Set amidst the hills of the Eastern Ghats, the captivating beauty of the lake has not only left the tourist spellbound, it has fueled the imagination of the literary giants of the region.
Chilika is the largest brackish water lake in Asia and is one of Odisha’s most famous tourist destinations. It is spread over an area of 1165 Sq Km and extends from Puri district to Ganjam district along the east coast of Odisha. The lagoon connects with the Bay of Bengal through a narrow channel that runs parallel to the Bay of Bengal.
In 1981 Chilika was the first Indian wetland to be declared as “Wetland of International Importance” under IUCN sponsored Ramsar Convention. Chilika has also been declared as “Destination Flyway” by the United Nation’s World tourism Organisation (UNWTO) because of its natural treasure and bio-diversity.
The uniqueness of the lagoon stems from the fact that it’s virtually an assembly of marine, brackish and fresh water ecosystems that gel together to support a large and diverse variety of flora and fauna.
Chilika like most lagoons across the world was most probably formed some 8000-6000 years ago due to rise in sea levels. The tenth century text Brahmanda Purana depicts Chilika as an important gateway for Odisha’s maritime trade with Java, Borneo, China, Malaysia and other countries. The depiction is further corroborated by the records of Ptolemy, Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang.
When Mother Nature bestows such a bounty it’s bound to procreate itself in literary form. Chilika thus forms an important aspect of Odiya literary heritage.
One of the earliest works was by Saint Purushottam Das who wrote a poem on Lord Krishna dancing with Maniki - a milkmaid selling curd- along the banks of Chilika. One of the 132 villages along the lagoon is called Manikigauda in remembrance to Saint Purushottam Das’s poem.
Perhaps the most memorable piece of literature on the lagoon is “Chilika” by eminent poet Radhanath Ray.
Marala malini nilambu Chilika
Utkalara thui charu alankara
Utkala bhubane shobhara bhandara”
While it is impossible to accurately translate the versus accurately whilst retaining its charm, the lines goes something like this -The pleasure grove of Goddess Kamala, bedecked with garlands of swans and wrapped in blue Chilika, you are the storehouse of beauty in abundance and the most beautiful ornament in whole of Utkala.”the storehouse of beauty in abundance and the most beautiful ornament in whole of Utkala.”
If Radhanath Ray’s poem best describes the lagoon, Noted freedom fighter and writer Gopabandhu Das’s famous lines from his book “Bandira Atmakatha (Biography of a prisoner)- “Raha Raha Kshane Baspiya Sakata, Dekhibi Chilika Charu Chitrapata sundara tupti ra abasada nahin jete dekhuthile nua disuthaii'' (oh train please stop for a moment so that I can observe the scenic beauty of Chilika for a moment, my heart is so enamoured by its beauty, that the more I see it, the more it feels like I am seeing it for the first time)- best describes how Chilika weaves its magic on the visitors.
Apart from Chilika, the other most prominent Odiya literary works on the lagoon are “Rail Upare Chilika” (Chilika from a train) by Gopabandhu Das and “Kalijae” by Pt. Godabarish Mishra.
More importantly Chilika served as Lord Jagannath hiding place during the tumultuous period from 1568 AD to 1735 AD, when Odisha was under constant attack by Mughals and Afghans, each time the Sevayats (people engaged in the service of Lord Jagannath) under the supervision of the various King’s of Odisha managed to relocate the Lord along with his siblings to various remote locations in Chilika from time to time, thus saving the desecration of the idol’s at the hands of the invaders.
Thus Chilika is not only regarded as epitome of beauty of Mother Nature but revered as a symbol of Odisha’s rich cultural heritage by the people of Odisha.
First thing is to just clear your mind and take a moment to gaze at this wonderful creation of Mother Nature. After soaking in the tranquility of the blissful blue waters of Chilika, look around you and hunt for a boatman (they won’t be too far off) to experience the magical blue canvas.
Honeymoon Island: Located 5km from Rambha jetty is also known as Barkuda Island. The beautiful island is surrounded by clear and turquoise blue waters of the lagoon. Watch out for the limbless lizard while on the island. The limbless lizard is different from a snake, the most visible external differentiation are that the lizard has eye lids, external ear openings and a notched tongue.
Breakfast Island: This pear-shaped island in the Rambha Bay lies between Badakuda and Somolo islands. It is also known as Shankuda (conch shaped) Island. The main attraction of the island is the bungalow constructed by the King of Khallikote.
Beacon Island: Located 3km away from Rambha, this island is the most photographed island of Chilika, so much so that it’s almost become the identity of the lagoon. The reason for being so is the small chamber accompanied by a conical pillar constructed on a submerged mass of rock in the lagoon is an architectural marvel and is very much visible from the Rambha Jetty. The pillar had a beacon on top hence the name. The then collector of Ganjam Mr. Snodgrass, of the East India Company, built it.
Somolo and Dumkudi islands Situated in the central and southern sectors of the lake. Dolphins are often sighted along the waters of the Somolo Island. The Khallikote hill range provides a beautiful backdrop to Somolo Island.
Birds’ Island: Located 4 KM from the Rambha jetty this island, comprising of a small hillock with exposed hanging rocks as the name suggests, is home to large number of native avian species, during winter, migratory birds are also seen in the island. The huge man made dinosaur with its egg’s scattered across the entrance of the islands keeps the kids interested.
Nalaban- literally means Reed Island. Most of the island remains submerged during the rainy season. It’s a protected bird sanctuary requires permission to visit. During the winters one can spot the Siberian Crane’s and Flamingos amongst other exotic species of migratory and native birds.Make sure you take the permission from Forest Office Balugaon. Entry is otherwise restricted.
The surrounding areas of Chilika are just as beautiful, though not as well known as the magical lagoon.
Rushikulya – Olive Ridley
Dakshya Prajapati Temple
The best option is to stay at OTDC Panthanivas Barkul or Rambha – the location of both the Panthanivas is beautiful overlooking the Chilika Lagoon.
However the cottages at Rambha Panthanivas are bigger and spacious cottages and have a beautiful view of the lagoon from the balcony.
The Barkul Panthanivas has water sports facilities and a children’s park. Distance between Barkul and Rambha is 22KM, but the NH 5 road and the landscape makes driving a real pleasure.
The food at both the Panthanivas is very good try the crab masala and Khaenga Besara (Mullet fish cooked in mustard paste)
For booking at either Rambha or Barkul Panthanivas- The best option is to log onto the OTDC website and book online
Where to Eat
Chilika Dhaba- located near Barkul Panthanivas- it’s famous for its crab and prawn curries. But it’s a bit over hyped, the rates are reasonable nonetheless.
Narayani Restaurant –Located near Barkul Panthanivas along the NH5 is also a good option.
Beera Dhaba- located on the NH5, 2-3 KM further from Rambha towards Berhampur along the highway adjacent to the HP Petrol pump- the dhaba run by Sardarji serves mouth watering vegetarian dishes and chicken. Try the dal tadka, palak paneer and chicken masala. They also serve prawn and fish cooked in amritsari style. Though the food is good it scores low on ambiance and is a bit unhygienic but it’s worth a try.
Nearest airport is Bhubaneswar and the nearest railway station is Balugaon. Many trains along the Howrah- Chennai route have stop over at Balugaon.
Alternatively buses ply regularly from Bhubaneswar and Cuttack – Barmunda and Badambadi bus stand respectively to Behrampur. For Barkul alight at Balugaon and hire an auto. For Rambha alight a bit further ahead at Keshpur and take an auto to Rambha Panthanivas.
One can hire the boats for sightseeing through OTDC Panthanivas, alternatively if you are hiring a private boat make sure you put on your bargaining cap and chalk out the destinations clearly. The reference point is for a one and half hour boat ride the price varies from Rs.800- Rs.1000.
Make sure the boats have life jackets and is in proper condition.
Don’t get fleeced by locals trying to sell pearls. Those are all fake even though they open the shell in front of you.
If you are fish and sea food lover, a visit to the fish market at the Balugaon is highly recommended. They catch gets unloaded in the evening between 4pm-6pm.
Being a coastal area the temperature doesn’t vary too much but the summers can be very humid. Best time to visit the lagoon is during the winters but make sure you book the OTDC Panthanivas well in advance. Though the winters are the preferred time to visit because of the migratory birds. Chilika during the monsoon is magical and exudes a different charm altogether.
Payment to Panthanivas is preferred in cash mode (though the room booking can be done online), both Barkul and Rambha have branches and ATM’s of SBI and other banks.
Though there are dispensaries at Khallikote which is 16 KM from Rambha , the nearest major health care centre is MKCG Hospital - website - www.mkcgmch.org at Berhampur which around 47 KM via NH16 (travelling time approximately is 54 min)