comfortable footwear.
  1. Don’t Litter: Don’t throw waste or plastic inside the forest. Parks and sanctuaries are the pride of the nation, so one should take care of its cleanliness. It should be preserved in its pristine form.
  1. Pindrop Silence: Crocodiles and deers get disturbed and they might hide if they hear too much noise. So, even if you get excited just talk in lower tones and don’t shout. Silence is one of the beauties of the forests.
  1. Be Patient: It is their land, they come when they want to. So, don’t get bored or impatient if you don’t see any animals.

The idea is to return home with good memories and leave the wildlife world untouched. It’s okay if you can’t capture them in photos but don’t disturb them.

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