Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothingWhen you live in a city and want to take a break from it all – travel requires a lot of planning. Flights, accommodation, things to do, clothes to carry – the list is endless. I always wished there was something closer to home, something that was easy to access and yet was just as peaceful. My searches were futile, until I discovered the Mangrove Bay Eco-camp
Located amidst the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest a mere 15 kms from Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, these mangroves are the second largest mangroves in the world after the Sundarbans. They were originally known as Thillai Vana as the rishis of yore used to live here with their wives and spend time contemplating on the secrets of the Universe. Thillai means wisdom. It is also said that once, Lord Shiva was so impressed by their dedication that He graced this region and performed Ananda Tandav (blissful cosmic dance) to gladden the rishis.
The mangrove forest is definitely an Ananda Tandav of Mother Nature. This forest is spread over 1,100 hectares of the Killai backwaters where the river joins the Bay of Bengal. The only thing that separates the forest from the vast and mighty ocean is a lengthy sand bank. The forest has more than 50 islands of various sizes, and 4,400 big and small canals, all formed by a network of tree roots.
The mangroves attract migrants and local birds including snipes, cormorants, egrets, storks, herons, spoonbills and pelicans. About 177 species of birds belonging to 15 orders and 41 families have been recorded in the land.
When I first landed in Mangrove Bay, the person in-charge welcomed me to go kayaking and explore these incredible forests and see the various species of birds. As he joined me for the ride, for the first time, I saw and understood just how many birds there were. Until then, my city brain was only aware of our noisy crow and the disappearing sparrow.
When I spotted my first pelican, I was overjoyed. I mean this was not an image on google but a real bird – I felt like a child that had discovered something incredible. The whole evening was spent understanding and learning about birds and the forest itself. I felt so lucky and blessed.
As I sat for dinner with my friend and guide, Kumaran, I thanked him for my adventure. He smiled and said, ‘There is more to come’. He then told me he would take me Stand-Up Paddleboard-ing (SUP) the next morning. He asked me to be ready by 5:30 AM.
I was nervous and excited but because of the travel, I fell asleep with ease. As I woke up to the first rays of the sun and the sky painted shades of pink and orange, I sat in silence and soon Kumaran joined me .
He asked me to help pump up the SUP – which is like a bouncy surfboard. We took it to the water’s edge and he showed me the basic techniques of how to balance on this rather simple looking board.
I heard the instructions and thought how hard could it be? All I had to do was place the paddle on the stand-up paddleboard, look at the horizon, engage my core and try to stand up. I rehearsed for a couple of seconds in my head and finally took the courage to do the challenging task.
I was able to stand for a few seconds, but I did not last long, my legs wobbled with the board and I went crashing into the water. My instructor laughed and helped me back up. With a resolute mind I tried and tried and tried again. After half an hour of falling in, I finally got myself to stand. Hurrah! Step one had been accomplished. I looked at my instructor and he said – why don’t you try some yoga poses?
I laughed. Here I was struggling to stand and the suggestion was to do yoga?? He was a lot crazier than I thought. I rubbished his suggestion but then he pointed out and said, ‘you are soaking wet anyway, what do you have to lose?’ I laughed in agreement.
I stood up shakily and tried adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) – I could feel every muscle vibrate on the board and every moment felt so present and full. But, strangely I felt more comfortable doing yoga on the board than standing. With a smile on my face, I tried pose after pose and had an absolute blast.
As I practiced, for the time I was in the water on my SUP – I really had NO thought. I lived in the moment and it was incredible. I was practicing yoga – the real Yoga. Not just making shapes but a practice where my mind disappeared and I was just one with everything!
I cannot recommend this enough. I hope someday you go and try it.