You can be forgiven if you didn't know about Pichavaram mangrove forest, despite it being one of the world's largest mangrove jungles (the Sundarbans National Park in West Bengal is the largest). After all, it's not on the tourist trail. However, this remarkable and fascinating place is definitely worth visiting.
Pichavaram Mangrove Forest Details
The mangrove forest at Pichavaram is spread over 1,100 hectares and joins the Bay of Bengal, where it's separated by a lengthy sand bank.
Apparently, the forest has more than 50 islands of various sizes, and 4,400 big and small canals. Astonishing! The small canals are sun-flecked tunnels of roots and branches, some hanging so low that there's hardly any room to pass through. Except for the swish of paddles, sound of birds, and roar of the sea in the distance, all is silent and still.
Students and scientists from across India come to study the mangrove forest and its incredible biodiversity. Approximately 200 species of birds have been recorded, along with many varieties of seaweed, fish, prawns, crabs, oysters, turtles, and otters. There are around 20 different varieties of trees in the mangrove forest as well.
The trees grow in water that's 3-10 feet deep in different places. The conditions are quite hostile, as the sea's tides bring salt water in and out twice a day, changing the salinity. Hence, the trees have unique root systems, with membranes that only allow fresh water to enter.
They also have breathing roots that grow up from the water, with pores that can take in oxygen.
Unfortunately, the mangrove forest got damaged by the devastating 2004 cyclone that hit Tamil Nadu. However, if it wasn't for the forest acting as a buffer for the water, the destruction inland would've been severe.
The water from the tsunami has affected its growth, requiring protective measures to be put into place. Previously, villagers cut the tree roots to use for firewood. This has now been banned.
How to Get There
Pichavaram is located around 30 minutes from the temple town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu. It's a picturesque drive past paddy fields, villages with colorfully painted houses, traditional style huts with thatched roofs, and women selling fish by the roadside. A taxi will cost around 800 rupees for a return trip. Alternatively, buses run hourly between Chidambaram and Pichavaram, with tickets costing about 10 rupees.
Chidambaram can easily be reached by train in under 4 hours from Chennai. The nearest airport is in Tiruchirapalli, 170 kilometers from Chidambaram. Alternatively, visit Pichavaram on a day trip from Pondicherry. Chidambaram is only about 2 hours south of Pondicherry.
How to See It
Both row boats and motor boats, operated by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation, take passengers through the mangrove forest daily from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. However, it can get very hot in the middle of the day, so it's better off going in the morning or late afternoon. Rates start from 185 rupees for a row boat and 1,265 rupees for a motor boat, and increase according to number of people and distance.
A trip of at least 2 hours is recommended to explore the mangrove jungle. If you take a 4-hour trip in a row boat or 2-hour trip in a motor boat you can see both mangrove jungle and beach. Do note that the boatmen will demand a tip of a few hundred rupees for taking you deep inside the smaller, narrow canals. Motor boats can't go inside these canals, so make sure you take a row boat if you're interested seeing them. It's well worth it.
When to Go
November to February is the best time, particularly for bird watching. For a peaceful experience, avoid weekends as it does get busy then.
Where to Stay
Options for accommodations in the area are limited. Pichavaram Adventure Resort, in Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation's Arignar Anna Tourist Complex, is your best bet. There's a dormitory, as well as rooms and cottages.
Otherwise, there are more hotels to choose from in Chidambaram.