The second phase of our Tamil Nadu road trip began from Kumbakonam, we were headed towards Pondicherry, enroute Chidambaram, we had also planned to visit the mangroves at Pichavaram near Chidambaram.
Although, it was still January, the weather was quite humid, we were a little hesitant wondering if it would be a good idea to go to Pichavaram in the mid-afternoon. Taking inspiration from our Madras/Nellore roots (2 cities where it is hot 365 days a year !), we decided to go for it. Before that, we stopped at Chidambaram for lunch, we turned to the internet for food options but the best ones suggested by Trip Advisor were either closed or did not serve meals. Finally, we gave up the search and had lunch at the first hotel we could find on the main road, we don’t remember the name but we enjoyed the food, when you are hungry and fed up, anything tastes good !
Pichavaram mangroves – Guardians of the coast
Pichavaram mangroves are located about 12 kms from Chidambaram. These mangroves are the second largest mangroves in the world after Sundarbans. Mangroves are a kind of shrub that grow in tropical, coastal areas where there are estuaries and brackish water. These shrubs are also protectors of the coast as they safeguard the coastal eco system from erosion. In fact, the Pichavaram mangroves are believed to have protected the coastal regions around Chidambaram from the Tsunami in 2004.
Our trip started with a plan to stay at Pichavaram but there is no good accommodation except a resort, which we suppose is not under proper maintenance. For now, boating through the mangroves is what you can do and that is something that must be on the “best experiences before you die” list !
It was past 3 PM when we reached Pichavaram, bought our boating tickets and got onto a boat. There are row boats and motor boats, we hired a motor boats because it is a little faster and we bought all the 8 odd tickets in the boat so that we could have it for ourselves. From the jetty, you can see the vast expanse of the green mangroves.
A few meters into the back waters, you reach the mangroves that look like a gateway into forest.
From here on, you enter into a lush green world of the mangroves.
The mangroves are interesting shrubs, based on loose, soft soil, flooded by sea tides, these plants have roots that are adapted to the loose soil, in fact, these roots do not grow too deep into the soil, they are almost like floating plants ! Some parts of the roots are aerial roots, which help the plants to get some oxygen above the water surface. As you ride beside the mangroves, you can see the roots hanging in the air, you could mistake them for branches !
The open back waters dotted with the green waters is very refreshing, you will love the fresh air and the smell of the salty water.
This is where one gets a little mischievous and strikes a deal with the boat man. Ideally, the government boat service takes you on a 45 minute ride around the mangroves, they don’t go deeper into the forest, which is where the best part of the ride is. If you request the boat men, they usually agree to take you into the deep forest for a slightly extra fare. It is really worth it but the flip side is, if something goes wrong, the tourism department doesn’t take responsibility !
Our boat man himself offered to take us to the deep forest and deviated from the regular route. As we went deeper into the mangrove forest, we were welcomed by canopy of mangrove roots, it was a most amazing sight !
The canals that pass through the mangroves get narrower, darker and at places you really have to bend down to avoid getting hit by the roots ! You will shout out in excitement as the boat slithers through the still, silent waters with the roots over head like a tent. At some turns, the roots are very dense and the plants quite tall, it is almost like a wall of wooden sticks, here sunlight streams in and the effect is magical !
Sometimes, when there is little sunlight, as the boat cruises slowly in silence, the pathway looks eerie as if it is closing in on you, you wonder if the boat can actually navigate the narrow turns.
The most breathtaking scenes, however, are when you emerge out into the open from the deep forest, the sight of the brightness as you come out of the dark tunnel like root network will be etched in your memory forever !
A few minutes through the main route and we deviated again into the folds of the forest. A noteworthy point is that parts of a song from the film Dasavatharam were shot in the deep interior parts of the Pichavaram Mangroves. Anybody who remembers the famous song “Kallai mattum kandal” would recall the lovely locales, the credit goes to Pichavaram.
We must have done 3-4 rounds in and out of the deep regions but every time when the boat seemed to go towards the darker areas, we could feel the heart beat go up in anticipation of the joy of traversing the dense, dark world of the mangroves.
This is how mesmerisingly beautiful it gets, you would want to do nothing else other than sit in that boat and go around the mangroves till the end of the day !
Imagine taking a boat ride here on a full moon night !
Elsewhere, we passed through a thick growth of mangroves that were kind enough to leave a narrow gap for a boat to pass through, we could almost touch the leaves.
We had visited the mangroves at Coringa near Kakinada, a few years ago, we were in awe of them but the Pichavaram mangroves are on a different plane all together. The mangroves expand to about 1100 hectares and form an extensive web of forests, canals, roots and ecosystem, it is like one giant maze created by nature.
The official boat ride on a motor boat is about 45 minutes, even if the boat men take you into the deep forest, they will make sure you return within the specified time. This view of the main back waters lined with the mangroves, told us we had to return to the world outside.
The Pichavaram mangroves are our natural heritage, the guardians of our coast, how do we protect them in return? Sometimes, we have to think, when hundreds of tourists visit these places and motor boats ply on the back waters, are we disturbing the fragile eco-system? Should we just let the mangroves live in peace? Or, would these tours make people realise what a lovely planet this is and how much more care it deserves from us?
- Pichavaram is less than 30 minutes drive from Chidambaram. We are not sure if there is decent public transport from Chidambaram, “your own vehicle is the mantra”.
- Boat timings are 8 AM to 5 PM. There are 1 hour trips, 2 hour trips and a 4 hour trip that takes you to the Pichavaram beach. Timings and trips are subject to change by the tourism department.
- There is a resort in Pichavaram but the reviews are not great, it is a better idea to stay in Chidambaram.
- On weekends and holidays, there may be large crowds and waiting time for the boating.
- Plastic is not allowed and even if you carry any stuff, do not litter the mangroves.
- Summer might get very hot in these areas, plan your trip in the cooler months.
- You can make a weekend trip from Chennai including Chidambaram and Pichavaram.
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