Exploring Chilika Lake in Satpada

Chilika Lake is the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia, located in the state of Odisha on the east coast of India. Odisha is renowned for its population of approximately 100 endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. These remarkable creatures can be observed in Satpada village, situated near Chilika Lake. About 50 km from Puri, Satpada, meaning “a group of seven settlements” in Odia, offers access to the lake. You can take boat rides at the Satpada Jetty, allowing you to explore the vast expanse of Chilika Lake. If you’re lucky, you can see some birds during winter. Read on to know how we went about exploring Chilika Lake in Satpada.

Cow Traffic Jam

It is evening, and the sun has set as we drive to Satpada after exploring Konark Sun Temple. It usually takes two hours from Konark to reach Satpada by car. Our driver, Pintu, says it may take longer as we encounter traffic jams on the road. He tells us that the cows tended by villagers usually park themselves on the streets in the evening and don’t budge even with car honks. He tells us this causes a traffic jam on the road, and sometimes, the cows need to be escorted to the side to facilitate vehicular movement. We think the driver is joking, but he was spot on. No sooner did we approach the villages that there were herds of cows on the roads, causing a jam. We couldn’t help but laugh as we had never been in a cow traffic jam!

Check into resort

We check into our resort, which is simple and cosy. The staff are mostly young girls who are efficient and prompt with service. The hotel is perhaps supporting women workers in getting a decent livelihood. We eat a simple, delicious dinner and retire to bed early, as the next day, we will be exploring Chilika Lake.

Is Satpada a good choice for bird watching?

We rise early and are all set to go boating on Chilika Lake. Lallu from Chilika Boating, who has arranged for a boat ride meets us at the reception. We explain to him that we are avid bird watchers and he must ensure we see the maximum number of birds on Chilika Lake. He then tells us that Chilika Lake is extensive and Satpada is known more for its dolphin watching than for birds. We reiterate that we are keener on watching birds rather than dolphins, and he tells us that we will have to, in that case, go to Mangalajodi. It will take 2 hours to go and 2 hours to return by boat, and we will spend 2 hours bird watching, so six hours in all. We have an afternoon flight back home, so going to Mangalajodi isn’t feasible. We decide to explore Chilika Lake near Satpada for three hours and be content with whatever birds we see.

Chilika Boating

The driver drops us at the Satpada Jetty. There are several wooden motorised boats with cloth canopies at the jetty. We get on a boat, and the boatman revs up the engine, and our boat catches speed. Our boatman tells us that we will visit an island and, if lucky, see the highly endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. The gentle wind caresses our faces as the waves rock our boat. We can see the villages on the periphery of the lake. Since it is early morning, several fishermen have cast their nets for a catch. The nets are secured by bamboo poles on which we see a bird or two.

Satpada Jetty @Rafiq Somani
Boats at Satpada @Rafiq Somani

Spotting Occasional Birds

The lighting conditions for photography are less than ideal due to the early morning hour and overcast skies, resulting in subdued light. Slowly, we begin spotting occasional birds. A large Osprey perched on a pole devouring its fish prey. Elsewhere, a Black Drango is perched on a blue net while a Little Cormorant sits on another pole basking in the sun. We pass through wetlands and closer to the ground, we see an Indian Pied Starling, a small bird with white and black plumage and a deep orange patch around its eyes. We see several Black-headed Ibis wading in the water. They have a white body with black head and neck. We see another wader with brown and white plumage and a distinct long, down-curved bill. It is the Eurasian Curlew, a migratory bird.

Osprey @Rafiq Somani
Black Drango @Rafiq Somani
Little Cormorant @Rafiq Somani
Indian Pied Starling @Rafiq Somani
Black-headed Ibis @Rafiq Somani
Eurasian Curlew @Rafiq Somani

Rajhans Island

It’s time for us to explore Rajhans Island as the boat rider anchors the boat. The boatman tells us that the island has saltwater on one side and the Bay of Bengal waters on the opposite side. We descend from the boat on the island, walk through Casuarina trees, and find ourselves on a sandy beach with no soul in sight. Tiny crabs are moving on the sand. They are camouflaged in the sand, and only when they crawl do we realise that they are crabs.

Rajhans Island and Crabs @Rafiq Somani

We spot a large, Long-legged Buzzard on a tree. Its piercing eyes scan the surroundings, perhaps looking for prey. A lone Egret wades in the water as a flock of Black-headed Ibis flies in the sky. Elsewhere, a Sandpiper, also a wader, stands all by itself.

Egret @Rafiq Somani
Flock of Black-headed Ibis @Rafiq Somani
Sandpiper @Rafiq Somani

Golden Jackal

Rafiq spots a lone golden jackal moving through the green grass. It’s a little surprised to see him just as Rafiq is happy spotting the unexpected scavenger.

Golden Jackal @Rafiq Somani

A Fight for Territory

We head back to the boat and again set afloat on the lake. An Immature Brahminy Kite perched on a pole, perhaps looking for prey. Soon, a crow sweeps down and pecks on it, and a kind territorial fight ensues between them. Rafiq mentions this behaviour is called ‘mobbing” and captures their fight in his lens with their outstretched wings. This behaviour is seen where smaller birds in a group dare and make an effort to drive away potential predators from their breeding territory, its nest nearby or its young one. We soon spot another Brahminy Kite, which is an adult perched on a pole. The handsome bird with a white head and brick-red feathers reminds us of the American Bald Eagle. A Grey heron sweeps down at another spot and lands close to an egret.  

Immature Brahminy Kite @Rafiq Somani
Territorial Fight @Rafiq Somani
Crow mobbing Brahminy Kite @Rafiq Somani
Brahminy Kite @Rafiq Somani
Grey Heron @Rafiq Somani

Will we get lucky with dolphin watching?

It’s been more than two hours since we began our boat ride. We haven’t been lucky with the dolphins yet. The sun is up, and water temperatures have risen, which is not conducive for dolphin watching, especially since the dolphins prefer cooler waters. The noise of the engine is another damper for dolphin and bird sightings.

Spotting Dolphins

Just then, another boatman at a distance signals our boatman to move our boat in his direction. We head towards the other boat, and our boatman tells us there are dolphins nearby. He switches off the engine, and we sit in silence. Just then, we spot a snout above the waters, and the dolphin quickly goes underwater even before the camera can focus. Soon, we are lucky to spot not one but two dolphins moving synchronously through the waters. We keep on spotting more dolphins in quick succession. But they go underwater so quickly that even before Rafiq can focus his camera, they disappear into the waters. We end up with no complete shots of the dolphins but just the tails and backs.

Tail of Dolphin @Rafiq Somani
Dolphin releasing water from snout @Rafiq Somani
A Pair of Dolphins @Rafiq Somani

Some of the dolphins have scratch marks on their bodies most likely caused by teeth raking during social interactions or due to suckers of squids which they feed on. These marks help marine biologists in identication of dolphins as part of their study or census. But it’s a joy to watch these rare and shy mammals diving, snorting, and making spouts of mist as they surface to breathe. It’s time to head back to the jetty; it has been over three hours since we began our boat ride.

Scratch marks on Dolphins @Rafiq Somani

Quiet Contemplation

The boat ride has provided us city dwellers leading a fast-paced life with some moments for quiet contemplation. Watching the fisherman go about their daily routine of fishing, fixing nets, and leading simple lives makes me realise that very little is needed to stay happy and content. Our greed for wealth, fame and material possessions only complicates lives. As the saying goes, ‘When fisherman can’t go to sea, they mend their nets.’ We, too, must learn to embrace the slow-paced life and accept both work and the lack thereof with equal happiness. Spend time mending the part of us which needs healing and rejuvenation.

Fishermen with boats @Rafiq Somani

Is Satpada worth it?

 If you like the slow-paced, no-nonsense holiday where you surrender to nature and all that it offers, then yes. But there is no guarantee you will see dolphins. Many tourists visit during the day when sightings are less common and have to go back disappointed. It would be best if you planned early mornings or late afternoons. Also, if you are looking for birds, Satpada is not the ideal location, and you are better off going to Mangalajodi instead. Remember, Chilika Lake is also vast, spread over 1100 sq. km, and can be reached through several different entry points – Barkul, Rambha, Balugaon and Satapada. So choosing the right one is essential. Balugaon is closest to Mangalajodi. Also, the time of the year you visit is important. We visited Satpada in early November, the start of the birding season, but were not lucky enough to see many birds. We didn’t see any red crabs, which Satpada is known for. But did get lucky with dolphins.

Villages near Chilika Lake in Satpada @Rafiq Somani

This concludes our series of travel blogs on Odisha. Odisha emerges as a hidden gem of India, awaiting discovery by travellers seeking enriching experiences. From the ancient temples of Bhubaneshwar’s Ekamra Kshetra to the serene beaches and revered Jagannath Puri temple in Puri, the architectural marvels of Konark’s Sun Temple, and the breathtaking vistas of Chilika Lake in Satpada where Irrawaddy dolphins gracefully roam, each destination offers a unique glimpse into Odisha’s cultural tapestry. Additionally, the vibrant artistry showcased in Raghurajpur and Pipli, with their tribal art and exquisite pattachitra paintings and applique work, further enriches the journey. With its diverse landscapes, rich heritage, and warm hospitality, Odisha invites travellers to explore its many treasures, showcasing the charm of this captivating Indian state in every corner.


Nearest Airport: The nearest airport is Bhubaneswar Biju Patnaik International Airport, with connectivity to major cities in India. From here, you can drive down to Satpada.


Satpada-Bhubaneshwar: 107.7 km or 2 hours 30 mins.

Puri-Satpada: 50 km or 1 hr 14 mins.

Konark- Satpada: 84 km or 1 hour 40 mins.

Where to stay: We stayed at Om Leisure Resort Satpada, a simple and cosy resort. 9338757592/9338757594

The other option is OTDC Yatri Niwas. 

Travel Tip: The early mornings or late afternoons are the best time to visit Chilika Lake.

Satpada Boating: Lalu-7992717268

Odisha Driver: Pintu 7978630261. He was not just our driver but also a guide explaining the details of the monuments/places and narratives behind them.

Travel Planning Help: Om Leisure Holidays helped us plan this trip.