Visiting the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangroves, has been in my wish list ever since I was introduced to them in my Geography lessons in primary school. I remember the first time I came across the word ‘mangrove’. I assumed they were a bunch of mango trees that grew in a swamp! Brilliant, I know. And who doesn’t like mangoes? Somehow the idea of boating through the mango trees, their branches dangling low with clusters of bright juicy mangoes caught my fancy then.
No, this post is not about the Sundarbans. Making a trip to West Bengal, where the Sundarbans is put up, requires money and time, two of the biggest constraints most of us face with travel. Not saying, it is impossible. But well, it is hard!
More than a decade later, I found out a mangrove lived just a 100 kms from my place! Upon further enquiry, I realized most in my locality were unaware of its existence. Everyone knew about the Sundarbans. But not even one soul had heard of the Pichavaram Mangroves. Often, with our fascination for the exotic, we lose sight of many local treasures around us.
The Pichavaram Mangroves are claimed to be one of the healthiest mangrove occurrences in the world. I don’t know what that means. But what was more interesting were the stories the boatman narrated to us.
He taught us how to catch shrimp. He would bring his family on a picnic to the place once a month. They would catch shrimp, fishes and crabs which they would cook in the open and feast on for the day.
He spoke about how his village remained one of the least affected in Tamil Nadu during the Tsunami that raged through the state in 2004. The mangroves are separated from the sea by a sand bar and the tsunami would have to go through the mangroves to get to the village. Being strongly rooted in the ground, they bore the brunt of its force and protected the village from damage.
He spoke about M.G.R, a charismatic politician and actor of Tamil Nadu, shooting some scenes for his film “Idayakkani” at this place. The story goes that M.G.R was so taken by the beauty of the mangroves that he declared it as a tourist spot immediately afterwards and started promoting activities for the same. Since then a number of Tamil movies have made use of the deep dark channels of the mangroves, especially for dramatic fight scenes.
The mangroves are spread over 2800 acres of land and the boatman swears by the fact that one can live on a boat for three months put together exploring the area and not get bored. Intriguing!
Oh by the way, if you are taking a boat, make sure you choose a row boat. The water is only 3 feet deep and the motor boat(which is the only other service offered) can’t navigate through narrow pathways in the mangroves.
If you pay a healthy tip to the boatman, he extends the ride by thirty to forty minutes and takes you through moody narrow grooves flanked by tentacle like roots and branches on either side.
The next time you visit Tamil Nadu, especially Chennai, Pondicherry or Chidambaram, do pay a visit to the Pichavaram Mangroves! Don’t stop dreaming of far away places. Don’t lose track of the ones you have close by either. Have a great day!