Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhubaneswar, Orissa

Usha Biswal Rout

15, Mar 2014 @ 04:33 PM
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Related to: Orissa Travel Guide

Visit in india, Orissa there are three rivers flow out to sea at Bhitarkanika forming a tidal maze of muddy creeks and mangroves. Most of this 672-sq-km delta forms Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary (272460; permit Indian/foreigner per day Rs 20/1000). A significant ecosystem, it contains 63 of the world’s 75 mangrove varieties. Hundreds of estuarine crocodiles, some 6m-plus monsters, bask on mud flats waiting for the next meal to swim by.

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Dangmar Island contains a successful breeding and conservation programe for these crocodiles. Less dangerous creatures are pythons, water monitors, wild boar and timid deer. The best time to visit is from December to February. To visit in India, Orissa for Bird-watchers will find eight species of brilliantly coloured kingfishers, plus 190 other bird species.

A large heronry on Bagagaham Island is home for herons that arrive in early June and nest until November. Raucous open-billed storks have set up a permanent rookery here. The sanctuary also protects the Gahirmatha nesting beach of the endangered olive ridley turtles. Gahirmatha is out of bounds due to a missile-testing site on one of the nearby Wheeler Islands. Rushikulya is a more accessible nesting beach in orissa. On the coast of the Bay of Bengal, between Paradip and Chandipur, Bhitarkanika is the nesting site of a million olive Ridley turtles that come ashore to the 35 km. long stretch of beach at Gahirmatha Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, a World Heritage site.

Bhitarkanika is formed from two Oriya words-'Bhitar' meaning interior and 'Kanika' meaning that which is extraordinarily beautiful. It forms the estuarine confluence of the Brahmin, Baitarani and Patasala rivers. Until 1952, Bhitarkanika was part of the land that belonged to the zamindar of Kanika. A set of rules that dictated the use of the forest was recorded as Kanika Jungle Mahal Niyambali in 1935. The entire Kanika range was divided into 28 blocks, out of which 6 were maintained as reserve forest blocks-Kalibhanjadia, Bhitarkanika, Thakurdia, Banipaha, Sana and Bada Haguri and Gahirmatha.

Even in those days, tree felling and hunting were not permitted within this protected area. Later, with the Orissa Zamindari Abolition Act, 1951, the forest was brought under the control of the revenue administration. The area became a reserved forest and was slowly taken over by people who wanted to settle there. Portions of the forest were cleared in order to house the Bangladesh refugees in the 1960s.

To provide protection to the numerous endangered species in the area, the forest was declared a sanctuary in April 1975. Agni Utsav is celebrated in January-February. Girls from every household clean the village and on the seventh day of the month Magha, gather straw in huge bundles. The straw heaps are burnt and the direction of the straw while burning is believed to predict the next year's crop. An eastward tilt reflects high tides and entry of saline waters into the fields. A westward tilt predicts floods while a tilt towards the Northeast means good crops.

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