Southwest of Puri in the state of Orissa, Chilka Lake, Asia’s largest lagoon is dotted with islands and is noted for the many migratory birds that travel and take sanctuary here in winter. The shallow lake around 70km long and around 15km wide expanse is separated from the Bay of Bengal by a narrow strip of marshy islands and sand bars. The lake was formed due to the silting action of the Mahanadi River, which drains into the northern end of the lake, and the northerly currents in the Bay of Bengal, which have formed a sandbar along the eastern shore leading to the formation of a shallow lagoon. The size of the lake varies from monsoon to dry season.
Between generally October and February, migratory birds from as far away as Iran, Iraq, Siberia, Afghanistan and the Himalayas swell numbers. Sightings can include flamingoes, painted stork and pelican but also osprey, heron, crane and grey-legged goose.
Chilka is also one of the few places in India where the Irrawady dolphin can be glimpsed from time to time. The best way to see the lake and birds is via a boat trip, which will visit Chilka’s islands, some of which are inhabited by small subsistence fishing communities. Nalabana is the best island for bird spotting. It is a designated bird sanctuary.
Chilka Lake is designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
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