BHITARKANIKA NATIONAL PARK
BHITARKANIKA NATIONAL PARK
OF CREEKS AND CROCS
Location On the east coast of Orissa, in Kendrapara District, in the estuary of Brahmani, Baitarani, Dhamara and Mahanadi river systems
Distances Rajnagar is 130 km NE of Bhubaneswar, 100 km NE of Cuttack
Route from Bhubaneswar to Chandbali NH5 to Bhadrak via Cuttack, Jagatpur and Chandikhol; state highway to Chandbali via Khakihat Route from Bhubaneswar to Rajnagar NH5 to Chandikhol via Cuttack and Jagatpur; NH5A to Kendrapara; district road to Rajnagar via Pattamundai Route from Kolkata to Chandbali NH6 to Kharagpur via Panskura, NH60 to Baleshwar via Jaleshwar; NH5 to Bhadrak; state highway to Chandbali via Khakihat
When to go Summers are hot and sul- try and monsoons slushy. The period between Nov and Feb is best for visits. One can also travel during Oct, unless there is bad weather due to depression induced rains or cyclones
Go there for Crocodiles, sea turtles, mangrove forests
Wildlife/ Forest Dept offices
• Deputy Forest Officer, Mangrove
Forest Division (Wildlife)
Rajnagar PO, Kendrapara District
• Assistant Conservator of Forests
Chand bali, Bhadrak District
• Chief Wildlife Warden, Orissa
BDA Apartment, 5th Floor
Tel: 0674-~64587/ 5019
STD codes Chandbali 06786, Rajnagar
ABOUT BHITARKANIKA NP
Located on the east coast of Orissa in Kendrapara District, the 672 sq km area (declared as a National Park in 1975) is in the deltas of Brahmani and Baitarani rivers. While the core area of 145 sq km was declared as the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary in 1998, the coastal part was designated as the Gahirmatha Marine (Wild- life) Sanctuary in 1997. Bhitarkanika was also declared as a Ramsar site (as a wet- land of international importance) in 2002. Besides, there is a proposal to designate the entire National Park area as a biosphere reserve.
The river systems of the sanctuary are the habitats of saltwater crocodiles, the largest among all species of living crocodiles. In fact, it was to protect this species, and the mangrove forests, that he sanctuary was formed. As many as 63 species of mangroves are found here, and it was their presence that spared villages in and around Bhitarkanika the fury of many of Orissa's dreaded cyclones. Many rare and medicinal plants have also been identified here. The man- grove wetlands are home to as many as 190 species of birds, and the heronry here is said to be one of the largest in the country. Two species of dolphins, Irrawaddy and bottlenose dolphins, are seen here. The Gahirmatha Coast in the same district has the distinction of being one of the world's largest rookeries for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles.
A noteworthy contribution of the erstwhile royal family of Kanika was the protection of mangrove forests here, and the ruins in the Bhitarkanika Forest Block indicate that it was a recreational spot for them. The name Bhitarkanika itself means the interiors of the Kanika Raj (bhitar is translated as 'inside'). As the Kanika Kingdom was located close to the Dhamara Port of yore, it was an important trade route.
The planned biosphere reserve is today battling pressures of human population - about nine lakh people live in the 900 villages and hamlets around the reserve (about 400 of these villages are in the sanctuary area itself). Besides, prawn farms around the creeks release effluents into the river systems, thereby adversely affecting the growth of mangroves and aquatic animals. The huge number of livestock is also putting pressure on the mangroves. Today, attempts are being made to create awareness among the people about the problems and to pro- vide them-with alternative livelihood options such as eco-tourism.
Bhitarkanika is explored by motorboat and can be approached from two entry points - Gupti and Khola. For those coming from Chandbali, it is a 21/z-hr long boat journey on River Baitarani to Khola Creek. If you're travelling from Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, you will have to travel to Rajnagar in Kendrapara District. From Rajnagar, one can go either to Gupti or Khola by kuccha road (25 km away) and take a boat from there. Entry permits are issued at these two points and also from Chandbali and Rajnagar. Dangmal, located amidst mangrove forests and creeks, is the main destination point for visitors. Plan your trip in advance as there is limited accommodation, and carry provisions as nothing is available inside the National Park. One can hire guides from the Forest Department offices at Gupti and Dangmal. Guide charges are about Rs 100 per day. One can also park one's vehicles at Khola. The charges for overnight parking of vehicles at Gupti and Khola are Rs 100.
Park entry fee Indians Rs 20, foreigners Rs 1,000 Vehicle fee Indians Rs 10, foreigners Rs 20 Boat parking fee (overnight) Rs 100 per day Still cameras Indians Rs 25, foreigners Rs 50 Videos Indians Rs 500, foreigners Rs 1,000
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Bhitarkanika should be explored in two days, and factor in a two nights' stay. One full day is required for a trip to Ekakula, wherein you can also squeeze in a quick stop at Habalikhati, about an hour away by boat. Another day can be used for Dangmal, the Bhitarkanika Forest Block and the creeks.
Motorboats can be hired from Chandbali, Gupti, Khola and Dhamara. The boats can hold between 5 to 20 people.
Air Nearest airport: Bhubaneswar (130 km/3 ½ hrs to Rajnagar; 185 km/ 4 hrs to Chandbali, then to Bhitarkanika by motorboat in 31/2 hrs). Taxi to Rajnagar costs Rs 1,500 approx; to Chandbali Rs 2,400 approx
Rail Nearest railhead: Cuttack (100 kml 3 hrs from Rajnagar). From Chandbali, the closest railhead is Bhadrak (55 kml 2 hrs). Taxi fares: Cuttack to Rajnagar Rs 1 ,200 approx; Bhadrak to Chandbali about Rs 600. Both government and private buses are available from Cuttack to Rajnagar. They generally leave Cuttack in the morning and return by 1 pm (fare Rs 40). However, it's advisable to take a taxi, as it could be difficult to get connecting transport from Rajnagar to Gupti and Khola
Road From Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, take NH5 up to Chandikhol, then through Kendrapara and Pattamundai to Rajnagar. Gupti is 25 km from Rajnagar. The road through Kendrapara is narrow and the stretch from Rajnagar to Gupti is very bad. The 155-km long journey from Bhubaneswar to Gupti takes nearly 41/2 hrs. One can also go to Chandbali from Bhubaneswar on NH5 connecting Cuttack with Balasore as the road is very good. This is particularly advisable for those accessing Bhitarkanika from Kolkata. Frorn Chandbali, hire a boat
The charges for government-run boats are about Rs 700 plus fuel for smaller boats and Rs 1,500 plus fuel for 20-seater boats. Private boats can be hired for Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 for a 20-seater. The boats run by the Forest Department are usually houseboats, while private ones are less comfortable and may lack overhead shelter. Fuel costs normally works out to Rs 700 per day depending on the hours you travel. Always take a registered boat (boats registered with the Inland Water Transport Department holding permits to enter the Bhitarkanika National Park) and ensure that there is sufficient fuel. The Forest Department boats are generally safe, though the charges tend to be slightly higher.
The central point for most visitors to Bhitarkanika, this place is said to have the highest animal concentration. As you get off the jetty, you might spot crocodiles on the muddy banks. A Forest Range office is located here, and besides a Forest Rest House, there are other accommodation options such as dormitory and cottages for tourists. At the Saltwater Crocodile Rearing Centre, you can see young hatchlings, and also two grown crocodiles, including an ebony coloured one. The Interpretation Centre at Dangmal offers visitors a fairly good understanding of the flora and fauna of the National Park and marine sanctuary. Posters, caps and brochures are available here. A night stay at Dangmal is advisable, and you may see spotted deer grazing a few feet away from your room.
Location Dangmal is 3 hrs from Chandbali, 1 ½ hrs from Gupti and about 45 mins from the Khola entry point Timings 10 am-5 prn, open on all days during tourist season
Bhitarkanika Forest Block
The 3 ½ -km long path in this block winds its way through thick forests, meadows, lotus ponds, small creeks and many water bodies. As you walk along, you may spot animals such as spotted deer, wild boars, monkeys, mongoose and monitor lizards. Stop for a while to take a look at the ruins of a hunting tower and an old Shiva temple. Climb on the watchtower here for a panoramic view of the meadows. The heady smell of flowers and ripe fruits, the call of birds and the occasional sighting of an animal make it an unforgettable trek.
Location Just across Dangmal Jetty, on the other side of the creek
A cruise on this creek takes you to the confluence of two rivers, Baitarani and Brahmani. Stop at the Khola Checkpost, and have a cup of tea at the small tea- shop. There are other small and big creeks with names such as Suajhara, Ganjaikhia, Gokhani and Mainsamadha, where you can cruise and enjoy the beauty of the forests.
Location Khola Check Gate is about a 45-min boat ride from Dangmal
Find out if you can hire an ethnic wooden boat, the Kanika Sundari, maintained by the Forest Department. It has typical Oriya miniature paintings and applique decorations. At Rs 500 per hr, the rates may appear steep. However, it has a seating capacity of 20, and if you are a big group, then costs can be shared
This island is the heronry of Bhitar- kanika. It is a saucer-shaped area of 10 acres near the Suajhara Creek, and a nesting site for as many as 30,000 birds. Get off at the jetty, and walk on the narrow mud and wooden path that leads to the watchtower. Climb up the watch- tower for an aerial view of the trees around, which seem to be full of feathers. The nesting season begins with the onset of the monsoon.
Location Bagagahan is about half an hour by boat from Dangmal
A tapering strip of landmass near the mouth of the Maipura River, Ekakula is like a tiny island, with the river on one side and the sea on the other. As it is completely isolated, and there is no human existence close by, it feels as if one is far away from civilisation.
An ideal spot to relax, the beach is the chief attraction at Ekakula. One can go for long walks, or just laze around watching crabs, snails and many other marine creatures.
Location Ekakula is 3 hrs from Gupti and 4 hrs from Dangmal by motorboat. However, the journey can be made only according to the tide timings, as it is only during high tides that boats can reach the makeshift jetty here
This place is very similar to Ekakula and was a nesting site for Olive Ridley turtles. (Now, the Ridley turtles have moved up north to the Wheeler Island and formed a new nesting site there.) However, unlike in Ekakula, where the rest house is close to the jetty as well as the beach, one has to walk for about 3 km from the jetty to the rest house. Of course, the walk is an added attraction for those who like to be close to nature.
Location Habalikhati is 4 hrs from Gupti, 5 hrs from Dangmal, and 1 hr from Ekakula
Said to be the largest island in Bhitar- kanika, it is located at the northern tip of the Dhamara River. A scenic place, the Forest Department is developing it as a centre for mangrove research. Incidentally, it was from near this island that eggs of crocodiles were collected when the crocodile-rearing centre was started in Dangmal.
Location 3 hrs from Chandbali and about 4 hrs from Khola by boat
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
It's best to stay within the sanctuary itself to truly take in the wonders of Bhitarkanika. Factor in at least a two- night stay. There are some modest rest houses within the sanctuary, but be warned that the facilities are basic. Accommodation charges for Indians and foreigners are the same.
Do not be surprised if the rest houses have dirty sheets and threadbare blankets. Bathrooms are equally substandard. If possible, carry sheets, towels and blankets in winter. Also carry a mosquito repellent. There is no running water in the rest houses (except for the one in Dangmal) and neither is there any electricity or telephone. However, the intrinsic charm of these places more than compensates for the absence of luxuries.
Solar lamps are provided and, in Dangmal, illumination is through solar lights supplied to all rooms. The only mode of communication is VHF sets Used by the forest staff. The watchmen Usually cook simple meals and one has to carry enough provisions to last through the trip. Meals generally comprise rice, dal, fish and some seasonal vegetables, and the boatmen are good at cooking fish and crabs. Vegetarians will have to depend on potatoes and season- al vegetables. Carry instant noodles, soup powders and ready-to-eat food. There. is a canteen at Dangmal for day visitors, but one has to inform them in advance for meals.
Consumption of meat inside the sanctuary is prohibited. For reservations, contact the Divisional Forest Officer at Rajnagar, the Assistant Conservator of Forests, Chandbali or the Chief Wildlife Warden's office at Bhubaneswar.
Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary
Stretching over 70 km on India's East Coast shoreline, amidst sandy beaches and mangrove forests, is a unique habitat commonly referred to as turtle paradise. Thismarine sanctuary is known worldwide as the largest nesting site of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles. Although the Ridleys have been coming to Gahirmatha for ages, the mass nesting was discovered only in 1974. Conservation efforts were stepped up subsequently, and the area was declared as a sanctuary in 1977. With an area spanning 1,408 sq krn, the marine sanctuary extends from the mouth of the Dhamra River in the north to the mouth of the Mahanadi River in the south. Though several other nesting grounds on the Orissa coastline, such as the Devi River mouth and the Rushikulya River mouth have been discovered, the Gahirmatha rookery remains the largest.
The mangroves of Bhitarkanika and the Mahanadi Delta are rich in marine life and provide a very congenial breeding ground for the turtles. Of the eight species of turtles found in the world, four are seen in Orissa, and are listed as endangered species. The Ridleys are the only turtles that nest en masse.
The Ridleys migrate to Gahirmatha from the Indian Ocean around October, when the mating season begins. They generally keep to the shallow waters until January. Nesting season is from January to May, when they move to the beach to lay eggs, which hatch, and then baby turtles make their way into the water. Referred to as 'arribada' (a Spanish term meaning mass arrival), it lasts for just a few days. Thousands of sea turtles on the sandy beach are indeed an extraordinary sight to behold; many scientists and researchers come here to study this unique phenomenon.
Fishing activities are prohibited in this sanctuary, but intentional killing and acci- dental death (from fishing trawlers operating on the coast) are very real threats. During the nesting season, the Forest Department, helped by local NGOs, usually undertakes intense patrolling and other protection activities. Those interested in volunteering for this can contact the Chief Wildlife Warden at Bhubaneswar and the Divisional Forest Officer at Rajnagar (see Fast Facts on page 371 for contact detai/s). Volunteers will have to put up in tents at campsites near the beach. There may not be proper bathrooms and other amenities. They will have to eat with the staff and supervisors, and of course, they have to bear their own food expenses.
Gahirmatha is about 2 hrs from Ekakula, and about 5 hrs from Gupti, the entry point to Bhitarkanika.
The Forest Rest House has four suites, each with two beds (Rajnagar Tel: 06729- 272460/ 050; Tariff: Rs 150); the Tourist Cottage (Tariff: Rs 100) has two suites with two beds each. It also has two family rooms with eight beds that come at a cost of Rs 200 per room. There's also a dormitory (Rs 40 a bed), located in a simple concrete structure. The charge for booking an entire dormitory, with 16 bunk beds, is Rs 640.
The Forest Rest House (Tariff: Rs 200) here has two suites with four beds between them.
There are two cottages here with eight beds altogether (Tariff: Rs 200 per cottage). There's also a log cabin nearby with 10 beds; the rate for the lot is Rs 250.
• Many species of birds including winter visitors such as bar-headed geese, brahminy ducks, pintai's, shovellers and pelicans. Eight colourful species of kingfishers are sighted here
• Apart from estuarine crocodiles and turtles, the marine life here consists of crabs, prawns, mudskippers and a variety of fish
• Reptile fauna is equally rich, and includes pythons, king cobras, kraits and water monitor lizards
• Mammals include spotted deer, fishing cat, wild boar, porcupine, hyena and mongoose
There is a rest shed (Tariff: Rs 150), with three rooms, where you can also leave your vehicles before hiring boats. This is located outside the forest area, on th riverbank, near the jetty. You can leave your vehicles here.