by Honey Patnaik
With John Denver singing ‘country roads take me h ome . . . w h e r e I belong,’ it was a silent, serene and sublime sensation which I experienced in this tiny village. A 90 minute drive from Bhubaneswar, once you are off the cacophony of the National Highway, you are manoeuvring through the meandering concrete roads which blend into the horizon with lazy serpentine grace, as the large paddy field stretches on either side compliment the visual treat.. This quaint little village called Mangalajodi, emerges just before the waterbody (Chilika lake) spreads out like fingers, in the form of channels. We took a boat ride at this exotic location and it was nothing short of bliss. But what makes it so special is the presence of migratory birds… flocks of them. The boatman -cum -guide offers a binocular and points out at a migratory bird, while rattling out all possible details about its history and geography..
Gliding softly on the rustic boat, with the oars cutting silently through the water, you gaze closely into the reeds and vegetation flanking either side as the odd call from an unknown bird breaks the silence. Not so long ago, this small non descriptive village was infamous for its bird poachers. Today, Mangalajodi is one of the most sought after bird-watcher’s paradise in the country. With the beautiful Chilika Lake (largest brackish water lake in Asia) on the Northeast, it’s rich wet lands are home to thousands of migratory birds that fly in from far off lands like Ladakh, Europe, Siberia, Mongolia, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Come October and this place turns into a haven for these feathered guests who come foraging for food and shelter from thousands of miles away. Dr. Ajit Patnaik, former CEO of Chilika Developement Authority and environmentalist Nanda Kishore Bhujabal, played a major role in converting this village into an eco -friendly paradise for birds. The ‘Mahaveer Pakhi Suraksha Samiti’ was born and the herculean task of converting poachers into protectors began. Initially the villagers protested and did not cooperate but later with a lot of counselling, motivational talks and livelihood assistance they turned into mentors.This was a turning point for many residents who earned their livelihood from bird hunting. Today the ‘Mangalajodi Veerapans’, as they were named,elk out a comfortable living by protecting the same birds and have transformed themselves into boatmen, guides, auto rickshaw drivers, shopkeepers, laundry men, cooks, etc.Today, Mangalajodi boasts of seventeen auto rickshaws, 8-10 four wheelers and shops, that cater to the tourists and the eco-cottages. “Almost 250 varieties of birds visit Chilika, out of which Mangalajodi boasts of almost 147 varieties. 93 types are residential and 54 are migratory,” informs Shasank Shekhar Dash, a dedicated executive in the Indian Grameen Services and CEO of the ‘Mangalajodi Eco Tourism Trust’. “The birds start arriving in the middle of October and stay almost till March before they proceed again towards their breeding grounds. Few of the birds, which are sick or separated from the flock, stay back and lay their eggs in the months of June- July. This amazing place has a significant global waterfowl habitat and has been declared as an ‘Important Bird Area (IBA),’ he adds
93 types are residential and 54 are migratory,” informs Shasank Shekhar Dash, a dedicated executive in the Indian Grameen Services and CEO of the ‘Mangalajodi Eco Tourism Trust’. “The birds start arriving in the middle of October and stay almost till March before they proceed again towards their breeding grounds. Few of the birds, which are sick or separated from the flock, stay back and lay their eggs in the months of June- July. This amazing place has a significant global waterfowl habitat and has been declared as an ‘Important Bird Area (IBA),’ he adds.Witnessing the jaw dropping patience of the huge Glossy Ibis, feeling mushy over the pair of gorgeous Ruddy Shel-ducks, awed when suddenly the blue sky turns silver with the flight of hundreds of Black tailed Godwits, giggling at the antics of the witty Whiskered Terns… what more could anyone ask for? The non vegetarian lunch and dinner served at the eco cottages consists of fresh crabs, prawns, panu(shrimp), kantia, kerandi fish etc. Bird watching has become a lifestyle and people are willing to travel hundreds of miles with family and friends to unwind in the peaceful surroundings here. The marshy wetlands embody serenity and allow your tired mind and body to indulge in this unwinding therapy ,that helps you to rejuvenate. The village is also famous for its boat manufacturing units and skilled labour which makes fishing boats out of ‘Chakunda’ and ‘Sal’ logs. The boats fetch them anything in the range Rs 20k to Rs 1.5 lacs, depending on the type and size and cater to the area between Balugaon to Kanas. Mangalajodi is a ‘must visit’ for any nature lover since it has so much to offer! “If you truly love nature you will find it everywhere.”-Van Gogh.
Not to miss:
Local food—Podamacha or roasted
fresh fish, cooked by the fishermen.
List of some of the
birds sighted:Residential – Asian open bill
(macharanka), Egret, Little
Cormorant –(paanikua), Pond
Purple Heron-(ranjanbaga), Moore
Hen-(kaamapakhi), Bronze Winged
Jackdaw, Dahuka-Water Fowl
Migrator y- Glossy Ibis, Brahmini
Shelduck, Whiskered Tern, Black
Tail Godwit, Pintail, Shoveller,
Spot Bill Duck, Large Whistling
Duck, Black wing Stilt, Godwit, Bar
Headed Goose-first sighted in 2012
now again in 2017, Indian Nightjarsighted
for the first time.
Mangaljodi Eco tourism – RBS Earth
UNDP India Bio-diversity runners
Sukanta Jena Guide- BijuPatnaik
Wildlife Sub-divisional level -2015
Purna Chandra Behera (guide)- got
the conservation award from M. S.
Swaminathan Foundation Fellowship
-Mangalajodi Eco Tourism
-Godwit Eco Cottages