With diverse habitats such as ‘sal’ forests, grasslands, rivers, marshes and beaches, Odisha has a remarkable variety of animals and animal reserves. You can take a look at crocodiles in Bhitarkanika, Olive Ridley turtles at Gahirmatha beach, Irrawady dolphins and thousands of birds in Chilika Lake. If you have children in tow, Nandan Kanan Zoo near Bhubaneswar is also a good place to explore.
The state’s only elephant reserve, Chandaka Dampara Sanctuary, is only 20km away from Bhubaneswar. It has several watchtowers from where you may catch a glimpse of the gentle giants as well as a variety of other wildlife, including deer, sloth bears, hyenas, jackals, and birds. The Kumarkhunti reservoir is home to a variety of waterfowl in winter.
Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary, located 70km from Bhubaneswar, lies along the shores of the Bay of Bengal between Puri and Konark, with sandy tracts of cashew and casuarina trees. The Kushabhadra and Nuanai rivers pass through the sanctuary. Its star attraction is the blackbuck, besides the striped hyena, jackal, jungle cat and spotted deer.
If you are visiting Bhubaneswar, you cannot go away without seeing Chilika – Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon (often referred to as a lake here) stretching over 1,165sq km. The lake has several entry points and you may choose one most convenient for you. If you are travelling to Puri from Bhubaneswar, add a day and visit Satpada on the Chilika shore. You are more likely to see the Irrawady dolphins early in the morning or in the late afternoon when the sun is not harsh. But nobody knows how these dolphins, seen in the Irrawady River in Myanmar, found their way here or when they arrived. In winter, Chilika’s resident birds are joined by many varieties of migratory birds, including flamingos. By road, Barkul and Rambha, are about 100km and 125km, respectively, from Bhubaneswar. The OTDC lodges on the lake shore are convenient points to hire boats to go birdwatching in the lake. But if you are a keen birdwatcher, then you must visit Mangalajodi, about 70km away. A country boat will take you through the network of channels and creeks and the birds are almost a handshake away.
Bhitarkanika, a sanctuary and national park, is mainly known for its crocodiles, which can be seen basking in the mudflats or swimming in the creeks in the mangrove forests. It is here that you are likely to catch glimpses of nearly five kinds of kingfishers. The entry points are Chandbali (190 km by road from Bhubaneswar), Rajnagar (130 km from Bhubaneswar) and Gupti (25 km from Rajnagar). Accommodation is available at forest rest houses in Dangmal Island (connected by boat with Chandbali, Rajnagar and Gupti).
One of the most picturesque tiger reserves of India, Simlipal’s beauty is heightened by the cascades that flow here. A biosphere reserve, Simlipal is home to tigers, elephants, leopards, deer, etc. The salt lick at Chahala attracts a lot of animals. Baripada town, about 270 km by road, is the most convenient entry point. A word of caution: Simlipal is a malaria-prone zone. So preventive measures are a must.
Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary in Balasore district is linked to Simlipal through the Sukhupata and Nato hill ranges. The Nilagiri forest range office gives permits to enter the forest. The artificial salt lick near the forest rest house attracts elephants, gaur and other animals. The north-western corner is a haven for bird watchers.
With nearly one-third of the state under forest cover, and 18 sanctuaries, including two national parks, Odisha offers a wide choice by way of wildlife reserves. So plan a longer holiday in Odisha soon and explore its lesser known corners.