Queen of natural beauty, Chilika, the largest brackish water lake in Asia covers an area of over 1,100 sq. km. It is a great attraction for the tourists for fishing, bird watching and boating. In winter Chilika flutters with thousands of indigenous and migratory birds of many varieties from far and near – even from the distant Siberia. The fabulous beauty of Chilika which has inspired poets to sing its glory must be seen to be believed.
Situated on the east coast of India, and connected to the Bay of Bengal through a narrow sea mouth, Chilika is also a lagoon. And like all coastal lagoons, its waters are rich with life. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl found anywhere on the Indian sub-continent. It is one of the hotspot of biodiversity in the country, and some rare, vulnerable and endangered species listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened Animals, inhabit the lagoon, for at least part of their life cycle. On account of its rich bio-diversity and ecological significance, Chilika was designated as the 1st “Ramsar Site” of India. The Nalaban Island within the lagoon is notified as a Bird Sanctuary. The government has also identified the lagoon as a priority site for conservation and management.
The Lagoon is a highly productive ecosystem, with rich fishery resources. The rich fishing ground sustain the livelihood of more than 0.15 million fisher folk who live in and around the Lagoon. A 32 km long, narrow, outer channel connects the main lagoon to the Bay of Bengal. High tides near this inlet mouth drive in salt water through the channel during the dry months, from December to June. With the onset of the rains, the 52 river and rivulets falling into the Chilika are in spate, causing fresh water currents which gradually push the sea water out. Due to littoral drift prevailing along the east coast the inlet mouth constantly changes position. The sea water is Chilika lifeblood and without a regular inflow the ecosystem of the lake would decline. In the 1990s Chilika was regarded as a dying lake because of irregular inflow of seawater. But in 2000 a new mouth was opened and once again a source of livelihood for thousands – and a refuge for a variety of wildlife came alive.
Chilika supports some of the largest congregation of migratory birds in the country, particularly during the winter. Flocks of migratory waterfowl arrive from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas, to feed and breed in its fertile waters. The water body boasts off about 211 bird species, largest Irrawaddy dolphin population, 217 fish species and more than 30 migratory species. The Irrawaddy Dolphin is the flagship species of Chilika lake. Chilka is home to the only known population of Irrawaddy dolphins in India and one of only two lagoons in the world that are home to this species.
There are a number of islands within the Lake like Kalijai Island, Honeymoon Island, Breakfast Island, Birds Island, Nalabana (Island of Reeds), Parikud Island, etc. and are some of the important and interesting spots inside the lake.
The Island of Kalijai is famous as a center of religious worship due to the temple of Goddess Kalijai where a big fair is held annually. As per the legend, Jeei a girl from nearby village was travelling by boat with her father in Chilika to get married at Parikud Island. Due to storm the boat was capsized near the island on deep water and all survived expect the girl Jai. It is believed that after her death the girl became Goddess Kali and worshiped as KaliJai on the same island.
The Island of Nalabana, 8 km in circumference occupies a unique place in the vast expanse of Chilika Lake as it happens to be the central point for the migratory birds. Due to high water level Nalabana remains submerged during rainy seasons. During winter months this became a rendezvous for birds who settle here to escape for cold winter.
Sand-Bar and Mouth of the Lake is a striking and un-explored stretch of 30 km of empty beach across the sand bar which separates the Lake from the Sea. Another point of interest is Manikpatna, located on the outer channel and has historical evidence of a port which was used for trade with Far East and also has the Bhabakundeswar temple of Lord Shiva and an old Mosque whose entrance door is made of the jaws of a whale.
There are two main places from where tourist enter Chilika. One is the Balugaon, Rambha area at a distance of 100 Km from Bhubaneswar and is connected by national highway number 5 and by main train route connecting Chennai and Howara. Buses are available from bus stops near the train stations to go up to the lake. The other point where tourist visit Chilika is from Satapada side which is located close to the opening of Chilika to sea. Located at a distance of 48 Km from temple town of Puri. Many tourist visit this part of Chilika after visiting Puri temple and Konark Sun temple. Satapada being close to sea, visitors can watch Dolphins swimming and jumping in this area. Motor boats operated by motor boat association are available here for boating.
The NirmalJhar Water fall is just 12 km from Chilika and a great spot for picnic or even an overnight stay. This holy city of Puri famous for the late 11th century built Jagannath temple is also close to Chilika. The other major attraction at Puri is the beach, from where you can witness the glorious sunrise and equally mesmerizing sunset. It’s said that a visit to Puri is incomplete without visiting Chilika Lagoon.
The adventurist could take a pole boat cruise and Glide through Chilika Lake’s fertile marshland. Spot migratory waterfowl and resident species jostle over freshwater wetland. Witness water lilies open with the rising sun and listen to the symphony of bird calls flutter in your ears. No birding tour in India will be complete without visiting Chilika Lake in Winter. Contact Road2Travel for your trip to Chilika Lagoon, and other locations in Odisha, India