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.
The luxuriant bushes in the shallow muddy water provides perfect place for the birds to hunt for food.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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.
It was such a wonderful trip. Before I flew off, I promised the winged guests that I will be back again. Soon!
For more photos of the trip in full size, please visit my flickr page.