Travel Guide for Bhitarkanika National Park (Odisha)
If you are a wildlife enthusiast you may have heard of Bhitarkanika National Park. Or if you live in some specific cities of Odisha, you may have known of it as a weekend gateway. But mostly Bhitarkanika is not a popular name amongst tourists. I had stumbled upon it only due to my connection to East and even then getting all information about the place wasn’t easy. In fact I was only half-prepared when I made my trip and eventually it turned out to be the worst planning of my life. In fact, I wasn’t able to reach Bhitarkanika. So technically I have never been there. But you can learn a lot from a failed attempt as well and that is the knowledge I would like to share here today.
What is Bhitarkanika?
Bhitarkanika is an island enclosed by the Brahmani River from one side and the mighty Bay of Bengal from the other. It’s one of the many National Parks in India, but it does not house any big animals such as tiger, bear or even bison. What Bhitarkanika stands out for is its crocodile population. The island is basically a delta for the river Brahmani and hence full of small channels and streams of water. This suits perfectly to the lifestyle and breeding of crocodiles. And so it’s a great place for reptile lovers. Of course one can expect variety of birds as well given the perfect eco-system of an island.
Where is Bhitarkanika?
Bhitarkanika is located near coast of Odisha, around 200 km from Bhubaneshwar. Nearest railway station is Bhadrak which is well connected by train to all major cities of eastern side of India. However it is recommended to go via Bhubaneshwar in case you prefer reaching by road (instead of river).
How to reach there and where to stay?
As you can guess, Bhitarkanika doesn’t have many hotels. There are only three private hotels, one OTDC nearby and forest lodges. The forest lodges are the cheapest options at best locations (provides very basic accommodation), but they are the source of all confusions too. They are located in three different places in Bhitarkanika and choosing the wrong one might lead to having no access to the main part of forest. Which is what had happened in my case. So here I want to detail all the available locations of hotel, how to reach there and the best way to enjoy the park from each place.
Chandbali is a town connected by road to Bhadrak. Buses from Bhadrak bus stand (5 km from Bhadrak station) available for Chandbali. This takes about 2.5 hours for fare of Rs. 40. The only decent place to stay in Chandbali is OTDC Aranya Nivas. Its located 200 metres from where the bus drops you, right across from the river. You can book rooms in OTDC from their website http://www.panthanivas.com/Search-Hotel-List.php.
Bhitarkanika is accessible from Chandbali via boat through the river way. Some might have misconception that shared boats are available from Chandbali for Bhitarkanika, but that’s not correct. Boats need to be hired individually and the only way to get shared boat is by arranging the same with other fellow tourists. OTDC themselves have boats that you can book. For a whole day trip to Bhitarkanika they charge 4,600 bucks and this takes about 5 to 6 hours. This includes reaching the island and also riding through smaller channels where crocodiles are usually spotted.
If you are looking at staying options for Dangmal (or Dangamala), then you are the smart one. That’s probably the best place to stay for enjoying Bhitarkanika. That’s where the main forest area is and where crocodiles are easily spotted. All three private hotels – Estuarine Village Resort, Bhitarkanika Nature Camp and Sand Pebbles Jungle Resorts are in and around this area. One of the forest lodge is also located here. You can find the listing for private hotels in TripAdvisor and for the forest lodge check the OFDC site https://www.ecotourodisha.com/menubooking.php.
Dangmal can be reached by boat from Chandbali or Gupti. You need to hire the full boat in both cases. Boat fare for one night stay from Gupti is 3,000 Rs and the same is close to 5,000 from Chandbali. However Chandbali is easier to access on road compared Gupti. Hence it could be a better choice otherwise.If you want to reach Dangmal by car, you should take the route via Raj Nagar which is on the south end of the island. There is a bridge here which buses and cars use to commute to the island.
Gupti is strategically located for accessing all corners of the island. But apart from that, the place is very dull and not recommended for staying. There is one forest lodge in this place, which is 5 minutes walking distance from the river. But it’s surrounded by houses and shops having no forest ambience whatsoever.
|Boat Tariff listed at Gupti|
You can hire a boat from Gupti for day trip to Dangmal for 2,500 bucks which will again take you through small channels where crocodiles can be seen (this is what means by safari in Bhitarkanika). From Gupti you can do a day trip to Habalikhati beach as well which is charged around 3,500 bucks. Note that, extra charges are applied for night stays.
Reaching Gupti on the other hand is a tricky thing. Coming from Chandbali to Gupti requires crossing two rivers, which can be done if you are riding a bike. But otherwise it’s next to impossible. If you plan to visit Gupti at all, you should come from Bhubaneshwar or Cuttack. Buses are available from Cuttack to Raj Nagar which takes about 4 hours and charged 80 Rs. From Raj Nagar shared auto rickshaws are available which will drop you till Gupti for 20 Rs. You can take the same route to reach Gupti by car as well.
|Habalikhati location on map|
If you don’t understand where Habalikhati is, it’s perfectly fine. Go ahead and ignore this section. If you have come across this place while booking forest lodge online (because that’s the only way you can come across it), then you might want to read this first before booking the place. Yes, there is a forest lodge available in Habalikhati and technically it is part of Bhitarkanika. You won’t find this place in Google maps and if you are like me that would interest you even more. On top of that, this is the cheapest forest lodge option.
So why shouldn’t you go there? Well, if you are not interested in the forest and just want to enjoy a secluded beach, then by all means Habalikhati is your choice. Or if you have been to Bhitarkanika too many times and want to experience something different, you can still go for it. But this is not the best place for someone wanting to enjoy Bhitarkanika. The place is on the other end of the island, far away from the crocodiles and the mangroves, located at the edge of the map facing the endless sea. The nearest village from the resort is 6 km away via beach. The river, the only way to approach the place, is 2.5 km away.
So how do you get there? Of course you come by boat. From Chandbali to Habalikhati, it takes around 7 hours in boat and is also charged very high. It is better to come via Gupti from where you can get a boat for 4,000 bucks and it takes only about 3 hours to reach Habalikhati. Once you are dropped at the port, you can walk through the forest for 2.5 kms on a well-defined road till the hotel. You can still be able to spot crocodile and enjoy the mangroves during your boat ride. And this could make a good mix of forest and beach.
When is the best time to visit?
I went there during winter season and turned out it was the best time to be there. The crocodiles go into hibernation mode with little to no activity. This means they spend most of their day lying on mud at the bank of the canals, leading to better sighting of the animal. This is also the time for many migratory birds arriving to Bhitarkanika, which can be a treat for bird lovers. Apart from that tourists can visit the park all around the year. Rainy season can be unpleasant and recommended to avoid.
PS: Although I have stressed on how my plan for Bhitarkanika failed miserably and I could never reach there, I still had an adventure of a lifetime and would share the same as a separate blog soon.
Related Links: You may also be interested in following articles