If you love the winged creature, there is one place you must head to. Mangalajodi in Odisha. Tucked away in a corner of the Khurda district and overpowered by the majestic deep blue waters of the ravishing Chilika lake, the largest brackish water lake of the country, this marshy wetland of the lake is a silent celebration of nature, the silence broken occasionally by the rejuvenating sound of wind rubbing against a gay wing. Or the calling of its exotic guests at a distance.

It’s a nature lover’s paradise and a treasure island for bird watchers and photographers.

More than 200 species of birds, both migratory and local, including the brahmini kites, common egrets, northern shovelers, ruffs, godwits, plovers, sandpipers and migratory ducks, bluethroat, grey-headed lapwings, gulls, pintails, ruddy shelducks, whiskered terns, river terns, ruddy-breasted crakes, the baillon’s crakes, the slaty-breasted rails, the greater painted snipes, black-tailed godwits, oriental pratincoles, pacific golden plovers, glossy and black headed ibis, large whistling ducks, purple moorhen, purple and grey heron, javan myna, gry headed lapwing, sand pipers and shorebirds call Mangalajodi their home.

However, surprisingly, the place doesn’t figure in the map of most tourists in the country. What’s worse, even the educated people of the state of Odisha have no clue about the place. Unsurprisingly, on my visit to the place, I saw more foreign tourists than Odias!

How to Reach

From Bhubaneswar, one has to take the National Highway to Berhampur/Chennai and look out for signboard for Tangi. Tangi in Khurdha district is about 60 kilometres from Bhubaneswar; the place therefore is a perfect day trip for people in the capital city. Post the Tangi signboard, one has to keep looking for the “Mangalajodi” signboard towards the left. After taking the left turn, you can go straight through the Tangi market and keep asking for directions. Alternatively, you can keep looking for signboards either for Mangalajodi or “Godwit Eco Cottage” all along the way.

You will cross a railways track (small cars, unfortunately your bottom might be scraped against a thoughtless speed-hump near the tracks) and will keep going until you see a signboard saying “Start of Nature Trail” with a water channel on your right having several boats anchored. The trail is a raised metalled embankment (not a tarred one) with vast expanse of the wetland on its left, ending in a watch tower and a jetty. You need to park your car at the jetty and take a row-boat that seats at most four adults. The ride costs Rs. 750/- for about two hours. The boatmen doubles up as great guides too. They are very cordial and will gleefully help you to spot a bird in a bush or prompt you when a bird is about to take flight so that you can celebrate the photograph forever! One binocular comes free along with the trip. For additional ones, you need to pay extra. There are no other charges whatsoever, either for photography, or parking.

The Journey Begins

I will forever rue the fact that I reached at the peak of the day with an unusually harsh January sun burning above; not a great time to photograph anything. Plus, even with the camera in hand, I missed by a whisker the sight of a majestic brahmini kite nimbly lifting a fish off the water.

The boats here are justifiably rowed by hand, and hence don’t produce harsh engine sounds that I so much dislike about an otherwise tranquil Chilika.

Tourists on a row boat

Tourists on a row boat

The luxuriant bushes in the shallow muddy water provides perfect place for the birds to hunt for food.

Perfect place for food

Perfect place for food

Wild flowers

Wild flowers

Ducks leisurely wading through water

Ducks leisurely wading through water

Godwit, the bird who the eco-cottage here is named after is a common sight. The slender legs and a long pink beak helps it rummage for food couple of inches below the mud surface, which is interesting to watch. Pigs and buffalos are common too.

Godwit in search of food

Godwit in search of food

A pig looking up from digging the soft muddy earth

A pig looking up from digging the soft muddy earth

There were several other tourist boats on water with people either enthusiastically and painstakingly lifting their heavy lenses into the air or returning tired with aching hands after a gruelling photography session. The distribution of Indians and foreigners was almost 50-50 which came across as a surprise.

Tourists photographing

We came across several fishing boats and fishing lines that criss-crossed the water. People on cycles carrying fishing trap made locally out of bamboo and grass was a common sight.

A fisherman looking on while we pass him

A fisherman looking on while we pass him

Scooping water off the boat

Scooping water off the boat

Cyclist carrying locally made fish trap

Cyclist carrying locally made fish trap

A herd of buffalo decided to cross the waterway, with only their humps, horns and heads showing above the water or their shiny black bodies glistening in the sun, offering us a wonderful opportunity to photograph them.

A buffalo wading through water and grass

A buffalo wading through water and grass

Buffalos crossing the waterway

Buffalos crossing the waterway

Up and close with a buffalo

Up and close with a buffalo

Two of the most beautiful birds in the wetland are the ruddy shelduck and the northern shoveler. When the ruddy shelduck takes flight, exotic multi-coloured feathers reveal themselves from underneath, unfurling like a beautiful secret. Northern shovelers keep less surprises, but beautiful nonetheless.

The ruddy shelduck

The ruddy shelduck

Ruddy shelduck taking off

Ruddy shelduck taking off

Flying in unison

Flying in unison

No, it's not a photoshopped repeat of the same duck!

No, it’s not a photoshopped repeat of the same duck!

 

Taking off from water

Taking off from water

 

The colourful northern shoveler

The colourful northern shoveler

 

The northen shoveler taking to air

The northen shoveler taking to air

 

On the way, we saw the swelled up body of snake floating in the water, a silent reminder to the presence of its venomous living brethren. The sight was enough for my kid to jump with excitement and ask me a hundred questions on what might have killed it.

Dead snake floating

Dead snake floating

The shallow water offers a unique view of boats seemingly sliding through a vast outstretched grass field, almost a la Harry Potter. The boatman puffing a bidi was too photogenic to miss!

A fishing boat

A fishing boat

A fisherman smoking bidi

A fisherman smoking bidi

The purple moorhen, that the locals say is proliferating in area, is also quite a sight to look at. They are everywhere, their unmistakble blue-purple body looking beautiful amid the green of the grass.

The purple moorhen

The purple moorhen

The purple moorhen in flight

The purple moorhen in flight

The purple heron is always an interesting creature to watch. It bends it neck at incredible angles, often making a serpentine “S” and staying still on the edge of water, often freezing its extended wings for a photographic delight.

The Purple Heron

The Purple Heron

The purple heron posing with spread wings

The purple heron posing with spread wings

We saw several other species of birds, few of which I couldn’t identify even after generous help from my boatman and Google. You can put in a comment if you know what species it is!

The northern pintail

The northern pintail

A group of whiskered terns in conversation with a black drongo

A group of whiskered terns in conversation with a black drongo

Java myna perched on a pig

Java myna perched on a pig

Quite possibly a grey heron

Quite possibly a grey heron

Grey-headed lapwing

Grey-headed lapwing

Godwit in flight

Godwit in flight

Ducks take flight as an egret focuses on water

Ducks take flight as an egret focuses on water

Ducks flying in formation

Ducks flying in formation

Black-headed ibis

Black-headed ibis

A group of whiskered terns and another bird that I couldn't identify

A group of whiskered terns and another bird that I couldn’t identify

A small bird with yellow head that I couldn't identify

A small bird with yellow head

The whiskered tern sitting on a fishing line peg

The whiskered tern sitting on a fishing line peg

Another bird I couldn't identify

Another bird I couldn’t identify

A little yellow bird

A little yellow bird

Another bird

Another bird

The shorebird, as if on a designer dress

The shorebird, as if on a designer dress

Another shot at the shore birds

Another shot at the shore birds

Quite possibly a sand piper

Quite possibly a sand piper

The common egret

The common egret

I saw several of these small birds

I saw several of these small birds

After two hours of lifting the heavy lens and moving it around at the slightest hint from the boatmen, the earthen embankment, offering nothing but the bluish outline of a distant hill or the azure sky as its backdrop, creates soothing imagery for a tired soul.

 

The cyclist doesn’t know what he did for my photograph

The lone man standing

The lone man standing

It was such a wonderful trip. Before I flew off, I promised the winged guests that I will be back again. Soon!

I will be back!

I will be back!

For more photos of the trip in full size, please visit my flickr page.

 

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