Chilika Lake is a brackish water lagoon, spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Odisha state on the east coast of India, at the mouth of the Daya River, flowing into the Bay of Bengal, covering an area of over 1,100 km2. Capital of Odisha is Bhubaneswar,It is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest coastal lagoon in the world after The New Caledonian barrier reef in New Caledonia. It has been listed in UNESCO World Heritage tentative list.
It is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent. The lake is home to a number of threatened species of plants and animals.
The lake is an ecosystem with large fishery resources. It sustains more than 150,000 fisher–folk living in 132 villages on the shore and islands.
The lagoon hosts over 160 species of birds in the peak migratory season. Birds from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea and other remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and southeast Asia, Ladakh and Himalayas come here.
These birds travel great distances; migratory birds probably follow much longer routes than the straight lines, possibly up to 12,000 km, to reach Chilika Lake.
In 1981, Chilika Lake was designated the first Indian wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
According to a survey, 45 percent of the birds are terrestrial in nature, 32 percent are waterfowl, and 23 percent are waders. The lagoon is also home to 14 types of raptors. Around 152 rare and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins have also been reported. Plus, the lagoon supports about 37 species of reptiles and amphibians.
The highly productive Chilika Lagoon eco-system with its rich fishery resources sustains the livelihood for many fishermen who live in and near the lagoon.
The water spread area of the lagoon ranges between 1165 and 906 km2 during the monsoon and summer respectively. A 32 km long, narrow, outer channel connects the lagoon to the Bay of Bengal, near the village Motto. More recently a new mouth has been opened by CDA which has brought a new lease of life to the lagoon.
Microalgae, marine seaweeds, sea grasses, fish and crab also flourish in the brackish water of the Chilika Lagoon. Especially the recovery of seagrass beds in recent years is a welcoming trend which may eventually result in re-colonization of endangered dugongs.
History of Chilika Lake
Excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India at Golabai Sasan () just north of Chilika lake in Khurdha district. Golabai provides evidence of a sequence of Chilika area culture in three phases: Neolithic (c. 1600 BCE), Chalcolithic (c. 1400 BCE to c. 900 BCE) and Iron Age (c. 900 BCE to c. 800 BCE). Radiocarbon dating traced the earliest level of Golbai to 2300 BCE. The site is located on the left bank of the Malaguni River, a tributary of the Daya River, which flows into Chilika Lake.
This location, which gave access to the sea via Chilika Lake, gives strong evidence of the maritime activities of this region. The recovery of many woodworking adzes and other artifacts shows that Golabai was a boat-building centre. Significantly, Golabai is the only excavated site in Odisha where boat building has been revealed. This also indicates that Chilika lake was very close to Golabai and it facilitated the maritime trade of people in the area during the ancient period.
Some ancient texts say the southern sector of Chilika was a major harbour for maritime commerce, when Kharavela (IAST: Khāravela, Devanagari: खारवेल, Odia: ଖାରବେଳ) (c. 209 BCE–after 170 BCE), the King of Kalinga, was known as the “Lord of the Sea”.
Ptolemy (150 CE), the Greek geographer, referred to Palur as the port Paloura, located close to the point of departure situated outside of the southern tip of the lake at Kantiagarh, from where ships bound for different parts of Southeast Asia sailed. After 639, the Chinese pilgrims Fa-Hien and Hiuen-Tsang mention a famous port “Che-li-ta-loChing” near the shore of the ocean which was a thoroughfare and resting place for seagoing traders and strangers from distant lands. This port was located at ‘Chhatragarh’ on the banks of Chilika Lake.
A fourth-century legend, often told to explain the birth of Chilika, states that the pirate king, Raktabahhu, planned to attack Puri with a huge fleet of ships.
To avoid detection, he stealthily anchored out of sight, off the mouth to the sea. The deception was revealed by ships’ refuse floating to the shore, thus warning the town’s people, who escaped with all their possessions. Raktabahu felt betrayed when he found an abandoned town and directed his fury towards the sea that had betrayed him. The sea parted to let the army march in, then surged back, drowned the army and formed the present lake.
Archeological excavations discovered seventh-century ship anchors and stone memoirs dedicated to battle heroes at a village named Kanas, about 25 km (16 mi) north of Chilika on the banks of Nuna river, which flows into the lake. This gives evidence of a historic naval engagement off the coast.
A 10th-century text, the Brahmanda Purana, mentions Chilika Lake as an important centre of trade and commerce, and a shelter for ships sailing to Java, Malaya, Singhala, China and other countries.
This suggests that the lake was then deep enough for berthing seagoing ships and had a channel to the sea big enough for loaded trading ships embarking to Southeast Asia. The villagers around Chilika Lake still observe an annual festival called “Bali Yatra” (Journey to Bali).
In 1803, the British entered the shores of the lake, reached Puri and occupied Odisha with the help of Fateh Muhammed. Fateh Muhammed, in turn, was rewarded by the British with freehold of the areas of Malud and Parikud, of the present day Garh Krishnaprasad revenue block.
Over the years, poets including Kabibar Radhanath Ray and Pandit Godavarish Mishra, freedom fighters and Saints have extolled historicity of the lake as pertinent to its cultural, spiritual, religious and scenic aspects.
Eco-tourism Of Chilika Lake
The open air and scenic natural flora and fauna of the lake are an attraction for eco-tourism. This is expected to provide a degree of alternate employment to the local community and generate environmental awareness, among local residents as well as visitors, about the conservation and wise use of the lake’s natural resources. The locations within the lake identified for such activity are:
- Rambha Bay at the southern end of the lake with the group of islands including:
- The Becon Island, with an architectural conical pillar (to put a light on the top) built by Mr. Snodgrass, the then collector of Ganjam of the East India Company, on a mass of rock in the Rambha Bay near Ghantasila hill. It has scenic water spread surrounded by the Eastern Ghat.
- The Breakfast Island, pear-shaped, known as “Sankuda island”, with remnants of a dilapidated bungalow constructed by the King of Kalikote, has rare plants and is full of greenery with appealing flora.
- Honeymoon Island, 5 km (3 mi) from Rambha Jetty, known as Barkuda Island, with clear waters has abundant red and green macro algae in the bed is also known for the limbless lizard, an endemic species found here.
- Somolo and Dumkudi islands, located in the Central and Southern sectors of the lake, in the backdrop of scenic Khalikote hill range, are inundated remnants of the Eastern Ghats with rich flora and fauna and also known for sighting of Irrawaddy dolphins.
- Birds’ island, located in the southern sector of the lake has huge exposed hanging rocks, are painted white due to folic acid of the droppings of the birds and is known for rich algal communities and few mangrove species and also migratory birds in winter.
- Parikud is a group of composite islands in the Garh Krishnaprasad Block for nature lovers and provides an avian spectacle during winter season
- Kalijai Temple located on an island is considered to be the abode of the Goddess Kalijai. This temple is located at a hill which is surrounded by blue water bears. Local people of Chilika refer to goddess as the reigning deity of the lagoon
- Satapada village, at the new mouth of the lake, provides a view of the Lake and also views of the dolphins. Hundreds of boats here provide tours of the lake for tourists.
- Barunkuda, a small island situated near Magarmukh, the mouth of the lake, has a temple of Lord Varuna.
- Nabagraha is an ancient deity located along the outer channel.
- Chourbar Shiva Temple is located near Alupatna village, along the outer channel.
- Manikpatna, located on the outer channel has historical evidence of a port which was used for trade with Far East and also has the Bhabakundeswar temple of Lord Shiva, an old Mosque whose entrance door is made of the jaws of the whale.
- Sand-Bar and Mouth of the Lake is a striking and un-explored stretch of 30 km (20 mi) of empty beach across the sand bar which separates the Lake from the Sea.
- Mangalajodi a famous bird sanctuary for sighting migratory birds.
Video Of Chilika Lake
Access to Chilika Lake
A broad gauge railway line of the South Eastern Railway from Kolkata skirts along the western bank of the lake passing through Balugaon, Chilika and Rambha stations.
Within the lake precincts, Odisha Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. (OTDC) and the Revenue Department of the state government offer boat cruises. Private operators also provide country boats on hire to various islands in the lake.
There are OTDC Guest houses at Barkul, Rambha, Satapada & several hotels at Balugaon. Before entering into the Nalbana Bird Sanctuary one has to obtain an entry permit.
The entry permit has to be produced at entry/exit points, at check gates as and whenever requested by officials.