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Old 26th December 2010, 11:41   #1
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Default The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

This is to fill in the gap for "not yet finding a satisfactory first hand experience on Bhitarkanika National Park travel anywhere on the net". Before I start, the usual disclaimer of "this being my personal opinion only, no liability assumed for any damage caused if you read it" apply.

Whats' good: The overall experience of the travel through the waters and walking trails, serenity and excellent preservation of the park, general cleanliness of the accommodation facilities, and able to fully see what you may expect - the enormous biodiversity.
Whats' not so good: Seemed that the officials of the park and private boat owners are in hand-&-gloves over boat bookings - the park officials told us that all government boats were booked for the day, whereas quite a few were lying vacant. This was substantiated by a few locals and travellers. Further private boats more expensive (see details in the travelogue below). We did not see a single government boat plying anywhere along the routes.
Note: Mine was a day's trip, so if you want to stay overnight, experiences may vary. Arrange for your own food and snacks. You may contact 0672-9272460/464 to enquire on reservation bookings.

We (me and my wife) started at 5:15am in the morning of 24th Dec '10 from Bhubaneswar. It was 13 degrees outside, and that bit cold felt good. As for the route, we decided to take this: Bhubaneswar -> NH5 (via Cuttack till Chandikhol ; you encounter a toll booth on this way) -> diversion to right on NH5A (till SH9 ; another toll booth) -> diversion to left for SH9 -> Pattamundai -> Rajnagar (entry point). Should be around 200km. Note that if you are travelling from up north, say from Kolkata, you may reach Chandbali as the entry point (somewhere after Bhadrak).
Coming back to our trip, we missed the left diversion to SH9 (as its a service road diverting off from a bridge on NH5A) and had to come back taking a U-turn after around 5 km ! - though there was a small road on left leading to Pattamundai town, the locals asked us to go back and take SH9 as it was quite conjested and bad. Beware of a few and far between speed breakers on NH5A.

The long and winding road of SH9 was average to good and somewhat narrow, unlike NH5/5A which was excellent. We reached Pattamundai and drove onwards till Rajnagar, which has the main DFO office. Reached Rajnagar by 8:45am. Someone there informed us to take necessary permit either at Khola checkpost or at Gupti - the road onward had two diversions; left one to Khola and right one to Gupti. We proceeded to Gupti - excellent winding road through large farmlands.

Beyond Gupti (or Khola, if you take that route), the only way to get into the national park and travel is by boat. Reaching Gupti at 9:30am, we had our breakfast of puri and potato-cauliflower-soyabean curry in the only local eatery existing. Cost Rs.25 per plate.

The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa-dsc02945.jpg

Now for the permit and the boat bookings. The officer at the park office informed that all government boats are totally booked for the day, and the only way to go is for a private boat which has a separate office and "ghat" (from where the boats leave). Government rates were in the range of Rs.1000-1500, private boats started at Rs.1700. Note that as per a board at Rajnagar outside the DFO office, boat rates mentioned started from Rs.700. Waited for hopefully another small travelling family to join in, but then we did not have much luck. Went to the private boat owner office and booked a boat. Note that the amount turned up to be Rs.1700 + 80 (Rs.20 per head permit for two of us and two boatsmen) + 150 (guide). Negotiated for Rs.1800 (after opting out the guide) and the private owner insisted and went to the park's office to "get the permit". Talked to a few people (locals and travellers' groups) in the meantime and the feedback was somewhat I mentioned towards the top. Noticed that the park's boats were lying vacant and there was no crowd anywhere near the park's official "ghat".

The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa-dsc03014.jpg

Now a little about the park. The waterways from Gupti (or after Khola) were rivers falling into the Bay of Bengal. There are small islands on the way which are part of the national park. Our main stop was Dangmal which has a crocodile research and conservation center, forest accommodations, and an interpretation center (small museum-type). The overall park area was more than 600 sq.km. with other spots such as the forest block (a 3km trail to erstwhile king's hunting ground and a watch tower) and Baga Gahan island (birds' nesting grounds). Gahirmatha - the most important part of the park which is on the Bay of Bengal where river Bhahmani connects, and which is the famous nesting ground for olive ridley turtles - is on a different route; the boatsman informed later that the cost would be Rs.2500 from Gupti for a trip to Gahirmatha. Major flora includes a wide variety of mangroves (more that 50 species supposedly are reared and exist). Major fauna consists of crocodiles (3 species - gharial, mugger and salt water), deer, boars, pangolins, quite a few species of snakes, four types of turtles (they come to Gahirmatha), and of course a wide variety of birds including white herons, adjutant storks, sand pipers, parrots, ducks, cormonants, kingfishers, bitterns et al.

The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa-dsc02952.jpg

The trip through the river (name forgotten) was great. River embankments with huts and people gradually gave way to deep forest and marshlands on both sides with hanging mangroves. Quite picturesque indeed ! We spotted a few queer patches of some jelly-type whitish stuff at certain places on the swamps, but not sure what they were. Crocs abound; gharials were rare though. More numerous were the salt water crocs; we did spot one of around 19ft in length ! The park claims a living one of 22ft roaming around somewhere, and a record of 23ft (now dead) ! As for birds we did see a few species I stated above (minus the kingfishers and ducks).

The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa-dsc02974.jpg

Got down first at Dangmal and took a winding trail of around a km in Dangmal, reaching the conservation center - we spotted red crabs on the trail. It houses a few crocs born and bred in captivity - Gori (a white croc, not albino) and Hyderabadi (supposedly an albino croc) are the main exhibits basking in their respective cages. The interpretation center houses skeletons and remains of a few species found in the park, including that of a 19.8ft croc, though they do not have any brochure about the park to take away home.
The accommodations, including a forest rest house seemed to be quite neat at a glance (though we did not stay there). We did avail one of the restroom facilities to see how they are - seemed quite decent.

The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa-dsc03003.jpg

We came back to our boat and proceeded on to the forest block. The 3km wide trail was quite shady with varieties of mangroves and swamps on both sides. We walked along, hoping to catch a glimpse of something moving in the bushes. The boatsman who went with us informed that it is more likely to see deer et al during early mornings and evenings only.
The trail took us to some erstwhile king's watchtower (a nice all-round view from the top), hunting house, a lily "pond" (more of a swamp) and a shiva temple. The way back was a short-cut through the back of the island where our boat was waiting.

The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa-dsc03030.jpg

Time to go back. As we were travelling, a surprise awaited for us - numerous large pink-patchy jellyfishes floating just below the river surface ! Now we knew what were those whitish stuff I mentioned earlier - dead ones left there when the water subsided. Reached the "ghat" at around 2:00pm, and it was aleady time for lunch. Same eatery; cost Rs.70 per plate for rice (short thick grained) + chicken + soyabean curry. The host insisted us to have crab curry, which we did not take though.

The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa-dsc03018.jpg

The way back was not as smooth as when we reached there - took a different way after Rajnagar, and somehow reached the bustling Pattamundai town; entered a conjested bazaar where the road was closed due to some contruction work; a more conjested detour and bad pot-holed road through the town till we reached the NH5A. Phew ! But then all pain got lost as we recollected the pristine nature of the park, its successful conservation and the overall experience. Gahirmatha is left for some other time.
My opinion; Quite recommended - 3.5/5 stars.
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Old 26th December 2010, 20:55   #2
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Default Re: The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

Wow, some extraordinary location. Great Snaps Car-go.
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Old 27th December 2010, 00:15   #3
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Default Re: The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

Great pics.
Its good to hear that the accommodation is quite decent there. Have you got an opportunity to ask for the rates? Since its managed by the government, I expect the rates to be reasonable.
Are there any private hotels as well there?
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Old 27th December 2010, 03:40   #4
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Default Re: The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

hey, another bhpian from bhubaneswar. we ought to have a meeting sometime
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Old 27th December 2010, 09:37   #5
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Default Re: The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

Good to know there are 2 tbhpians from Bhubaneswar!

Thanks for this account, car-go, I never knew that one could go this far by road to see the Oliver Riddley Turtles. Even during my 2005 Coast 2 Cape 2 Coast drive, I had to give Chandbali and Rajnagar a miss simply because I did not know how to go there!
Impressed that they have a toll road to Rajnagar.
When I went on NH5A, I never saw any signboards - what is teh indication for the turn off to Pattamundai? (even you have missed the turning!)
What seasons and what timings are these boat rides available?
Pity you could not go on to Gahirmatha!
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Old 28th December 2010, 18:04   #6
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Default Re: The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

Thanks for the compliments, kalesh and himavanth ! the snaps were taken using a simple sony digicam (missing my SLR which i left back in kolkata).

As for accommodation rates, yes they should be cheap in the range of rs.500 or so per room. you may check any guide book - i'd suggest lonely planet, as all my travels are planning using it.

greenhorn - yes, we can do meet sometime. not many BHPians here, so was not in a posting mood for a long time. not only this forum, but i do not see much presence in other forums as well from bbsr.

hvkumar - yes, now these are toll roads and very well maintained. at least you can drive at 100 in certain stretches consistently. as for diversion to pattamundai, its easier to miss as there are no sign-boards ; i had a GPS, so got warned looking at it, missing the road.
Boat rides are, i guess, from 9am to 5-5:30pm (not sure if you can book a boat for next day early morning if staying overnight), but bookings are made till 2pm. the park is closed sometime in the july-aug timeframe due to "croc mating season" , so you may plan anytime other than that.
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Old 28th December 2010, 19:07   #7
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Default Re: The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

Excellent pics car-go, your TL could not have come at a better time. I have been planning a Gahirmata - Bhitarkanika - Chilka lake trip for a very long time now and got pushed to early 2011 due to vitamin M deficiency. Can you share some more photo's of the Croc breeding center, the mangroves of Bhitarkanika etc? There is not much information about the Bhitarkanika-Gahirmata stretch and I was under the impression that one can drive down atleast upto the entry gate of the Bhitarkanika WLS via Bhadrak. Now I realize from your TL that a boat has to be hired. Any other entry gate that you are aware of? Also, is it ok in these parts to travel only with wife or you recommend a group? My main motive is to catch the annual Olive ridley hatching spectacle. I might sound a little apprehensive because this would be my first visit to OR and obviously I dont speak the native tongue.
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Old 29th December 2010, 13:29   #8
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Default Re: The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

Quote:
Originally Posted by ExtremeTorque View Post
Can you share some more photo's of the Croc breeding center, the mangroves of Bhitarkanika etc? ... Now I realize from your TL that a boat has to be hired. Any other entry gate that you are aware of? Also, is it ok in these parts to travel only with wife or you recommend a group? ... this would be my first visit to OR and obviously I dont speak the native tongue.
Thanks for the compliments on the photos - I do have more, but cannot post from my office, will post once I'm back home.
Let me answer your queries first -
(a) not sure whether it is driveable till chandbali (entry point) from bhadrak - should be ok I guess, but then you have to take the boat further to gahirmatha .. the other entry gates are gupti (the road I took) and some detour to dangmal (via khola check post), but these two are nearer bhubaneswar
(b) I travelled with my wife only, but at least one or two extra people is recommended .. at least costs are high, and its always better to be in group while you are on the waters
(c) don't need to know the native language .. i am a bengali, and very well managed with that and hindi - since the areas are near to paradip, people are open to these languages.
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Old 11th September 2011, 15:21   #9
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Default Re: The pristine - Bhitarkanika NP, Orissa

[quote=car-go;2190322]Thanks for the compliments on the photos - I do have more, but cannot post from my office, will post once I'm back home.
Let me answer your queries first -
(a) not sure whether it is driveable till chandbali (entry point) from bhadrak - should be ok I guess, but then you have to take the boat further to gahirmatha .. the other entry gates are gupti (the road I took) and some detour to dangmal (via khola check post), but these two are nearer bhubaneswar

Drive upto Chandabali is not a problem at all. Then you have to leave your vehicle and hire a boat. There are regular buses ply between Bhadrak to Chandabali.
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