I. Introduction To Bhitarkanika National Park
Bhitarkanika National Park, located in the Kendrapara district in Odisha, is perhaps the largest mangrove forest of India after Sunderbans. Popularly referred to as mini Amazon of India by the locals of Odisha, Bhitarkanika is spread over 672 square kilometer. Of this, some 145 sq km is designated as Bhitarkanika National Park. Bhitarkanika is a wetland of international importance and is duly listed as one of the RAMSAR sites in India.
Inundated by the river systems of Brahmani and Baitarani and their various other distributaries, Bhitarkanika is the largest Crocodile Sanctuary in India. More than 1800 salt water crocodiles have made river systems of Bhitarkanika their home.
Crocodiles, which can stretch up to more than 20 feet in length, can be seen basking in the sun on the banks of the rivers while going on a boat safari through the river channels. Constant bird chirping is one sound tourists will definitely listen to while on a boat safari.
There are numerous native birds in Bhitarkanika. However, a big number of migratory birds also come here during monsoon and stay till October end. Bhitarkanika is also a home to several other animals. Overall, all these combine well to present a rich nature which tourists will love to see from close quarters.
Bhitarkanika National Park, however, was not a much sought-after tourist till recently. As a tourist destination Bhitarkanika has started coming off from its remoteness only recently with all-weather roads built till the park and surrounding areas.
Resorts like Estuarine Village Resort Bhitarkanika, and Jungle Resort came up initially – some 10-12 years ago. But in the last few years OTDC Aranya Niwas and small homestays have come up. Forest Department also has a guest house where guests can book their stay.
II. Entry To Bhitarkanika National Park
Main gate for entry to Bhitarkanika is at Khola. There is another gate called Gupti gate. This is more useful if you are planning a trip to Habalikuti, an island reachable only by boat in a little more than 2.5 hours.
III. Bird Watching at Bhitarkanika National Park
Bird watching, along with sighting basking crocodiles, is the main activity in Bhitarkanika. A paradise for those interested in nature photography. Over 230 species of birds, both resident and migratory, can be seen here. However, tourists must keep in mind that migratory birds move out from the Sanctuary towards October end. After that only native birds are visible. So, main months for bird watching in Bhitarkanika is from 1st of August to late October.
Kingfisher is main attraction among native birds. As many as eight varieties of kingfisher are found in Bhitarkanika. On any safari there are chances that you may see any four to six varieties. Jungle Fowls and parakeets are also native to this place along with darters, cormorants, different heron types and some storks.
IV. Animal sightseeing at Bhitarkanika National Park
Crocodile is the main fauna species at Bhitarkanika. For crocodile sighting and seeing other animals, it is best to visit Bhitarkanika from October to February. Tourists must keep in mind that sightseeing is done here only on boats. Please keep in mind that only licensed boats are allowed to go inside the national park. Boasts are less in number and demand for boats for safari increase significantly on weekends and on holidays. Boats tend to charge arbitrarily on these days. It is, therefore, best to request the hotel/resort you stay at to book a boat for you.
As far as fauna species of Bhitarkanika National Park is concerned, crocodile is the main attraction. Tourists are allowed to walk on the trails and chances are that you may across the following animals – – spotted deer, hyena, fish cats, civets, wild boars, monitor lizards, python and snake varieties like cobra, king cobra, krait and many water snakes.
V. Accommodations at Bhitarkanika National Park
Estuarine Village Resort, located just on the banks of River Brahmani close to Nalitapatia Jetty, is the best bet to stay in Bhitarkanika. It is also open to welcome day tourists for lunch on advance booking. This is perhaps only resort in true sense with an area of 4 acres and 11 cottages. Other so-called resort, spread in less than one acre, Jungle Resort, with tented accommodations, is another place of accommodation. OTDC has also started a hotel at Dangamal with 10 rooms. Forest Department also has 10 rooms now. Some new homestays have also come up in the local villages and the momentum for doing so is on the upswing.
VI. Things to Carry
A pair of Binoculars should enhance experience of spotting birds and wildlife.
While going to forest, do not forget to carry plenty of water. Many travel bloggers suggest carrying mosquito repellent creams, but these are recommended by only those who have either never visited Bhitarkanika or do so just because this is normally suggested. There is no need to carry mosquito repellents. In winters during morning and evening hours you may feel the need to put over a light jacket as it can be a bit chilly and breeze may be on stronger side.
VII. How to reach Bhitarkanika National Park
Bhitarkanika National Park can be reached in 3 to 3.5 hours from Bhubaneswar. Through the national highway it is some 170 kilometers. This route is the Chennai-Kolkata highway which passes through Cuttack, and Chandikhol before taking left on to Paradeep highway to reach Kendrapara. From Kendrapara it is all state highway passing through Kendrapara, Pattamundai main market and then through Rajnagar to Jarimul, Ishwarpue, Khola to Nalitapatia based Estuarine Village Resort to Dangamal.
One can also take state highway after crossing Cuttack which then passes through Jagatpur and Salipur to eventually reach Kendrapara. From there the route is same as mentioned above. Using this route, the distance from Bhubaneswar to Estuarine Village Resort Bhitarkanika is some 155km. From Cuttack, the distance reduces by 25km in comparison to that from Bhubaneswar. Rest of the route is same.
From Kolkata, Bhitarkanika can be reached in around 8-9 hours. From Jamshedpur, it takes a little less than 8 hours to reach Bhitarkanika.