Sometimes your own backyard can surprise you and thats exactly what happened when I visited the lesser known Bhitarkanika National Park in my home state of Odisha. While I had always known about it’s existence, I had never really made an effort to visit until last month. Not many are aware of the rich wildlife that calls these wetlands home. Spread over 650 sq kms in the river delta of Brahmani and Baitarani; Bhitarkaninka is the country’s second largest mangrove ecosystem and probably the sweetest spot to see gigantic crocodiles in the wild.
The national park gives abode to various species of mammals, birds and reptiles such as saltwater crocodiles, white crocodiles, Irrawaddy dolphins, Indian python, monitor lizards, spotted deer, king cobra, kingfishers, darters, black ibis and many others. Thanks to the conservation efforts of the forest department and the locals, the park boasts of some 1700 crocodiles inhabiting its waters. It is also a thriving spot for large crocodiles measuring well above 16 ft in length. In fact in 2006 Guinness accepted a claim of a 23 ft 4 inch adult male crocodile living in the park. That’s almost 5 times my height!
While I had taken quite a few pictures of my trip, unfortunately my phone gave up on me shortly after and I managed to lose most of them, however the few pics that I have will still give you a good idea of the place.
Bhitarkanika is an adventurous 4 hour drive from Bhubaneswar, so if you are looking to make this a day trip, it would be advisable to start the drive at 5.00 am from Bhubaneswar. In case you’d like to take it slow, then an overnight stay at the basic but comfortable Sand Pebbles resort (Bhitarkanika Jungle Resort) is your best option. Their non-ac Swiss tents come with attached bathrooms.
Once you reach Bhitarkanika, make you way to the boarding point at Khola gate where you will pay your entry fees to the park and the boat safari. I was shocked at how cheap it was, especially since other national parks in the country charge quire a sum for a safari, but over here a full boat can be booked for as less as INR 2500 and it can comfortably accommodate 6 people over and above the operator and the guide. The boats are basic, covered and comfortable, albeit quite noisy as they run on motor. But strangely the noise hardly seems to bother the big crocs rather they get suspicious and scurry into the water when it slows down.
On good days you can see literally hundreds of crocs basking in the sun and on the bad days you can still see around 5 to 10 crocodiles and numerous hordes of deer and many species of birds. I happened to choose a bad day for my visit and ended up spotting around 10 crocodiles. Winters are the best time to visit as the crocodiles spend a considerable amount of the day on land sunning themselves. Summers are you second best options but you must go sighting either early morning or closer to sunset.
Bhitarkanika National park is truly one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the country and I urge you to visit this gorgeous place atleast once in your lifetime. The locals claim that no tourist leaves without a sighting!
Distance from Bhubaneswar: 160 kms
Travel Time: 4 hours
Accommodation: Sand Pebbles Resort (Bhitarkanika Jungle Resorts)
Restaurant: The restaurant at Sand Pebbles serves delicious lunch, pre-order before you head out for the safari and enjoy a hot lunch once back
Good to remember: Carry bottled water, don’t litter, sunscreen, mosquito repellant