Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Picturesque Pichavaram

Pichavaram is the site of one of India's largest mangrove forests. Situated approximately 280 kms south of Chennai, Pichavaram is an ideal weekend getaway.

The nearest town is Chidambaram - located at approximately 2 hours drive south of Pondicherry. There are two routes to Chidambaram from Chennai - one down the east-coast road to Pondicherry and there-from south via Cuddalore, along the coast and the second along the Chengalpat - Tindivanam high-way. We decided to try the latter as it is usually less crowded on weekends and is a much wider road. The road till Tindivanam is an awesome drive - 4/6 lane and one can cover it easily at well over 80 kmph. Post Tindivanam, however, the road is under re-laying and is in pretty bad shape. After Tindivanam, one needs to take change route to Panruti - a small road lined with villages and fields on either side. Somewhere down the route to Panruti, we lost track of the road-signs and instead landed up Neyveli - the site of the Thermal power station - a slightly circuitous route. The road from Neyveli from Chidambaram was in pretty sad shape and the car took quite a beating.

We had heard from online reports that the road to Pichavaram from Chidambaram had been badly damaged by the Tsunami - luckily for us, the road had been re-laid in most parts and was very easily traversable. The route is very beautiful, lined by water canals and green fields on either side.

Pichavaram is a small fishing hamlet with the single TTDC hotel (sort-of) - where the road terminates. There's very little left of the TTDC hotel (if there was any in the first place), but a small restaurant, a couple of rooms, a tall view-point tower and a small jetty. The restaurant serves a nice welcome breakfast; and the view-point tower has a great view of the entire estuary. Only row-boats are available and for one, two and four hour durations.

The mangrove forests seem like floating trees in the middle of estuary - so well & densely grown as to create small islands. Forming an area of ~3500 acres, the mangrove forests provide an endless area for exploration - limited only by how much you can row about. The whole area is absolutely scenic.

A few minutes into the boating trip, the hired rower asked us if we would be interested in seeing a few hidden rivulets, for a few extra bucks. Mystified, we agreed. A large number of rivulets (4440 exactly, as per the rower) criss-cross the mangrove forests. More like internal streams, these present a world by themselves - the verdant coverage blots out the sun, banyan like hangings stream-down from the trees, dead logs float along and the whole atmosphere is deathly quiet - this is just one experience worth every bit of it.

After two hours of endless photography, some rowing sessions and a glimpse of a fox amidst the greenery, we headed back. Stopping for a short while at the Chidambaram temple - to get a glimpse of the famous Chidambara-rahasiyam (Chidambaram's Secret), we headed back to Chennai via Cuddalore and Pondicherry.

For those intending to follow our trail: Take the ECR down Pondicherry & Cuddalore to Chidambaram - the road is awesome all the way and is very scenic. The one way trip should take about 4-5 hours, given the traffic. Boating at Pichavaram is open from 7.30 AM to 5.30 PM. The temple in Chidambaram is open from early in the morning till mid-afternoon, and re-opens around 4pm. There are very few decent places to stay at Chidambaram and it being a famous temple town - do your bookings before you set out - particularly during the festival season; Hotels Saradaram and Akshaya are two nice ones. Head there sometime in late December / early Jan, right before the harvest season like we did, and you'll be treated to the awesome scenery of verdant fields all over.
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