Have you ever wondered about any dreamland? If yes, then pack your bags this holiday. Set for the land of the mangroves and the reptiles. You will discover the dreamland in the magnificent green mangroves, meandering rivers & creeks, menacing estuarine crocodiles, obedient spotted deer, virgin sandy beaches and above all the calm, composed & comforting surroundings intercepted by the chirping of birds. A heaven on the earth- Bhitarkanika. Situated away from the hullabaloo & hum of the city life, it is the wonderland of the eco-tourists.
Located in the Kendrapara District of Odisha in Eastern India, Bhitarkanika is a mangrove wetland ecosystem having high genetic and ecological diversity. Bhitarkanika covers a total area of 2154.26 km2 of which Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park covers 672 km2, the Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary covers 1435 km2 while the buffer zone in the Mahanadi delta covers 47.26 km2. The natural boundaries of the Sanctuary are defined by Dhamara River to the north, Maipura River to the south, Brahmani River to the west and the Bay of Bengal in the east. The coastline from Maipura to Barunei forming the eastern boundary of the Sanctuary is an ecologically crucial habitat.
The sanctuary is the second largest compact mangrove ecosystem in India after the Sunderbans of West Bengal. The park, Bhitarkanika National Park encompasses an area of 145 sq. km. For its rich avi-fauna, it was declared as a “Ramsar Site” in 2002. The biodiversity of Bhitarkanika is unique and incomparable in the Country. Out of 72 mangrove and associated species found World over, Bhitarkanika houses 62 of them. The sanctuary in terms of mangrove vegetation occupies first position in India and second largest in the world after Papua New Guinea. The faunal diversity in Bhitarkanika is represented by 42 species of reptiles, 5 species of amphibians, 280 species of birds, and 28 species of mammals. Salt water Crocodile (Crocodilus Porosus) is the flagship species of Bhitarkanika. Recent report in Guinness Book of world records suggests that the largest living crocodile in the world is found in Bhitarkanika.
Besides estuarine Crocodile, the Sanctuary is rich in avifauna, mammalian and reptilian population like King Cobra, Indian Python and Water Monitor Lizard. The avian diversity of Bhitarkanika is unique. Both resident and migratory birds use this mangrove wetland in some part of the year or other. Bagagahan, the heron is largest in Asia according to some sources. About 30,000 resident water birds nest in a compact area of 4 Ha. The Park attracts about 1, 00,000 migratory birds during winter. Bhitarkanika has recently made its way to the final list of heritage sites in 2014 .
The scope of eco-tourism in Bhitarkanika is immense and it has to be exploited and harnessed to attract more number of eco-tourists. The unique eco-system has many more things to boast of.
Here are some of the places of tourist importance inside Bhitarkanika-
Dangmal: Situated on the heart of the National Park, it is the main point of Bhitarkanika having highest animal concentration. Herds of Spotted Deer, huge Crocodiles along the mud flats will welcome you, once you are there.
Bhitarkanika Forest Block: Located on the opposite side of Dangmal across the river, Bhitarkanika meadow spreads over 50 Ha. Herds of deer, Wild Boar and Flocks of resident and migratory birds can be seen from the Watch Tower.
Ekakula: Most secluded part, but most attractive part of Bhitarkanika. Situated north of the National Park, Ekakula faces the sea on one side and Maipura river on the other. Besides, mangrove forests, the tranquil beach is the added attraction.
Habalikhati: Once famous site for Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Research Centre, Habalikhati is situated on the sea beach. It is approachable from Baunsagarh River through meandering Nature Trail.
Kalibhanjadia: Largest island of Bhitarkanika, Kalibhanjadia is 8 Kms. long and about 1 Km wide located on north of the National Park in Dhamra river. The island contains highest bio-diversity of mangrove vegetation.
Winter is the best season to visit Bhitarkanika. From basking crocodiles on the mud flat to Salt water Crocodile Rearing Centre at Dangmal, the tourists will be stunned with the unbelievable features of the saltwater crocodiles. The Nature trail at Dangmal, Bhitarkanika and Habalikhati will not only comfort the eco-tourists, but also help them admire the nature at its best. While the spotted deer and Monitor Lizards will get the admirations of the tourists for sure, the nesting Birds at Bagagahan will add the score. Besides the pristine mangroves with Pneumatophores & stilt roots, different colors of Kingfishers, splashing birds on the creek bank, diligent Mud Skippers, historic shooting tower, ancient Siva temple and lotus pond at Bhitarkanika will assist the tourists to unfold the mystic and majestic beauty of the Mother Nature. This place epitomizes the merging of four different ecosystems namely terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems and shows all variations in genetic, specific and ecological diversity of both plant and animal communities.
The National park can by approached by five entry points- Khola, Gupti, Jayanagar, Chandbali, and Dangamal out of which the first four are waterways and the fifth one is roadways. The permission for the night stay in the park can be obtained from the office of Divisional Forest Officer, Rajanagar, Kendrapara, Odisha . So next time if you are ready to visit a dreamland with a twist of adventure, Bhitarkanika is the place for you.
Max Muller has once pointed out that “If we were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty which nature can bestow in some parts a veritable paradise on earth- I should point to India”. After one’s visit to this mini Amazon in India, one will really understand the value of this line. Truly Odisha is India’s best kept secret.
- Tourist arrivals in the National Park occur mostly during the winter months. The park remains closed in the summer season for the breeding season of the animals.
Article by :-Dr. Madhumita Das , Assistant Professor ,School of Management ,Centurion University of Technology & Management, Odisha