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On Lake Placid

Pulicat: birds and a brilliant stretch of water

PULICAT MARKET is not the best advertisement for Pazhaverkadu also known as Pulicat. The stench of fish in this gateway to the lake can make you pass out. But if you are strong enough to survive this smelly stretch, then a brilliant spread of water stretches out like a canvas of blue in front of you. The sea of blue is broken only by little patches of brown and green, islands where the migratory birds make their temporary homes every year.

As you might expect, there are a few leisure activities in Pulicat, the main one being: boatrides. The bird sanctuary is an eight km ride from the market, which can - depending on your fancy - be undertaken on a boat with an outboard motor (that splutters and wheezes) or on one (time willing) that is powered by oars. In the winter months, Pulicat is home for flamingos and all manner of cranes and storks. Persuade your boatman to manoeuvre the boat towards one of the many islets and stride towards the nesting birds, if you want a closer look. If you have a passion for birds, then the Andhra side of Pulicat might well be your choice as it is an ornithologist's dream come true — flamingos, ducks, ospreys, pelicans, avocets, cormorants, herons, spoonbills, egrets, and gulls jostle for space in this quieter and more expansive region of the lake. "The birds are attracted to that side because the water is shallow and marshy," says the boatman. "Birds find it difficult to search for food if the water is deep."

As you motor down the lake, the estuary will be your next pit stop. The entire spread of the lake is fed through this 2-km wide mouth, which narrows as one nears the sea.

The stretch of land that divides sea and lake is a strip of untouched beach, the golden sand marked by nothing other than the seashells and disturbed by little more than the faint tracks of scurrying crabs.

During low tide, scientists pitch tents in this area and study the pattern of flow and the water pollution. It has also become a destination for film crews, with productions such as Citizen (starring Ajith) and Pudhukottaiyilirundhu Saravanan (starring Dhanush) having been shot here. The river mouth is fringed by an isolated casuarina grove, a perfect hideout if you ignore the ugly broken bottles and dirty plastic cups that litter the path leading to the riverbed. Pulicat has been colonised successively, by the Portuguese, the Dutch and later by the British. Of the three, only the Dutch have left their imprint. The steeple casts a sad silhouette against the fading light. The church is in some disrepair but renovation is in progress.

Further from the church, which was built around 1600 A.D., is the cemetery for Dutch soldiers. This peaceful enclosure with grey blocks of grave is now visited only by those who want an uninterrupted afternoon nap or those who want to steal a game of cards. .

Pulicat has no hotels - no decent ones anyway. There are government guesthouses and a Tamil Nadu Tourist Development Corporation guesthouse is under construction. During the season, one tour operator pitches tents by the lakeside for tourists and accompanies them for walks and bird-watching expeditions.

A travel tip: if you are planning to drive along the highway, make sure you have enough fuel in your vehicle. Also be prepared to negotiate a pitted two-kilometre stretch near Red Hills where a bridge is under construction.

How to get there

Road: Nellore highway, 60 km. north of Chennai.
Buses ply regularly from Koyambedu
Nearest station: Sullurpet

Where to stay

Government guest house (Rs. 200 a night).
Rest houses at Sullurpet and Tada

Places of interest

Tada (35 km), Sriharikota

Things to take:

Binoculars, food and water, tent gear (if you're camping), first aid kit, tool kit for vehicles.

Text and pic by

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