As the second-largest coastal lagoon in the world, Chilka Lake is very wide and very shallow. With a depth of just 14 feet at its deepest point, Chilka is, among other things, an ideal stopping-off point for many species of migratory birds. Fans of flamingos and the more than 150 other species of aquatic and semi-aquatic birds will revel in this unrivaled opportunity to observe mind-bogglingly large flocks throughout the area.
The majority of species call the 425 square miles of the lake home from October to March, but the ideal window of time for bird watchers is November to January. One of the most memorable activities for visitors is the profusion of boat tours in what can best be described as the Indian version of the Venetian gondola, complete with noisy outboard motors. The boats cross and re-cross the lake (the direct route across the body of water takes an hour and a half). You’ll pass tiny islands featuring even tinier hamlets, schools of dolphins (the waters are rich with aquatic life), temples, coastal forests, fisherman pursuing a wide array of nourishing fish and shrimp, and of course, a few million birds.
There are numerous areas where wildlife is protected (a number of which were formerly poachers’ villages), as well as tourist attractions and religious sites. Arguably, the most interesting and rewarding population centers in the region are the famous holy city of Puri, with its temples dating back to the 11th century, and Satpada on the eastern side of the lake, which is surrounded on three sides by lagoons.
Eco-tourism flourishes in the area and there are many islands, sites and sand bars to choose from. A little advance research and the careful selection of guided tours is highly recommended.