So the week after our trip to the Pulicat lake in Andhra Pradesh, (you can read more about it here: Pulicat Diaries: Part 1) we headed off to the lake near Chennai hoping to catch the flamingos. Do make sure you travel by road to this place. In spite of the heat, there was something undeniably beautiful about the long winding roads passing through pastures of gold and green and brown and green again.
Before even entering the town situated near the lake, men in two wheelers followed our car asking if we would like boat rides in the lake. There is no government agency running operations here and the prices for the boat rides are not fixed. They claim to cover three/five different places but in reality, there are only two main spots worth visiting: an island called Paradise Island and the estuary where the lake waters meet the sea. Our boat ride was about 4 hours long and we paid ₹ 700.
How we met our boatman:
Heading down what seemed to be the only wide road that meandered through the lively town, we were looking for a hotel to get some lunch from. Upon reaching what was likely the end of the town we were about to turn back when a man, probably in his late 50’s wearing a bright blue shirt approached us asking if we would like to hire a boat.
Hire the boat we did and it was probably the best decision ever. After packing some lunch at a small hotel, we set sail into the lake. Small sandy patches of land with scanty vegetation popped out of the lake. No, the lake wasn’t shallow although I now forget what the depth was.
We stopped at one such patch for lunch. Sitting under a few thorny bushes with the warm sand beneath us and our modest yet delicious lunch spread out in front of us, an engaging conversation unfolded as the waters of the lake lapped up against the banks in the mid-afternoon breeze.
His name is Rajavel. A fisherman by occupation, he writes poetry on the side. It did not stop with just writing them. He composes his own songs from them. He showed us some of his favourite lines he had painted on the boat. They were written in Tamil. He went on to explain what they meant to him. It dealt with the idea of God, of destiny and of an invisible force beyond our control that flowed through the universe.
“Hold your palm out”, Abi said appearing out of nowhere. He had something in his hand. Prone to pulling pranks on each other, I was initially suspicious and hesitant but curiosity got the better of me and I held my hand out bracing myself for something disgusting/icky. And that’s when I saw it! The most adorable crab ever! I mean crabs have resting bitch faces. Or so I thought until I saw this little one.
We soon cleaned up and headed to the estuary. There were many birds there.
Nope, never got to see a flamingo. The boatman later on told us that they arrive in flocks when November begins and leave in flocks when December ends. We were a month late.
But I got to see other things.
There was a dead turtle basking in the sun. There was a dead sting ray too in the back waters and while inspecting that, a school of tiny fish that had previously camouflaged into the river bed appeared in focus. They were trying to swim against the current and with every move we made, all of them moved away in unison without losing formation. It was absolutely fascinating to watch.
After walking around the beach for a while, we headed towards Paradise Island. It was the only stretch of land with good vegetation. On one side of the land was the lake and on the other side of the land was the beach. It was a peculiar place. There were short stretches in between that were covered with just shells.
The place became even more peculiar when I noticed that I was the only girl there. A bunch of drunk guys, tourists like us, half naked and wet from bathing in the sea approached us asking/demanding for a pic. My senses kicked into panic mode. Do they want a pic of themselves or do they want a pic with me? Will they get violent if I say no? Or should I just go ahead and click pictures of them? What reason could I possibly give to not click their pic? May be I should just walk/run back to the boat?
“You foreigner. We want picture with you”, a brawny voice stated breaking through the jumble circulating in my head.
And he was looking straight at my boyfriend.
Five minutes into the scene, there my boyfriend stood in the arms of all that drunk testosterone, grinning from ear to ear.
Our boatman sang us some of his own compositions later on during sunset and all the guys gathered around tapping their legs and hands, not so much in unison with the rhythm of the song sadly. The boatman, at one point, stopped his song irritated and motioned for them to stay quiet.
Half an hour later, we were back to the same spot from where we had started. The boatman requested to be dropped off at the market place of the town.
You often encounter acts of kindness from the unlikeliest of corners while travelling. This time it came from this boatman.
When we bid our goodbyes, dog-tired and half burnt from the sun, the boatman insisted we have the lemon sharbat from a stall not far from where we had stopped. He proudly claimed it was the best and that we would have never tasted anything like it before. It was refreshing.
“Not the best” I thought to myself as I handed the money for the sharbat, when the boatman pushed it away saying it was his treat. Here was a man, whose income for the next day was not assured treating two strangers he had met a few hours ago to drinks. He was right in a way. It was the best lemon sharbat I had ever had.
P.S. My bf is not a foreigner 😀