Sublime ecosystem – Chilika

 

odisha-325Chilika, the shallow brackish lagoon on the south eastern part of Odisha, today is an integral part of the state. A distinctive landmark that is not only well established from tourism perspective but also is well know for its “Tiger Prawn” cultivation worldwide. A landmark that was once a maritime hub with a rich history, today largely remains a source of livelihood through tourism and prawn cultivation. This pear shaped lagoon stretches 64.3 Kms across Puri, Khurda & Ganjam districts of Odisha. Apart from being a support to the human livelihood, this natural beauty is a mother to the 225 species of fish ecology and it hosts 160 different species during peak migratory season.

This was my second visit to this beautiful lagoon. My first trip was some 11 years ago from Berahmpur side. The vastness was what pulled my interest. This time I was more excited as I wanted to see the beautiful lake from the Puri side. Also, this part of the lake has the lesser known Irrawaddy Dolphins. The fascination drove us down to visit the place once again.

Well, how much early that I think of starting, still ended up leaving only by 7.30 am from Bhubaneswar. The newly laid outer ring road is very smooth to drive and is a toll road today. The stretch of 135 kms took us 4 hours with some stops in-between for breakfast and at Alarnath Temple on the way.

It was a beautiful drive, also which cut off from the Puri main road. on our way we could see the great Jagannath temple. The Puri – Satapada road is filled with lilies on both the sides. It was a sight to see, awesome will be an understatement.

As we entered the Satapada area, we were almost chased down by a biker. He waved his hand vigorously and wanted us to stop. I slowed down the car to a stop, as I rolled down the window I realised that he was one of the local guys trying to get people for the boat rides. If one is not careful you could actually end up paying a higher price. The IMG_20161106_214234.jpggovernment owned boards are much cheaper and better which is near the lake boating point. We left him and trusted on the GPS to guide us to the spot. We were welcome by a small toll booth who showed us the way forward. We finally happened to reach at the lake boating area by 11.30 am. As we happen to get down there were a bunch of fishermen odisha-213community guys got hold of us positioning their deal for a boat ride. Though hesitant to pick it up we managed to get a good deal for three hours, which included Dolphin viewing, Rajhans island and Muhana (The lake mouth meeting the sea). We stacked up our ration of water, juices and snacks and went ahead to the boat designated for us.

After having exchanged the pleasantries our boats man pushed the boat into the main water. It was really unexpected of us that we would see the Dolphins within five minutes into the lake. It was a family of three that came up the surface and then ducked into the water. They were swift and moved very rapidly. Catching them on camera once needs to understand the patterns in their movement. Finally I managed to get their bums shot. It was an real beautiful experience to see them.

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Irrawaddy Dolphins

These dolphins are so different from that of the regular ones that one sees and reads about. According to a census in 2010 there are only 156 dolphins in Chilika. Hope the number have gone up now rather than nose diving.
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After our beautiful rendezvous with these mammals we headed off on a solitary trip to Rajahans Island. Chilika being spread over such a huge water space, there happens to be many small islands and water ways are a very strong mode to move from one island to another, as well as connecting it to the main land. One would also see the intricate spread of fishing nets either for catching the fish or prawn. These nets also become a good hunting ground for birds to get their hunger satiated.

20161006_123044By the time we reached Rajhans island it was already 1.00 pm and we were exhausted odisha-296because of the sun heat and the water around. But the breeze happened to be a good solace in the whole drive.

Rajhans was a small beautiful island, in-between the lake and the sea on the other side. The heat was really strong and the Akashiya shade was a real solace. Oh must say, the beach gave a feeling of odisha-298peace and was an amazing place for doing some great photo shoot. We spent close to 20 mins there before we headed back to our boat for our return. For the heat and the hunger that had caught us by now, we decided to skip the lake mouth. The sea shore at Rajhans was reassuring enough for the day.

We reached back at the shore in another 45 mins and that was a killer of time. Exhausted and parched. Was wondering how our boatsman managed to stand in that hot sun all this while and we the delicate lot even under the tarpaulin sheet were feeling the heat. Well nature has its own way of balancing it I suppose. The cool breeze made us to catch up with couple of winks before we reached our destiny.

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Lunch stop after the ride

The hungry souls finally got satisfied with a feast on awesome fresh sea food catch. You name it and it was there and the food was of local flavour which was finally topped up with some delightful pan (beetle leave).

Though the journey back was in the cool air condition of the car but the heart was left behind in the pristine waters of Chilika, as if it beckoned us to come back again and be a part of that wonder….

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Some experiences:

  • Avoid the touts trying to lure you in for a private trip.
  • Cover you head with caps and wear loose cotton clothes. 
  • Carry loads of drinking water while on the boat.
  • Carry fruit juices and not aerated drinks. You could juices near the boating area.
  • Liquor is not allowed on the boats.
  • Try to get a covered boat
  • There are no proper restrooms around
  • Food for vegetarians could be a challenge
  • Swatch Bharat… the place is relatively clean, try and keep it that way.

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Col Saheb Island – Munroe

Calm and deep, is what it feels
Green and blue, are the hues it shows
Meandering as is, interwoven with life
Nature and people, love these sides

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It was after spending the day with the Stallions, we headed out for our one day trip to the boat ride that we had planned. Boat rides, one normally connected with that of a typical Kerala boat and we were no different. The meandering road took us down to the ferry place. This ferry services connected two sides of the land which was well connected by train services and road. The road services were cut down by nearly 20 Kms, which was a big thing as the roads are so serpentine that a few person could throw up.

As we took a right turn at one of road which was running beautifully next to a canal and coconut trees, we reached a dead end. This is where the road met the open expanses of water. The ferry boat from here would take us to the other end, where out beautiful boat ride was to begin. As we reached we realised that we were a wee bit slow. The ferry boat just left our end of the the Ashtamudi lake and moved to the other end. We got down from the car and enjoyed the calmness and non hurried atmosphere. Father and son, got into the mode of posing, sitting on the road next to the bank where the boat had left and enjoying the breeze. Least that I realised that my wife had got shooting us (It was a good surprise when I was going through the pics 🙂 )…

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Kollam-105As our ferry came back, people got on to it and then slowly the loading of three cars, a mini truck and close to 15 bikes got on. It took us 5 minutes to go to the other side of the lake. The place we reached was the Munroe Island. One of the Island that got naturally created by the backwaters. The area was formed by the Asthamudi lake (Astha mudi – Eight coned). It is a beautiful wetland ecosystem.  This place also got its name from the British Colonel

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Train line connecting the Island

Munroe who was a resident of the erstwhile Travancore district.Kollam-143

We again got into the meandering roads before we reached our man who was going to be our guide, Mr. Regu further. As we got down, the first predicament was that our language. With all the question mark my partner started in hindi:

She: Apko hindi ata hai (Do you know Hindi?)
Mr. Regu: Madamji, humko ata hai. Hum hindustani hai. Hindi rastrabhasha hai (Madam, I know Hindi, I am an Indian and Hindi is our national language).

The moment he finished, we all burst into laughter and that is it… He took us on a small foot path serpentine through the banana plantation. He deftly handed us over to his oars man, stating us to come back by 1 pm. While doing that Regu said to us.

Aapko jaldi ana tha, bahut jagah ghum sakte the. Late ho gaya abhi. No problem, enjoy and  Lunch ke liya aa jana. (You should have come early, could have gone to many more places. You came in late. No problem, enjoy and come back for lunch)

 

Kollam-175We smiled as we got into the small canoe kind of boat. Not the typical Kerala boathouse and we got to know why as the journey started.. To begin the rain Gods said, let me sprinkle some Kerala water on you.. It was such a bliss feeling as the boat moved and our old oarsman handed over the umbrellas that he had for such occasion. It seemed very normal for him. We were all speechless for five minutes as

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Our oarsman

the boat started to more. All forgot about the scare we had with water and the shake of the water. We were all immersed in the true beauty of the nature. It was simply pristine.

As we moved more into the natural canals, realised what all this country has. It was a water system that was the life line for the people over there. People would park their boats at the side of the canal and got the nearby grocery shop to pick up their daily things. The coir industry is an industry that thrives side by side. Kollam like any other place in Kerala does have a thriving coir industry and coir products being produced in the back yards. We parked our boat for a tea break and also stopped to lay our hands on making coir ropes. It was really a delight to see how a simple single coir strand could turn out to be a strong rope that could hold any weight.

After spending some time and our expertise in making ropes we got back onto the boat for the further boat ride. One could see the beautiful ecosystem as to how the birds and people Kollam-227have co-existed there. We saw many white headed eagles that seemed to be thriving on the fishes there. It is so difficult to describe the beauty that surrounds you there. Our oars man took us from a big canal into the small canals under the foot bridges. There is fish cultivation along with Paddy and off course coconut cultivation in the area. We stopped near one of the paddy fields where our oarsman gave us fresh coconut to drink without a straw. It was really a good balancing act trying to drink. As we kept moving from one canal to another, we could see the livelihood around. People would smile and wave back. They were so used to seeing new faces. Our oarsman would go on exchanging his news with folks as they cross each one house after the other.

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As we ended our trip the rain gods again showered on us to treat us good bye. But, out journey was yet to be over. Mr. Regu, picked us from there and took us to a small boathouse for a lavish typical Non Vegetarian lunch. For a change this was complete sea food lunch. We had, Kareemen fish fry, Kareemen fish curry, Crab masala, Prawn curry,

vegetable, Kerala rice and butter milk. It was a mesmerising food. I had never hogged food the way I did that day on the boathouse. We invited Regu to share the Lunch with us, we had a very a fun filled time. His Malayalam dialect Hindi was the beautiful highlight. An army guy after having served the country now is focused on giving a customer delight. He has a small stay home where one could stay for days or weeks or months. Simple people with a very friendly approach. That defined who he was.

We came back from Munroe island with loads of freshness. As we drove back, my body was in the car and in the flight back to Chennai but my mind lingered over the water canals and the mesmerising freshness of silence and air. It was one to stay long with me..

Kollam-239We left the place and kept chatting about the various little things we saw… Hard to believe we have such beautiful places and branding has not happened much. It is really an incredible country having some spending places to explore…

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Love it all!!!

 

Sea Witch

Curled and hanging
Lapping against the water
Calling to come close
Sharing the tenderness in its lap!!!

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220 Kms to the south of Chennai as you drive down past the old French colony of Pondicherry, one would normally miss out this quite place filled with Mangrove forest… PITCHAVARAM.  It is 10 kms before Chidambaram.. This is the Sundarbans of South and undoubtedly one of the largest in India.

Happened to find this place accidentally while scouting about Chidambaram and Cuddalore. It really was a big surprise and not many of friends even had an idea of any such place. It felt like, the little brother of Sundarbans which I have been planning to

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Roots of the trees…

travel to for a while. We reached there by 8.00 am and were asked to wait. The place is pretty a clean and well maintained by the government. We opened our breakfast box, though there is a canteen but that was also not open and we were not sure of what we could get. Finally at around 8.30 am the counter opened and we were the first ones to pick the tickets. We paid Rs 275 /- for an hour ride in the mangrove. But once we got in we negotiated another one hundred bucks with the boatman and that was a good deal actually for an additional 30 mins ride.

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The fruit

One of the most terrible thing was that none of us realised the heat that the place would generate and we had missed our caps or umbrella in the car, thank God that we had our water bottles. The 400 mtrs of open sky was a killer, till we reached one of the canals. The sun was at its best show and we felt being steam baked at 37 degrees. Well the moment the boat turned into the mangrove canals it was a heavenly feel. He took us from one to the other and it was as if the time had stood frozen. One could see the beautiful roots of these majestic trees hanging everywhere as if a witch has had a bad hair day, but somehow looked very pretty and lovely. We were also cautioned about our head banging against any tree root, some of the roots ends were pointed too.

Our wonderful boatsman parked the boat against one of the mangroves intertwined trees Logo-5and we were at our best behaviour, climbing onto these amazing tree and it felt like being on a swing. One after the other, we got onto the these strong trees and did our photoshoots and had a good energizer. It is an amazing feeling and with a boatsman giving you the confidence that the trees are secure, we moved from one root to another. It was an amazing feeling.

The trees are so well integrated and spaced out to create close to 4000 odd canals right across the 39 sq kms place. There were plenty of amazing birds that inhabit that place.

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Fisherman, waiting for a good catch

The local community also uses this place for its livelihood by fishing in these waters while big directors create some amazing movies like “Dasavatharam“.

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The government has got a small guesthouse in the middle of the forest too, that one could book and stay overnight. It is a plan for some other time. As of now, we left the place with some amazing chillness and channelled memories…

Incredible India!!!

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