Well, we were told about this ‘nice’ place called Pichavaram by a CTC member. And yes, quite a lot of us heard about those mangroves which are next only to the Sunderbans! And mangroves – most of us did not have much information other than from our school text books and some websites. And it was not far – could be covered from Chennai in a day. And many CTC members wanted to have a one-day trek (okay, okay – it was a picnic) to fill-in a gap in the trek schedule. And off we went, packing ourselves into 5 cars in the early hours of 10th May (Saturday)
So we left from Thoraipakkam at around 5:30AM and were zeroing in on the first pit-stop – sunrise. As many of our team members are interested to see Sunrise and also we had our professional photographer John with us, who wanted to stop at the outskirts of Kovalam. Second spot was in the middle between Mahabalipuram and Puducherry – when we spotted some spectacular salt fields! And since everyone wanted to see and get a first hand feel of the age-old manner rock-salt was extracted from sea water, we stopped and everyone trooped out to the salt field.
The simple people were very accommodative and let us into the field without any hesitation. And man, everyone was holding salt as if they were holding some unusual snow that fell in Chennai! After posing in front of a huge mound of fresh salt and quick photo session, we walked back to our cars to resume our trip. It has to be mentioned that the ground is very soft in these salt fields and a couple of unlucky pals slipped and had a good coat of slush on them! But then it was easily washed off with a bottle of water.
So we stopped again around 8am at Puducherry for our breakfast. Everyone had a hearty South Indian breakfast and around 8:45am, we quickly got ourselves moving towards Pichavaram. At this place one of our trekkers was feeling unwell and stayed back in the same hotel where we had our breakfast, and group moved to reach Pichavaram as soon as possible. As cars were racing to take the lead position we were enjoying the ride and during that time we hit a goat which came on to the road unexpectedly causing little damage for the car and herself. That was not a big problem but yet we were feeling some difficulty about that and we reduced our speed. And continued our journey with some amazing discussions (how to prepare non-veg hmmmm…)
We had to stop at a couple of places to ask for directions and it was around 11am when we reached the border of the small temple town – Chidambaram. It was here that we had to take a sharp left turn into a (almost) dirt road that lead us to the mangrove backwaters. We were told it would be about 7 km from that point to Pichavaram. But the 7 km stretch was pretty precarious since the road was very narrow and ridden with potholes. Finally at around 11:45am we reached the Pichavaram toll gate (!!!??? – we think they just collect some parking fee – no tolls for the dirt road ).
We were able to catch up with the TTDC guy we had made contact with and while we waited for our boats to get ready, we had some fruit (Nungu-in Tamil; sometimes called as ‘Ice-apple’ by the British) from the palmyrah tree. Then we had to buy tickets for ourselves (and the cameras) to board into the fiber-glass boats. The boarding place is next to a very wide river boarded on the opposite side by Mangroves. Near the boarding place is a tall watch tower which offers splendid views on the mangroves beyond the river.
Finally the boat men arrived with their boats! We set off at around 12:00pm!! After 20 min we were, at-last, sailing near to the mangroves. And, to say that the weather was hot, would be like putting it in mild terms! Thankfully quite a few had brought their sun-screen lotions and distributed it around just before we boarded our vessels! But, seasoned trekkers that we were – this was child’s play for most of the members. Some drank copious amounts of water while other used a wet towel over their heads.
We learnt from our boatman, that those Mangroves played a significant role in stemming the effect of the 2004 Tsunami around the Chidambaram region. Also, Dr.M.S.Swaminathan foundation was playing a huge role in protecting the Mangroves and help raise fresh bushes around the backwaters. The salty backwaters also provide the local fishermen with a few varieties of fish. When we were sailing on the boat we saw small children swimming in the salt water. We were thinking how brave they were to swim in the middle of the river without any help. As we were continued sailing forward, we saw one lady dragging the boat in the water. By seeing that we were astonished and asked the boat rider for the depth of the river. It was just 3-4 feet deep.As we were coming out of that shock (or whatever you say), our boatmen took us to a corner of the Pichavaram lake, from where we could walk a few hundred meters to reach the seashore!
This short walk was again in the hot sun and few guys stepped into soft soil and had their shoes stuck in there! We were really amazed by the power of this soft soil. While they attempted to pull their foot out of the slush, they were only successful in pulling their foot out of their shoes! Yes, the shoe remained stuck in the soil!! After some effort, they were able to get their shoes out and give it a dry wash as there very little water around!! And then we headed for the beach!
Some of us spotted a huge tortoise shell and a few bones and let our imaginations loose 😛 It was all fun and frolic in the waters for everyone as all of us were put through the scorching sun for 2 hours. Some of them were floating in the sea-water, some were trying to swim against the waves, some were trying to teach swimming to others, and some just jumped and jumped as each wave hit them! A few of us felt really hungry and decided that we get back to grab some grub. So around 2:30 PM we walked back to our boats and started our return voyage! In spite of some warnings from the boatmen, Arul and Peter decided to swim their way back to the boat house rather than sail in a boat!! Am sure they were luckier than most of us, coz it was the only way to escape the heat of that afternoon sun!
While returning our boatmen led us inside a canal like pathway among the mangroves. It was the best part of the picnic. None of us had been in such a place ever before! After a few quick snaps we headed back to our boathouse where a delicious spread was waiting for us. It was about 4PM when we started to have our ‘lunch’! But the food was worth the wait – much better than what we expected at a TTDC restaurant! Then a few minutes to relax and we decided to head back to Chennai!
As a few of our pious friends wanted to visit the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple, we made a quick stop there and started around 7PM. It was about 8:30 PM when we reached Pondy and a few of us decided to have dinner at a road-side dhaba around 9PM. After a quick dinner of omelets, egg-dosas and plain dosas we started driving again and reached Chennai around midnight.We met new people we had fun and had one leisure weekend out of our work and also had one lighter picnic out of our difficult treks over the weekends. Thanks to everyone for their support. Well, it was an exhausting trip, but a memorable one for sure! Our boatmen were suggesting that we visit the place again during monsoons! Wonder how it would be!!
Story written by Rathna, Arul
Reviewed by Sreedhar, John, Sheethal
Participants: Peter, Rathna, Amal, Mahalingam, John, Sreedhar, Chenchu, Sheethal, Aditya, Huzefa, Jay Srinivasan, Priyanka, Sateesh, Ujjwala, Sindhu, Veerapathiran, Vivek, Prem with his wife and daughter, Vignesh, Siddharth, Premalatha.