Bichitrapur – The Other Bhitarkanika

‘If there are no mangroves, then the sea will have no meaning. It is like having a tree without roots, for the mangroves are the roots of the sea.’

Words of a Thai Fisherman from the Andaman Coast

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You have seen Bhitarkanika, widely celebrated as Mini Amazon. But perhaps you may not be aware of North Balasore Coast that has preserved yet another mangrove, though much smaller in size. Bichitrapur, the mangrove coast of Balasore is an ecological utopia.

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A 10-minute boat ride from Khadibili through the meandering mangrove creeks will drop you at a no man’s beach, the mangrove paradise of Bichitrapur. On your way, you come across numerous fishing boats mostly built in clinker technique and locally known as patia on both sides of the creek.

Also, Read Here:

TALASARI BEACH – BEYOND THE RHYTHMIC SEA

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Bichitrapur is one of the least explored mangrove coasts in Odisha and therefore retained its character as an ecological hotspot. A sheltering ground for resident and migratory birds and ghost red crabs, the major attraction here is the numerous stumps of water weathering trees strewn across the marshy land and sea waves gently tossing them.

Also, Read Here:

CHANDIPUR – BEYOND THE VANISHING SEA

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Mangroves are part of the coastal ecosystem in the tropical and sub-tropical world in Asia, Africa, Australia and America. The largest remaining tract of mangrove forest in the world is found in the Sundarbans on the edge of Bay of Bengal in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Moving south from Sundarbans, the tiny tract of Bichitrapur is the first mangrove region in the east coast.

The term ‘mangrove’ is derived from two words ‘mangoe’ (Portuguese), which means a mangrove tree and ‘grove’ (English), which means a community of trees.

Travel Tips

Bichitrapur is located at a distance of 100 km from Balasore and 15 km from Talasari Beach and 20 km from Digha, a popular tourist beach in bordering West Bengal. Surround by lush green paddy fields, swamps, rivers and villages, Bichitrapur can also be covered by bicycle. The nature camp at Bichitrapur is the only staying option, which can be booked online (https://www.ecotourodisha.com/). The boat ride starts from Khadibili during high tides. Your booking at the nature camp also includes a complimentary boat ride in the mangrove creeks.

Growing in the inter-tidal areas and estuary mouths between land and sea, mangroves are composed of salt-tolerant trees and other plant species. They thrive in intertidal zones of sheltered tropical shores, islands and estuaries.

Also, Read Here:

DAGARA – ODISHA’S RED CARPET BEACH

Bichitrapur Mangrove is also a storehouse of experiences for knowledge seeking travellers. One can also do beach trekking from Talasari or even Digha to reach Bichitrapur.

The surrounding of Bichitrapur is the agricultural heartland of rural Balasore. On your drive from Chandaneswar to Bichitrapur, you discover beetle leaf gardens, a major source of local revenue generation. Beetle leaves are delicate plants and utmost care is taken for their growth.

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Yet another attraction around Bichitrapur is Asia’s tallest Shiva Lingam at Kumbharagadi Village. The 12 feet long and 14 feet width lingam of Baba Bhusandeswara is carved out on black granite stone and only half of it is visible.

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According to a local legend, during Tretaya Yuga, the demon king Ravana was blessed by Lord Shiva and gifted this Shiva Lingam. But Lord Shiva warned him not to place the lingam anywhere. Ravana was on his way with the lingam on Puspak Viman. The angels of God were disappointed and seized the power of Ravana. In the meantime, Ravana felt desperate and planted the lingam at this place. He tried to lift again but failed because it was heavy. The lingam was buried unnoticed for a long time until when a Marwari businessman of Jaleswara town discovered it in his dream. On the next day, he accompanied by his friends came here and built a shrine over it.

The Nature Camp at Bichitrapur is a destination by itself. Surrounded by dense casuarina forest, the camp has 4 cottages on a dune in a tranquil setting.

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A few kilometres south of the camp is the estuary of Subarnarekha River, a major maritime gateway in the past for European expansion in India. Today the tranquil water of the river is extensively used for subsistence and industrial fishing.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Mystic Nilagiri – The Aboriginal Heartland of Balasore with a Royal Past

A legend goes: About 1000 years back two Rajput brothers namely Nila and Shankar who belonged to the royal family of Chottanagpur had come to Puri to seek devotion of Lord Jagannath. They were handsome and brave but were suffering from the family dispute at home. The Gajapati King of Puri was highly impressed with their personality and asked them to stay back.

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Both were offered the present Nilagri region in the western part of Balasore to rule. However, Nila stayed back and Shankar left for some other place. The kingdom was named after Nila as Gada Nilagiri.

Also, Read Here:

KHANDAPADA – A VALLEY AMIDST NINE MOUNTAINS

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It is believed that the present-day village of Gadadih, some 15 km away from present Nilagiri Town was their capital. However, there is no archaeological evidence to support this.

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Time moved on. Several of Nila’s heirs ruled Nilagiri than on. In the 16th century, one of his descendants who ruled Nilagiri was Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang Mandahta. He was a brave king and acted as a commander of Puri Gajapati King in his expedition against the Muslim invaders. Because of his skills and personality, he was offered to marry the daughter of Gajapati King, Princess Kalara Devi. From then on Nilagiri kingdom was influenced by the Jagannath Cult and culture of Puri. Because of his bravery, Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang was also awarded the title Harichandan by the Gajapati King.

Also, Read Here:

BADAMBA – EXPLORING THE MIDDLE MAHANADI KINGDOM

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Narayan Basant Bhujang was succeeded by Raja Uttareswar. According to sources, Uttareswar had assisted Raja Mansingh of Amer (the present-day Jaipur in Rajasthan) in his expedition against the Afghans in Bengal on the banks of Subarnarekha River. Like his father, he was also a great admirer of Gajapati King at Puri. His successor Raja Krushna Das was awarded the title of Mardaraj by the King of Puri and it is still continued.

Travel Tips

Nilagiri is located at a distance of 20 km from Balasore in the periphery of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary. Though it is a small town it does not have much-staying options. The nearby Panchalingeswra shrine located within Kuldiha has a number of staying options including the Panthanivas of Odisha Tourism. You can hire an auto or a cab from Balasore to travel around Nilagiri which can be covered in one day. Hotel Sagar and Hotel Tarini both located in the town serve decent local food in local style.

It is still not known what happened in the next two sanctuaries. In early 19th century, the capital was shifted to the present location under the foothill of majestic Swarnachuda Mountain and named it Nijagada.

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DASPALLA – A JOURNEY THROUGH ODISHA’S UNTAMED FRONTIERS

Today the star attraction of Gada Nilagiri is the 19th-century ruins and the added 20th-century palace built in the fusion of Rajput, Odia and Victorian styles. The main attraction of the palace is its high clock tower. Beside the clock tower is the beautiful chhau mandapa, an influence from Mayurbhanj introduced in the kingdom in the 19th century.

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Nilagiri lost its power immediately after India got independence and merged with the Indian union.

Like all princely states of Odisha, Nilagiri is also modelled after Puri. Beside the palace is the temple of Jagannath facing the Grand Road (Bada Danda), a wide corridor through which the chariot festival of Lord Jagannath takes place in every Asadha Month. Like Puri, the trinity of Nilagiri also goes through the new embodiment of bodies (nabakalebara) during the same period. Towards the end of Bada Danda is situated the temple of Mausi Maa.

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Nilagiri is surrounded by the wilderness of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, lush green forest and enchanting hills. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been inhabited from the time of Early Stone Age. At present, there are villages of Bhumija and Madia Tribes, both Austro-Asiatic speaking communities.

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Bhumijas are an agricultural tribe and do occasional hunting. They are fun-loving and deep believers in nature. Salabani, a small village on the lap of nature is a major Bhumija settlement near Nilagiri. A visit to Salabani is like a journey back in time where you relive yourself in the old-world charm of Karma dance and music.

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Babandha, a small village on the bank of Bugulibandha wetland in the periphery of Kuldiha Sanctuary is yet another hidden secret of Nilagiri. Inhabited by 350 Madia potters, Babandha is known for its unique earthen pot rafters. It is said that the community had migrated from Central India about 150 years back on the invitation of the royal family of Nilagiri.

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Apart from the pot rafters, the surroundings of the village along the wetland area known for its tranquillity and age-old fishing practices.

Nilagiri is mysterious. It seems the time has stood here still for a soul searching traveller. It is tranquil and is the best-kept secret of Balasore in North Odisha.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Dagara – Odisha’s Red Carpet Beach

As you near the tranquil beach of Dagara after a bumpy drive for almost 20 km from the nearest town of Baliapal, you receive a gracious welcome by nature through a long stretch of red carpet cropping out of the golden sands.

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Little wonder, these little creatures are the fastest runners among all crab species. They are not in hundreds or thousands but crawl in millions. As you approach nearer to them they scurry into their holes. These are ghost red crabs at Dagara Beach in the coastline of Balasore. Their eyestalks allow them to see 360-degree potential predators and prey.

Also, Read Here:

SAHANA BEACH AND DEVI MOUTH – ODISHA’S BEST KEPT SECRET

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Ghost crabs are commonly found on tropical beaches across the world, but there are few places where their concentration is more. They have a little box-like body, thick elongated eyestalks and one claw is longer than the other in both males and females for feeding and digging their burrows. The eyestalks are tipped with horn-like projections called styles.

Also, Read Here:

GOPALPUR – TRANQUILLITY ON THE SEA

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Ghost crabs are mainly detritivores but are also active predators and scavengers. They eat algae and animal detritus food among the sand as well as dead fish, insects and marine organism. They leave a large number of sand balls across the beach which they have searched through for food.

Travel Tips 

Dagara Beach is located at a distance of 60 km from Balasore City and 260 km from Bhubaneswar. The nearest town is Baliapal, which is 20 km away. There are a few staying options at Dagara but it is recommended for a comfortable stay at Chandipur or Talsari (both 2 hours away by road). There is also a PWD IB which can be booked through the official procedure. The best time to be at Dagara is when there is low tide, when the ghost red crabs appear in millions on the sandy beach.

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Dagara Beach near the mouth of Subarnarekha River is one of Odisha’s most unspoiled beaches with a wide expanse of sandy coastline. Fenced by long stretches of casuarina trees it is the only beach in Odisha where one can enjoy both sunrise and sunset. The beach is known for its massive concentration of ghost red crabs.

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The story of Dagara is incomplete without appreciating the rustic beauty of its surrounding countryside. The Subaranarekha River which originates in the high plateau of Jharkhand in the west was a major thoroughfare in the 16th-17th centuries CE. The Dutch and the Portuguese used this river estuary as the passage to seek their business fortune in the eastern part of India. It is told that the Dutch had established a factory at Baliapal, however, no trace of it can be found. Yet there are vestiges of British East India Company sheds, warehouses, canals and bunds that can be seen as one drive through the countryside.

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Yet one more attraction is the countless fishing boats of various sizes and shapes playing in the golden water of Subarnareka and the swamps. And if you are in September – October, the Subaranarekha blooms with vast beds of Kasatandi flowers, symbolizing the arrival of Maa Durga.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

With Sasanka Rath, Odisha Tourism

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Jau Kandehi of Balasore – Excellence in Lacquer

As I grow old, I become more nostalgic about my childhood days in the 1980s. It was an era without Internet and Smart Phones, no pizza or any food of foreign origin. Our favourite pastime was ‘playing’, enacting Odisha’s folk stories and colourful legends.

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Though I was a boy and the kandhei bahaghara (marriage of dolls) used to be a pastime activity for girls, but we all celebrated our childhood to the tune of the ditty –

Aa Baula Bohu Bohuka Khela Kheliba,

Come, friends – let’s play doll marriage having fun and joy

Jhia bahakari pua bahakari

By letting marriage between our daughter and son

Jani – jautuka deba”

And giving away dowry and gifts

Also, Read Here:

PAPIER MACHE – THE STORY OF ODIA MUKHA AND ITS MASTER ARTISAN

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Toys have been integral to India’s 5000 years of civilization. From the dawn of Indus Valley until the time computer games and cheap Chinese toys started making inroads to India’s interiors, playing with traditional toys dominated the length and breadth of the country. In past, India had a rich tradition of making toys using a variety of material. However, unfortunately very few have survived.

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LIFE IN TERRACOTTA – TILE CRAFT OF BARPALI

One of these is Jau Kandhei, or Lacquered Toys, which since the 17th century is being made as part of Balasore’s folk tradition. Today, dolls made of fired clay, painted with colourful lacquerer and artistically designed with lacquered threads are an integral part of Balasore’s folk culture.

Travel Tips

Silpi Kesu Das lives in Balasore, the largest city in North Odisha and located midway between Bhubaneswar and Kolkata. Connected by both excellent road and rail Balasore is also a major tourist destination especially for its Chandipur Beach. There are excellent stay options in and around Balasore for all kinds of travellers. The founder of Balleswari Kala Kendra Silpi Kesu Das’s workshop is located near Remuna Golei in Balasore City.

Dublagada, Koshamba Nagar, Near Remuna Golei, Po – Bhimapura, Dist – Balasore, Pin-756003, Odisha, India Website: http://www.jaukandhei.com Mob: 9861104590

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In the 17th Century, Balasore was at the centre of Odisha’s seafaring culture. Surrounded by the estuary of Budhabalaga River, which meets the Bay of Bengal near the famous beach of Chandipur on one side and the dense forest of Nilagiri and Kuldiha on the other side, Balasore had a strategic position in the maritime map of India. The city was positioned at the crossroad of ideas. It was Balasore where the Dutch followed by the Portuguese, French and the British first arrived in the north-east coast of India to establish factories and trade. The forest of Nilagiri and Kuldiha had an abundance of lacquer which was used for making toys.

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Balaram Gadi near Balasore – a major harbour in the 16th century

In the words of Silpi Kesu Das, an internationally acclaimed lacquered toy artist, ‘keeping a pair of dolls in the bedroom is considered auspicious in our tradition. This is why the bride’s family used to gift lacquer dolls to the couple in earlier days. It glorifies the celestial relationship’.

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Kesu’s Miniature Paintings – Horseshoe Crab, a rare marine species from Balasore finds depiction in each of his painting.

Watch here his interview.

 

 

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com