Exploring Odisha: The North-Central Expedition
Smart Photography|December 2020
Having had our taste of the wild side of Odisha with a visit to Tikarpada during the previous leg of this journey, we couldn’t wait to see what other secrets the state’s dense forest cover had in store. So, we headed straight for the Similipal Tiger Reserve. Before venturing into the forest, though, we learned about the legendary tigress Khairi and the equally legendary Indian Forest Service officer, Padmashri Saroj Raj Choudhary, who raised her and kept a pet python and hyena alongside.
Harket Suchde

Stories of the bond between the tigress Khairi and Choudhary are amazing and well known across the country. Choudhary is also highly regarded in the wildlife and conservation world, having done a lot for this space, including the establishment of the Similipal Tiger Reserve and the development of the pugmark tracking technique used to follow the movement of India’s Royal Bengal Tiger population out in the wild, among his many accomplishments.

After this fascinating history lesson, we continued our exploration, stopping off at a scenic stretch of farmland before heading into the actual forest. At the forest, amid 300-year-old trees and clandestine pine forests, was the Khairi River, on the banks of which the eponymous tigress was found as a cub and, consequently, named after it by Choudhary. This river runs through the forest and, as you watch it gurgle and crash along, you are overcome by a sense of peace. After reflecting in the meditative calm at the riverside, we moved on.

Later that day, we headed for the Chilika Lake — the next stop on our itinerary. The second-largest brackish lagoon in the world, Chilika is spread over a massive 1,100 kilometers. With hundreds of species of migratory birds calling it their occasional home, a veritable treasure-trove of sea-life calling it their permanent home, and a rich ecology made up of seaweeds, algae, and seagrass besides, this place is a nature-lover's paradise.

As we headed off on the boat ride to explore the lake, we had another surprise awaiting us — turns out that Chilika is home to Irrawaddy dolphins, one of two lagoons in the world and the only one in India where you can spot these rare species of dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins are also present here and while we got glimpses of these aquatic mammals swimming about from time to time, with a fin breaking the surface of the lake here and there, we didn’t see the breaching and jumping that pop culture expects you to believe will occur anytime a dolphin is around.

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