Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland

Tripoto
28th Dec 2016
Photo of Mangalajodi, Odisha, India by Atreya Nath

Moorlands have always been an evocative landscape, inspiring countless artists to render them in a mystical perspective. Mangalajodi is no exception. It is one of the largest marshes in Eastern India, sitting at the northern top of the Chilka (Chilika) Lake in Orissa. Often tagged as the "Birder's Paradise", it plays a dutiful, sincere and a loving host to a staggering figure of 9 million avifauna (as per 2010 census) during the peak season ( November-January ). What makes it even more beautiful is it's backstory.

Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath
Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath

Moors or swamps are supposed to be haunted. Innumerable mentions of swamp monsters and evil spirits have frequented Children's Literature through ages. In case of Mangalajodi, these monsters and evil spirits came in the form of men, mostly searching for a livelihood in the marshes. These fishermen used to spread nets and capture the poor birds and sell their meat to the local restaurants and hotels. The sheer number of birds visiting the marshes each year made this livelihood even more enticing. And then one fine day an angel, again in the form of a human decided to change the fate of this marsh forever. His name was Nanda Kishore Bhujabal. He started a lifelong fight for the birds and after years of persuasion and pitfalls and struggles, his vision started slowly coming back to life. Together with the Royal Bank of Scotland and Indian Grameen Services, he proposed an alternative livelihood for the erstwhile poachers to turn into watchful protectors who would take pride in conserving Mother Nature's rich basket of feathers,beaks and shrill calls. These fishermen have now become full time watchmen keeping a silent vigil on anyone and everyone who might try to harm the avifauna. They serve as oarsmen and guides, taking tourists on boat rides through the marshes, pointing out the myriad varieties of birds and sharing valuable information about their life cycle.

Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath

Mangalajodi, with its fair share of migratory and resident birds lies near the NH16. It is located 80 kms away from Bhubaneshwar. Nearest airport is the Bhubhaneshwar airport. Adjacent railheads are Mukteshwar(Puri) and Balugaon. There are ample road signs all along the way so that it's very easy to spot. Staying options are limited to Mangalajodi Ecotourism Cottage and Godwit Eco Cottage. Both of them can be booked online. It's best to book atleast a month in advance during the peak season.

From the Mangalajodi Eco Tourism Cottage, a reddish gravel road runs for 2.5 km to the Jetty. The shrill voices of almost a million birds can be heard even before you have reached the jetty. Their sharp yet pleasant calls against a tranquil village background track offer a stark but a welcoming contrast. The only way to explore the vast stretches of the swamp is the locally made wooden boats that are propelled by the muscle power of the boatmen. The depth of water varies from 1-1.5 feet in most places and as the boat ambles peacefully along the channels, the birds come into focus. For the first timers, it appears as if there is atleast one bird for every square inch ! And each and every bird is deeply engrossed in one of the two main activities of life : searching for food and delving deep into philosophical thoughts with a full tummy.

And while you're busy straining your eyes to differentiate between a Godwit and a Ruff, you suddenly hear a flap of wings and turn around. A Purple Heron has just started its flight and you can't help but stare in awe at the sheer beauty of such a majestic creature with a wingspan that almost makes the Airbus A380 look tiny!

Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath
Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath

As your boat trudges along the marsh in its own rhythm, the guide points out several other species that catch his attention. The guides are well equipped with a pair of powerful binoculars and a Guide Book on the birds found in the subcontinent. On a typical December afternoon, one can expect Northern Pintails in flocks, Black Winged Stilts, Garhwals, Northern Shoveller, Purple Herons, Goliath Herons, an extremely senile looking Grey Heron and countless other species. The best part is when you get to hear about their original habitat.

Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath
Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath

Some have traveled all the way from faraway lands like Siberia, Manash Sarobar in Tibet, Tundra regions etc. It is a testimonial of Nature's magic that every year they come all the way from their homeland to a tiny marsh in India, oblivious of the innumerable uncertainties and danger lurking behind every innocent flap of their wings.

Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath

We met these two Brahmini Ducks or Rudy Shell Ducks near twilight. They apparently had a fight and now were maintaining a strict LoC between their operations ! Our guide took us very close to the ducks and told us that they were always found in pairs.The male Brahmini Duck (to the left) has a characteristic band all along his neck. Drenched in the twilight, their orange plumage looked divine. And just as we were getting extremely close to them, they took notice and immediately flew off. They left behind some small ripples on the marshy waters and a piece of colorful memory.

Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath
Photo of Diary 8 : Mangalajodi: Tales from the Moorland by Atreya Nath

It would be an understatement if we claimed that Mangalajodi is just a "birder's paradise". It appeals to everyone who is not afraid to be surprised by one of Nature's most innocent forms of life. It doesn't really matter whether you know all their names or even recognize one species from a very similar but a different one. All it asks of you is a little bit of your time and love. It requires you to be a silent audience to all their activities and eventually you start to feel a connection with them. You have seen them real close. You have heard their sounds. You know their story. And in a way you have found your freedom in between those wings that you keep hidden in your daily life. Yes, they have inspired you to taste the unknown. They have inspired you to come out of your comfort zone and explore the world. They have shown you what freedom tastes like in this chained world.

And yes. They have taught you how to be young, wild and free.

This blog was originally published on 'Lonely Tintin Diaries'

1 Comment(s)
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Very informative article. Mangaljodi is truly a hidden gem of Orissa.
Thu 10 05 17, 19:33 · Reply · Report