The bus from Gopalpur to Berhampur would halt every few yards and wait for people to board. The driver, conductor, or the people seemed to be in no hurry to reach their destination. We stopped in a small village market. Sea food is quite popular in this part of the state. Tribal women were selling prawns, fish and crabs in the market. The smell of fish was quite strong and it was rather too revolting. Uma got off the bus to call her parents. I sat there listening to some old Hindi movie songs of the 80s, that were playing on the music system of the bus. I had been hearing only songs sung by Himesh Reshammiya since we had reached Orissa and this was a welcome change! The bus took about an hour and a half to reach the old bus stand at Berhampur (just 16Kms away!).
On reaching, we were disappointed to learn that all the private tour operators had joined in the strike (“indefinite”) and we were once again standing there with no means to reach Barkul. Just then a young man in track pants asked us where we were headed. He was probably returning after his morning exercise. We told him we had to go to Barkul and he suggested we take a private bus. We then asked a few locals how we could reach Barkul. Almost instantaneously people would ask us “Chilika Barkul?” as though there were two places in the state by the same name. A few of them suggested that we take the bus headed towards Rambha get off at “Kalighat” and then take another bus to Barkul. By then a bus going toward Rambha stopped there and the conductor assured that Barkul was just about 10 Kms from “Kalighat”. We should have known better than to believe the conductor. We got on the bus and stuffed our heavy bags in the overhead baggage shelf, and sat on the not-so comfortable seats. I asked a couple of men on bus how far Barkul really was from “Kalighat”. Two men on the bus who seemed to be well informed told us that Barkul was about 20 – 30 Kms from Kalighat. By then the bus had crossed the old bus stand.
The young man in tracks (I prefer to call him the “jogger”) came on his bike looking for us. He was indeed a good man who had returned to inform us that the bus that we were taking wouldn’t go anywhere near Barkul. He told us to take the government bus instead. So we got off the bus again and with the heavy bags on our back began the trek back to the old bus stand.
The “jogger” came looking for us again and told us that there was an OSRTC bus that would leave Berhampur at 11:30 AM. He had also talked to the conductor and requested him to drop us off near Barkul gate (whatever that meant!). He introduced us to the conductor and also the OSRTC officer who told us that we could come back at 11:30 AM and board a bus that would leave from the old bus stand. He also gave us the registration number of the bus that I now have forgotten. It was just about 9:00 AM and we had lot of time on hand to kill.
We went to Nandan hotel and had our breakfast. While paying our bill at the reception, I asked the cashier if we could hire a taxi to Barkul. The cashier (could have even been the manager of the hotel) called up a taxi driver and after talking to him, informed us that we would have to cough up 800/- Rs. This did not appeal to us and we thanked him and left the hotel. It was just about 9:40AM and we had to spend time till 11:30. We strolled past the old bus stand and enquired at a nearby travel agency if we could get a taxi to Barkul. Since the taxi operators too had joined in the strike, the watchman told us that the office was closed. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, we stood in front of the travel agency waiting for the bus. By then the watchman walked over to the taxi stand and returned with another man who seemed to be a driver. The man walked up to us and asked if we were looking for a taxi. When we said, we were; he said it would cost us 700/- Rs. We refused to pay him the hefty amount and he walked away. By now, my legs were aching and we walked in to sit on the steps. It started drizzling and the watchman invited us into the office. We went in and sat in the office, but something didn’t feel right. So we walked out of the office again and sat on the stairs. Another man (taxi driver) walked up to us and asked us how much we were willing to pay. He was willing to take us to Barkul for 500/- Rs. He asked us if he could take another two people with us in the taxi. We were not comfortable with the idea and so we refused to take the taxi.
It didn’t seem like a good idea to sit in front of the office anymore. So we walked into an STD booth opposite the bus stand. I first called the manager of Barkul Panthnivas and asked him if it would be a good idea to take a train to Balugaon. He informed that Barkul was just about 8Kms from Balugaon station and we could get an auto from the station. I then called the railway enquiry and found out that the next train to Balugaon was at 12:00 PM and it would take about an hour to reach the station. I preferred to travel by train where as uma was against the idea. She wanted to take the bus. I was not very sure if we would reach Barkul in less than 2 hours. Reluctantly I waited with Uma at the bus stand for the bus. The bus came to the stand at about 11:00 but we weren’t allowed to board it. The conductor asked us to return by 11:30.
Where were we to sit and wait for the bus? We returned to the STD booth and asked the lady at the counter if we could sit there. She didn’t seem to mind. A young mother walked in with her daughter. We learnt that the little girl was Suhani and her elder sister was Simran. I exclaimed aloud that “Suhani” reminded me of Rani Mukherjee in “Saathiya” and the young girl’s mother smiled and confirmed that they had indeed named their daughters after watching two of the most popular bollywood movies. They had named their daughters after the lead women characters in movies “Saathiya” and “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge”.
We saw a few people boarding the bus and decided it was time for us to get on the bus too! We walked up to the bus and asked the conductor if we could board the bus. The conductor told us we could, but we had to occupy seats 31 and 32. These seats were towards the rear end of the bus and I wasn’t sure how rugged the roads would be :(. But did we have a choice? The seat on which I was sitting had some foam missing in the centre and it was not going to be a comfortable ride. The bus finally left Berhampur at about 11:50AM.
The route the bus took was beautiful and I didn’t mind the uncomfortable seat anymore. The conductor finally announced that we were to get off. The bus stopped in front of a dhaba. We got off and walked straight. A signboard directed us to the right. We reached the crossroad where we had to turn right when a car (it probably was an Indica) stopped right beside us and the driver offered us to drop us at Panth nivas. That saved us a walk of about half a kilometer. The driver dropped us at the reception hall and we were finally at Barkul. We thanked the driver and proceed to check in.
We enquired about the package tours that OTDC offered to “Chilika Lake”. The manager informed us that the package tours were all cancelled as it was not the right time to visit Chilika and there weren’t many tourists at the time. He then told us we could hire a boat at 450/-Rs per hour and visit Kalijai Island, Nalbana Island, Rajhans island and sea mouth. We realized it would take us at least 8hrs to cover all the islands. We checked into our room and decided to visit only Kalijai, Nalbana and Rajhans. This would take us about 3Hrs and we would be satisfied watching the palace from the lake as we wouldn’t be allowed to step on the island. We set off in our boat at 3:30PM towards Kalijai Island.
We watched panth nivas from the water. It is in a picturesque location. With Chilika lake on one side and the hills surrounding it on the other side, it is an ideal location for a romantic getaway.
Chilka served as a flourishing port even during the days of the emperor Ashoka. It was the link to other South-East Asian nations such as Java, Sumatra, Indonesia, Borneo, Burma, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and also China. Manikpatna still has traces of that ancient port. The lagoon was probably created when the sea inundated the region, due to a depression on the earth’s crust. Vast areas were submerged and the water could not recede because of a barrier formed by the deposition of sand and other alluvial silts surrounding the water body. Myths and folklore, however, are woven into the fabric of Chilka. The lake lies to the north of Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath. Legend has it that around fourth century AD, invaders came by sea to raid the temples and seize their phenomenal wealth. The priests, being forewarned, cleverly hid the deity as well as the jewellery, thereby foiling the invaders’ plan. The enraged attackers turned to the sea. The sea initially receded, and then it suddenly surged forward and swallowed the army. When the sea receded once more, Chilka was born.
We sped in our motor boat for about half an hour and had our first glimpse of the Kalijai island. The Island of Kalijai is famous as a center of religious worship due to the temple of Goddess Kalijai where a big fair is held on the occasion of Makara Sankranti that falls in January every year
A legend talks about Goddess Kalijai, immortalized in poetry by one of the leading poets of Orissa, Godavari Mahapatra. The village maiden Kalijai was married off to an inhabitant of the distant island of Parikud against her wishes. While going to her new home, a storm whipped up the placid waters, capsizing the boat and Kalijai was swept away. The cyclone is said to have started at the mammu-Bhanaja mountain (or the uncle-nephew mountain calles so for the striking resemblance that the two mountains have with each other.) Her spirit is said to have hovered around the island. The heart-broken villagers renamed the island where she had lived as Kalijai, installed her idol in a temple and began worshipping her, praying for the safety of those who ventured out to the sea.
After offering our prayers at the temple, we told the boatman to take us to the island with the Raja’s palace on it. He said that the manager had only instructed him to take us to Kalijai island and then take us boating on the lake for about three hours and return to Barkul. We told him that we had hired the boat to visit Kalijai island, Rajhans and Nalbana island. After arguing for a while he turned the boat towards Rajhans. On reaching Rajhans, he told us that the islanders had spread their nets around the lake and so we couldn’t venture anywhere near the island. The manager at Panth Nivas had told us that the boat would take us round the island and we would be able to take pictures of the palace. But now, we were disappointed to learn that we would have to go by auto for about four and a half Kms to reach the palace. The manager at Panth Nivas had only informed us that we would be able to get off the boat and visit the palace. We were given an impression that we could view the palace from the boat. We were quite angry now for we felt cheated and so we instructed the boatman to talk to his manager on the walkie-talkie. He passed on the instrument to us and we expressed our anger. Since we were already almost an hour and a half away from panth nivas we were unsure as to what we had to do next. We instructed the boatman to take us to Nalbana island. He was visibly irritated. He probably wanted to return home soon. He told us that we wouldn’t be able to see even a single bird on the island. We asked him if we returned to Barkul immediately would we be refunded the last one hour’s amount. He said we had to pay for the full three hours as the receipt had already been issued. Since we were to pay for the last one hour, we decided we might as well go to Nalabana.
After traveling for about half an hour we asked the boatman how far the island was. He pointed to a watch tower and said that was Nalabana. We were expecting to see a little more than just a watch tower.
We couldn’t sight even a single bird :(. The island was submerged in water following the heavy rainfall the state had received. We only managed to sight a single nest on a lone tree. There was also a ticket booth that looked like a telephone booth :) from a distance.
By then it started drizzling and we had to return to Barkul. The boat rocked precariously in the strong winds. Uma had to shift to the other side of the boat to balance it. We had to hold on real tight. I was sitting at the center and the boat had spewed water on me generously all along. My dress was already wet and now the rain god was showering his blessings too! I didn’t have my raincoat on. I was literally shivering in the cold. Uma wasn’t very comfortable riding without a life jacket. I had to assure her that I had been on water in much worse weather conditions and we would safely reach the shore. Finally we reached the shore at 6:30 PM. The manager of Panth Nivas was standing there waiting for us, to probably find out why we sounded angry on the walkie-talkie. I was feeling cold and had to change into something warm as quickly as possible; else there was the risk of catching cold. Leaving the manager to talk to the boatman, we walked into our room.
We had our bath and changed into warm clothes. We then went to the reception desk to talk to the manager. The manager was probably expecting us. We then told him that we felt cheated as we could neither see the raja’s palace nor go round Rajhans island. He tried to tell us that the package tour was generally only to Kalijai island and Nalabana island, and that he had done us a favor by adding on Rajhans island. I tried explaining the situation to another panth nivas officer who happened to be there at that time. He agreed with us that the manager had not given us complete details. After arguing with the manager for an hour, he finally cancelled the receipt that he had issued and charged us for two hours instead. With the money refunded, we went over to the dining hall and had our dinner.
The next morning we woke up early to watch the life on Chilka. Our room was beside the lake and it was a pretty sight from the balcony. I enjoyed the view for a while. Once there was sufficient day light we took our camera and Handy cam and walked towards the lake. It was August 15th; the day India got her independence. We sang a few patriotic songs and hummed a couple more.
The fishermen were already at work. They were setting their nets to catch the fish. It was a delight watching the serene lake. We sat by the lake for an hour watching the fishermen. One of them even offered to take us on his boat to see a nearby island. I sat looking at the rising sun in the horizon wishing that the clock stopped ticking. Life here seemed to be nothing more than fishing. The cool breeze against the face, the sound of water and the melodious calls of the birds made me wonder why life couldn’t be this beautiful every day. Some birds were hovering around the nets hoping to get their free share of food.
I couldn’t have enough of Chilka lake in one day. I was disappointed that we couldn’t visit Satpada to see the Irrawady dolphins. My next trip to Orissa will be to Phulbani and Khoraput which will include Chilka lake even if it is just for a day during the winter season to see the birds and the dolphins.