If you love Mangrove, apart from Sunderban, Bhitarkanika is also a must visit. This wetland is represent by 3 protected areas – Bhitarkanika National Park, Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary.
In the estuary of Brahmani, Baitarani, Dhamra and Mahanadi rivers, Khola Creek and Gupti Creek are the main entry points. Tourism was almost non-existent here till a few years ago. Besides Forest Department’s boats, private boats are also available at Jayanagar and Chandbali.
The Bhitarkanika National Park is a major habitation of a variety of animals like the fishing cat, jungle cat, monkeys, hyena, wild boar, spotted deer, dolphin, salt water crocodile, water monitor lizard, python, king cobra and the marine turtle. Birds abound like the kingfisher, woodpecker, geese, hornbill, duck, pintail, sea eagle, sea gull and a large variety of migratory birds.
We took the afternoon Bhubaneswar Jan Shatabdi Express leaving Howrah at 1:25pm which reaches Bhadrak at 5:50pm. From there Chandbali is 52kms. Local buses @40/-, Shuttle Jeeps @50/- are available. But, as this was our first visit to that place and we were supposed to reached in the evening, we took no chances and booked Boleros in advance. The drive was around 2 – 2.5 hours to reach the guest house.
The next day the boatman was waiting for us in the jetty and our destination was the National park and Wildlife sanctuary. Restrictions are huge. No cooking, hard drinks or smoking is allowed in the core area. It takes around 1.5 hours to reach the Forest Check Gate. Entry fee is 25/head, Rs. 50/digital camera and Rs. 50/boat. You are entering the Khola Creek and get ready with your camera, binoculars and you won’t find a second to close your eyes.
Giant crocodiles taking sunbath on both sides of the creek and I bet if you can end up counting. Monitor lizards, monkeys were also seen. We reached a heronry (breeding place for herons) with a watch tower. And just opposite to that island, you can take a 5-km walk amidst the forest where there is a temple and see deer playing around.
For the lunch you now need to halt at Dangamala where you need to book your lunch in the morning when leaving Chandbali. Government managed restaurant is inside the National Park and a few other restaurants too are there outside the gate. Bhitarkanika National Park spreads over 672 sq km (259 sq mi) and is surrounded by the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary. It was designated as national park on 16 September 1998 and as a Ramsar site on 19 August, 2002.
Gahirmatha Beach and Marine Sanctuary lies in the eastern area. It separates the swamp expanse from the Bay of Bengal with the thick canopy of mangroves. We started our return journey for Chandbali around 4pm and all the deer was out of the jungle grazing on the banks, kingfishers on the branches, and crocodiles now floating like timber logs. The surprise was yet to come. Yes, the Dolphin Show. None of us really expected this much from this trip.
Reaching Chandbali, we went to the market because the next day’s trip to a virgin beach named Urabali (as they pronounced) was of no much restriction and we planned for cooking in the boat or else for lunch the only option is prasad in the Dhamarai Temple. We were advised to leave at 6 am because if you want to get down to the virgin beach, it depends on the tide. It was around 3-hours journey and we crossed the Dhamara Port and landed in the area of Bay of Bengal. The island is just opposite to the port with red crabs and turtles playing around. We were allowed for photo session only for an hour as there was threat of water level going down due to low tide. So, we were back early and a bonfire was arranged with roasted desi chicken. We would have to leave next day early in the morning at 5:30 am because the train from Bhadrak was at 8:14am. Reached Howrah on time at 12:40 pm but throughout the train safar, we planned for the next trip to this place and this time it would be much organized and would cover a few places which we missed out this time.
Related: Visit Balighai beach of Orissa
What we have planned is – next time we will take night train from Howrah, reaching Bhadrak early morning and will directly check in to Nature Camp Bhitarkanika Retreat or Bhitarkanika Forest Rest House at Dangamala. Others options are Sand Pebbles, Estuarine Village Resort. From here we will redo this Bhitarkanika Trip and next day we will head for Gahirmatha and Ekakula Beach, another virgin beach. Apart from these rookeries, two other mass nesting beaches have been found, which lay on the mouth of rivers Rushikulya and Devi which provides a spectacular site when thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles come here for mating and nesting. An event that took place in April 2017 validates this phenomenon. Forest officials have said that in this month, at least 2 lakh baby-Olive Ridley turtles have come out of their pits within a span of 24 hours.
So, hope now you understand why this trip needs to be replanned.