Brief History of Naraj
Since the base level of Cuttack was below the water level of river Mahanadi and its tributary Kathjodi which engulf the city from both sides, there was a danger of the city being constantly flooded especially during the monsoons. As a protection against the impending floods, a villager by the name of Baimundi in the year 1006 AD, implored the then king Markata Kesari to build a stone wall around the city. Taking heed of his concerns Markata Kesari built a stone embankment which stands till date protecting parts of the city. This makes Cuttack perhaps the only city in the world after Amsterdam which is below the water level. As of today the old embankment has given way to a new barrage which connects Cuttack with Athagarh.
Things to do
Peacock Man of India
Once you cross Naraj and reach the Odisha Police firing range just before Siddheswar Temple, you unravel one of Cuttack’s best kept secret –The Peacock’s of Naraj.
It all started in 1999, when the Super cyclone wrecked havoc in Odisha, a flock of three peacocks had taken shelter in the Naraj Forest area from Chandaka Wild Life Sanctuary,Shri. Pannu Behera then a Home Guard with Odisha Police saw them at the Odisha Police Firing range. Since then Shri. Behera has made it his life mission to serve the National Bird of India and protect them.Every morning and evening he used to feed the birds who answer his calls and flock to eat the goodies being bestowed on them.
Through Shri. Behera’s efforts the population of peacocks in the area grew from just three to fifty four today, including three albino peacocks.Peacock Man of India as he is fondly called is a President Medal recipient for his contribution towards conserving the population of peacocks in the Naraj Forest area.
Many people just stop over to witness the spectacle and with a disarming smile Shri. Behera, in his own inimitable style share’s his experience. Rogue bikers and over exuberant passerby are promptly ticked off by albeit gently.
Shri. Pannu Behera passed away on 26th May 2017 due to illness. The only way we can honour his selfless service is to ensure the peacocks of Naraj remain healthy and thrive.
In the meanwhile post Shri Pannu Behera’s demise his grandson nicknamed Kaalu has taken up the cudgels to look after the peacocks and needless to say they are thriving as I update this piece.
The old embankment
The river Mahanadi in this part of Naraj plays host to avian species and is a treasure trove for bird lovers. An early winter morning or evening ride to Naraj and one can find a host of avian species chirping around from Ruddy Shelducks to Grey Herons to Oriental Skylarks to White Wagtail to River Lapwings to name just a few.
A little further up is the picturesque Munduli Barrage where one can see a variety of birds too. During the breeding season (March to May ),the Indian Skimmers a vulnerable species come here to nest. One can see them from the Munduli Barrage itself.
The shack on the right of the new barrage as you enter from Cuttack serves very good aloo parathas and chakuli pitha along with aloo sabzi and spicy chutney in the morning. But for the morning breakfasts make sure you reach there latest by 8 am.
As one approaches Naraj through the old embankment area in the evening (timings -5.15pm to 6pm) one can find the Master Aloodum Dahivada( Cuttack’s most favourite snack) vendor Raghu selling his stuff. If you are a cuttackite- you gotta stop over for some lip smacking aloodum dahivada.