If not, then rush to Chilika Lake in Odisha this winter from any or all of the four gateways we have listed here, and enjoy its teeming bird life too.
Drive down to Barkul from Bhubaneswar, the nearest airport and major railhead, a little over 100km away. Or, you can get down at Balugaon railway station on the Howrah-Chennai rail route and travel by road to Barkul, 6km away. The tourist lodge run by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) is situated next to the lake and the best place to stay. The jetty is on the lake-end of the tourist lodge from where you can hire boats for a trip into the lake.
Since the lake is connected to the Bay of Bengal sea, the water can be choppy at times, mostly due to the tides and the weather. You can see the resident birds in plenty and catch the migratory birds in winter. The bird sanctuary on Nalban attracts a lot of the winter migrants. If you are lucky, you may catch a sight of the Irrawady dolphins too.
One afternoon, you can join the local people for a boat ride to the Kalijai island, a pilgrim spot. On Makar Sankranti (mid-January), a huge fair is held at the Kalijai island.
One of the lesser known corners of Chilika Lake, Mangalajodi is a must visit for birding enthusiasts. The country boat ride through the reed-lined channels will bring you almost within handshaking distance with the birds. During winter, a large number of migratory birds settle here. It is said that the wetland hosts more than 3,00,000 of birds in the peak season, which has earned it the tag of an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Mangalajodi Ecotourism, an organisation run by the local people, has set up a tourist complex; it offers simply furnished rooms and meals. They will also organise your boat trips. The boatmen double up as excellent guides. You can also stay at the Godwit Eco Cottage . There is also a watch tower near the jetty from where the boats leave.
Although you can see Mangalajodi on a day visit from Bhubaneswar and Barkul, a night stay here is recommended.
Rambha is on the northern end of Chilika Lake, nearly 130km from Bhubaneswar. You can also get down at Balugaon railway station and drive down to Rambha, nearly 35km away. The OTDC tourist lodge is situated on the bank of the lake; you can see it right from your cottage. The tourist lodge gives way to a nice lake-fronted garden. You can hire a boat from the tourist lodge or from the private operators for a ride in the lake. Birds are plentiful here during winter. The migratory birds mostly arrive from Northern Eurasia, the Caspian region, Siberia, Lake Baikal and remote areas of Russia. You can also see flamingos.
Even if you are not interested in going after the birds and dolphins, you can spend a night or two in this serene corner. There are some interesting islands here. One contains a ruined palace and nobody knows why it is called the Honeymoon Island. Another is called the Breakfast Island- a patch of submerged boulders topped by an obelisk and a one-roomed cottage. According to local boatmen, the obelisk was built Snodgrass, a Collector of Ganjam district during the British period, to warn the boats plying in the area about the submerged rocks. But smitten by the beauty of the island and its surroundings, he built a cottage for himself too. Initially, he would have his breakfast here; then he began to hold his office too. Unfortunately, many documents got lost in transit and Snodgrass was forced to resign. Even though he abandoned his cottage, the name Breakfast Island stuck.
With Rambha as your base, you can also visit the nearby attractions of Nirmaljhar (Vishnu Temple), Narayani Temple, Salai Dam, etc.
Satapada, on the southern end of the Chilika Lake, is only 50km from Puri, the beach town famous as the abode of Lord Jagannath. OTDC runs a tourist lodge in Satapada. So, either you can spend a night here or see it on a round trip from Puri. This end of the Chilika Lake is known for dolphins, which are mostly seen in the early morning or late in the afternoon. Boats can be hired from the jetty near the tourist lodge. There is a sand bar in the lake, near the Sea Mouth, where stalls sell freshly fried seafood. If you are going in the morning and plan to have lunch at the OTDC lodge, then order your meals before going on the boat ride.
Information: The best time to visit Chilika Lake in Odisha is during winter. The weather is pleasant; carry light woollens during boat rides as it can be cold during early morning or late evening. OTDC offers accommodation in its Panthanivas or tourist lodges at Barkul, Rambha and Satapada. Advance booking of rooms is recommended, especially during the festive season and the winter school holidays.