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.