A scenic 215 km drive away from the bustling and vibrant town of Pondicherry is the the second largest mangrove forest in the world. Unlike the beaches in India, the mangroves of Pichavaram are not overrun with tourists yet. Not many people have even heard of it, which may be a good thing. The name ‘Sunderbans’ in Bengal is familiar, thanks to their mention in school textbooks as the largest mangrove forest in the world, but Pichavaram, at second place, doesn’t share the spotlight.
I wanted a quiet place to get away and Mangrove Bay Eco Camp, located near Pichavaram seemed like it fit the bill. They were keen to protect this incredible yet endangered forest.
Why protect it? Well, over a third of the world’s mangroves have been wiped out in the last 30 years, mainly because these shore-hugging forests are prime real estate for hotel properties.
What most businesses don’t understand is that mangroves provide critical shelter for young fish and coral (which in turn provides employment to fisher folk). They also absorb a whopping 50% more carbon dioxide than any kind of forest – playing a crucial role in combating climate change. AND they act as a buffer against tropical storms by absorbing the shock of the waves.
The team at Mangrove Bay Eco Camp were keen to conserve and protect this forest. They did this by providing kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding and birdwatching lessons at this simple but thoughtfully built campsite.
I arrived on a Saturday and spent the afternoon kayaking through the beautiful forested roots of the mangrove jungle. Making my way through them was a mystical experience. It was mostly still and soundless, save for the occasional plop of a flying fish jumping out the water and a bird taking to flight. The canopy of twisted branches above my head hung so low that it didn’t allow one to stand, yet the occasional stream of light on the water let me look down and see the murky shore bed, which was deep in some spots and shallow in some others.
Despite this quiet, it wasn’t scary at all. Instead the greenery was overwhelmingly soothing and the hum of the gentle wind passing through the trees seemed magnified, as did the rustle of the leaves at arms distance, around and above us.
I’ve never experienced anything like it. After a while I decided to stop paddling and just lay my head back into the kayak and stare at the skies. The clouds slowly changed shapes. My mind slowly became still, and as I lay there in the middle of the estuary, I realized for the first time how much I loved this stillness… this connection to Nature… this opportunity to reconnect with myself.
Reluctantly, I came back ashore and was served a humble yet delicious meal of rice and curry. I ate my meal with no distractions from the phone or other people and again, it dawned upon me that this was the first time I had experienced a meal like this. Quiet, present and nourishing.
It had been less than 6 hours at Mangrove Bay and I was feeling grateful for nature, grateful for the opportunity to be here and most grateful for the abundance that was all around me.
(to be continued)