Bhitarkanika is a name which is not known much outside Odisha. Sitting at the confluence of the Brahmani, Baitarani and Dhamra rivers on the eastern Odisha coast overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the national park, as a tourist destination, is unparalleled in its beauty.

Spread across 672 sq kilometres area, the national park is the second largest mangrove ecosystem in India after the Sunderbans. The park is home to numerous endangered species like the Indian python, King Cobra, black ibis, darters and most importantly, the saltwater crocodile.

There are also rare birds, deer, monitor lizards, monkeys, wild cats, hyenas and bison aplenty, which enrich the Bhitarkanika habitat. But the biggest attraction of the park is the giant crocodile, some of which have been found to grow as much as 23-24 feet in length. Many of them are found basking in sunshine on the banks as one cruises along the waterway that serves as the only pathway across the national park.

A boat ride from Khola to Dangmal or vice versa is not only recommended but is also popularly enjoyed by tourists. Khola is one of the gateways into the park, Gupti being the other. This is along an artificial creek and it passes through dense mangrove forest providing a glimpse into the estuarine ecosystem and its wealth of fauna. The best time to travel through this creek is early morning or before sunset.

Bhitarkanika has never been promoted by the Odisha government the way it should have been. Perhaps, in a way this has helped Bhitarkanika preserve its pristine beauty which is not infested by the cacophony of human intrusion. But more involvement and interest by the government would have meant better facilities for the discerning visitor and better upkeep of the park, for more revenue would have flowed in.

The roads to the park are far from inviting. The time taken from the nearest district headquarter Kendrapada may exceed two hours to reach the park for the deplorable condition of the road, though given the distance, ideally it should not take more then 40-45 minutes.

Kendrapada is approximately a 3-hr journey from the state capital Bhubaneswar, which is well connected by railway and air network. Kendrapada can also be reached from Kolkata by road or train, Kendrapada Road being the nearest railway station on the Kolkata-Chennai route, which is 45kms from Kendrapada town. 

Hotels in Kendrapada are few and not 3 star standard, though a night could be spent in them safely. Better accommodation is available in Paradeep which is an hour’s journey from Kendrapada and can be included in the travel itinerary for its port and sea shore. 

Bhubaneswar has several star hotels but to have a wholesome experience of the wild, a night’s stay at Bhitarkanika must be planned. Bhitarkanika offers a tourist lodge which can be called very basic and needs prior booking through the office of the BDO or range officer, though it is a good one-off experience for the adventure seeker.

The accommodation, though rudimentary, is not ill maintained. Landscape gardens, neat and shady pathways, sitting areas etc are in place, which add to the idyllic charm of the isolation. Deer in large numbers often loiter around the quarters, often finding company in nature lovers who have the tact of winning them over.

The quietude around and the serenity of nature’s unadorned, unaffected beauty is mesmerising. The crocodile theme lurks all through and pervades the whole experience, for such large crocodiles in such large numbers and in such wild abandon, are hardly seen anywhere in the world.

Added to that, the never-ending expansive waterway, hooting ferries, the Bay of Bengal on the horizon and the lush green foliage flanking the sides of the waterway are treat for the photography enthusiast. The roads to Bhitarkanika might be uninviting, the access to the place might be tiresome but like all precious things, the effort is worth it. Bhitarkanika is a jewel of the east, much unexploited and for that, much virgin still.

Once the big boat leaves shore, it is a different world one is transported into. Then all the travails of journey are drowned in the soothing hum the engine settles in. The world without is forgotten. The world here captivates—forever.  

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