Every year, millions of migratory birds traverse the same north-south routes across the world, known as flyways, between breeding and wintering grounds. Brackish Chilika Lake, in Odisha, is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds in the Indian Subcontinent. The serene wetlands at Mangalajodi, on the northern edge of Chilika Lake, attract a substantial proportion of these birds. However, what's really exceptional is how unusually close-up you get to see them!
In recognition of Chilika Lake's importance as a haven for migratory birds, the United Nations World Tourism Organization listed it under its Destination Flyways project in 2014. This project aims to harness bird-related tourism to help conserve migratory birds, and at the same time support local communities.
In this regard, Mangalajodi has an inspirational story. Villagers used to be expert bird hunters, in order to make a living, before conservation group Wild Orissa carried out awareness programs and turned poachers into protectors. Now, community-based eco-tourism is one of their main sources of income, with the former hunters using their formidable knowledge of the wetlands to guide visitors on bird watching trips. In 2018, Mangalajodi Eco Tourism Trust (the local community owned and managed wildlife conservation venture) won the prestigious United Nations World Tourism Organisation Award for Innovation in Tourism Enterprise.
Tourists can also lean about the migratory birds in detail at the renovated Mangalajodi Bird Interpretation Center.
Mangalajodi village is approximately an hour and a half southwest of Bhubaneshwar in Odisha, in Khurda district. It's situated off National Highway 5, heading towards Chennai.
How to Get There
Bhubaneshwar's airport receives flights from all over India. The most convenient way is to take a taxi from Bhubaneshwar. The fare is around 1,500 rupees. Alternatively, if traveling by bus, the nearest bus stop is Tangi. Trains stop at Mukteswar Passenger Halt station, between Kalupada Ghat and Bhusandpur railway stations.
Puri-based Grassroutes Journeys also offers a birding tour to Mangalajodi.
When to Go
Birds start arriving at Mangalajodi by the middle of October. To maximize the number of bird sightings, mid December to February is the best time to visit. It's common to see around 50 species of birds, although in peak season as many as 180 species can be found there. The birds start departing by March.
National Chilika Bird Festival
A new initiative of the Odisha government, the National Chilika Bird Festival takes place at Mangalajodi on January 27 and 28 each year. The inaugural edition was held in 2018. The festival aims to put Chilika on the global tourist map by hosting bird watching trips, workshops, photography competitions, and promotional stalls.
Where to Stay
Currently, there are only two places to stay at Mangalajodi. The most well known one is Mangalajodi Eco Tourism, which provides accommodations in dorms and simple local-style cottages. Unfortunately, there are different prices for Indians and foreigners, which seems opportunistic. Packages in a cottage start from 4,199 rupees (Indian rate) and 6,299 rupees (foreigner rate) for one night and two people. Dorms, which sleep four people, cost 5,099 rupees for Indians and 7,649 rupees for foreigners.
All meals and one boat trip are included. Extra boat trips cost 1,200 rupees per two-hour trip for Indians and 1,800 rupees for foreigners. Day packages and photography packages are also available. Rates and details are provided on the website.
The other newer and more economical option is Godwit Eco Cottage, named after a popular bird and dedicated to Mangaljodi's bird protection committee (Sri Sri Mahavir Pakshi Surakhshya Samiti). It has seven clean and attractive eco-friendly rooms, and one dorm. Rates start from 2,600 rupees per night for a couple, irrespective of nationality, including all meals. The hotel staff will readily arrange boat trips, although the cost is additional.
Boating and Birding Trips
If you haven't taken the all-inclusive package offered by Mangalajodi Eco Tourism, expect to pay 850 rupees upwards for a three-hour boat trip with guide (depending on demand, number of people and boat size). Binoculars and bird books are provided. To get to where the boats depart from, auto-rickshaws charge around 350 rupees return.
For serious birders and photographers, who may with to organize numerous boat trips independently, Hajari Behera is an excellent guide with vast knowledge. Phone: 7855972714.
Boat trips run all day from sunrise until sunset. The best times to go are very early in the morning at dawn, and in the afternoon at around 2-3 p.m. leading up to dusk.
Other Attractions Around Mangalajodi
If you're interested in more than just birds, there's a trail that leads up the hill behind the village to a small cave where a local holy man lived for many years. It offers a sprawling view of the countryside.
Walk along a dusty path through the fields a few kilometers before the village, and you'll reach a colorful Shiva temple that's a popular gathering point.
A little further out, 7 kilometers from Mangalajodi, is Brahmandi potters' village. It's worth visiting to see skilled artisans transform clay into a variety of products, from pots to toys.
See photos of Mangalajodi and surroundings on Facebook.