A river runs through it
A river runs through it

The stunning Satkosia gorge created by the Mahanadi River in Odisha is a great wildlife destination for those willing to look beyond the tiger

In Odisha, within the depths of the forests of Angul District is a point where the Chhota Nagpur Plateau and the Eastern Ghats would have met, but for the mighty Mahanadi. The River has cleaved its way through the rocks and created one of the most stunning gorges in India—the Satkosia Gorge. The thickly forested slopes on either side that is home to a diverse group of flora and fauna, the riverine ecosystem that supports crocodiles and a range of aquafauna, the ecocamp set on the river’s sandy banks and the sheer beauty of it all makes this a great destination for responsible travellers.

Bio-diverse riverine ecosystem

The gorge is in the heart of the Satkosia Tiger Reserve, which was formed in 2007 by combining the Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary and the Baisipalli Sanctury. The reserve consists of over 900 sq km of forests. Unfortunately, the chances of seeing a tiger here is minimal and the core areas of the Reserve are off-limits to travellers for the sake of wildlife protection and conservation. However, those are minor quibbles as there is a wealth of other wildlife here. “There is rich biodiversity in Satkosia. While travellers will not see the tiger here, there are many other animals. The forests have over 200 elephants, gaur, bisons, deer and many species of birds. The river and the gorge have created a rich riverine and aquatic ecosystem that is especially attractive for eco tourists. In and around the river the tourist will find both the mugger and the gharial, many species of migratory birds, lot of aquatic animals like rare fresh water turtles such as the Chitra indica and Aspidiretes gangeticus,” says Prasanna Kumar Behera, Founder of Angul-based Nature Environment & Wildlife Society, Odisha.

The gorge and the surrounding region get its name from the local way of measuring the length of the gorge—‘sat kos’ that translates to 22km. The river and the gorge should also be at the centre of a visit here. There are a few places to stay, but the one you should opt for is the Satkosia Sands Resort (Badmul) right on the banks of the Mahanadi and offering great views of the Satkosia Gorge.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock; Mugger crocodile on the banks of the Mahanadi River in Satkosia Tiger River)

Camping on the Mahanadi's bank

The Satkosia Sands Resort is a community-run initiative of the Forest Department and the villagers from Badmul and other nearby villages run this low-impact camp. The eco camp consists of both tents and cottages. The air-conditioned permanent stilt supported tents and cottages are located on the hill slope overlooking the river, while temporary non air-conditioned tents are pitched on the sandbar right beside the river between October and March.

The villages in this forest zone used to be quite impoverished resulting in migration, increased dependence on the forest produce and even poaching. With the camp being set up in 2016 the villagers have an alternate source of income. Many of the erstwhile poachers have become protectors and guests get to interact with them. From the cooks and servers to the housekeeping staff and boatmen, all are local villagers. Those not directly employed by the camp also benefit from it as it sources all the produce, from vegetables and grains to meat and milk, from the villagers everyday.

Community tourism

“Some are of the view that tourism poses a threat to conservation but I do not subscribe to that view. Tourism when done well can promote conservation and help improve livelihood of the local community. Community participation is essential for conservation. The involvement of local community makes conservation efforts easier,” says Prasanna Kumar Behera of Nature Environment & Wildlife Society. This is clearly visible at Satkosia. 

The camp offers a number of nature and wildlife themed activities, led by local villagers. Since a large area of the reserve forests on either side of the gorge are out of bounds for regular travellers, the activities organised by the camp like cycling, canopy walks and birding tours ensures you get to experience the forest. Two experiences stand out—the jungle walk alongside the river in the buffer area of the reserve and the river cruise. The almost hour-long cruise is a great way to see the aqua fauna, especially the muggers and gharials basking in the sun. The camp can also organise village and farm visits.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock; Indian Roofed Turtles on the Mahanadi river bank in Satkosia Tiger reserve) 

In the evenings there are folk performances by local artists and bonfire in the winter. But being able to gaze at the magnificent Mahanadi and the awe-inspiring gorge it has created right from your tent will be the true highpoint of a trip here. 

Info

Bhubaneswar, 113km away, is the nearest airport and railway station and is a 3-hour drive from Satkosia Sands Resort. The non air-conditioned temporary tents on the river’s sandbar are pitched only in winter and cost about Rs 3,700 (includes taxes and other charges) and include all meals and some of the activities. The air-conditioned tents and cottages on the hill slopes cost about Rs 4,300 and Rs 4,900 respectively and also include all meals and some of the activities. Read more: https://www.ecotourodisha.com/exploreecotourism.php

(Disclaimer: This article is published in association with Odisha Tourism)


Radhika P Nair is Consulting Editor of the Outlook Responsible Tourism India website. She has been a journalist for about 15 years and has worked in organisations like NDTV, Outlook Traveller, The Economic Times and YourStory. She has tracked the Indian startup space for about a decade, but travel remains her one true love!