A dolphin jumps out of the brackish waters of Odisha’s famed Chilika lake and is the cynosure for all eyes on a boat on the lagoon.
The boatman cuts off the engines in the middle of the lake as shrieks of excitement from the tourists escape.
Seconds later, several pairs of eyes again hunt for a glimpse of the famed Irrawaddy dolphins keeps up the hide-and seek on the silver waters.
As the Sun maintains pace with the boat’s speed, some migratory birds together with white-bellied sea eagles, seagulls and kingfishers try to divert attention from the lake.
For Vibhu, the 44-year-old boatman on the Chilika lagoon from Satapada, it’s a routine evening which means any good day in terms of tourists footfall would get him more money to feed his family of 10.
Vibhu lives in a joint family, and life has not been easy amid the Covid times. The Chilika lake was closed during the worst phase of the pandemic for tourists forcing the boatmen and local fishers to pick up some other profession for a brief period.
“Now that the lake has reopened for tourists, we are expecting a good season. Tourists have started visiting too and we wish the number would increase in the days ahead. We are dependent on the beauty of this eco-system in Chilika lake to attract tourists specially the Irrawaddy dolphins which is one of the major attraction,” Vibhu said.
Vibhu says that he also drives the boat of the fishermen when business is low in terms of tourists.
Another boatman Lakhwinder says that they used to to ferry tourists several times in normal times but now things have changed.
“We go to the lake by serial number. The number of rounds we make in the lake is directly proportional to the footfall in Chilika. We expect that with time more people would visit,” Lakhwinder says.
According to the Dolphin Motorboat Association, the charges for one hour is Rs 900. The charges amplify by the time duration and number of spots the tourists visits in the lake.
In Odia, “sata” means “seven” and pada means “village”, so Satapada means group of seven villages. It is located 50 kilometers from Puri.
The dolphins and the boatmen have a symbiotic relationship. The more the glimpse of the dolphins better the business.
The Odisha government has also been careful enough not to disturb the natural habitat of the Irrawaddy dolphins and conserve Chilika ecosystem in its pure and natural form.
The Chilika is the “single largest habitat of Irrawaddy dolphins in the world”, as per the last survey.
Chilika is Asia’s largest brackish-water lagoon and one of India’s first Ramsar Convention sites (wetlands of international importance). Spread across three districts, the lagoon has an estuarine like character with its part marine, part brackish and part freshwater nature, and dotted with islands. It is bordered by hills and hillocks of the Eastern Ghats.