My trip to Bhitarkanika – The land of Crocodiles

It was kind of an irony that having been to so many places in India and US, I had still not visited some of the famous places within Odisha itself, including Bhitarkanika The land of Crocodiles

Being an Odia it was almost embarrassing and I was long thinking about planning a visit to this beautiful and scenic sanctuary. But amongst all other things like proper timing and cost factor, one of the things which was hindering my plan, was the knowledge that if I have to travel with my family, which I generally do, I wasn't sure of the safety factor. After all it's a jungle area with lots of crocodiles and wild animals. So is it safe to go with kids? But when I heard a group of my office colleagues discussing and planning for a visit, I quickly said yes without any second thoughts. The idea was to get a good understanding of whether it is okay to plan a visit to the place with family or not. And I think I achieved that at the end of the trip to Bhitarkanika. It is surely one of the best-unexplored places I had visited ever and I would love to bring my family here.

We had one person in our group who has visited Bhitarkanika place many times and he was the best guide we could have. Quickly he made all the bookings and off we go. Initially, they were planning to go in Enfield bullets but based on my insistence, we took one car (4 people) and one bullet (1 person). I have never been a bike guy and absolutely not for long distance and highways. The idea was to travel early morning on Saturday and return back Sunday afternoon. We started at around 7 from Bhubaneswar but it was still quite foggy, at-least till we reached Cuttack city.

trip to Bhitarkanika in boat

Multiple route options from Bhubaneswar - Bhitarkanika

There are 2 routes you can take if you are going in car and travelling from Bhubaneswar/Cuttack. One is through Salipur and the other is through Chandikhol. The Chandikhol route is 2 lanes, so faster than Salipur road which is single lane, but it's a toll road and also 15 km more. We took the Salipur one and decided to have breakfast at the famous Bikalananda Kar Hotel in Salipur. We had Vada and curry and have to say it was awesome. Add to it the thing which this shop is famous for - The Rasgullas and we were completely full for the next few hours. So if you are going by car, you can go up-to Gupti and take a boat from there or you can directly drive to Dangamala. So how do you choose:

Gupti or Dangamala?

trip to Bhitarkanika – travel through forest

Gupti is 10 km shorter than Dangamala. So if your place of stay is Habelikatti (the only options are govt forest lodge), you can go to Gupti and take a boat directly to Habelikatti. The boat ride is of 3 hours and costs 4000 (including the 500 for night stay). This is for the private boats. The govt boats could be tad cheaper but the forest dept people said that they are not giving govt boats anymore for Habelikatti, as the rotor gets stuck in the sand. So the private boat are the only options unless you have any jack in the forest dept. The price for Dangamalla is 2500 and we had decided to go there as well during our return (on Sunday), so our total cost was 6500. Tried hard to bargain but could not manage to get the price reduced. Plus, you have to pay 150 for car parking and 300 more for some other charges at the forest dept office. If your place of stay is Dangamala, which is the main national park area, better directly drive to Dangamala, stay there overnight and book a boat ride (at Kohla, which is on the way to Dangamala) to see the crocs. This could be a much cheaper option.

trip to Bhitarkanika – The land of Crocodiles

Gupti and the boat ride to Habelikatti

We reached Gupti at around 11. It is a very small place with a few stray hotels. But the hygiene factor of these hotels might be a deterrent for tourists to have any thoughts of eating there. I found it hard to even get a cup of tea, though could finally manage in one of the small shops. We bought a couple of water bottles for the way but regretted to not have brought enough munches for the way. So after all the formalities at the forest office, we boarded the boat. Our boat driver name was Vishnu, who was carrying his own food for the way and maybe for the night as well. He picked up another guy, just after we started, from one of the river bank side villages who was his partner for the trip. While sailing through the gorges, there was a dense forest on both sides of the river. We started sighting some of the crocs, who were lying in the Sun and on the Swamps. They did not care who was sailing by or if we were making any noises. We asked our driver to sail close to one of the banks so that we could have a better sighting, rather than sailing in the middle of the river. The total duration of sail was around 2.5 hours and all throughout most of us were sitting outside the boat only (on the top). There are chair seating inside, but who cares to sit inside. The private boats make lot more noise as compared to govt boats. Also, the boats are for 20 people and the price is the same, so more the people, cheaper it will be. On the way, we had some oranges and jhal mudhi, which I had carried from home. We saw around 20 crocodiles on the way. Some big and some small in size.
trip to Bhitarkanika – The Crocodiles in forest

Habelikatti - The unexplored zone

Once we reached the Jetty, my first thought was could we get some of these crocodiles in our trail as well? From the Jetty, it is a 2.8 KM trail to the lodge. It is a 3 ft road with jungles on both side of the road. You could hear the birds chirping all way through. We saw 3 foxes strolling few meters ahead of us and went into the trees after seeing us. There is a small creek which also runs by the side and it will have different water levels during the day. We could see small boats parked, which probably sail in these creeks and then merge into the main water body. But that is where the crocodiles can come also - just my assumption :). Did not hear the locals talk about it, when we checked with them. Though they mentioned that the animals found are deer, wild boars, porcupines, snakes, etc. So what makes Habelikatti special. After the walk through this trail, you reach the cottages which are just in front of a un-ending sea sight. Yes, you started from the riverside and walked straight into the sea. The places have 3-4 cottages. Couple of them are for 2 people per cottage - 3500 per night and better looking and furnished. But we were staying in a 4 bedded cottage (4000 per night) which was on the first floor and has a straw-based roof. Very basic amenities and not very clean but for a group of explorers, it was perfectly okay. Our total cost was around 6K including fare (1000) for an additional person and other transactional fees. But this 6K included your stay for one night and all meals (lunch, dinner, breakfast and evening tea/biscuits). Apart from the cottages, there are a couple of other rooms which house the lodge staff and a few other workers. So you are surrounded by jungle on 3 sides and sea on the 4th side.

trip to bhitarkanika -Sunset in Habelikatti beach

You can also reach this place by riding on bikes through the sandy beach, which will take you through villages, cross few rivers on boats and reach Gupti. Have heard about it but do not know much details. But have read fellow travellers having travelled through this route. When we reached the place, we were darn hungry and jumped onto our lunch. The staff brought the lunch to us and it was simple yet tasty. We had rice, dal, fish curry, dahi baingan, sabzis, bhajji. Generally, the staff will serve you but we started serving ourselves. After lunch, we were tired enough to catch up on quick sleep. We woke up around 5-5:30 and went to the beach. After spending some time, it was time for some tea and snacks. We got tea served to us but were expecting pakoras as well. Came to know the evening snack was only for the people staying in the 2 bedded cottages but the staff was generous enough to offer some to us.
It had gotten dark by then and our group decided to walk on the beach side. It was scary though because we had a jungle on one side and sea on the other. We did not know what animals to expect and kept seeing a different kind of animal footmarks on the beach sand. The footmarks just kept on growing bigger as we walked further and I did not want to be too adventurous. So I insisted our guys to travel back.

The best thing in our favour as it was full moon night and pretty lighted with the moon reflections shining on the sea. Talked to a couple of staff on the way, who had put up a bonfire and were trying to burn some of the larger sea shells and probably will come back the morning next day to collect the ashes. We saw one boar as well which was trying to play hide and seek with us. After we came back, we saw a porcupine near the lodge kitchen, which had come to have food. There are a couple of them which come every day for food. We spent quite some near the sea and finally it was dinner time. The dinner was beyond expectations. Apart from the rice, roti, sabzis, we had egg masala, crab masala (unexpected) and topped it up with sweet. After the dinner, we went to the room and kept chatting on different things. The noise of the tides was roaring by the night, which was kind of giving a feel that the sea water has reached our cottages. Around 12 when we thought of sleeping, there were certain noises heard on the rooftop. Some of us got scared that it would be snakes but wasn't sure what it was. Could be just the sound of the glass windows as well. We kept our lights on throughout the night but still, I could not get good sleep, as I kept waking up to any noise. You could charge your phones but not all network would work there. So it is better to have phones of different network operators. Airtel was working in the river as well as in Habelikatti.

Trip to bhitarkanika - Habelikatti cottage

The next morning, a couple of our guys went on another trail guided by 2-3 local workers, who had their own stories of the place. I woke up to a cup of tea, which one of the staff brought to our room. He mentioned that there were few dolphins, which were visible in the sea early morning but we missed it. Never mind, I had seen a good share of dolphins in the chilka lake in some of my earlier visits. No way I could take bath in the cold water, so just freshened up and got ready for the breakfast and onward journey to Dangamala. The breakfast had Puri, sabzi and boiled eggs. Nothing fancy but filling. I just went to the watchtower to get a 360 view, but the building is strangely the farthest building from the sea. There were a lot of solar panels set up at the top of the building which is the only source of electricity. We tipped a couple of hundreds to the staff, wrote our feedback in their feedback book and got a souvenir calendar and key ring. We then started our trail back to the jetty and kept on hearing to the birds chirping on the way. One thing I observed was the water level of the small creek had increased overnight.
So if you wanted to get to some quiet place, away from all the hustle and bustle, Habelikatti is one of the best places. But would I come with the family, probably not because of the long trail through the jungle. You never know what you could encounter.

Bhitarkanika National Park -visiting details

Boat ride to Dangamala

The total ride time was around 3-3.5 hrs. The initial part of the journey, we started humming some of the old Hindi movie songs, without actually caring for how badly we sing :) But it was a good time pass. Once we took the turn towards Dangamala, we started seeing lot of crocodiles and some really big ones. There was one stretch, which was like a beach for the crocodiles. It had a lot of crocodiles just lying on it, probably getting suntanned. Some of them would just slide through the land into the river and would then disappear in the muddy water. Almost like swimming beneath our boats. It was exhilarating and at the same time super fun. We saw one of the bigger crocodiles names "Kalia" but could not see "Mahisasur" which is 24ft long. Sadly our boat driver was not very interested to take an effort to try and look for Mahisasur. His only intention was to reach Dangamala, get a tip from us for their lunch and then return back to Gupti. Felt that getting a good boat driver is so very critical, who can double up as your guide and ensure to show you all the different crocodiles and can share some stories about the place.

Dangamala - The National Park

trip to Bhitarkanika - gupti jetty
We reached the jetty of Dangamala and found quite a few boats parked there. We had travelled on Monday and surprisingly it was too crowded for a national park. There were a lot of tourists from West Bengal who had come through the boats from Chandbali (around 5 hrs boat journey). Also, there were lot of the other day visitors, few international tourists and a team of 40-45 from the IGNFA (national forest academy). Our intention was to have lunch there but when we had called the staff of the forest lodge Dangamala, the previous night, he was clear that he couldn't accommodate us because of prior booking by IGNFA members. So we had called Bhitarkanika restaurant which is just outside the park and had told him that 5 of us will be coming. But alas, the restaurant was closed when we reached there at around 1 PM. Thankfully there were the couple of other restaurants nearby and we ate at Red Crab. We took veg thalis for 120 bucks and it was decent. The national park has lot of cottages but they were all booked (it gets booked much earlier and faster than Habelikatti). In the evening there are deers and wild boars that would almost come to the door of your cottages but we were not staying that evening and had to leave for our return. There is also a museum and a hatchery section there. You can also watch Gori there (if you are lucky) - a white coloured crocodile. My verdict on the place - it would be okay to drive up to Dangamalla along with your family, stay there overnight, have food inside the park, and take a boat ride which would show you the crocodiles around.

The return journey from Bhitarkanika trip

Dangamala to Gupti boat ride was for one hour and on the way, we met some of the senior officials of the forest dept who wanted our opinion on the positives and negatives of the place. We were vocal on some of the issues around, like the high count of day visitors, the sound and quality of private boats and hoped that there would be some improvements made in those areas for the betterment and preservation of our national parks. we took the same route for the return journey as well, as we wanted to feast again on some of those vadas at Salipur. Also, we bought some Rasabali at Kendrapara. We reached home around 8.30 PM, fully tired but cherishing all the splendid memories of the last 2 days. I still feel excited while penning down all those memories. Looking to go back again next year but this time with family.

What to pack:
  • Clothes

  • Sunglasses

  • Sunscreen

  • Hats

  • Food for the boat ride

  • Cameras

  • Water

  • Torches

If Winter:
Winter clothes
Blankets, if you are worried about clean blankets

Other information:

Also, there are some private groups like Sand and Pebbles, who arrange for accommodation and boat rides but they are outside the Bhitarkanika national park area.


Guest Author: Subhra02 Feb 2019

Informative article on a trip to 'Bhitarkanika', the land of crocodiles. Must bookmark if you are interested in traveling and not aware of that area.

Guest Author: Shravan05 Feb 2019

Hey Rajesh. Great post! Was not even aware of this wonderful place called 'Bhitarkanika' in Orissa. Will definitely make a visit next time when I am there in Orissa. Thanks a lot for sharing this!

Guest Author: Rajib15 Jul 2019

Hi Rajesh: thanks for sharing the information! Can you please tell me what is the cost for Habelikhatti to Dangamal boat ride and dangamal to Gupti boatride?

Also if you can share some contact of habelikhatti people, I just want to know about the bike ride to habelikhatti via beach (then I will be able to take my mother who is a nature lover, but can not walk 2.8 kilometers) from Jetty to lodge.

  • Do not include your name, "with regards" etc in the comment. Write detailed comment, relevant to the topic.
  • No HTML formatting and links to other web sites are allowed.
  • This is a strictly moderated site. Absolutely no spam allowed.
  • Name: