Ours is an ancient land.
A lot of our ancient heritage is embedded in the old temples, whose
architecture and sculptures remind of the life in the eras gone by. Therefore, to keep in touch with the past, we
need to visit these ancient places, which lie scattered in abundance wherever
you choose to go in our country, disclosing their history, heritage and a lot
more information to the discerning visitor.
We live in a modern age. The pressures and challenges of the
continuous fast pace of work, the long time hours spent in commuting to work
every single day, and the necessity to devote the remaining rest day of the
week to attend to personal chores and maintenance work at home, all contribute
to a recurrent crave for a break from routine.
Life in this fast world is exactly like the long-sighted vision of a
person driving fast – you tend to concentrate on what is there at a certain
distance ahead of you, and miss what passes closer to you, ending up bumping
hard on speed-breakers!
A good way of addressing both the above issues is to plan a
holiday that combines both pleasure and pilgrimage, and that is what we did
just now. In our quest to take a
complete break from routine, we always tend to think of far off and popular,
exotic places than looking for places of interest that are nearby, which
sometimes also end up much more interesting than what you were looking for!
Pichavaram is one such place for those living in Tamil Nadu. Wondering where to
go in the holidays around Pongal time, we hit upon the idea of visiting
Pichavaram. A quick surf along the
shores of internet validated our choice, prompting us to proceed with planning
for the trip.
Pichavaram, a scenic place along the coast of Bay of Bengal
between the estuaries of Vellar and Coleroon, is a complex of Killai backwaters
and a large stretch of perennial, tropical mangrove forests that are rooted in
just a few feet of water. So large, in
fact, that they are the second largest mangrove forest in the world, covering
an area of 2,800 acres. The largest is
also in India, the impenetrable Sunderbans in the state of West Bengal, home to
the majestic Bengal Tiger as well.
Looking at the places nearby, we decided to make it to
Chidambaram and Srimusnam temples along with Pichavaram. Chidambaram is about four hours drive from
. Saturday happened to be a
working day for my wife Vasanthi. So we
started in the afternoon, picking her from her office and driving straight to
Chidambaram, via Vandalur, Thiruporur, and Pondicherry. We had snacks (sweet and sour kuzhi
paniyaram, which were really good) and coffee at one Anandha Bhavan a little
away from Pondicherry outskirts on the way to Cuddalore. The road is perfect on this route.
We had a good darshan at the Chidambaram temple. That Saturday being Vaikunda Ekadasi, we were
very happy to be there, getting to have darshan of both the Perumal (Shri
Govindaraja Perumal) and Shiva (Shri Thillai Natarjar) at the same place and time,
around the Maha Arathi time in the evening.
The temple complex in Chidambaram is really huge. Contrary to reports, there was no disturbance
from any of the priests. We had a normal
darshan, waiting in line along with hundreds of other devotees and the
experience was very satisfying.
Unfortunately, since it was late in the evening, and also since
photography was prohibited inside the temple, the option of taking the camera
to make any decent photograph was ruled out.
We had booked accommodation at the Saradharam Eco-Resort
within the Pichavaram boat house complex.
It was almost 10 p.m. when we reached the place, only to find the gate
locked. Wondering whether we had missed
direction, I called the manager and he confirmed that the Resort was inside the
complex, and sent the watchman to open the gate. The rooms are situated in a three-storey
building, and we opted for a ground floor room.
At first glance, while the room was okay, we found the bathroom a little
smelly, and reported our concern. They
couldn’t do much other than spraying room freshener, which at least temporarily
gave us some relief, as we were, already dead tired, dying to get to sleep.
No matter how late I get to sleep, I AM an early bird and
get up at the first sound of the chirp of nearby birds. I was awakened next morning by the measurably
loud calls of mynas and kingfishers, and finding Vasanthi and Bharath
unwakeable, I set out to an early morning stroll through the lawn, to test my
new camera in low light. The ‘margazhi’
weather was very pleasant. The entire
area was absolutely silent except for the calls of the birds. Strolling through the lawn, I found the signs
of the sun rising above the clouds in the horizon, and quickly got up to the
terrace of the lodge. Though there was a
huge high-tension power tower obstructing a clear view of the sky, the sunrise
through the clouds was breathtaking, with the crepuscular rays shifting
position every second because of the moving clouds. Clicking to my heart’s content, I waited for
the birds to come up in the open, but only a myna answered my request. The moment the sun finally got out of the
obstructing clouds, it began heating the earth in earnest and I could feel the
morning chillness quickly giving way to the warmth of the sun’s rays. But the light was also needed for decent
photography, and I lost no time in capturing the few flowers and grass shining
in the early morning direct sun falling on them.
By now, it was almost 8 a.m. and time to wake up my family
if we were to get to boating on time. Breakfast is brought from Chidambaram and
served, so we had to wait the arrival of the first bus for breakfast! Idli, Pongal and Poori were available and we
ordered one of each to test. All were
very good and tasty. The ticket counter
opens at 8.30, and there was no rush at all in the morning. In fact, it was a good decision to book the
lodge here, as we had ample time to freshen up after a good sleep.
There are two options for boating – motorboat and
rowboat. Motorboat is fast, takes more
people, and goes to the beach quickly, but cannot navigate through the narrow
clearings in the thick mangroves.
Rowboats go through every nook and corner, but are very slow and time
consuming. Going by the experiences
narrated in blogs and articles, we chose to go the row-boat way and engaged a
boat for a 4-hour trip to the beach. The
cost for this trip, which can take up to 5 persons, is Rs.1,000. However, the boatman said only the two-hour
trips would take you through the mangroves, and the beach trip would only go
through the wider waterways. As we wanted
to go through the narrow paths too, we bargained with him for a de-tour through
the thickets at an extra cost, and were happy we did so. For, the boat rides through the thick roots
and narrow waterways is really a one-time experience.
The mangrove forest consists of trees of two or three
particular varieties, with thick foliage and a widespread root structure. From a distance, the trees look as if pruned
at the bottom at a certain height, but actually it is the effect of the ebb and
flow of the tides limiting the growth of leaves at that height. They say hundreds of varieties of birds live
here, but we could see only little egrets, great egrets, herons and
kingfishers. We could, of course, hear
many more, but they were completely out of sight. We also saw a lot parrots making merry in the
The ride was both scenic and enjoyable with the cool breeze
blowing on your face because of the slow movement of the boat. Occasionally we came across other tourists
crossing the path. Besides tourists, we
also saw fishermen on boats engaged in fishing.
To break the silence during the lonely and long paddling, we
engaged in conversation with the boatman, enquiring about his life, how he came
into this profession and such things. We
learnt that he had dropped out of school very early, though he knows to read
and write a little. Because his father
was a fisherman, he also learned the nuances and got himself enrolled with the
government to operate (paddle) boats here.
He has three siblings, a brother and two sisters, one of whom is
married. He is aware of the famous film “Idayakkani” starring MGR and Radha
Saluja that was shot here, only through his father. His father had not even got married then! The tsunami of 2004 did not affect the
mangroves, but the Thane cyclone did much damage, but the eco-system survived
it. Amid small talk like this, it took
almost two hours for us to finally see the beach.
The boatman stopped rowing and asked us to get down. It looked slushy with lots of snail-like
beings moving on the mud-floor, but he said that is what the floor is like at
that place and asked us just to walk on those creatures, saying that they would
not be crushed by our weight, but would just get pressed against the soft
mud. We got down and walked our way to
I have never seen such an empty beach anywhere, except in
films. It was just us and the
boatman. The undisturbed sand had formed
beautiful patterns caused by wind. The
white sand was soft and shining. The
black sand was flaked, and crushed a little when we walked over it, giving us a
strange feeling. The shore was about two
hundred meters or a little more away, and we slowly made to it taking as much
cool and fresh air in as we could. We
saw mild waves lashing the shore. There
were crabs on the half-wet sand, coming out and wandering a little, only to
hurry back into their hole when they sensed any movement. The entire shoreline was desolate as far as
we could see, and there were just the four of us. We collected shells, the likes of which we
had only seen in younger days and never get to see now in other beaches. The shell of a dead turtle was there on the
shore. We also saw several fiddler
crabs, singled-clawed red crabs, strangely moving their claw as if waving the hand. It was fun to watch. After staying some time on the beach, we
walked back to the boat, and again passed through the fine sand and took
photographs of the beautiful wave pattern the wind had created on it. We made our way back to the boarding point,
this time the fisherman taking the usual route and ending up much earlier than
he took to reach the beach. Nearer the boat house, we saw the next generation,
the young kids of fishermen that is, playing around on a row-boat, chatting and
rowing the boat with just one paddle and a few casuarina poles.
The four hours we spent on the boat in the wild growth of
mangroves and on the desolate beach was a very unique and out-of-the-world
experience for us. Back at the resort,
we headed to the room for a brief rest before lunch, and had a brief nap after
lunch also before checking out around 3.30 p.m.
From Pichavaram, we drove to Srimushnam, about 45 km away,
to the temple of Sri Bhuvaragaswami, the third avatar of Sri Vishnu. The idol, about two feet high, is said to be
swayambumoorthy and made of salm as well.
After praying the Lord and Thayar for the well being of all, we left for
. The GPS directed us on the
Neyveli-Panruti route, on which route the road was horrible for a very long
stretch. We had evening snacks at
Archana garden restaurant near Neyveli.
Once we touched NH45 before Thindivanam, the road was good and we
reached home around 11 p.m.
Based on our experience, I give below a few points to note
for the benefit of readers of this blog.
If you are travelling from , take the ECR
route through Pondy. The road is even
and much better all through the stretch.
Staying at the resort in Pichavaram is strongly
recommended, as it gives you a very relaxed morning before the boat ride. The rooms are decent, and the attendants are
polite and courteous. The food is also
It is preferable to visit during the winter
months if you plan for the boat ride in the morning. In other times, they say the afternoon ride
is cooler and more pleasant.
Going through the narrow pathways is possible
only on the row-boat, which is a pleasant experience also. Therefore, unless you are really pressed for
time, opt for the row-boat.
Hope you liked this blog.
Please feel free to post your comments, which will help me in making
future travelogues more interesting by adding/omitting narration appropriately
according to your suggestions. More
pictures of the trip can be found at www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets.