Were it not for its glass-like surface, Chilka Lake, Asia’s largest lagoon, could easily be mistaken for the sea; from its mud-fringed foreshore you can barely make out the narrow strip of marshy islands and sand-flats that separate the 1100-square-kilometre expanse of brackish water from the Bay of Bengal. Come here between December and February, and you’ll see a variety of birds, including flamingos, pelicans, painted storks, fish eagles, ospreys and kites, many of them migrants from Siberia, Iran and the Himalayas. Chilika is also one of the few places in India where the Irrawaddy dolphin can be spotted.
The best way to see the lake and the birdlife is on a boat trip. Unfortunately, tourists are currently banned from visiting Nalabana Island, a bird sanctuary, which has dramatically reduced the chances of seeing the migratory species close up. It’s still possible to see them from further away, however, on a boat cruise or by visiting some of Chilika’s other islands.
Satapada, on the coastal side 45km from Puri, is the best place to stay on the lake; the surrounding waters offer the best chance of seeing dolphins.