Chilika Lake is a brackish water lagoon, spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Orissa state on the east coast of India, at the mouth of the Daya River, flowing into the Bay of Bengal. It is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest lagoon in the World. In 1981, Chilika Lake was designated the first Indian wetland of international importance under the International Ramsar Convention. The distance from Puri to Chilika is around 122 Kms.
We started early morning from Puri to Chilika for a day trip by Jeep. The drive from Puri to Chilika took around 4 hours and the journey brings alive the rustic life of Orissa. Tourists generally visit Chilika from Puri on day trips or weekend tours in order to enjoy the exotic beauty of the lagoon.
The Nalabana Island within the lagoon is notified as a Bird Sanctuary under Wildlife (Protection) Act, the National Wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs Committee of Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, have 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. Moreover, it is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent.
The Chilika Lake Development Authority (CLDA) is responsible for maintaining the eco-system, development and activities of the Lagoon. The entry and exit into the Lagoon is regulated by the CLDA and one has to take permission from them to enter from any of its designated entry points.
The area of Chilika Lagoon is huge with the waterspread area varying between 1165 to 906 sq.km during the monsoon and summer respectively; it is not possible to visit the whole lagoon within one day, so we chose to visit the New Lake mouth and channel to the sea through the barrier beach at Satapura. We hired a boat to the barrier beach at Satpura and it was a pleasant time enjoying the scenic beauty of the lagoon, spotting a wide variety of birds and aquatic plants. It was also a great experience in watching the life of fishermen at work. Soon, we reached the barrier beach and one of the great views we got to see before we landed was the plethora of orange sea crabs on the beach, which seemed to paint beach in orange hue; however as soon as our boat anchored, the crabs instantly vanished in their holes!!!
The barrier beach at Satpura was totally secluded with a few fishermen and stray dogs present. It is a white sand beach, but very rich in sea shells which can be found in a plethora of colors. We had a whale of a time picking sea shells on the shore, infact it became a sort of competition as to who collects the most colourful & unique shells!! The new mouth opening, from which sea water enters the lagoon is a visual treat to watch; the enormity of the sea and the calmness of the lagoon make for an interesting contrast in the landscape. After spending quite lot of time lazing on the beach and collecting sea shells, we decided to visit CLDA tourist information center and also take boat cruise around the area of the lake where Irrawady dolphins frequent.
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. It is classified as Critically Endangered, in five of the six other places it is known to live. First, we took our boat to the area where the dolphins frequent and it was an exciting moment for us when we spotted the dolphins. Since they are protected species in Chilika Lake and do not have any manmade predators, they are not frightened of boats and come very near to them. However, they do not jump out of the water totally and have to be spotted when they take an upward dive to take in air. Nevertheless, spotting the dolphins was an interesting event for us.
It was early evening when we reached the CLDA tourist information center and natural museum. The officials showed us a very informative video presentation on the history & geography of Chilika Lake and the ongoing conservation efforts.
It was end of the day trip for us and we left Chillika with good memories, enlightened towards the importance of habitat conservation in our country.