Thursday, 6 January 2011

Chilka Lake and Satpaada

Some others visited this along with me yesterday, and it was a disappointment.

The country-style boats are powered by makeshift, noisy and evil-smelling outboard motors which ruin the peace of the lake and actually make the experience quite stressful.

The lake is relatively shallow, apparently, so the he engines are not hung vertically down from the back of the boat - if that was done, it would send the exhaust vertically up, so that the boat and the passengers would be going away from it. Rather, the engines are angled at 45 degrees facing forward in order to utilize the rotary thrust in the shallow lake, so the exhaust blows directly over the boat and therefore comes down into it....

There are several hundred boats on the lake - all painted the same scrappy blue and peeling off - some boats require a full-time person to bail out the water that comes into the boat. We saw a few boats without an outboard motor, and they were all local fishing boats - our boatman tells me that it takes about twice as long to go the length of the lake using manpower as against using boat power - that's about 2 hours to one.

Birds: though the area is famed for them, we saw only one variety of wader at a distance of about 100 meters - in addition to egrets which are plentiful in the whole state or Orissa as far as I can make out - and two individual black birds that I took to be some variety of cormorant. I also saw three birds that were gull-like in behaviour but not in appearance - though white in colour, they flew more like swallows or swifts.

The main reason for the visit was to see (if possible) the famous fresh-water dolphins. What we did see was several flashes of dolphin about 100 metres away at the closest, but nothing that I would regard even remotely as an encounter with a dolphin.

According to "our" boatman, two further special attractions of the lake are supposed to be (a) pearls (white, black and pink - supposedly formed when the mussels rise to the surface at the time of the full moon and open their mouths to receive a special ray of energy from the heavens (a particular nakshatra)); and (b) an extremely hard sort of barnacle, which the boatman called a "skeleton" (in English!) which the local vendors break apart to reveal a blue, green, orange or black stone, though they also flaunt a bit of what is apparently cut glass which they try to sell at an exorbitant price.

What I bought (exorbitantly priced anyway!)was two of the other stones for Rs 500 and one black and two white pearls for Rs 650 - partly because these were mementos, and partly because the local people too have to live and this wasn't that much of a contribution to the local economy.

The shallowness of the lake probably accounts for where the dolphins frolic - the deeper parts.

The lake is beginning to suffer from pollutants (engine oil residue abounds) and I counted four abandoned plastic bottles on the water, as well as one cigarette packet: hardly anything much in our country, but the problem is that once the rot starts, it spreads very rapidly.

If going another time, I would entirely avoid the visit to the local temple as well as to the sea mouth, and insist on a hand-poled boat that would skirt the lake by any unusual route that avoided the other noisy and smelly boats. I would go as far as the dolphin area, but not with any expectation of seeing dolphins, regarding that as a special bonus if it really happened.

By the way, several visitors, obviously used to visiting here, focused simply on the nearby local eateries which seem to provide an excellent, fresh and tasty range of dishes. But that's hearsay.

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