Last year after the Palmajua forest trip with our toddlers went successful, we had instantly planned for another annual trip this year. So, during the 1st Week of March, just when the COVID 19 situation was still nascent in India and not alarming in eastern India, we decided to travel to Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary – our last trip during the pre-COVID era.
About the Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary
The Satkosia is the gorge on river Mahanadi which is Saat Kosh or 14 miles (22 Kms) in length. The Satkosia Gorge is the habitat for a variety of wildlife including tigers, crocodiles, bisons, deers, elephants, porcupines, pangolins, langurs and leopards. There are also an amazing variety of colouful birds that can be spotted during the quiet hours of morning or afternoon. Presently, the number of tigers has decreased to 4, leopards are rarely spotted but one can easily spot Gharials basking in the sun while cruising on the Mahanadi river on local boats. The green forests remain rejuvenated throughout the year because of the regular rains showering upon the deciduous trees in and around Satkosia gorge.
There are many nature camps like Tikarpara and Purunakote, but we zeroed our stay in the cottages provided by the Chhotkei Nature Camp. The Chhotkei Nature camp lies on the northern side of the Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary. We booked our cottages online. (The online link for booking is shared in Part 2).
Reaching Chhotkei Nature Camp from Kolkata
Since train tickets weren’t available, we opted for a bus journey. The night bus started from Esplanade and dropped us at Bhubaneshwar just before dawn. From Bhubaneshwar, we hired a cab till Chhotkei Nature Camp. We drove till Angul Bazar, halted for a breakfast with Idli, turned left to reach Chhotkei Nature Camp. In the midway, we stopped at Pampasar to take the permission and register our entries into the Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary.
In short, our road journey was a tedious one with our kids. We won’t recommend a long drive to Chhotkei Nature Camp from Kolkata with toddlers. It would be best via train. You can take a local train to Angul Station from Bhubaneshwar and then take a cab to Chhotkei.
First Day at Chhotkei Nature Camp
We reached the Chhotkei Nature Camp in the afternoon. As we entered through the gate, the greenery and a calm afternoon breeze soothed our weariness. Our mobiles being transformed into playthings without network towers, we felt more close to nature.
However, after their staff showed our cottages and served our lunch, the steaming hot plates of rice, daal and vegetable curry lured us more than the trees and the chirping of birds around us. We were so hungry! The food was simple and had a homely taste; even our toddlers enjoyed it. The hospitality of the staff won our hearts.
After the filling food, all we wanted was to have a siesta. The rooms were cool; the drawn curtains made them dark too. Sleep wasn’t elusive anymore. After an hour or so, the pitter-pattering of the rains on the asbestos slopes of the cottages woke us up. The backside verandahs of the cottages opened us up to the lush green forests around us. As the rains dripped in, cool breezes swept over, bringing in some raindrops with them. The rains stopped after some time. The birds started to chatter again, breaking the prevailing silence all around.
Conforming to the true characteristic of the jungles, there was a sudden nightfall after a not-so-long evening. The crickets and the frogs took over the concert from the birds. Later in the night, as we strolled around the nature camp boundary before getting off to sleep, a Night Jar announced that the day was over.
Boating in Satkosia Gorge
The next morning we started off to Satkosia Gorge in our hired cab. The gorge is around 12 Kms from the Chhotkei Nature Camp. We stopped at Tikarpara for boarding the motorboat. As we waited for our turns to board the boat, we strolled around the nearby enclosures.
The enclosures housed Gharials, Crocodiles, a few local poisonous snakes, and some monkeys. The signboard installed near the enclosures read ‘Crocodile Breeding Ground and Conservation Site.’
After some time, as the boatman called us, we boarded the motorboat. The two amateur photographers of our group placed themselves in vantage points in the hope of capturing the sights as the boat would advance. Mahanadi and the hillocks around appeared blue – the waves were glassy while the hillocks stood firm with trees dotted around them.
We had a fear that the engine sound emanating from the engine would drive the birds and animals away but nothing of that sort happened. The sound was barely heard by us, almost inaudible. As we glanced around from the mid-river, we caught a nonchalant crocodile lying down on a sandbank upon Mahanadi River and basking in the sun. A River Lapwing jostled around in the hope of catching a few crustaceans.
It was fun to introduce the animal life and the sights around the Satkosia Gorge to our toddlers. They avidly watched, rapt in attention. As we showed our kids the waves the boat made while sailing ahead, a Tern swooped down on the river like lightning, caught a fish on its beak, and flew up above towards its nest, maybe. We wanted to follow the Tern’s direction of flight but the dazzling sun hid it from us.
The cool, moist breeze over the Mahanadi River was a constant companion and the reason for us not to sweat profusely. The viewing experience would have been better if we could take the boat cruise earlier in the morning. Nevertheless, the experience was marvellous. The Satkosia Gorge is one of those places which can make you crave solitude amidst nature and want to spend some more time by the sandbanks of Mahanadi River, whiling away your time by counting the soft ripples appearing on the surface of the river.
The next day we had planned to go for the customary Jungle Safari. Our driver Sunil, suggested us to go for a night safari after having our dinner. We will describe more about our Satkosia experience in the next part of the travelogue.