Pulicat Lake, August 31, 2008

by **VinodhA**                                                  

Over 30 members of CTC started their journey to explore Pulicat lake and 2 islands on the lake on Sunday the 31st August. The journey commenced at 6:40 am from Tidel Park  and the convoy left Koyambedu at 8 am where most of the participants were waiting. Hari Ratan carried some Diesel in his car as there seemed to be a bit of ‘Bring your own diesel’ involved in the boat trip, given the fuel shortage situation.. There were several first timers in the team who had wanted to start with a one day trip..

Anand recommended a special place for getting breakfast – RS Bhavan at Periapalayam just after the first Poll booth on NH5, where we had our breakfast and also packed our lunch. Meanwhile, one car full of participants who were eager to reach Pulicat lake went ahead without breakfast. The convoy started its journey towards Pulicat at about 9:30 with packed lunch.

Everybody arrived at the ‘right’ Pulicat lake at about 11:30 AM – there seemed to be one more Pulicat lake on the other side of the road to which one car had reached and had been waiting for others. The car was navigated back to the safety of the group by skilled team mates using advanced wireless communication devices (no points for guessing what those devices were).. The three boats were waiting at the shores at Arambakkam. There was tremendous amount of excitement in the air. It was not a good time of the day for the birds though, except for a few storks farther away no birds could be spotted.

CTC trekkers boarded the boats and the journey started. The first stop was Venaad about 18 Kms from the shores of Arambakkam, This took about an hour. The lake was glistening in the sun, the amazing part was all the colors we could see in the water and in the sky – something we never get to see in the city. We also watched the fishing technique where people walked into the lake and put up their nets. The boat ride though smooth, was not very comfortable as the sun was beating down. The sky was clear and bright. Undeterred, People took their turn clicking pictures and moving around in the boats trying to identify the right spot to get the best views.

On the shores of Venaad, Arumugam the boatman explained that a short walk of about 200 metres and we would be inside a scrub forest and a walk of about 4 Kms inside the forest would take us to a village inside Venaad. The island had cultivated land – fields – but not much inhabitation was visible. The hot sun had many sweating and bothered. Even though a group of enthusiastic trekkers wanted to complete the trip, the idea was abandoned as this was a published easy trek – but the island was made mostly of sand and the walking itself was not easy with no shade, shrubs of thorns and no path into the forest made it tough.

The explorers left Venaad at about 1:00 pm and started towards Irukkam a large island in Pulicat, Irukkam is supposed to be over 2000 acres and has a village on it. People had become hungry and started sharing around their snack packs on one of the boats. Partha could not contain his excitement of being so close to a swimming spot and got into the water for a short spell of swimming and was helped back into the boat. On the way to Irukkum, one of the boatmen pointed out Sparrow Island which was refuge to thousands of birds after sunset.  The clouds had gathered on the horizon and we could hear deep thunder, Armugam, Ramu and Vasu the boatmen suggested that the party move fast so they do not get caught in the rain.

Much of Pulicat lake is no more than 10 feet in depth and in many places one could see fishermen walking with their nets and setting them up. One can see these fishermen driving long poles into the marshy soil into as much as five feet easily and then tying fishing nets. 
The experience of going on a low boat for many Kms rather then just a few 100 metres was exhilarating and most people wanted the journey to continue.  The open water, the adventure of going to an island which many people living in Chennai have not even heard of and that too with a group of people with the same interests kept the excitement up.
The boats reached Irukkum at about 1:40 Pm and immediately the lunch packets were opened. The boatsmen were also given lunch packets. Arumugam then took us for a walk into the village on the island. There was a temple, a small one but seemed to be rather popular with the people in and around the village and on other islands and the mainland. The lifestyle in the village, hut construction, fences etc looked very different from that of the coastal fishing communities in the city. Many CTC trekkers were thirsty and needed some refreshments which were available in a small shop inside the village. Vasu the boatman took us to the shop which did have a refrigerator which meant chilled refreshments. Electricity seemed to have come to Irukkum about 3 years ago. The villagers live on fishing and around which trade seems to have subsisted, the average income of the inhabitants is low and every chance to earn some money is appreciated. The village island has a school and the teachers come everyday by boat from the mainland.
Soon after the refreshments there was discussion on whether a group of people can get back to the cars immediately. Finally it was decided that everyone will go back and the return journey commenced. Chris and Vinodha got down for a swim in a part of the lake that was considered deep enough to allow comfortable swimming and got back to the boats. The bottom of the lake was clayey and marshy and it was sea water in the lake.. Safira and Chris were struggling with keeping their sun creams on with sweat washing it away and burning their skin..
We could see sail boats making use of the wind, but the sails were made of plastic sheets and stitched together, actually makeshift sails not designed correctly. In spite of this the boats were faster than the one with diesel engines.
The day had been full, most were tanned, dry mouthed, happy with the outing and would do it again.. Arumugam the boatman can be reached on his mobile 0 978 745 6152. He will arrange for boats and will be willing to take people walking into the forests and islands on Pulicat lake.
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