Nandankanan Zoological Park is a popular destination for locals and visitors to Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of Odisha. Nandankanan, in the local language Oriya, means something like the “Garden of Heaven” or “Celestial Pleasure”, “Garden of Pleasure” or “Heavenly Garden of God”.
About 15 km from the city, the park is located in the Jujhagarh forest block of the Khordha district. It is spread over a little over 1000 acres of the lush green zone and includes the huge Kanjia lake spread over about 130 acres of Wetlands of National importance. It was established in the 1960s and opened to the public a decade later.
The park has been built right inside the forest zone and is set amidst the natural environment. The animals are housed in spacious enclosures close to the natural habitat they live in, to settle down and lead a healthy life.
It is one of the largest zoos in India and has several firsts to its credit in the world. There is so much uniqueness credited to this zoological park. An interesting one is an express train (Nandankanan Express) is named after the zoological park by the Indian Railways.
Nandankanan Zoological Park
Besides the vast well laid out outing in nature, the key attractions of the park include:
- Zoo with about 1500 animals of various species.
- Botanical Garden and Butterfly Garden.
- Safari rides – in Lions, Tigers, Deers, and Bears enclosures.
- Boating on the Kanjia Lake – Peddle boat ride, Motorboat ride.
- Amphibian enclosure
- Toy train
- Nocturnal animal/birdhouse.
- Reptiles center
- Walkthrough aviary.
- Local forest trees cover over 700 species of plants.
- The natural forest areas here are home to 13 species of mammals, 15 species of reptiles, 179 species of birds, 20 species of amphibians, 96 species of butterflies, and 51 species of spiders.
- Their website has a list of birds from the Nandankanan wildlife sanctuary. Classified under Arial Feeding Bird, Arboreal Bird, Birds of Prey, Ground feeding Bird, and Wetland Birds. Do check out if you are a birding enthusiast.
Visitor Information for the Zoological Park and Botanical Gardens
- Visiting hours for the public from April to September are 07.30 AM to 5.30 PM. During the months of October to March, the timings are 8.00 AM to 5 PM.
- Closed on Mondays.
- Nominal entry fee of Rs 50 per person.
- Safari and Boating fees are separate.
- Only high-end video cameras and movie shootings are charged separately.
- Amenities for the visitors to the zoological park include Drinking Water Kiosks, Toilet Complexes, Parking Areas, Visitor Cottages, Restaurants, Cloak Rooms, Wheel Chairs, First Aid Facilities, Battery Operated Vehicles, Guide Maps, Souvenir Shop, a Baby Care House, etc.
Experience of visiting Nandankanan
Popular destination! No doubt there was a long queue of schoolchildren at the entrance of the Nandankanan Zoological Park when we visited in January 2020. Fortunately, there were separate lines for the tickets. That was a manageable queue and it took about 10 minutes to enter the park. You might be surprised that the park had more than 3 million visitors every year over the last few years. That is approximately ten thousand visitors every day the park is open to the public. Leave aside the year 2020 numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like me, if you wish to watch the animals, read a bit about them, observe them, don’t hire a guide. They are generally in a hurry to finish off with a visitor and move on to the next. Sure, they have to take care of their income. They can be handy if you want a quick round of the park.
Walking into the zoological park was a relatively easy way ahead. There are well-laid-out pathways with proper signages for every visitor to explore. All larger animals have huge enclosures for themselves with decent trees and shrubs providing natural shelter. For example, you will have to wait near the enclosures of Lions/Tigers/Bears/jackals/leopards/Wild dogs, etc for them to be seen. Only when they were strolling around closer to the fence can you watch them clearly. Otherwise, it is just a glimpse of a sighting. Therefore an easy walk and some patience will be helpful.
When we visited the Sloth Bear was playful with look-alike visitors! A Lioness was roaring unmindful of the humans across the barricades. So while the visitors were trying to encourage the Bear for more action/poses, they were quiet and mindful of the Lion.
Tigers and Leopards were typical of their nature solitude, away from the visitors. The Tigers were resting in shades of the trees, the Leopards were resting on the branches of the trees. It took some time to find them out there. Visitors who could notice them earlier pointed towards them to help the rest of us.
The antelopes too have large enclosures to freely roam around and they are instinctively not too bothered by the humans watching them. They are also in larger numbers, so you don’t need to wait to sight them.
Mouse Deers were a surprise for us, never really heard or read of them. There were quite a few of them here.
The park has several species of them in good numbers. The antelopes were quite comfortable with the visitors, a sign of feeling safe.
The Nocturnal birds and animals section is quite dark or rather dim-lit. One does feel claustrophobic going through it. Though that is how it should be for their sake. Being a narrow section, considering the number of visitors, it was tough to get a few pictures in low light. Sighting a Barn Owl was a first for me.
There are several species of snakes, from Cobra to Pythons to Rat Snakes and more. Monitor Lizards, Chameleons, and more can be seen in this section.
All three types of crocodiles that are seen in India are there for you to view. Saltwater Crocodiles, Muggers, and Gharials are all bred in the park. You can see each of them in various stages of their life from a few weeks old to a few months old. You realize how one of the largest and longest surviving species grows up over a few years to become a mighty/fiercest animal.
Saltwater crocodiles primarily live in river estuaries and by the seas. They are the largest in size and survive the longest. They are known to swim across the seas as well. Bhitarkanika in Odisha is one of the best natural habitats and breeding places for them. Do read our article on a trip to Bhitarkanika.
The Gharials are river-based, sweet water crocodiles typically found in the Ganges in India. Visually they have the longest slender mouth full of sharp teeth. Muggers are primarily found in lakes, backwaters, low lying water bodies. I remember seeing them in the Chambal River too.
The park has a variety of turtle and tortoise species for visitors. Segregated depending on their age.
The endangered Indian Star Tortoise is one of them. You will be surprised by the diversity of these creatures.
The park has several rare birds housed species-wise in the dedicated enclosures like the endangered Saras Crane, Golden Pheasant, White Peafowl, Silver Pheasant, etc.
Then they have a huge waterbody enclosure housing several of the waterbirds.
Like a variety of Herons, Egrets, Pelicans, Storks, etc.
Among them, you can notice Grey Herons, Purple Herons, Night Herons, Pond Heron, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret, Glossy Ibis, Black-headed Ibis, Ruddy Shelducks, Mandarin Duck, Asian Openbill Stork, Painted Storks, Pelicans, etc.
Read More – Mangalajodi Wetlands for Birding
Then there are the eagles and kites.
Chirping Love Birds in a variety of colors.
Pleasantly this vast lake is a part of the zoological park, and recreational boat rides are allowed for the visitors.
Many pleasure boat rides were in progress and there were quite a few more people interested in the boating experience waiting for their turn.
Peddle boats and motorboats were plying in the calm waters of the lake entertaining with one of its kind experience for local visitors. There are always a few who would have boating experience around the world, who will criticize these facilities comparing them elsewhere. For common visitors, they were a joyful experience.
You just can’t ignore these massive creatures. Here in the Nanadankanan zoological park, they have an exclusive part of the Kanjia lake for themselves. It was hot and the sun was over the head by the time I reached this part of the park. Over a dozen Hippos quietly slipped into the lake waters to relish the cool waters they prefer and are habituated.
We had planned only 2-3 hours for this visit to the Nandankanan Zoological Park. We ended up skipping several activities in this park, like the Safaris, Botanical Garden, Boat rides on the Knajia Lake, and possibly some animal enclosures due to paucity of time or maybe being ill-informed/lack of information.
Travel Tips Nandankanan Zoological Park
- Summers are very hot in this region. During the summers if you are visiting the park make it early in the morning.
- If you have limited time and wish to have a glimpse of the park, hire a guide.
- If you are interested in nature and wildlife and have half a day or more to spare in Bhubaneshwar, head to the zoological park. Explore the park on your own, and avoid the guides.
- The pathways in the park are well laid out with signages. You can find drinking water, shade, and seating/resting arrangements intermittently including “You are here Map of the Park”. Don’t worry you won’t be lost in this huge park.
- At the entrance of the park, there are several local fast-food/eateries/restaurants. Do recharge/energize yourself if you intend to spend quality time in the park, it can be exhaustive. You might well realize on the way that it has been over 3-4 hours without food. Be prepared.
- There are plenty of visitors to the park. So don’t worry you won’t be alone. There will be their staff, visitors, and guides to help you if need be.
- The zoological park website should help if you have any questions/need clarity/updates with time/special occasions that may emerge from time to time.