With birds soaring above or clustered near open ponds and green fields on either side interrupted by tractors or brick kilns, the road leading towards the Pulicat village is pretty much a description of the views that one encounters when approaching an Indian village. And once you enter the village, the streets are narrow, shops and stalls lined across on the main road on either side, the smell of fish mingled with the smell of the salty wind, hawkers lined out with vegetables and fruits and mosquitoes ringing in hordes over dusty corners, Pulicat is no different from the many other villages, except for one fact. It lies on the edges of the country’s second largest brackish water lake or lagoon, the Pulicat Lake. Add this with it being a great destination for sighting of migratory birds during the winter season, and you have hence an exciting tourist spot that invites and enthralls the fundamental nature traveler within you.
Pulicat is located about 55 km from the city of Chennai and the lake is spread across the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The larger part of the lake lies within the Andhra border and the island of Sriharikota acts as a barrier, separating the lake from the Bay of Bengal. It was in the Tamil Nadu side that we ventured and though it holds a smaller portion of the area, it holds endless possibilities of boating, birding and having fun.
The lake looks like an endless sea of clear waters, spotted with big and small, sand and greened islands that pattern out in different shapes along the stretch of the water. The Pulicat Lighthouse located across the bridge gives a splendid bird’s eye view of the surrounding lake, its islands and the village settlements.
The best thing to do once you near the lake is to negotiate with the fishermen around for a boat ride. The rates are usually for one time, which means you can spend as many hours as you like cruising along the lake.
Apply your sunscreen, put on your hats, grab those binoculars and sit back as the motor boat juggles and vibrates trudging dutifully along the splashing cool waters. And once in a while, you will sit up straight on catching sight of the beautiful white winged birds either flapping around or pecking at the skies in upright, uptight poses. If you are lucky you can spot the Spotted Pelican, Painted Stork and if you are luckier you may catch sight of the flamingoes, probably a little towards the Pulicat Lake Sanctuary located in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. But since birds know no boundaries, you can spot various species flapping happily around in the larger lake area as well. For die hard birding fans, a visit into the actual bird sanctuary is a must however, for travelers like us, who wanted to just soak in the essence of the lake and enjoy all its offerings, a ride along the not so interiors of the lake was enough.
I have to admit that though the birds were one of our main reasons for zeroing on Pulicat and we did jump out of our cars in delight on spotting a few flocks of white birds with black tipped wings and egrets or slowed down the boat to click away the elegantly standing Painted Storks, we are no bird watchers. Yet, it was with warmth and excitement that we pursued the birds, more out of curiosity and thrill rather than an educational pursuit or hobby.
Besides, the birds, the lake surfaces the interesting views of fisherman casting their nets standing steadily on rafts, the women prawn catchers ducking their heads in and out of the water, the line of the colorful boats straddled on one end of the lake, whereas, countless small silver fish scattered seamlessly along the shore drying in the sun. Such sights are hard to catch elsewhere and the boat ride only accentuates the interest in all of these.
Surprisingly, in many places the level of water was as deep as ankle length, making it easy to plant our feet in shelled ground and wander aimlessly around in water. Crabs and various different shells shimmered in the shallow waters and it was with excited squeals that we found the tiny marine life coasting along the bed in its slow and laid back pace. Not to forget, the perfectly symmetrical star fish that caught our attention as well as the conical, cocooned, flat multicolored shells that we filled our pockets with.
One of the biggest advantages that Pulicat had on offer at the time of our visit was the very few tourists that it attracted. The coast was clear, both literally and figuratively, and the quietude coupled with the pleasant early February weather, made it a perfect picnic for us. There a quite a few islands and our fisherman made stops on two of them. The red weeds welcomed us ashore and large stretches of beach lay out at the other end of the island. The waves crashed with vigor, the waters clean and cool and the solitude made for perfect peace. The kids freaked out and we adults became kids all over again.
However, sad enough the place is not marketed as a potential tourist destination. One on hand, opening the flood gates of commercial marketing may mean taking a risk at endangering the natural and marine biodiversity, on the other basic amenities such as, missing toilets and eateries make it difficult for those visiting the place. And a quick word on environmental degradation – empty liquor bottles crashed along islands and shores, unkempt rubbish discarded at whim, were clear indications that unchecked damage was underway.
Because of the lack of tourist amenities, an overnight stay in Pulicat is a tad bit difficult, hence a day trip and more essentially an early morning trip (if you want to catch the sights of more exquisite birds) is highly recommended. Besides, the lakes itself, there are a few other destinations that are worth checking out in the vicinity, such as the Dutch Cemetery, Dutch Fort and the Lighthouse.
For an unabashed day of fun in the water and beach and for spotting fishing and birding from close quarters, Pulicat is a definite weekend destination for those residing in Chennai. For those who want to take the expedition a notch up and are bird watchers or lovers, a ride into Andhra’s Nellore district to the Pulicat Bird Sanctuary during the winter months will definitely make their day.
As for us, the pull of Pulicat has got us thinking into making such trips more often, with more planning and definitely the next time, with more birding insights and more kilometers into the lake area.