Beauty's quite strange here

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An unknown slice of biodiversity, discovers SOMA BASU

I negotiate with Pandi for a coracle ride on the watery expanse. A two-and-a-half km ride that leaves behind a cluster of villages, church steeples, coconut and palm trees. Everything around becomes still. Pandi rows at a comfortable speed. The sun is mild, an occasional flock of birds fly overhead to sweetly break the silence. The wind too stops flapping as if asking us to tread softly. We are now on our way towards an almost non-existent bridge that once connected upper and lower Manakudy in Kanyakumari district. A small lagoon pops up and as the coracle manoeuvres through the canal and the tidal creeks, mangrove plantations come closer. Some enterprising individual apparently planted the trees more than two decades ago and it is only now that the forest department and district administration are showing interest in fencing and developing the mangrove wetlands. A strange sort of beauty envelops the area. It reminds me of one of my earlier RLTs to Muthupet, which too has a rich cover of mangrove forests. Of course, in Manakudy I can only ride around in the aqua playground. Small in size but the three acres of greenery by the sea becomes more appealing when Pandi tells me how the surrounding areas were swallowed by the tsunami waves just 18 months ago. Tragedy-struck Manakudy, which had lost 172 lives and 350 houses to the sea, has now been turned into a paradise on water. From Nagercoil, I take the Kanyakumari Road. Five kms on, a right turn takes you towards the Sothavilai beach. After rumbling down another five kms of tarmac, the journey catapults from the hustle-bustle of small villages to a seamless and silent watery ground. And then you spot Manakudy, which once used to be a bustling village. The two sides of Manakudy - Keezha and Mela - were once connected by a road bridge. Only two of the four spans of the bridge remain above water now. I take a parallel temporary steel bridge, motorable only for light vehicles. A permanent bridge is under construction.

View from the bridge

From the bridge you can view the entire water bed. And it looks like being covered with a shimmering sheet as the rays of the sun glisten on water. This is the place where river Pazhayar merges into the Arabian Sea. Though not a classified estuary, tsunami waves inundated the area. But people seem to have overcome their grief and loss and with the help of NGOs and the district administration have rebuilt their lives. Locals are back to welcoming tourists, who come in for a quiet break. The red-tile roofed houses, church spirals and swaying palm trees by the water reminds of Goa. A boat jetty has been developed near the ruins of the old bridge as a tourist attraction. What is more touching is the memorial-cum-children's park built at the eastern end of the old bridge. A board at the entrance exhorts people to live in harmony with Nature and describes the people of Manakudy as an example of how to overcome disasters. The best way to experience Manakudy's charm is to undertake a coracle ride to the mangroves. The land on either side of river Pazhayar is a lovely green belt. Along the canal and lagoon are tall trees with respiratory roots. It's a picturesque spectacle as different types of birds coming calling. The administration is planning to introduce ticketed boat rides on the backwaters as a means of revenue for the locals. When that happens, timings and cost may be regularised. I later learn that these coracles were initially used to smuggle sand. Manakudy may not be a beckoning beach. But this unknown slice of biodiversity can surely help you get close to Nature and feel refreshed.




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