Just south of Puri, the sea mixes in with the 1100 sq.km inland Chilika Lake to create the largest brackish water lake in Asia. These shallow waters enclose an immense area of marshes, lowlands, and islands. There are more than 160 varieties of fish, and, in the winter season (from November through March), the area is home to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well.
The surrounding hills and sandy stretches abound in cheetals, blackbucks, monkeys, fishing cats, mongoose, and porcupines. At the channel meeting the sea, dolphins can be seen cavorting playfully. Snakes, turtles and lizards inhabit the surrounding beach area and wooded undergrowth.
A number of islands dot the expanse of the lake. Nalbana Island, because of its varied flora and fauna, forms the core of the Chilika sanctuary. Kalijai Island is home to the Goddess Kalijai, venerated by the local fisher folk. This island plays host to a huge fair on 'Makar Sankranti' held annually in the month of January. The large fishing community adds flavour to the lake with their traditional colourful sail boats bobbing expertly across the water, reminiscent of the ancient maritime heritage of Odisha. In fact, the fisher folk can be persuaded to take visitors on their boats.
Map of Chilika Sanctuary Chilika is worth visiting the year round, however, the winter months, when the air reverberates with the din of the birds, are the nicest times. Barkul, Rambha, Balugaon and Satpada are the bases for visiting Chilika, where boats can be hired.