If you are a keen nature lover, and want to venture beyond the obvious wildlife reserves of India, head to Odisha. From housing a dedicated reserve for elephants to welcoming several migratory birds, the eastern state holds many surprises that will excite the wildlife enthusiast in you. Here are our list of a few lesser-known wildlife sanctuaries you absolutely must take out time for on your next visit:
Located on the northeastern limits of the Eastern Ghats only 20km from Bhubaneswar, this is the only wildlife preserve in Odisha dedicated to the elephant. Spread over 193.39 sq. km across Khurda and Cuttack districts, the sanctuary has several watchtowers for wildlife viewing and remnants of old forts. Enter from the main gate at Godibari, stay overnight in forest rest houses and spot elephants from the Bharatpur watchtower, besides deer, sloth bears, hyenas, jackals, reptiles and birds. Kumarkhunti, a man-made reservoir developed as a heronry (a breeding colony of herons) has waterfowl in the thousands. The popular Nandankanan Zoo (with its tiger and lion safaris) and Botanical Garden has been carved out along the Kanjia Lake, once part of the Chandaka forest.
Fringed by the Hirakud Reservoir and the Barapahad hills of Bargarh district, the Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary (earmarked in 1985) is one of Odisha's prettiest. The mixed vegetation forest, spread over 346 sq km, is home to leopards, elephants, gaur, wild boar, deer, chousingha (the four-horned antelope), and over 40 species of reptiles and 230 species of birds. In winter, the reservoir attracts migratory ducks. To enter the sanctuary, visitors have to obtain permission from the Dhodrokusum forest office located at the end of the dyke road.
The 20 km long forest trek route that extends from Dhodrokusum to Chourasimal (20km) is known for its resident herd of gaurs. While the sanctuary may be visited on a day tour from Sambalpur, at least an overnight stay at the Debrigarh Nature Camp operated by the eco-tourism division of Odisha Forest Development Corporation is worth the time. Located on the reservoir, the camp offers a fantastic view of the water. By day, watch the blue waters change their shade with the passage of the sun overhead. In between safaris, you may also pay a visit to the remains of the Debrigarh or Fort of the Goddess. It is a reminder of patriot Veer Surendra Sai, and his soldiers such as Kamal Singh Dao and others, who waged a long battle against the British.
Primarily a dry deciduous forest of sal, sandalwood, neem, acacia, and arjuna and spanning an area of 304.03 sq. km, the Ushakothi Wildlife Sanctuary lies bordered between the Wardha and Penganga rivers. The two watchtowers here may be a good place to spot the park&rsquos healthy population of elephants, tigers, wild boar, racket-tailed drongos, hyenas, flying squirrel, sloth bears and gaur. Accommodation is available at the forest resthouse in Badrama, about 3 km away. The Hirakud Dam lies on the western part of the sanctuary.
This small 72 sq. km sanctuary situated along the Bay of Bengal between Puri and Konark hosts sandy tracts of cashew and casuarina trees. The Kushabhadra and Nuanai rivers pass through the sanctuary, known for its blackbuck population. The other animals you can spot here include the striped hyena, jackal, jungle cat and spotted deer.
Spread over an area of 191.06 sq. km, Hadagarh is situated in the Keonjhar district of northeast Odisha, and linked to the nearby Similipal Tiger Reserve and Kuladiha Wildlife Sanctuary. Its location in the catchment area of the Salandi River and numerous streams, and the presence of the Hadagarh Reservoir, make it an important wetland area—a variety of resident and migratory water birds flock to the dam site. The sanctuary is also a good place to spot crocodile, while the dense sal forests abound with animals such as leopards, dhole (wild dogs) and elephants.
Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary
This mixed deciduous forests and scrublands spread over more than 147 sq. km was once rich in tigers. It is said to have got its name from kalara pataria bagha, meaning the tiger with stripes resembling bitter gourd (kalara) leaves. The sanctuary, 35 km from Bhawanipatna, is still home to leopards, elephants, sambar deer and gaur. Just 5km from the park gate is the lush Phurlijharan, a perennial waterfall about 30 ft in height. The Khandual Falls is believed to be the home of the goddess Khandua. The Jacom Forest Guest House by the Karlapat River is a good spot for birdwatching.
Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary
A proposed tiger reserve, the 500 sq. km Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary in Nuapada district has diverse wildlife habitats, with a vast plateau, canyons and nearly a dozen streams and waterfalls. Located in the catchment area of the Jonk River and adjoining Chhattisgarh, the sanctuary is a great spot for sighting swamp deer and wild water buffalo, besides sambar deer, wild boar, leopard and even the tiger.