A journey From Poachers to Protectors
Mangalajodi with Mahindra XUV500
It was close to 5AM but we were wide awake -- our 110 km road trip from Gopalpur to Mangalajodi had us all geared up for an exciting adventure. After loading our luggage and saying a final goodbye to the gorgeous beach town of Gopalpur, our convoy of five Mahindra XUV500s swiftly glided by the hotel gates.
A haven for bird watching, we spent the morning, boating around the bird sanctuary that is tucked away in the northern fringe of Chilika Lake. Also known as ‘The Bird’s Paradise’, it hosts more than 3,00,000 birds in its marshy waters, specially in the winters. Birds that are commonly spotted include Grebes, Cormorants/Shags, Herons, Egrets & Bitterns, Storks, Ibises, Geese & Ducks, Raptors, Pheasants, Partridges, Quails, Rails, Crakes, Moorhens, Coots, Jacanas, Waders, Gulls & Terns, Kingfishers, Swifts, Bee-caters, Larks, Swallows, Wagtails & Pipits, Robins, Thrushes, Babblers, Prinias, Warblers, Munias, Sparrows, Weavers, Starlings and Mynahs.
As soon as we took to the boat, our guide Panchanan Bhar, armed with a picture book and a pair of binoculars, welcomed us with a warm smile. There were over 120 species around us and he could spot each and every one of them, even in his sleep. It’s the kind of confidence that only comes with 12 years of experience. He then narrated a story of how he was a ruthless shikari (poacher) himself before a man named Madhu Bera dedicated his entire life to convert him and the other villagers into protectors of the same birds they once hunted. Today, over a 100 men and women from the village are now employed with the sanctuary and work passionately to create a protected environment for the birds.
Our group comprised of illustrators and photographers and needless to say, the natural setting was quite the inspiration for them. After a wonderful morning, we huddled back into the comfort of our Mahindra XUV500s and set out for Mayurbhanj, where a royal experience awaited.