This is going to be a slightly longer and photo heavy trip report, so I am going to break it down in 2 or 3 parts.
We started from Bhitarkanika after our morning boat safari and breakfast. Plan was to find food somewhere on the way and then take a short break in Bhubneshwar to get some shopping done. There was a demand for Sarees from Odisha and I had to figure out a way to accomplish that. Thankfully The shopkeepers were kind enough to allow Whatsapp video call and I played my usual role of silently watching the interaction, keeping my card ready for payment. With that done, we made our way to Mangalajodi. Our driver was of the opinion that if we did not make a halt at Bhubneshwar, we could have completed this journey within 6 hours. With our breaks and little shopping spree in Bhubneshwar we took quite some time. Raghu had fixed our stay at Godwit Eco Cottage and it took us approximately 2 hours to reach there (after having missed our exit from the highway). Check-in was quite quick and we were told to grab dinner.
Rooms at Godwit are small but clean, I would call them adequate. It’s a no frills accommodation and is not to be confused with a luxury resort. But then we were not there on a luxury holiday were we. Dinner was good and I was thankful for getting something other than fish curry for a meal. The staff there was jovial and very accommodating. With our boat and guide taken care of by Raghu we called it a night with a request to wake us up by 6:00 am. However, both of us were up and ready before that time.
Reaching the wetlands before day break, we saw a few more visitors (birders and photographers mainly). Paying our fee, we got into the boat. Now, this is not really a boat, but a small dinghy that is pushed across the still water with help of long bamboo poles. Think Shikara in Kashmir, but remove all luxuries from it. They do provide a small cushion for you to sit on, but you will end up with a pain in the you know what after spending a few hours on it. Note to self, I will take my own cushion next time (it means there will be a next time).
When taking a boat, it is mandatory to go with a guide and a boatman. Most of the guides can also act as boatman or the other way around, but this rule ensures that everyone in the union get a chance to make some money. The downside is that it puts 4 people in a boat (considering 2 tourists are going per boat). As the boats sizes are small, it can lead to a lot of unwanted movement in the boat. Personally, I feel there shouldn’t be more than one photographer in the boat. Upside here is that the boat is pushed with bamboos so it is much more silent and maneuverable than the motored boats in Bhitarkanika. I liked the shooting angle these boats provided.
We started exploring the side that had a lot of weed and not many visitors, and within minutes we were in an area bustling with activities. Swallow and reed warblers everywhere. Pretty soon we were face to face with a small group of Northern Pintail ducks. As the area we were in was not frequented by boats often, these birds were not very approachable. We decided to get back to shooting warblers on the way to the central area.
Having heard a lot about Mangalajodi, I had a mental picture. I was glad to realize that my imagination was dwarfed by what I saw there. I could only think of one word, beyond. It was beyond beautiful, beyond magnificent. Wetlands as far as you could see, reeds full of life and waterfowls everywhere. The area was large enough for a number of boats to disperse and not obstruct anyone’s view. Very soon we were scanning the reeds on the way for some of the promised jewels. Ruddy breasted crake, Slaty-breasted rail, Baillon’s crake, Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon bittern, Bluethroat, Snipes, Shanks and other beauties were promised. There was even a whisper of watercock from a group of heavily camouflaged doctors. Thank you Decathlon. Well, we did not see the watercock or black bittern, but Mangalajodi did not disappoint.
We spent next 4 days scouring this magical wetland. There was plenty of action, lovely light and landscapes, but that is the material for next post.. To be continued