By Nidhi Mahajan
One would think that the state of Orissa is quite unassuming with its nature’s offering. I would agree that the treasures of this eastern state are not obvious and popular enough as many other tourism-driven states. But once you venture deeper, you can discover some of its wonders. A recent trip to the Simlipal National Park with my trek buddies made it clearer.
It was late spring, which is quite warm in the state, but pleasant enough to explore the outdoors. It was a 250 KM journey from Puri, which typically takes five to seven hours if you do train and/or bus. With few of us to share a ride, we opted for a rental SUV, since forest terrain could get tricky. After a bit of research online, we found and rented a car in Bhubaneswar with an experienced driver with Savaari, and at a reasonable price too! It took us nearly five and a half hours by Badshahi Road, which is by far the best route to reach this forested area.
In case you weren’t aware, Simlipal is one of the two national parks of Orissa, Bhitarkanika being the other one. Simlipal sits in the Mayurbhanj district, in the northern part of the state and is now recognized as one of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves in the country. Of the two, Simlipal is famous for its tiger and elephant reserves.
Once we reached Baripada, we found two entry points to the main park – one at Jashipur and the other one at Pithabata. Both the checkpoints require you to secure a permit from the Forest Range Office to explore the park and its surrounding areas.
We took the route through Jashipur. This is where the tiger reserve lies. This route also boasts some of the most scenic spots of the park. It was almost a 65 Km-long route through Barehipani, Brundaban, Jamuani, Tulasibani and back to Jashipur.
Our vehicle slowed down as it started rolling on the jungle trails flanked by dense clusters of Sal and silk-cotton trees. The name Simlipal comes from these cotton trees, endemic to the forest. Being spring, the trees were in full bloom with bright, red flowers, making the forests aglow in a warm, ruddy hue. As we drove deeper into the woods, the path got narrower and the trees denser. The foliage kept the sunlight away, enough to drop the temperatures by a couple of degrees. We didn’t need a guide since our driver was well-acquainted with the national park and its important sites.
Our first stop was on the banks of Khairi. There was a crocodile preservation center and a temple nearby. From there we headed towards the Barehipani Waterfall. En route, we spotted some beautiful waterfalls, some cascading down craggy mounds, and some down the bluffs. Barehipani is a prominent and popular waterfall and one of the highest in India. The torrents dropped from a height of 1300 feet, offering a stunning view and misty air. Its burbling sound was the only thing we could hear around us.
We were just starting to wonder if we would be able to spot any wild animals, when our driver said, that it is usually difficult to find them around all the time. One has to be really lucky to spot a tiger. However, there were chances of spotting elephants and deer in Chahala, which was our last leg of the journey.
On our way to Chahala, we found and stopped at yet another beautiful waterfall. The Jaranda Falls was another 30 Km from Barehipani and together, they made for the best sites of Simplipal. It was not as high as the Barehipani Falls but the water was clearer. Tucked within a plateau and surrounded by divine greenery, this seemed like the perfect picnic spot for travelers or hikers. We took our lunch break here, soaking in the quietness and hearing the whistling winds, while we bathed at the pool below.
When we reached Chahala, we found the forests to be less dense and the afternoon sun shone mildly and crept through the towering Sal. There were patches of grasslands, where we managed to spot a couple of deer. A few miles ahead, we found the elephant camp that we had heard of earlier. But even before we could reach there, we found a herd of elephants marching down the road in a queue. Undisturbed by our vehicle and other tourists, they made their way into the forests.
I would have preferred to spot tigers or other wild beings perhaps, but the natural beauty of Simlipal was appealing in itself; the sparkling waterfalls, the hued foliage, and the air of serenity making it an enchanting environment, where every nature lover can find respite.
If you are flying from another city to Bhubaneswar, then avail a reliable and convenient Bhubaneswar to Puri car rental and continue the ride to Simlipal.
Don’t rely on your phone GPS or internet, since there is no mobile connectivity inside the national park.
The author is passionate about travel.