A Sublime, SILENT world.
Was saddened by reports and pictures of the Samoan Tsunami and the Indonesian quake. Natural disasters have started becoming regular features in the News. A strong pointer ,perhaps, to the fact that we are not taking as much care as we should of our home planet.
Whenever the subject of Tsunami comes up, I think of the Pichavaram Mangrove Jungle. When the terrible tidal wave devastated the Nagapattinam coast in 2004, this small haven, a green David, put up a brave fight against the Goliath and lived to tell its tale . Having quickly mended its minor bruises, it is still standing there, a proud eco-warrior,luxuriant and full of wisdom to be shared with anyone who cares to lend an ear.
Having visited Pichavaram many times, I am yet to become immune to its verdant charms.
Pichavaram is the second largest mangrove biotope in Asia ( after Bengal's Sundarbans), ranking among the healthiest of wetland vegetations in the world. Spread across 1400 hectares ( still growing), in the backwaters fed by the Vellar and Coleroon rivers, and separated from the sea by a lovely sandbar, this mangrove jungle is a unique biosphere encompassing hundreds of Islets and creeks. Six or seven villages situated within the cover of this jungle were miraculously spared the fury of the tsunami while nearby hamlets were completely washed away, because of the very nature of the mangroves. Except for a few trees on the fringes closer to the sea, that were uprooted by the force of the wave, the jungle suffered little damage. The force of the invading wave was vastly weakened by the thick vegetation, and by getting diverted into the numerous creeks. There was no erosion of land as the thick web of fibrous roots held the soil fast in a stranglehold.
Mangroves , adapted to life in saline water and marshland, are quite a remarkable and funny species. They have fascinating, highly specialised adaptations to thrive in an environment that can kill off other types of vegetation. Some mangrove varieties shoot out porous , "breathing sticks" from the submerged roots to suck in oxygen . One can see armies of these eerie fingers sticking out of the emerald green water, when one goes boating . Some have "crutches" to keep themselves anchored in the water. Most have waxy leaves that are clever enough to separate the salt from the water injested and to secrete it as powdery residues.
The trees also "walk"; meaning : they throw saplings ( fully germinated while still attached to parent tree) and adventitious roots, a few inches away from their own base so that an offspring thicket grows there and the expanded clan prospers !
The mangroves support an intricate web of life with interdependant species of fish, crustaceans, birds, reptiles and small animals .
While many of the inner creeks of Pichavaram are as yet unexplored, the state government has authorised row boats to take visitors through charted creeks. What a wonderful, strange and SILENT world it is out there ! The boatmen are very knowledgeable and give a complete education about the wonders of the mangrove. But the voice is never raised above the just- audible level. Even the oars are manipulated so gently as to reduce the volume of the splash. Our voices automatically drop to a whisper too. The dense, overhanging trees lining the narrow creeks create the feeling of meandering through watery caves . Sometimes, the boat gets within touching distance from the mesh of roots. At such points, one can spot creatures like the goggle eyed mudfish, bright orange crabs with mean pincers, ceaselessly squirming guppies, brilliantly patterned spiders and bunches of mussels. Egrets and terns flutter among the boughs.
The livelihood of many nearby villages depends on this jungle which provides them fuel , food and medicines. Its heartening to hear the villagers speak of the jungle with immense respect and piety. One can be sure that they will always protect it and not exploit it for quick gain.
One has seen in documentaries , explorer's dugouts splicing through the creeks of Amazonian rainforests. Gliding through the cool, green, cavernous alleys of the Pichavaram creeks feels like a close approximation of that. Its a wonderful experience .
Unfailingly enchanting. Everytime.
( Pichavaram is 15 kms. from Chidambaram , 75Kms. from Pondicherry. There are no "amenities" here , perhaps thats good for the place. The approach road is only an apology. And thats not good for the car ! )