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Odisha opens wild doors to tourists

File picture of tourists at Bhitarkanika National Park

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 10: The call of the wild from Odisha is getting irresistible. All 18 wildlife sanctuaries in the state have thrown open their gates to visitors after the four-month forced hibernation mandated by the monsoon.

The Similipal sanctuary, one of only two in Odisha to boast of a National Park status, began welcoming tourists from yesterday with offers of night stay and elephant rides. Field director, Similipal, Anup Nayak said tourist complexes at Gudgudia and Jamunai, the former located in the core area of the sanctuary and the latter in the periphery, were ready.

“For sports and adventure-loving tourists, we will be making arrangements for trekking. At Gudgudia, four elephants, including two calves, will entertain the visitors,” said Nayak. The 2,200sqkm wildlife retreat, which is also a known tiger reserve, had faced Maoist attacks in 2009, forcing its closure. But things have since improved and last year, the sanctuary received 12,500 tourists, including 150 foreigners.

The park authorities are hoping to cash in on the expected tourism boom, the season having begun. Charges per domestic tourist at Similipal will be Rs 40, and it will be Rs 1,000 for foreigners. For guides, tourists will have to pay an extra Rs 100.

Not far from Similipal, the Kuldiha elephant sanctuary, the other major wildlife habitat located in Mayurbhanj district, has also been welcoming tourists with open arms. Kuldiha opened earlier than Similipal on November 1, with authorities making night stay arrangements at Kuldiha and Jodachua where eco-guide facilities are also available.

“We have four suites and four temporary tents available for rates ranging between Rs 250 to Rs 400 per day. They are equipped with solar lights,” said Sankarsan Mahalik, range officer, Kuldiha. He said the major attraction of the 272.4 km sanctuary was watching elephant herds near the salt pits in the morning and evening.

Chilika, the sapphire-blue lake, which plays host to lakhs of migratory birds every winter, is also tugging at the heartstrings of the footloose and fancy-free. Reports from the area suggest that winged guests from far off countries have begun landing at Nalabana, the avian sanctuary in the lake’s core area, but the number is expected to swell in the next few weeks.

Officials said the high-water level in the lake was an important factor affecting the arrival of birds. But Chilika divisional forest officer B.P. Acharya was optimistic about the lake soon turning into a plumed wonder with winged beauties finding their feet in Nalabana. Last year, more than eight lakh birds had visited the lake, which remains one of the biggest tourist attractions in the state.

President of the state Tour and Travel Agents’ Association Benjamin Simon appeared enthusiastic about a great beginning to the tourist season with the focus on eco-tourism. However, he felt that the state needed to showcase and market its tourism potential more aggressively. “We need to redefine our commitment to the promotion of tourism. For example, in places like Similipal, forest department should ensure better coordination with tourism officials and other stake holders to make eco-tourism more attractive,” said Simon.