Monday, May 6, 2013

Another Chilikan Sail

Coordinates              19°43′N 85°19′E
Lake type                   Brackish800px-Chilka_lake
Primary inflows           35 streams including Bhargavi, Daya, Makra, Malaguni, Nuna
Primary outflows        Old mouth-Arakhakuda, New mouth-Satapada to Bay of Bengal
Catchment area          3,560 km2
Countries                    India
(Source: Wikipedia Commons)

A scorching mid-summer morning buttressed with a subtle yet pervasively lethargic demeanour in addition to a limited extravagance of time; lost all odds to a rather willful birthday wish, setting six of us on course to a memorable visit to Chilika Lake, the brackish water lagoon along the eastern coast of Odisha. As per web sources, it is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest on the entire planet after Laguna Ojo de Liebre on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Serving as a summer resort to over a hundred and sixty species of migratory birds from plethora of faraway stretches, ranging from Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea to other remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and Southeast Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas; it subsists around one hundred fifty thousand fishermen. Also, home to around a hundred and fifty rare and endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins, a few of which, did catch our eye during their magical jump to glamour and glitz.
                                                                  The journey towards the new mouth of Lake Chilika better known by the name of Satapada, from the temple city of Bhubaneswar comprised a distance of 106 kms by road, through the holy shrine of Lord Jagannath’s birthplace i.e Puri. The road was lined with lush green outfields on either side with remarkable golden sheen of fresh paddy harvest. Embraced by high and elegant coconut palms akin to sentries standing guard, along its perimeter the path appealed majestically. We made a brief stop during the journey, to relish some freshDSC_2577 coconut milk from one of the roadside vendors who was still disappointed with the bargained sale. Seasonal flowers adorning the path throughout the curvature, emphasized the mystic elegance of a sojourn in more colourful ways than the rainbow itself. The scenic landscape kept evolving with the grazing of cows, the ablution of buffaloes in roadside canals and the solitary activities of farmers tending to their crops. It took around three hours to reach the region of Satapada, which actually signifies convergence of Chilika with the Bay of Bengal. It was once a modern human effort to improve the estuarine eco-system of the lake.

Having historically significant antecedents for being a major harbour for maritime commerce (around 209 – 170 BC), when Kharavela, the King of Kalinga was also known as the Lord of Sea. Wonder what people would have called him, had he ruled Sri Lanka. Brahmanda Purana, also mentions Chilika Lake as an important part of trade system where ships set sail to kingdoms of Java, Malaya, Singhala and China among others. The people even in the cities adjacent to Chilika Lake still observe an annual festival called Bali Yatra commemorating the symbiotic relationship of trade and commerce with neighbouring countries through nautical routes. These days, it commemorates mass appetite rather than just commerce and you can do a ‘window-gorging’ on the nearly infinite array of diverse food being sold and served on this occasion.
DSC_2605On reaching the quay in Satapada, we pre-ordered lunch for everyone in one of the restaurants and hired a family-type boat for Rs. 1800. Later, we found that the lunch would cost us even more. These family boats have a typically native wooden construct, with coarse and unfinished planks of wood, both for keeping the boat afloat and making passengers sit. A leather cushion may have been provided on the plank, so that it hurts a little less once you take your place, unless of course you have completely overwhelmed the BMI barriers. And yes, that little flimsy piece of cushion sways with the breeze. The only thing that has some machinery on the boat, is a small cantankerous diesel engine which can break all sound barriers within moments of ignition. The rotor blades are the only companions which make the boat go a wee bit faster than normal human swimming speed. And also with some persistent request, the boatmen did bequeath us with a torn and shiny tarpaulin to create a shed against the glare of the afternoon Sun.  Aesthetics of these boat might have crazy shortfalls in almost all aspects, but once you embark it, the icy breeze and the pulsating water will make you forget everything else. And believe it or not, the ride was wonderful.
                                                             The second part of the journey was on water, with brief and enjoyable halts at different places. Small islands, famous for sightings of bright red crabs, which were nowhere to be found; different speciesDSC_2730 of birds that swayed with the wind, seagulls with their usual acrobatics and Great Egrets with their unusual concentration to carry on with their eternal activity of aiming, catching and eating fishes. The Great Egret has its sole destiny centered on, standing still for hours and allowing some unfortunate fish to come within striking distance of its bill, which it will then use as a spear to kill and devour the underdog. Through the mists of the breathless wind, the boat crossed stretches of small hills, small independent settlements of fishing-folks and thousands of birds including the greedy Great Egrets. Then it advanced towards a stretch of a lake, which somehow appealed to Irrawaddy Dolphins, in particular. Only one or two of the one hundred and sixty did care to show theirDSC_2748 flat-nosed mocking face after a still water wait of around 20-25 minutes and after shutting down the cankerous engines. Then we advanced on our voyage towards the sea mouth, where the lake plunges into the Bay of Bengal. The high tides at the dusky horizon gleamed with an amazing epilogue which is quite impossible to capture with even a powerful lens. This was a conclusive part of sojourn with six weary travellers growing impatient with the available potato chips and finally disembarking the boat to hurry towards the overpriced restaurant for having the pre-ordered overpriced lunch. Hunger improved the taste and presence of close ones made it fun. A day which engendered pure fun and frivolity, made us feel content and joyous with a sense of adventure, discovery and merriment.

No comments:

Post a Comment