Up close with nature in the heart of Chennai

Adyar Poonga  

Once upon a time, the Adyar creek and estuary, where the Adyar River meanders across southern Chennai before draining into the sea at Foreshore Estate, was a massive dump for all kinds of waste, raising a stink for miles around. And, not too long ago, you couldn’t pass through the Santhome causeway without a handkerchief pressed to your nose, until you gagged and reached Greenways Road, gasping for breath (this was before ACs became a standard feature in Indian automobiles!). Trust me, I would know, as I have lived at three different points around the creek; first, in the late 1970s through the 80s, on Santhome High Road, and then a decade later at two different points across the estuary.

As luck would have it, every visitor who dropped into our home, would begin the conversation with “So… how do you live amid this stink?” But we, on our part, were tired of explaining that it was no big deal. For one, we had got used to it, and second, we had the most beautiful garden around the house, thanks to my dad. Passers-by would stop to gape at the variety — foxglove, hollyhock, anthurium, fuchsia, gladioli, zinnia and cosmos — quite forgetting the stink they had just passed through!

Adyar Creek was then called Kuppai Medu meaning ‘waste mound,’ an understatement by all means. And there was no escaping it, as my grandparents lived just across the creek in Mandaveli, and this meant frequent five-minute walks across the garbage dump that closely resembled Dante’s Inferno. It was a virtual assault on the senses as we trekked along a narrow path that weaved through burning mounds of waste from industries, abattoirs, hospitals – you name it, this was where it was all dumped. Fat, dark pigs coated with effluent dumped in the estuary, jostled with rag-pickers who had pitched tents here. Dusk brought its fair share of anti-social elements too. And then we moved to the suburbs, but as luck would have it, I was back at this place in the late 90s. By then, the dumping ground had grown bigger and meaner, some enterprising rag-pickers had their own concrete structures, and vehicles plied on what was once a narrow footpath.

The turnaround came in 2006 when, one fine day, the Government decided to clean up the Adyar Creek and Estuary. They handed over the task to the experienced Joss Brooks, who had transformed the Pitchandikulam Forest in Puducherry. His team (Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants) removed 60,000 tonnes of garbage and rubble from the site, created waterbodies, and planted 90,000 seedlings of 172 indigenous species on 300 tonnes of laterite soil brought from Auroville, giving shape to the Adyar Poonga Eco Park. And what we have today is a green wetland restored to its former glory, with endemic species of flora and fauna, down to the fishes and crustaceans — right in the heart of the city!

Today, an early morning walk around the Adyar Poonga makes my day; it’s the closest to nature you can get, in this part of the city! Karpagam Bridge that cuts across the Poonga is an excellent vantage point to view water birds at the break of dawn. Grey pelicans, painted storks, Indian cormorants, darters, egrets and herons are aplenty, but I’ve not stopped looking for a rare migrant glossy ibis or even a flamingo!A recent Photowalk for children inside Adyar Poonga opened up to me a new facet of Chennai. Spread over 58 acres around the estuary, the ecopark is dotted with interesting signboards along the way.

The walkway covers the entire length of the wetland ecosystem, with picturesque wooden bridges and a spillway in between — and huts to rest and reflect on. Our leisurely stroll around the Poonga was made all the more interesting by N. Gomathi, Education Officer, as she pointed out the endemic species of plants, insects and birds and even gave the children an interesting explanation for each scientific name! We saw a south Indian cane tree that typically grows on marshy land like the Poonga and how it once flourished and lent its name to ‘Perambur’ which is anything but marshy now. We also identified the seven-spotted Indian domino cockroach ( Therea petiveriana), a Senegal Golden Dartlet ( Ischnura senegalensis) that feasts on mosquito larvae, a Yellow Pansy ( Junonia hierta) and many other varieties of butterflies. She opened our eyes to appreciate the beauty of the wetland, of how the Adyar estuary is now what it would have been long before St. Thomas walked these shores in 72 AD, when the sacred lily bloomed at the Parthasarathy temple and Thiruvalluvar composed his famous couplets right there in Mylapore!

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 12:00:23 AM |

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