Meditating by the Mangrove

Meditating by the Mangrove

The coastline of Tamil Nadu constitutes about 15% of the total coastal length of India and stretches along the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. This meeting point of land and ocean is covered with well-known tourist spots like Rameshwaram, Kanyakumari and the hip and happening Pondicherry. But away from the maddening crowds and the hustle of street vendors, there are secret spots that are a haven to people like me.

A half-hour away from the pilgrim town of Chidambaram, along some windy narrow roads through sleepy villages, lies the Killai backwaters – which is home to India’s second largest mangrove forest. What is so special about a mangrove forest you might ask? Well, most plants find it impossible to live in the saline-rich and oxygen-poor waters of the ocean – all except the humble mangrove. Not only that, its root system survives through the ebb and fall of the ocean tides.

In this incredible forest by the backwaters, is located Mangrove Bay, an eco-friendly adventure spot that takes people kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding along these salty waters.

As you drive in, your eyes are met with the most calming view of endless blue, speckled with the green of the mangrove forests. The place is built with simplicity and has dorm and tent style accommodation. There is no sound of traffic, and all your ears are filled with the sound of waves lapping at the shoreline. This was such a welcome change from the concrete views and the honking of traffic I was normally used to.

I put my phone away, kicked off my shoes and sat by the water side – just taking in the bounty of mother nature. Our host, Kumaran, walked up to us with some piping hot tea and said the kayaks were ready – and the ride would be the best way to understand the speciality of the place we were in.

We put on our life jackets, picked up our paddles and got the basic lessons on how to kayak. We then chose our kayaks and dragged them ourselves to the water's edge. I took to my kayak like a fish to water. It felt easy and effortless and I loved the feeling of being so alone, yet, independent in the water. Kumaran was ahead on his kayak and he asked us to follow him. We kayaked and as we did, he showed me the various species of birds that lived there. Until that day, I had no idea that there were different varieties of Kingfishers. I saw egrets, pelicans, cranes and so much more. Mother Nature was incredible and I finally had the time and patience to wake up to her bounty.

He pointed out the huge roots of the forest and showed me what mangrove seeds looked like – they looked so different to anything I had ever seen. Mangrove seeds had little wings that helped them catch the wind and get dispersed far and wide. Three hours went by – kayaking and exploring and when I came back to shore, I had no idea how so much time had passed. It felt like 20 minutes in my head.

As I pulled my kayak up I sat in awe and a bit of sadness. I couldn’t believe how disconnected from nature I was. I promised to come back more often and immerse myself in more quiet.

Dinner was served under a glistening full moon. I ate under the moonlight – feeling so happy and content with the simple things. As I reflected, city life really felt complicated and hectic and my few hours in Mangrove Bay felt like a much needed detox from the mad rush of it all – both physically and mentally.

As I ate my simple meal, Kumaran asked me if I had ever done SUP (stand-up paddleboard). When I nodded my head to say no, he remarked, 'You practice yoga right? I think this will be easy for you'. I smiled for the first time without worrying too much about SUP or what would happen. My otherwise racing mind was still and happy where it was.

‘The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now’.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

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Chinmaya Udghosh