Close Encounters with Crocodiles

Beware of crocodile sign in Bhitarkanika National Park

We set sail through the Mangrove Swamps of India’s Mini Amazon to experience Close Encounters with Crocodiles.

Wildlife safaris are thrilling, but experiencing one from a riverboat in India is truly unique. We flew into Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha, from Kolkata to join a safari aboard Mahanadi, one of four identical catamaran-hulled yachts operated by Antara River Cruises. These safaris navigate the mangrove swamps of the Brahmani-Baitarani-Dhamara-Pathsala delta, known as Bhitarkanika, India’s second-largest mangrove ecosystem, often called the country’s “Mini Amazon.”

Bhitarkanika, rich in wildlife and vegetation, hosts 55 of India’s 58 mangrove species. The delta is home to saltwater crocodiles, king cobras, wild boars, rhesus monkeys, Indian pythons, Asian water monitor lizards, deer, and over 300 bird species. More than 3000 saltwater crocodiles are born here annually, with the largest recorded male weighing over 2000 kg and measuring 7.1 metres.

Estuarine or saltwater crocodile hiding on the bank in Bhitarkanika National Park

Declared a National Park in 1998 and a Ramsar wetland site in 2002, Bhitarkanika is India’s best wildlife protection area.

The Voyage

Our adventure, organised by Antara River Cruises, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Antara, known for luxury river cruises on the Ganges, introduced this new expedition into Bhitarkanika’s creeks. The company, led by Raj Singh, champions environmental and social sustainability, using hybrid solar-electric catamarans, avoiding single-use plastics, and sourcing ingredients locally.

Catamaran Mahanadi in Bhitarkanika National Park

The fleet, designed for 3-4 day voyages, operates as a unit, each boat carrying four passengers. The Amazon of the East itinerary sails every Friday, while Cruising Bhitarkanika trips leave every Monday. Flexibility allows for personalized experiences, even for just two people.

We embarked from Gupti, a three-hour drive from Bhubaneswar airport, after leisurely stops. Dinner onboard marked the start of a culinary journey through Odisha and Bengal’s flavours, prepared by our chef Haider with fresh, local ingredients.

Sailing upstream into the National Park, we witnessed the pristine mangroves and diverse wildlife. The rivers here twist through unique geography, making navigation an art. Our Captain’s familiarity with the waters was evident.

Guided by Nirajan and hostess Sanghamitra, we were regaled with stories and spotted numerous birds, otters, and turtles. Nirajan’s keen eye helped us see a variety of species, from Kingfishers to monitor lizards. Our first crocodile close up sighting was thrilling, sending shivers down our spines.

Estaury or saltwater crocodile just visible in the river Mahanadi in Bhitarkanika National Park

At Dangamala, we visited an orientation centre and crocodile hatchery, learning about the successful breeding program. Manas Das, a forest park ranger, explained the meticulous process of collecting and hatching crocodile eggs, significantly improving their survival rate.

Going, going, gone!

Further upstream, we witnessed a dramatic encounter between a crocodile and a deer, highlighting the rawness of nature. Another sighting of a massive male crocodile was both awe-inspiring and intimidating.

Exploring the Creeks

The next morning, we visited Mathadiha, an old hunting lodge and forest watchtower from the 15th century. Nearby, the temple of Durgua, the goddess of hunting, still attracts offerings. During our walk, we saw more wildlife, close by including deer, wild boars, and playful monkeys.

After lunch, we explored narrow creeks in a small outboard craft, getting a close up spotting of nesting sites but no crocodiles, much to our relief.

Return to Gupti

Our journey back to Gupti was filled with bird sightings, including two Ruddy Kingfishers. We also photographed painted storks before reaching our home base jetty. A village stroll in Gupti offered a glimpse into local life, where we were warmly welcomed and invited into homes, experiencing the simplicity and hospitality of the villagers.

Group of women and children gather for a photograph outside their traditional mud and rice straw house painted with rice water design

Our Ship

Antara’s catamarans, 17 metres long with a 6-meter beam, are powered by hybrid solar-electric technology. Originally built in 2014 by Timblo Drydocks for Odisha’s Forest Department, these ships were redesigned by Antara in 2021 to include two ensuite double cabins, luxurious amenities, and elegant interiors.

The sundeck lounge is perfect for sunbathing, sunsets, and stargazing. Cuisine onboard features local, traditional, and international fare, prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Alcohol is not allowed within Bhitarkanika Park boundaries, so only non-alcoholic beverages are available onboard.

Booking Information

Travelling through Bhitarkanika’s mangrove wetlands is a remarkable experience. The cruises, operational from August to April, offer serene views of diverse flora and fauna, from saltwater crocodiles to over 320 bird species.

Indian customers typically book through Antara Cruises at +91 85277 36321 / +91 97171 26772. International travelers can book through various avenues, including the Antara Cruises website: