Located near Chidambaram, this mangrove forest covers over 1000 hectares in the Vellar; one sees islands of these plants, stretching out in their emerald green beauty

Remember that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, when Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew go looking for Calypso, the sea goddess? Rowing through the mangroves of Pichavaram is as close as you can get to that.

Located near Chidambaram, this mangrove forest covers over 1000 hectares in the Vellar - Coleroon estuarine complex. It is roughly 75 km from Pondicherry, and offers visitors a chance to see an entirely different ecosystem.

But what are mangroves? They are trees or plants that adapt to grow in saline or salty soil that is typically found in coastal areas and backwaters. In Pichavaram, we see islands of these plants, stretching out in their emerald green beauty. There are different species as well; our guide/boatman quickly rattles off names like Rhizophora and Avicennia that have vertical roots rising out of the water. He also points to a plant which has salt crystals on its leaves. “That is how it secretes all the excess salt it takes in through its roots,” he says.

The water in most places is not more than three feet deep but as the mud is sludgy it is dangerous to get out of the boat. There are motorboats available, but taking a rowboat gives us the opportunity to go through narrower and more fascinating channels formed naturally by the growth of the mangroves. In places, the canopy of leaves is so thick that very few rays of sunlight filter through. The place demands that you speak in hushed tones, if only to absorb the beauty of all that is seen, while leaving it as undisturbed as possible.

It’s not just the plants that are the attraction here – there is a rich fauna attached to this ecosystem. Watch for crabs scuttling along the roots, and silver hued fish jumping out of the water. Pied kingfishers and egrets too are aplenty. Sea otters and dolphins can be seen on occasion, says our guide.

The boathouse run by Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation has several options for hiring motorboats and rowboats for an hour or two. Be prepared to brave the sun and carry plenty of drinking water. Pichavaram is accessible by bus from Pondicherry or Chidambaram, and is a four hour drive from Chennai.

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