On Chilika’s north shore, 60km southwest of Bhubaneswar, this small fishing village is the jumping-off point for the bird haven of Chilika Lake, an ecotourism success story virtually unknown to the outside world until 2006. Six years prior, a programme called Wild Orissa (www.wildorissa.org) was started here – a waterfowl safeguard committee that converted bird poachers into protectors. In just over a decade, the waterfowl population has climbed from 5000 to an estimated 300,000, spread among some 160 species.
A packed-earth levee leads out into the lake for around 1.5km, with fishing boats sheltering to one side and animal herders taking their buffalo to pasture across shallow waters, and a forest of reeds sheltering birds on the other side. Towards the end of the levee is a birdwatching tower and the dock from which birding trips depart, with guides slowly propelling their narrow boats through reed tunnels using poles, Venetian-gondola style.