Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary

Top choice nature reserve in Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary

Image by Patrick Horton Getty Images

Three rivers flow out to sea at Bhitarkanika, forming a tidal maze of muddy creeks and mangroves. This is India’s second-largest mangrove region, and most of the 672-sq-km delta forms this wonderful sanctuary, a significant biodiversity hot spot. The only way to get around most of the sanctuary is by boat, and the main reason to come is to spot crocodiles and birds (particularly at the Bagagahana heronry).

There are long-snouted gharials, short squat muggers, and enormous estuarine crocodiles, or ‘salties’, which bask on mud flats before diving into the water for cover as your boat chugs past. One particular 23-foot beast that you're likely to see has made the Guinness Book of World Records.

The best time to visit is from December to February, but you’ll see crocs all year round, and may also see monitor lizards, spotted deer, wild boar and all sorts of birds, including eight species of brilliantly coloured kingfishers. Herons arrive in early June and nest until early December, when they move on to Chilika Lake, while raucous open-billed storks have set up a permanent rookery here. A short walk through the mangroves from one of the docks inside the sanctuary leads to a birding tower. There is also a 5km nature walk along one of the islands, though that's best done on weekdays when there are fewer visitors.

It’s also worth knowing that this area has the highest concentration of king cobras found anywhere in India, as well as half a dozen other potentially deadly viper species.

The park entrance is at the beautiful, but very poor, mud-hut village of Dangmal (Dang-ger-mal), and all tour boats depart from the same dock at 7.30am. You can learn more about the crocodile conservation program at Dangmar Island; the sanctuary is off-limits to visitors during the May–August crocodile breeding season.