Chilika Lagoon in Odisha is Asia’s largest brackish water lake & the largest wintering ground for migratory birds in the entire Indian Subcontinent. To be specific, the serene wetlands at Mangalajodi, on the northern edge of Chilika, attract a substantial proportion of these birds followed by the restricted Nalabana sanctuary. However, what’s really exceptional is the close proximity that one gets to see the feathered guests here at Mangalajodi, aptly called the bird’s paradise!
Mangalajodi wetland, the unique bio-diversity of around 10 sq km is known for its marshy reed & knee-deep shallow water body, best suited for migratory bird’s habitat due to the abundance of food & lesser interference from poachers. The reed & vegetation consists mostly of Typha Laxmanii (Common Cattail) and Phragmites Karka. The local Odia names of the reed are Nala, Sipala, Panti Ghasa, Chheda Ghasa, etc. This wild vegetation provides food and shelter to these waterfowls and raptors. Mangalajodi is around 70 km from the capital city of Bhubaneswar. It’s open all around the day for the tourists, but for the best birding experience, one needs to reach the jetty & catch a boat early in the morning by 5.30 AM. The second best timing is between 3 PM & dusk to capture Mangalajodi during the golden hours. One will be tempted to freeze in time, the moment one boards the boat, but at times it’s more enjoyable to just watch the feeding birds within reach & hearing their cacophony. One can have a mix n match of both bird watching in naked eyes & viewing through the camera’s viewfinder. Some of the local residents have been trained as tourist guides & are well versed with the migratory & resident bird species. The sustainable local livelihood mission by some of the NGOs with active support from the state govt has turned the guides from poachers to preservers. When community-based eco-tourism talk comes up, Mangalajodi’s name is ought to come up for which it has won various national & international awards.
Mangalajodi is an ideal getaway for tourists, bird enthusiasts, wildlife photographers, researchers, etc. On average, there are around 150 species of migratory birds and 40 species of resident birds with the total count crossing 3 lakhs during peak winter. The migratory birds from as far as Siberia, travels miles & even cross the mighty Himalayas to reach Mangalajodi by mid-October & leaves by Feb end. Hence, the best time to visit Mangalajodi is between December & January when the climate is cool & maximum bird species are noticeable. State Govt organises National Chilika Birding Festival in the last week of January every year which can be kept in mind while planning the schedules. Among the winged beauties, ibis, ruffs, godwits, terns, sandpipers, cranes, plovers, lapwings, moorhen are common, but the star attraction are the northern pintails, ruddy shelducks (brahminy ducks), peregrine falcon, bluethroat, etc. Apart from the birds, if one is lucky enough & if one stays overnight, he is likely to spot non-feathered guests like jackals, cobra, water monitor lizard, fishing cats, bats, etc
One needs to abide by the rules mentioned at the jetty – avoid wearing flashy garments, instead go for dark or camouflage ones, maintain silence & enjoy bird watching, keep mobile at mute mode (you will soon face network issues once you are in the midst of the wetland), avoid feeding the birds, avoid carry plastic bags & all plastic bottles after use needs to be brought back to the jetty & disposed of in dustbins, use the defined channels only for navigation & not disturbing the birds for one’s perfect flying shots, etc. Details of Do’s & Don’ts are mentioned in the signage at the jetty point.
It’s advisable to carry your umbrella/hat, water bottle, DSLR preferably with a tele-zoom lens of min 300mm for birding, tripod, etc. Binoculars & birding books are available with the guide. DSLR & zoom lenses can be hired from Bhubaneswar with a prior request. The nearest local railway passenger halt is Mukteswar & the nearest bus stop is Tangi. The nearest 5-star hotel is Swosti Chilika Resort at Chilika & the nearest govt hotel is Panthanivas at Barkul. A cab can be hired from Bhubaneswar at nominal rates on a one & half hour drive. For lunch at Mangalajodi, one can try with Mangalajodi Eco Tourism Cottage, Godwit Eco Cottage, Mangalajodi Conservation & Tourism Trust, etc, but book it in advance a day before. And if, one has finished off birding at Mangalajodi & moving for the highway, try lunch at Royal Dhaba (Tangi), Chilika Dhaba (Chilika), etc. Seafood like Khainga fish, crab, prawn, etc is quite a delicacy at Mangalajodi & all hotels/dhabas on the road.
Staying facilities are now available at Mangalaodi by both Govt & private parties, led by Mangalajodi Ecotourism (contact Archana 8895288955, http://www.mangalajodiecotourism.com/ ), Godwit Eco Cottage, govt owned Mangalajodi Nature Camp (https://www.ecotourodisha.com), etc. Among birding guides, Purna Behera (8908203839) is quite knowledgeable & responsible. The current boating charges for a group of four+1 guide & boatman is Rs 1200/- for around 2-3 hrs ride.
Mangalajodi is one of the largest of the 147 fishermen villages located on the banks of Chilika lake spreading among three districts, namely Puri (Satpada side), Khordha (Mangalajodi side) & Ganjam (Rambha side). Mangalajodi has around 780 household families mostly engaged in fishing, boat making, fishing net making, bamboo ware for fishing & daily use. A brand new boat of sal wood costs around Rs 85,000/- for making & takes around 15 day to make. The major festivals in Mangalajodi village are Chaitra Purnima, Dola Jatra, Danda Nacha, Ram Leela, Badi Pala during Rajja Utsav, etc. Maa Mangala is the presiding deity of the village. They worship Maa Kalijae ( a form of Maa Mangala) as their protector. There is two side by side (joda) Mangala Temples in the village & the Mangalajodi has been derived from it.
Agencies involved in Mangalajodi includes Indian Grameen Services (IGS), RBS Foundation (formerly ABN Amro Foundation), State Forest Dept, Chilika Development Authority (CDA), Wild Odisha by Sri Kulamani Deo n environmentalist Sri Nanda Kishore Bhujabal, Mangalajodi Conservation & Tourism Trust (MCTT) headed by Madhu Behera, Mangalajodi Nature Camp by State Forest & Environment dept, Mangalajodi Bird View Resort, Bihanga Bhawan (interpretation centre by CDA), Balugaon Wildlife Division, etc but the noticeable agency is the Sri Sri Mahavir Pakshi Surakhya Samiti (MPSS) founded by localites Sri Nanda Kishor Bhujabal. The Kalijae Jubaka Sangha (KJS) was renamed Sri Sri Mahavir Pakshi Surakhya Samiti for protecting & preserving the winged guests arriving at Mangalajodi. There is a Mahavir Tempe near the Mangalajodi railway level crossing whose name was unanimously agreed upon to be adopted. It was not so easy task to persuade the poachers to give up their illegal profession & for it, conservation fees were paid to Kishore Behera (most dreaded poacher of the area) & 12 other poachers to bring back them into the mainstream. Watch the well made video by IGS on the transformation journey of Mangalajodi https://youtu.be/lAAaMZkUNfE
Among the events, there is the three days National Chilika Bird Festival during Jan last week jointly organized by Odisha Tourism & Chilika Development Authority. There are around 30 active birding guides available at the jetty. The number of active boats at the jetty is around 51 – all registered with CDA with life jacket facilities & insurance. The facilities for tourists include accessibility, parking facility guide, boat, souvenir, food, lifeguard facilities, waiting room, toilet, etc. Areas of improvement include GPS facility in boats, online booking n payment facility, parking lot to be created elsewhere & be utilized, solar or battery operated vehicle from village or accommodation cottage to jetty, no vehicles to be allowed at the jetty, etc. An initiative to introduce solar-powered fishing boats is yet to see the day. The fishing boats are currently using noisy diesel motors & create much noise while passing through the channels to Chilika.
Nearby attractions: Maa Ugratara Temple near Tangi, Mangalajodi hillock with cave & view facility of the countryside, Brahmandi potters village (7km from Mangalajodi) where the 22 potters family use community furnace to make their terracotta wares from pottery to toys. One can visit the nearby village ponds & paddy fields of Bhusandpur, Kalupada, Sundarpur, etc. Banapur is a small town famous for Maa Bhagabati temple & Dakhya Prajapati Temple. If one wishes for a boat trip inside Chilika, he can avail the boat service from Balugaon or Barkul for a trip to any islands in Chilika lake like Kalijae, Breakfast Islands, etc, but need to keep around 5 hrs aside. Purbasha Tribal Museum by OdiArt at Barkul is a must-visit for heritage lovers & tourists.
Conservation of the Mangalajodi wetland ecosystem & its avifauna must be the top priority, rather than a mad rush for quick money by Govt & private players. Or else, a day will come when there will be no birds available for tourists due to the exploitation of the fragile ecosystem with too much traffic & disturbances. So, it’s high time to wake up & embrace controlled eco-tourism by checking the carrying capacity.
Note:- While there are countless stunning images of Mangalajodi available on the internet, I tried to look at my own captured images in pure black n white & yet found it equally captivating. I initially planned to just make a monochrome photo story on Mangalajodi, but ended up writing a whole article. That’s the power of Mangalajodi !
With inputs from Shashanka Sekhar Dash & the villagers of Mangalajodi Images: Tarani & Ritesh Panigrahi ©2020 All Rights Reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org