The Statesman – 8th Day, 18th June 2006.
SATPADA -- The Blue Lagoon
Rangan Datta goes on an unforgettable cruise through the blue expanse of Chilka Lake in the company of egrets, herons, flamingoes, kingfishers, kites and dolphins
Geographers define a “lagoon” as a special type of lake separated from the sea by a narrow natural embankment with small openings connecting it with the sea.
On the other hand biologists claim that these small openings allow salt and sweet water to intermingle and thereby form a unique, but fragile, ecosystem found nowhere else in the world.
For a layman like myself, it is a place where one can cruise through the endless expanse of blue water, laced with green hills in the company of egrets, herons, flamingoes, kingfisher, kites and the last but not least the elusive jumping dolphins – it’s paradise!
You may have guessed it by now – this is Chilka, India’s largest brackish water lagoon and one of the subcontinent’s largest winter-ground for migratory birds. Located just south of Puri, the 1100 sq kms (it shrinks to 900 sq kms during the dry season) lake is bordered on the north by the alluvial plain of Mahanadi Delta and on the east and South by the rocky hills of Eastern Ghats. Located at different strategic positions of the lake are a number of tourist spots, including Satpada, famous for its dolphins sightings.
Located about 50 kms from Puri, Satpada is visited by hordes of tourists on day trips. This is definitely an injustice to one of the most ecologically diversified water body of the country. One needs to spending a night at Satpada to get a real feel of the lake and which also provides the opportunity for witnessing an unforgettable sunrise and sunset.
Our trip to the “blue lagoon” started off from Puri in an overcrowded bus. As we travelled from terminus to terminus, the crowd was not that much of a problem, rather, the bus was terribly slow and it took almost three hours for the 50 kms journey. The last stretch offered fantastic views of the lake. We checked in at the OTDC Pantha Nivas at Satpada, where the room-boy took us through an intricate maze of elevated corridors to our room overlooking the Chilka.
After lunch and a brief rest in the comfort of our hotel room, we were out in the jetty to admire the stunning beauty of the lake.
Finally, we watched the sunset turning the water and sky into a bright shade of scarlet. We waited long after dusk had settled to watch the rippling dark waters under the star-studded sky.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast we hopped into one of the numerous boats for a real good look at the lake. We headed straight for the dolphin viewpoint, where with some difficulty we did spot some dolphins, but sadly they hardly leapt out of water.
Our disappointment was soon overcome by a remarkable journey through the lake where the boatman, with remarkable skills, guided our boat through a complicated maze of fishing nets attached to bamboo poles. Chilka, being a lagoon, is connected with the sea by two narrow openings, and one of these was our destination.
The one-hour journey took us past fishing villages located on the numerous islands that dot the lagoon. We landed on a narrow stretch of sand separating the lake from the sea. On our east lay the rough seas of the Bay of Bengal and on the west were the calm waters of Chilka.
This narrow stretch of sand also houses some makeshift food stalls selling fried fish and crabs but the centre of attraction is definitely the pearls sold straight out of oyster shells!
After a short stroll to the actual mouth of the sea, we returned to the boat for the journey back to Satpada.
A wonderful lunch of crab and prawn awaited us at Satpada, where a number of makeshift restaurants serve excellent food. Think twice before ordering the jumbo crab, as you will need a giant appetite to handle the one kilo heavy crustacean.
After lunch we visited the Chilka Information Centre for a real insight into the lake. Different models, diagrams, charts, LCD displays explain the diverse aspects of the lake.
After a short rest we took the evening bus to Puri, marking the end of our remarkable journey, which took us straight into the lap of nature.
Getting there: Puri can be reached by Jagannath/ Puri Express. Regular bus fare: Rs. 21 which run between Puri and Satpada. Taxis are available too. Conducted tours are also organised.
Places to Stay: OTDC Pantha Nivas is the only place to stay. Rooms are available at Rs. 250. For bookings, contact: Utkal Bhawan, 55 Lenin Sarani, Kolkata -700013. Ph: 2244 3653.
Restaurants: OTDC has its own restaurant and there are a few more roadside restaurants serving wonderful crabs and prawns.
Boat ride: OTDC organises boat rides for dolphin sighting and to the mouth of Chilka at Rs. 100 (approx.) on a shared boat. Private 6-seater boats are available for the same trip for about Rs. 650.
If you are there during winter, you could add a few more rupees for a visit to the bird sanctuary at Nalban Island for migratory birds.