I happened to visit Pichavaram mangrove forests during one of my break days of the Milaap fellowship and I would like sharing my travel experience with the readers.
I was visiting my friend in Chidambaram. So, when I asked him to show me around the town. He came up with two places. Obviously the Thillai Natarajar Temple at Chidambaram and Pichavaram, a mangrove forest. I reached Chidambaram by Saturday afternoon and rested for a brief period to get over my 3-hour bus journey. So, we visited the Thillai Natarajar Temple in the evening and we had planned on reaching Pichavaram the next day
So we started as we had planned the next day. It was a 16 Km ride from Chidambaram and we reached the boating house. The boathouse has a scenic view with a lighthouse and few buildings lining the dock. The Boat House offers both speedboats and manually driven boats. We opted for the manual boats and our ride was numbered 81. We waited with our jackets and our ride had finally arrived.
The view of the dock and the boathouse.
Our boat driver Sakthi, who was also our guide for the day arrived with his boats. So, we beat our boats into the Mangrove coverings. Since it was off-season we were told not to expect much birds but that didn’t curb our excitement. We headed into the mangrove alley covered with lush green mangroves on both the sides. On a water carpet lined with bright green trees and a series of boats and similarly awestruck visitors before and after us, we embarked into the forests like a series of ants. (Or that’s how the drone shot of the ride would have looked like). The water took shades of green from the covering mangrove trees as we ventured deeper and shady brown in open covers. We stopped by a number of spots to click photos and we could see visible roots and crabs crawling among the roots.
We picked up a conversation with Sakthi anna about the flora and fauna which ended up with him explaining the rise and fall of water levels in the mangrove forests. He said that the water level alternates with the tides when the backwater flows into the sea the water level dips and the tangled black white roots are visible and when the waters back into the land the water level submerging the roots.
He briefed us about the boathouse and its operation. He has been rowing boats for about 5 years.
“ I work here during the weekends and that is when most of the tourist come" he added.
“So how long have you been riding boats?” we asked
“I have been riding for more than 5 years”.
“What happens to the boathouse during the weekends?”
“During the other days since we don’t get much traffic in the number of tourists, I go fishing. But few boatmen remain as we don’t want to disappoint the tourists when they come”.
Into the water and onto the forest
Most of the drivers being local men they are involved in Fishing during the other days. He added that they get about 4 rides in a day and are paid by the number of rides. There are about 53 boat riders who drive tourist boats. Each boat is numbered to remember the order of ride. All the rides are booked on a queue list how autos work. Each driver is supposed to drive on his specified boat alone so that every rider gets an equal number of rides. There are about 103 boats which I figured out as we came across a boat numbered the same.
The stem and roots of Mangrove trees
Greener and much greener sides of Pichavaram
He recollected his past ride experiences with tourists. The boating area has a strict no substance allowed rule which the boat riders also insist on following. There was an instance when tourists had hidden drinks inside the bags and have brought them along with the boats. The driver had asked them not to drink and as it was not allowed in the forest area. This agitated the on-riders and they started threatening him with broken bottles. The rider certainly aged, outnumbered and hopeless abandoned the boat and started swimming towards the shore. On reaching the shore he informed the fellow boatman and they rushed to the scene with motor boats. The group was escorted to the shore and what should have been a complaint to the forest police department turned out into a fight. The police intervened and they were left with a warning.
One other incident happened when a group of college students misbehaved trying to jump the lines and manhandled the staff and led to police warnings. “All tourists come here to look at the forest, some come for the birds but mostly for a weekend getaway they are not total harm but at times come these people who totally misbehave and cross their limits”.
There had also been incidents with private boats being allowed in the region which put up a bad name on the whole location itself. The boat riders went on a strike insisting stricter rules of not allowing private boats in the region. “The area being so vast and secluded it is not safe at all if you ride with someone who you are not sure with. Any incident will put the whole Pichavaram under a bad name and that will make the tourists think about coming here. We don’t want incidents like that to affect the tourism in the area. So Most of the boatman are people from the local regions. They ride boats during the weekends and are involved in fishing during the weekdays. They travel in boats and catch fishes for sale. We went on a strike calling for stricter rules over allowing private boats in these regions. Our demand was met and the private boats have decreased after that” he said as we rowed back to the shores.
I bid adieu to mangroves of Pichavaram, Sakthi anna, and his boats as we got on our bikes. I started having food cravings after a brief ride into the waters as we started our ride back to Chidambaram.
It was great riding with Sakthi anna I would have given him all 5 stars if I could for engaging us with his conversation about the life of the boat drivers at the Pichavaram boathouse and misbehaving tourists.
The Pichavaram ride was scenic riding along the tangled mangrove trees. There were places where the mangrove stems formed a covering over our head like a canopy shielding us from the sun. It a the brilliant amalgamation of the clear blue sky and the lush green mangroves when one looks up from the boat and that was brilliant nature painting its own colors.
If nature ever uses a palette it would have three colors blue, green and gray. It is able to paint the most wonderful of the scenes with these colors alone. And yet these paintings are the ones we treasure as we live a life painted with a much brighter palette.