A state with a huge forest cover, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Odisha has about ten different national parks and wildlife sanctuaries excluding its vast forest ranges. You can easily spot a variety of wildlife in areas dominated by crocodiles, tigers, and elephants.
As opposed to my initial plan of visiting at least three of them, I, with a heavy heart, picked one for paucity of time, the Simlipal National Park.
Apart from its rich wildlife and the thickness of Sal trees, Simlipal National Park is famous for its breathtaking landscape, about five hundred different plant species including medicinal plants, waterfalls, rivulets, picturesque hills, and about forty different villages spread over its entire area.
A hunting area near Chahala village covered with Sal trees
How to reach
The nearest railhead of Simlipal National Park is Baripada. It is about twenty kilometers away from the Pithabata entrance.
The nearest airport is Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, which is about 150 kilometers away from Simlipal.
Many travellers drive to Simlipal from West Bengal basically because Simlipal allows entry of private vehicles. I have travelled to two other national parks in India - Ranthambore and Jim Corbett where the private vehicles were strictly prohibited.
I chose the first option of the three and booked a tour from a private authorized tour operator.
Planning a trip
It takes about 10-12 hours to cover the entire national park. While most of it is rich in wildlife, tiger sightings are common and mostly restricted to the core area. It is best to start early in the morning when the park opens up at six.
There are two entry gates, one in Pithabata, the other in Jashipur. Entry through the former is much stricter and hence it is advisable to take that route. Private cars are not allowed as easily as through the Jashipur side.
A gem of the core corner of Simlipal, Joranda waterfalls is a single-tier fall plunging from a height of 150 metre. It is located near the Nawana valley, where usually the first stop of the day is made.
Barehipani is the third highest waterfall of India and one of the most spectacular ones too. It's a two-tiered fall that plunges from a height of 399 odd meters, formed by the Budhabalanga River, flowing through the Eastern Ghats.
Tip: This is the only place in the entire Simlipal where you would get some network reception.
Odisha has some really beautiful waterfalls and I was glad to have visited at least three of them, Duduma, Joranda, and Barehipani.
Once famous as a hunting ground, Chahala borders one of the core areas of the Simlipal National Park and is perfect for witnessing wildlife in its purest form; elephants, peacock, and sambar deer are a common sight. It forms the last stop of the trail and is perfect to wind up a quiet evening. More information about booking the Chahala Rest House is available at Odisha Tourism's official website.
Where to stay
Simlipal National Park has rest houses of its own. They can be easily booked and the rest, like safari etc., is taken care of at the time of booking. These bookings can be made at the Odisha Forest Development Corporation's website.
Alternatively, you can stay outside in Baripada, a small town nearing the Pithabata entrance gate.
Odisha is dotted with a huge forest cover. It offers a little everything for a wildlife enthusiast, a bird watcher, or simply a nature lover.