It took an informal chat with my Austrian colleague to learn about a place called Pichavaram near Chidambaram. It is a mangrove forest, second only to the Sundarbans in West Bengal. From Pondicherry, it is a 70 km drive towards Cuddalore, and just before Chidambaram, one must take a left turn to the mangrove destination.
We parked our car at the premises and proceeded to the ticket counter. There were plenty of options to select from. A row boat was cheaper, but a 1 km ride could take at least an hour. We opted for a motorized boat. However, there was a catch. We had to purchase tickets for 8 persons while we were just two. Fortunately, lady luck smiled on us that day. We got hold of six tourists who agreed to join us.
Putting on our life jackets, we boarded the boat. The boat left the shore. There was water everywhere. Soon, the dense vegetation surrounded us. Our guide explained to us that the climax of ‘Dasavatharam’, the Tamil film starring Kamal Hassan, was shot there. We took a detour to explore the flora, which in some places were so dense that they looked like caves. Our boat navigated through these canopies of nature skilfully, while we ducked many times to avoid being slapped by the thick branches.
The boatman assured us that water was not deep. What he did not tell us was, if we lost our way, even Google Maps could not have guided us back to the jetty! We went inside three such ‘caves’, each experience being more memorable than the other. We saw poor fishermen fishing with their hands for prawns. We decided to shell out extra money to go a bit deeper. It was, after all, an experience of a lifetime.
We were so engrossed that an hour seemed like a flitting minute. It was time to bid goodbye to our new friends, thanking them for their gracious company. We left Pichavaram in a happy frame of mind. And I made a mental note to thank my colleague for showing me a part of Tamil Nadu hitherto unknown to me.
Narayani V Manapadam