Rising from its headwater in Chattisgarh, the Mahanadi River flows into Odisha through its western border. Passing in a series of rapids, it forces its way through the Eastern Ghat hills giving rise to one of the most picturesque gorges in India, the Satkosia gorge. The name of the gorge originates from the old local measurement of its length, ‘saat kros’ or 14 miles (22 km). Hardly known beyond the state, Satkosia in Odisha can be your next stop if you are looking for an outdoorsy holiday in a lesser known destination.
Tikarpada, about 130km from Bhubaneswar, is one of the best places to see the almost 12 meter (40 feet) deep gorge.
The mixed deciduous forests covering the hills along the gorge, once home to a pristine forest which sheltered tigers, elephants, herbivores, birds and other animals, were declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1976. The river is home to crocodiles and gharial (fish eating crocodile found in the northern part of India). A gharial research and conservation unit was opened in Tikarpada in 1975. In 2007, the Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary and its adjoining Baisipalli Wildlife Sanctuary, covering a little over 900 square km in all, was earmarked Satkosia Tiger Reserve in 2007. According to experts, lying in a transitional zone extending between the Chhota Nagpur Plateau and the Deccan Plateau, the tiger reserve exhibits endemic life forms of both biotic provinces.
Although sighting large animals in the forest is rare, the birds and the crocodiles as well as the gharials almost never disappoint. Boating through the gorge, you will see them basking in the sun among the foothills or swimming in the river. With prior permission and accompanied by a forest guard, you may go trekking through select parts of the forest. Walk softly over the carpet of Sal and other leaves that cover the trails as you look for birds. In the evening, sit beneath the starlit sky, enjoying the silence of the forest occasionally broken by the call of a night bird or the wind blowing through the trees.
There are several places to stay in the Satkosia gorge area, operated by the eco-tourism division of Odisha Forest Development Corporation (OFDC). Tikarpada Nature Camp, in the northern part of the tiger reserve, overlooking the gorge, is one of the best places to stay. On the southern side of the tiger reserve you may opt for the Satkosia Sands resort in Badamul, managed by the Mahanadi Wildlife Division of Satkosia Tiger Reserve. With luck favouring, you may catch sight of gaur and sambar in the Badamul area. Other places where you may go camping are Chhotkei, Tarava, Bhaghamunda forest (once known as the abode of tigers) and Baliput (you can stay in tent pitched on the sandbar).
Day visitors to the tiger reserve are allowed inside subject to rules and conditions. They have to obtain permission from the Pampasar forest check gate and will have to leave the forest by the stipulated time. Tikarpada is about half an hour’s drive through the forest from Pampasar. Depending on the time at your disposal, you may visit Puranakote hill top, about 15 minutes’ drive from Tikarpada. From here, Chhotkei is another half an hour’s drive. The drives through the forest offer a unique experience but remember you have to exit the Pampasar gate by 6pm; penalties may apply for breaking the rules.
You may also combine a visit to Kuanria dam and deer park, and the Kantilo Neelamadhav Temple while visiting Satkosia.
Getting there: Angul, 61 km from Cuttack and 130km from Bhubaneswar (the nearest airport), is the most convenient gateway for Satkosia gorge. From Angul, Tikarpada is about 60km via Pampasar forest gate. Nayagarh, 90km from Bhubaneswar by road, is the gateway to Badamul, another key point for visiting the gorge. Local transport connects the various points but having your own transport is more comfortable. The best time to visit is between November and April. Carrying mosquito and insect repellents must.
Caution: Recently, a problem between the forest department and the local people surrounding the death of a man allegedly by a tiger introduced in the area, has affected tourism in the area. Do check with the local Odisha state tourism office or OFDC for the latest position.