Mangalajodi Wetlands of Odisha: Boating in the paradise of waterfowl

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Mangalajodi of Odisha is a very favorite destination for the environment and bird lovers. Mangalajodi is a village situated at the northern end of Chilika or Chilka Sarovar, the largest brackish water lake not only in India but also in Asia. 

The shallow marshy wetlands of the lake are a haven for thousands of waterfowl. These include birds of both local and migratory species. To observe them, you can take a planned boat ride in the lake. This way you can see these birds from close quarters and understand the diversity of bird species in the region.

During my ten-day trip to Odisha, after visiting Bhitarkanika, we left Puri for Mangalajodi. Enjoying the lush green surroundings, we reached National Highway 16 which connects Bhubaneswar and Visakhapatnam. I booked a taxi for the airport from taxi in haridwar.

After a short tea break, we proceeded on the National Highway. After about 20 minutes we reached Chandpur Nagar on the highway. After that, after going about 8 kilometers further on the intimate routes of the village, we reached the boat beach. When you are coming here, be sure to take directions from the locals as needed to reach here.

This place is about 75 kilometers away from Puri, the route of which often passes through peripheral rural areas. At the same time, this place is about 70 kilometers away from Bhubaneswar, which you decide by National Highway No.16. 

Time is definitely saved by the national highway, but you will be deprived of the panoramic views of the area full of greenery and lakes. I would always suggest the regional route.

Waterfowl Of Mangalajodi Wetland

Begin your panoramic tour by exploring the shallow salt marsh wetlands of this serene village that are home to a myriad of birds.

There was a long row of narrow wooden boats on the banks of the lake. Each boat had a parasol to protect it from the sun. The boats were given the names of the birds. Many uniformed sailors and tourist visitors with happy faces were welcoming the tourists coming towards the shore. Neither any bargaining, nor any emotion. After paying the standard charges as per the itinerary, we calmly proceeded towards the ferry.

The Mangalajodi wetland is a paradise for waterfowl. These are such birds that find their habitat in or around sweet or brackish water. These birds have some adaptations for moving in wetlands, such as webbed feet, large beaks and long legs. Their main food is fish, worms, insects, water snakes and all those that thrive in this wetland. They get their favorite prey easily here naturally, that’s why they thrive in this wetland and make it their habitat.

Best Boating Time

You can see many species of waterfowl here. But choosing the best time for this is an important requirement. Those of you who are interested in bird watching know very well that the best time to observe and photograph birds is early in the morning, about an hour before sunrise or sunset. 

But we were reaching here by road from Puri. Besides this, on the way we were also enjoying the panoramic views of the enclave full of greenery and lakes. The tea break on the way also took away some of our time. So, by the time we reached here, it was already noon.

Accordingly, we could do an afternoon boat ride to Mangalajodi wetlands only for a few hours. Normally, boatmen take this wetland for a boat ride in an area of about 2-3 km long and 1 km wide. According to your wish, they gladly take small detours, sometimes slow down or even stop for a few moments, to observe the birds closely and to take photographs.

Water Birds of Mangalajodi

According to the time and season, you will be able to see many species of birds here. But please don’t forget that ultimately there are some species which are completely down to our luck.

Commonly sighted birds in this area are as follows:

Herons :

  1. Pigeon / Anjan or Gray Heron,
  2. Purple Heron
  3. Pond-Heron

White Heron:

  1. Great-Egret with yellow beak and black legs
  2. Yellow-billed Little Egret (Intermediate-Egret),
  3. Little-egret

Ramachiraiyya (Kingfishers):

  1. Svetkanthi Ramchirayya,
  2. General Ramchirayya,
  3. Chitkabari Ramchirayya

Duck :

  1. northern pintail duck
  2. Ruddy Shelducks
  3. Lesser-Whistling Ducks
  4. common pochard
  5. Indian Spot-billed Duck

Panakaua (Cormorants):

  1. common panicle
  2. Indian Pancake
  3. Bujja, Ibis
  4. bright light,
  5. Kachator (Black-headed Ibis)
  6. bronze wings
  7. Gungla or Ghungil (Asian-Open bill Stork), Janghil (Painted Stork)
  8. Gunf Kurri (Whiskered-Tern)
  9. Citrine-Wagtails
  10. Ruff
  11. Red-wattled Lapwing
  12. Swallows
  13. Stork
  14. Gajpav (Black-winged Stilt)
  15. Yellow Bittern
  16. egret
  17. egret

Other birds that were seen here are:

  1. Black-tailed Godwit
  2. Andhabgula (Little bittern)
  3. Submarine (Little grebe)
  4. Chah (Snipes)
  5. Pihu (Jacanas)
  6. Sparrows (Robins)
  7. Pipits
  8. Warblers
  9. Pied Mynahs
  10. northern shoveler
  11. plover bird
  12. plover bird

Wooden boats providing access to wetlands and water birds

Small wooden flat-bottomed boats are called danga here. The first thought that came to my mind as soon as I boarded this boat, is there no life jacket? Expressing doubt, the boatman said with a smile, “Madam there is 2 feet of water! Don’t worry.” The boatman started pushing the bottom of the shallow water with a long pole to row the boat. I found these boats very suitable for bird watching. They are very soundless and they do not cause any kind of trouble to nature and water birds.

Peat Miner

Each boat can accommodate a maximum of 4 tourists, a tourer and the boatman himself, only 6 people can sit safely. Being manually operated by the boatman in shallow water, their speed is very slow. 

Anyway, a slow pace is appropriate to see nature and birds. Being a small wooden boat, always remember not to stir inside the boat in enthusiasm. Otherwise the balance of the boat may be lost and the boat may be filled with water. Inform the boatman if you need to change your seating position on the yacht. 

He balances the boat by approaching the nearest land, taking fulcrum on it. Only then can you change the location.

Malguzar in flight

You can take a normal boat ride to Mangalajodi as a day trip, staying at a rest house in Bhubaneswar or Puri. But, if you are very interested in natural scenes and especially birds, then you can observe and study them in detail by staying in a guest house near Mangalajodi.

You may find it easy to row a boat by looking at the sailor. But believe me, rowing a boat in this shallow marshy wetland is the task of a skilled and experienced boatman only. All the boatmen here are well trained in their work and they have traditionally got enough experience in this work.

Variation of Mangalajodi

A few decades ago, the villagers here used to hunt these birds. But for the last few years the same villagers have been protecting these birds. Decades ago, these villagers had no means of livelihood. There were no gainful employment opportunities. 

Hunting helpless birds had become their option. But the one-day tourists who came in the hope of freedom from nature-lovers, bird-lovers and daily practices have changed the whole scene here. The hands which did not hold back in killing these birds, Dr. Salim Ali’s book, ‘Dr. Salim Ali’s handbook of Indian Birds’ remains. 

The same villagers now introduce us to dozens of species of birds by becoming tourist visitors. They introduce us to those birds from a distance, introduce them, and give information about their native region. Many migratory birds from distant states and countries also visit here regularly.

Purple heron

When you discuss these nubchars with these villagers who have become visitors, you will be surprised by their detailed knowledge. Now they have become the protectors of the local and migratory birds of this wonderful region. This is a very unique example of conservation of the entire natural ecosystem by the tourism department.

Boating in Mangalajodi

Various boating services are available from Mangalajodi beach. Some services can be availed for the whole day in which they take you to the deep waters of Chilka Sarovar. They cook and serve food on the boat itself. These boats are big. You can enjoy nature while spending the whole day in the boat. The boat ride we took was two hours. This excursion is done in shallow water, especially for bird watching.

The best time for bird watching in Mangalajodi wetland area is in the winter months from November to March. The shallow wetlands here are an important global wetland habitat and an International Bird Conservation Area. It is a paradise for waterfowl.

Canoe

In western countries this type of boat is called punt boat which is a type of canoe. To row this type of boat, a long pole is fixed on the bottom of the shallow water and the land is pushed back. This makes the boat move forward. 

The canoe used here is of light weight and specially meant for fun. In this type of canoe, the sailor can row the boat by standing at the aft end of the boat. With this he can put more passengers on the boat.

These small wooden boats of 12 to 18 feet in length do not have axles, rear rudders, ribs and chambers. The depth of the boats is also only 2 feet.

Mangalajodi village is also famous for boat makers. The masons who make wooden boats are residents of this village. This is their traditional occupation. He is called Bindhani, Carpenter or Biswakarma. Now this business is almost dying. On this, the shrinking Chilka Sarovar in the last few centuries and decades has added fuel to the fire.

There is a haat on the boating beach where you will get tea, biscuits and some snacks. The minimum sailing duration is two hours. You can also ride for a longer duration than you want. The facility of complete food for the tourists in the village is available only in the resorts, that too is made available only after giving prior notice. 

Otherwise you will have to drive 7 to 8 kms to reach the nearest town where you will get basic food. If you are not taking shelter in this village then plan your arrangements accordingly.

Travel Tips

  • Carry your drinking water with you while on the boat ride. But don’t throw empty bottles in nature. Bring them back with you and put them in the dustbin.
  • Binoculars are helpful for close viewing of birds sitting far away.
  • A DSLR camera with a magnifying lens is the best for taking great photographs of birds. Other amplification cameras take time to focus. In addition, the moving boat also interferes with the focusing of the camera.
  • Do not feed the birds.
  • In the excitement of seeing the birds closely, do not tell the boatman not to get up, nor change your place in the boat.
  • The best time for bird watching is early morning. But there is often fog in the morning, due to which the atmosphere remains foggy. Reach the sailing coast when the environment is clear and clean.
  • There are some resorts near the village where you can stay for a few days and enjoy the beauty of this wetland.
  • If you want to come here for more than one day but don’t want to stay in the village, you can drive here each day, staying in Bhubaneswar. But in my estimation it would be a very exhausting plan. Especially when you want to spend a few days in peace soaking in this natural beauty.
  • Boatmen and tourist visitors are all local to Mangalajodi village. They are very experienced. He has very good knowledge of the subtleties of this field. Do take advantage of it.