Whenever I’ve heard people lauding dolphin shows in dolphinariums overseas, I’ve wondered whether I would ever see dolphins. Luckily, I saw the desi variety at Satapada, Chilika, Odisha.
“These are not trained; they are totally unpad, illiterate,” says our Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) guide Reddy, with a chuckle. “But they know courtesy. They will raise their heads to say good morning and immediately dive to show their tail as if to say goodbye.”
Sit on the right side of the bus to have the best view of Chilika enroute. An hour later lies Satapada (sata-seven; pada-village) where we ordered lunch. Tourist inflow is meagre in the lean period so orders must be placed beforehand for food on the way back.
Most boats that take you on the lake are fishing boats fitted with noisy diesel engines—part-time lake transport to take you to the dolphin point at cheap rates. The OTDC ones are safer and fitted with proper seats and are less noisy. The cost varies between `165 to `250 per head depending upon the number of passengers.
Soon we board the boat from the jetty and cruise along the languid ripples that serrate the lake’s surface. Four rivers gush down into Chilika, which measures 1,165 sq. km during the monsoon and shrinks to roughly 950 sq. km in summer. The second largest coastal lagoon in the world runs along the borders of three districts—Ganjam, Puri and Khurda. Here the sea and rivers mate as the lagoon opens into the ocean. Our boat negotiates fishing nets and prawn farming enclosures (gheries), heading towards dolphin point and finally, the sea mouth. Here fishermen are engaged in constructing bamboo fences dug deep into the soft lake bed while others silently row their boats laden with catches of crabs and fish. They call the islands that are dotted around the lake, home. Mud huts are slowly being replaced by cement houses with television antennas. Our boatman kills the engines. “Soon you will see the dolphins, so please don’t shout as they are shy and will not surface. Do not change sides on the boat all together since it will topple over and we will all become dolphins.” Just as he finishes speaking, we see our first dolphin on the left, followed by another in front, chasing a shoal of fish. These are of round-headed greyish brown variety and are called Irrawaddy Dolphins. I try to zoom my camera on them, but they are so fast in appearing and disappearing that photographing them is a challenge.
After entertaining us with their cavorting, they move away, as a fishing boat comes close, noisy propeller almost rocking out boat as it scythes the water. We have no option but to head for the next point, the Rajhamsha Island, where Chilika meets the Bay of Bengal. The boat stops along the makeshift restaurants by the waterside, where on the menu are live shrimp and fish. We settle for a green coconut, though. We tramp across to the opposite side where the ocean hails us with fresh breeze. The dry hot sand challenges our calf muscles. A stone-seller is hawking pearls and stones from shells and coral; but beware of being duped. It’s better to enjoy the bounties of nature. Seagulls skate the ripples and migratory birds move across in patterns. On our return, we are led into an auditorium where we are shown a documentary on Chilika. The same building houses a museum and just across there is a nature park where a huge skeleton of a whale is encased in glass. At Chilika, a whale of a time passes too quickly.
Where to stay:
OTDC Panthanivas Satapada; for bookings please contact Khitish Das (Manager)-09937562181/ 06752-262077
Or Tourist officer Puri- 09437199506/06752-222664 or visit www.orissatourism.gov.in
How to reach:
Nearest rail station is Puri (50 km) and nearest airport is Bhubaneswar (100 km).