Odisha Odyssey-I .... Barkul

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March 28th 2016
Published: March 28th 2016
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Houseboat Houseboat Houseboat

@ Panthanivas Barkul
Jet Airways, have their Frequent Flier Program, titled Jet Privilege. Being a Gold Card Holder, the only privilege I was availing was the free usage of Lounge at the airports and complimentary snacks, during my official travel. The incessant professional travel was regularly adding to the tally of my Jpmiles.

One fine morning, I was in for a rude shock that my carefully accumulated Jpmiles are likely to expire, if not redeemed immediately. With no particular plan & budget in mind, I managed to book return tickets to Bhubaneswar, for the deferred travel in the month of February. We had little or no exposure to this beautiful coastal state.

The next important and the most critical task was to plan an itinerary. Being a budget traveller, the tour costs had to be kept to a bare minimum. The travel to Bhubaneswar meant visit to Jagannath Puri, one of the Char Dhams and UNESCO Heritage site – Konark Sun Temple, which were the must-visit locations.

As a nature lover, few more locations of natural beauty were required to be added and optimal route plan be charted out. The research zeroed down on the pear-shaped, Chilika Lake, which could be
Kalijai IslandKalijai IslandKalijai Island

Off Barkul
a destination of a nature lover must visit. The largest coastal lagoon, spreading across Puri, Khurda and Ganjam district of Odisha, covering an area over 1100 sq. km. It lies at the mouth of Daya River, which flows into Bay of Bengal. The interest in Chilika Lake got a boost due to its unique ecosystem with a range of aquatic flora and aqua fauna & avifauna, found in and around its brackish waters.

Accordingly Satapada, on the Eastern side and Barkul or Rambha, on the Western side of Chilika Lake were shortlisted. There was no particular reason to add Barkul or drop Rambha, but the ultimate choice went in favour of Barkul.

Through online research for budget accommodation, Panthanivas, by OTDC was shortlisted. Though I was skeptical about the quality, it definitely suited my budget. Secondly my experience was that most State Tourism accommodations situate at vantage locations. The Panthanivas accommodation was booked online, sufficiently in advance.

It was in second week of February, we took an early morning flight to Bhubaneswar. It was no-frills route and I do not have fancy for the snacks sold onboard. As soon as we landed at our destination, we started
Imposing Horse Imposing Horse Imposing Horse

@ Kalijai Temple
our hunt for a hot filling breakfast. The driver, who was waiting at the arrival lounge, drove us to the nearest restaurant for the feast of dosas and vadas with steaming hot cup of tea. The slight chill was in the air and the food sufficiently warmed-up the system to move on.

We were scheduled to travel 100 km, towards the South-East, on NH-5, through the road connecting Kolkata to Chennai. The estimated travel time was 2 hours. Being part of the Golden Quadrilateral, the highway was wide, smooth and the journey most comfortable. At Balugaon, the car exited NH-5 for a short drive on Old NH-5 to take us to the Panthnivas Barkul. The 10-15 km drive was slow due to neglected condition of the road.

The Panthanivas turned out to be a sprawling huge complex, consisting of cottages lined around well-manicured lawns, flowering plants and tress. The reception had a typical government office appearance and the staff an attitude. …. a sort of, it is not the tourists who generate business, but they were favoring the tourists by providing them an accommodation. The OTDC has it own watersports complex, with an embankment in the lagoon.

Chilika Lake

The air-conditioned cottage, with an attached balcony, was quite spacious. We were fortunate to get a cottage, which offered a stunning view of the Chilika Lake. The freshly paved pathway led to the OTDC bund & Jetty. The restaurant was just a few blocks away. It was the lunchtime and most tourists having gone on day excursions, there were none in the restaurant, other than us. The food was freshly cooked, warm and simple, but very delicious. We had a quick meal and retreated for a power nap.

Later, we set out to Kalijai Island by a motorized boat of OTDC. This island is considered to be the abode of Hindu deity Kalijai. She has been venerated in legends and folklores and is highly revered by local populace. There was a constant stream of pilgrims coming from far off places by bus and taking a large ferry operated by local boatmen.

The voyage was estimated to take 30 minutes by the motor -boat. The route was lined with fishermen’s nets and small country crafts. The atmosphere was very serene and undisturbed amidst the blue expanse of water on one side and an evergreen range of hills on the other side. The flocks of aquatic birds, unmindful of sailing of boats, were seen floating and picking up their preys. There was a cluster of buildings and watchtowers on the southern side, which we were told, was the INS Chilika, one of the most important training establishment of the Indian Navy.

A bright colorful sculpture of a horse facing the lake, carrying the loads of wishes of pilgrims in the form of read thread, stood erect at the entrance of the island. In the vicinity, like any other big temple, there were shops selling garlands and other pooja material. The snacks with the hot & cold beverages, were available in small makeshift canteens at the rear. The atmosphere was similar to a small religious fair on an island. We sought the blessing of the goddess and embarked upon the return journey. The process of travelling to and fro was more rewarding than the reaching the destination.

In the evening, we decided to visit the Saalia Dam. It was about 25 km away from Barkul. We passed through Balugaon underpass onto Banapur and reached around 05:30 pm. The road leading to the dam was narrow and poorly maintained. The dam is located at a remote idyllic location. It unfolded very serene and picturesque vista. At that hour, there were no tourists. The local youth was hanging around the area. Since the sun was setting, we could not spot any birds. We captured the natural beauty of this massive lake against the backdrop of setting sun in our minds and in our cameras and started the return journey.

During our return journey, we passed through a number of poorly lit small villages. The fish, fruits and vegetable vendors were displaying their inventory on large wooden planks, laid out on the street and illuminated by kerosene lanterns, The grocery shops were doing brisk business, of whatever they dealt in. It was probably the local farm labor, having returned after a day’s hard work, was sourcing their day’s requirements. Overall, the ethnic population was seen winding up their day’s activities, in a great hurry. By the time we reached Balugaon, all markets were closed. We continued our journey through a narrow road to Panthanivas.

Barkul itself was a very small fishing village, with hardly any infrastructure for tourism. The commercial activity consisted of couple of small lodges, and few small restaurants, shops selling items of daily needs, small fish & vegetable market. The major occupation of the local population was fishing & boating, followed by farming. The Panthanivas was self sufficient and catered to most tourism needs, including beer and alcohol.

We returned to our room for a warm water shower, to be followed by an “evening session”, in the balcony overlooking the Chilika Lake. We ordered for some pakodas and fried fish as starters. It was a local variety of fish from Chilika known as “Khongya’ or similar sounding. It was very fresh and tasty too. Later for dinner, the recommendation from the Chef was Crab Curry. The carb was quite large and meaty, which was served with roti and rice. The dinner was simply sumptuous. We took a small stroll towards the jetty, under the moonlit sky, before we hit the bed for the night.

We were woken up gently by the melodious tweet of birds. The sky had just started glowing orange and it was still some time for the sunrise. The birds of species had started picking up their fresh meals from the marshy land near the shore. The silence was interrupted by harsh horns of the passing trains intermittently. Though the trains were not visible the shrill was quite audible. The boatmen were getting ready to de-anchor their boats for ferrying passengers to Kalijai island or for fishing expedition.

It was intriguing that a number of cyclists were heading towards the jetty. As we started our walk towards the jetty, we were surprised that all cyclists were moving in the single direction towards the end of the jetty. The purpose noticed was to relieve themselves and to defecate in the open air, in the marshy land around the bund. The inadequate sanitation facilities in Barkul and the jetty’s location being outside the village, resulted in the defecation in open. We had to change our track to seek reprieve from embarrassment and move towards the lush green paddy fields in the opposite direction.

The breakfast comprised of egg omelet, bread, probably sourced from the nearby Balugaon and masala tea. The fresh Puri –Bhaji was available too but it was little to oily to start the day. Soon, we embarked on our journey to Rushikulya, in Ganjam District, which was about 60 km south of Barkul. Rushikulya is the major river in the

Excitement in store ...
state of Odisha, which meets the Bay of Bengal near Pali Bandha, a fishermen’s village. This area is considered to be one of the largest mass nesting sites of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles in India.

It took about an hour for us to reach this village. There were no signboards to indicate as to which direction we should be heading to. The exact location of turtle nesting site was out of sight. We tried asking the local villagers in Hindi but the language was a barrier. After persistent efforts, and seeing our urban attire and anxiety largely written on our face, one person rightly guessed that we were looking for “Kainchha”. This sounded similar to “Kachua” meaning turtle in Hindi and we nodded. He pointed his finger towards a small pathway leading to the eastern direction. We could not see any water or sand from the place where we were standing. Nonetheless, we decided to move on. The car was safely parked near a temple and we started our trek. It was almost 2 km we trekked to see water. Now we knew what to ask for. A boatman with a small country craft was in the river. We asked him about “Kainchha” and he offered to take us by his boat. He oared the boat towards a mound of golden sand.

Upon reaching the mound, we alighted from the boat. There were few tents and each tent had about 3 to 4 young persons with vigilant eye on every person approaching the mound. We approached them and explained the purpose of our being there. They welcomed us and introduced themselves.

They were members of Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee, who have been trained in protection of turtle eggs and turtles during the nesting and hatching season. They were aware of “arribada,” the unique mass nesting behavior of marine turtles. These youth were engaged in long-term turtle conservation program funded by International NGO They took us to the mouth of Rushikulya.

Lo and behold … the sight was out of the world. There were hundreds of white eggs, which were little larger than the golf ball, partially buried in the golden sand. The waves hitting the shore were exposing these eggs by washing away the sand. Large birds were hovering around to pick these exposed eggs. The volunteers were leaving no stones unturned, in driving away the prying birds and continuously putting the exposed eggs back in sand pits. Some area was covered with the nylon nets. We were so excited to see this out of the world sight. We could not resist the temptation of requesting them to allow us to fell these heavenly objects. They acceded to our request instantly. We handled the eggs with gloved hands. It was truly the heavenly feeling to hold them in our palms. Later, we assisted them in burying the exposed eggs in the sand pits and bid adieu farewell to these volunteers of the mother earth.

The boatman was waiting for us to take us back to the other side of the river. After the short sail, we continued to walk towards the car; through, sand, marshy land, shrubs, water, small bridges and what not. It had become very hot and it was prudent to don a cap, because in the absence of it would surely result in sunstroke.

After having some soft-drinks to quench our thirst, we proceeded towards Gopalpur Beach. This languorous beach has coconut groves, casuarinas and long stretches of gentle sand dunes. It was past 2:00 and the sea was at
Turtle EggsTurtle EggsTurtle Eggs

Olive Ridley Turtles
it’s roughest best. Few suntanned locals were taking dip to beat the heat and playing with the roaring waves. Any attempt to walk barefoot, on the beach, would mean opting to get the feet roasted naturally.

Unlike other beaches on the western coast, there were hardly any tourists seen on the beach at this hour. Few local restaurants facing the beach were open for lunch. The shops selling items made from fake and original seashells were constantly in search of customers. The local music was blaring thorough MP3 players. The choice of tender coconut or chilled beer was available. We opted for the later and settled for the lunch. The usual fish fry & rice with gravy was ordered. The fish served here was salt-water local fish probably from the day’s catch. It wasn’t too spicy but delicious and we thoroughly relished.

The siesta time was already over. Though we were in no hurry to return to the hotel at Barkul, our driver ensured that we were back by 04:30 pm. With little relaxation, we attempted to have a power-nap, in vain. The paddle boat was beckoning us and we decided to venture out into the watersport embankment.
Nesting ...Nesting ...Nesting ...

@ Rushikulya
There was one large OTDC houseboat parked in the vicinity, probably unoccupied with the crew onboard engaged in cleaning operation. It was a refreshing change from the normal routine. To remain afloat in the middle of the pool and to move ahead gently required rigorous pedal efforts. There were some more tourists, with children for the company. The hour-long ride was over little before the sunset. We decided to while away some more time on the jetty till the sunset and wandered aimlessly. With the setting sun, we were back in the balcony, for yet another “evening session” with hot onion and paneer pakodas, served straight out of frying pan.

The evening meal was the repeat of yesterday - yummy crabs curry, fried fish and rotis. The succulent crabmeat was devoured to attain gastronomical contentment. The whole of Barkul village had gone to sleep and we meekly followed it.

The morning began with witnessing the sunrise, followed by a short walk in the adjoining paddy field and breakfast. Now was the time for check-out and proceed toward our next destination of the day …. Jagannath Puri.

Bye Bye Barkul, it has been a refreshing experience in the
Deserted BeachDeserted BeachDeserted Beach

@ Gopalpur
lap of mother nature, by Chilika Lake.

Additional photos below
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Beating the heat Beating the heat
Beating the heat

@ Gopalpur Beach

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