Sunday, June 21, 2009

Coromandel Cruise

Accompanied by my gracious hosts, I boarded a small fishing boat just a few meters from their house. A pot of water and several boxes filled with mouth-watering delicacies were loaded on the boat and we set out to explore the mangroves and lagoons of Muthupet.
Muthupet is a small town in the Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. The Muthupet Mangroves are on the Coromandel Coast of India and extend from Adiramapattinam to Point Calimere. The term ‘Mangroves’, generally refers to the flora that grows in the saline coastal habitats of the tropics and sub-tropics. Locally known as Alaiyathi Kadu, these wetlands are positioned at the Southern end of the Kaveri delta. In Tamil, ‘alai’ means wave, ‘aathi’ means to stop or pacify and ‘kadu’ means forest. This is an apt name as mangroves act as a barrier and protect the land from the outbursts of the sea.
We started out on a narrow channel of water and traversed the path of the Kilathangiyar River as it flows into the sea. We cruised through the creeks flanked by the mangroves with many birds and schools of fish for company. The silence of the surroundings was briefly disturbed by the revving of the boat. As we approached, the birds flapped their wings vigourously and launched themselves skyward.
After an engaging half hour we approached a natural gateway formed by the mangroves. Our boat entered a shallow pocket of water where the Paminiyar, Korayar, Kilathangiyar, Marakakorayar and Valavanar tributaries of River Kaveri flow into an estuary. The fresh water from the rivulets amalgamates with the brackish water from the sea creating an environment in which a variety of crustaceans and molluscs thrive. Shrimps and prawns are plentiful. The abundant aquatic fauna in this region is the life-line for the locals and for the many migratory birds nesting in the mangroves. It was interesting to watch the fisher folk standing in waist deep water to net the catch for the day. A unique style of fishing indeed!
Our boat rocked harder as we were just a stone’s throw away from the sea. The sea reminds me of the cadence of the huge waves lashing their fury against the shoreline. This was a different setting. We were in the middle of the sea that was rather calm and there was no beach in sight. The vast expanse of water and the fading line of the horizon were intimidating. I sat glued to my seat. Awe-struck!
Many small islands have sprung up in this region due to the silt deposited by the flowing rivers. The plush green islands were a striking contrast against the somber backdrop. The earthly brown of the water, the refreshing blue of the sky, and soothing green of the mangroves blended well to create picture perfect vistas.
The islands with watch-towers were inviting and I was eager to set foot on them. We alighted at a couple of islands and climbed the precarious ladders to reach the top of the towers. The gusty wind was threatening to blow away everything in its path. I enjoyed the force of nature and stood gaping at the panoramic view of the world below. The water was constantly changing colour and it shimmered as the sun was beating down. It was spectacular to watch the transformation of the landscape as the sun and clouds seemed to be engaged in a game of hide-n-seek.
My trip to this clean, green and serene wonder of coastal India was enriching. We ventured into the sea on a small ill-equipped boat. Braving the strong wind, we anchored the boat to a ramp leading up to an island and feasted in the middle of nowhere. These are just a few of the myriad of new experiences on a fun-filled day in the mangroves.
The locals hop onto fishing boats and visit the mangroves for a day’s outing. Apart from the watch-towers which have been set up on some islands, there are almost no facilities for tourists. Most tourists are unaware of the existence of this picturesque location and the few who know about it are probably deterred by the lack of information and sub-standard facilities.
There are many tourist hotspots and popular pilgrim centers like Thanjavur, Nagore and Velankani in close proximity to Muthupet. Embark on the road to Muthupet if you like to discover the hidden treasures of nature. The journey might be arduous but the joys are plenty.

Quick Facts:

Getting there:
Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) operates buses from Chennai to Muthupet.
There are frequent buses to Muthupet from Thanjavur, Pattukotai, Mannargudi and Tiruvarur.
Trains and private buses ply between Bangalore and Thanjavur.
From Chennai you can drive along NH 45 to reach Muthupet (approximately 350Kms).
From Thanjavur, drive to Muthupet via Pattukotai (approximately 67Kms).
Muthupet is about 50Kms from Velankani and can be reached via Thiruthuraipoondi.

Once you reach Muthupet you can rent a fishing boat for the day from an area called ‘Pettai’.

Ensure that the boatman has registered the boat with the forest department and has obtained permission to venture into the mangroves.

Carry packed food and beverages. Umbrellas, caps and sunscreen lotion will be useful on a sunny day

This article was published in Bangalore Mirror on the 21st of June 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.§id=81&contentid=2009062020090620203813229faaf05e3§xslt=