It was the Christmas holiday season and with Covid waning, we thought we were done and dusted with the pandemic and excited about getting outdoors for a long overdue holiday. Little did we know at that time that it was just the first wave and by the time I wrote this story, we were already into the third wave. Christmas time is family time, so we and a friend’s family got together and zeroed down to visiting Tamil Nadu, my favorite winter holiday destination.
It was a week-long trip along the coastal belt of Tamil Nadu between Pondicherry and Rameshwaram. Having visited Pondicherry earlier, we went further south. We were all keen to begin our trip with some water sports in Tamil Nadu as the covid restrictions were already lifted. Tamil Nadu has the world's second largest mangrove forest. Pichavaram mangrove forest is a famous tourist hotspot for boat rides inside thick mangrove plantations. We were looking for an offbeat place to visit in Tamil Nadu and this was the ideal choice.
Mangrove Bay Eco Camp is tucked away deep inside the Killai backwater region that boasts of 2,800 hectares of mangrove forest. The entire region is one of the offbeat places in coastal Tamil Nadu. It is sandwiched between the Vellar River and Kollidam River as they both form estuaries that eventually meet the Bay of Bengal. I contacted Kumaran who is a Geologist and has set up this beautiful camp on the banks of Kollidam River where they take you kayaking inside the mangrove. It is one of the top things to do in Tamil Nadu during the rainy season. My family has done kayaking before but never within the mangrove. Our first kayaking experience was in Kathadi South village in Rameswaram island. But this time around, anticipation of this unique experience had our adrenaline pumping and we were all excited.
The solitude and tranquility of this place make it ideal for nature getaways
The activities at Mangrove Bay Eco Camp start from late afternoon so we were advised to check-in around noon. It is an 8-hour drive from Bangalore so we decided to reach a day early and spend some time at Cuddalore and relax. We stayed in Hotel SPDS in Cuddalore, which was more than just a budget hotel and good for a one-night stay. Mangrove Bay Eco Camp is just 50 km from Cuddalore. You can alternately stay in Chidambaram as well. Check out the best hotel deals in Chidambaram.
Mangrove Eco Camp has two types of accommodation options. There are rooms with bunk beds for family and large groups and tents at the riverside for the more adventurous. Being a large group, we were given two separate rooms, one large and one small. They have two bathrooms common for all the guests.
Dormitory type rooms with bunk beds
The road that leads to Mangrove Bay Eco Camp was not well mapped on Google and is far inland in the rural part of Tamil Nadu. Kumaran, our host, provided us with 3 separate GPS coordinates which we had to insert one-by-one after reaching the intermediate destination. We also shared our live location with him so that he could ensure we were taking the correct route. Thankfully, we had good data coverage during the last 15-km journey. The roads were in excellent condition upto the destination; a big kudos to the Tamil Nadu Government. It was a pleasant drive through remote villages surrounded by backwaters and mangrove. On reaching the spot, we were thrilled and enchanted by our surroundings.
Update: It appears that Mangrove Bay Eco Camp is now well mapped on Google. Nevertheless, I would advise you to check with them before relying on Google maps' location.
An enclosed metal container sits atop the concrete building as the dormitory
We signed up for two kayaking activities, one in the evening and the other at sunrise the next morning. Since Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, this was our first kayaking trip in a long time. We wandered around taking in the incredible ambience. Here we were, in the middle of nowhere to experience a unique adventure, kayaking amid thick mangrove channels. Our excitement knew no bounds and soon our guide Meerann started the preparation. He handed us the appropriate size life jackets and conducted basic training on how to kayak.
Ready and raring to start kayaking, the first click from GoPro. Newbies look nervous.
We were fueled with high-tea and exciting stories before we headed out all pumped up for our first adventure. First things first, I ensured that my GoPro was mounted in the front of Kayak to capture the live action. After a few minutes of learning and unlearning certain things, off we went on our sail. Our guide Meerann was an expert and knew very well how to manage newbies and amateur kayakers. He was very good at navigating us as well as taking awesome pictures and videos simultaneously.
The ladies enjoying a fun day kayaking in the mangrove forest of Tamil Nadu
We spent an incredible 2 hours meandering around those narrow channels and watching different species of birds. The swishing of the water, the rustling of the leaves and the sounds of creatures in the mangrove made for a beautiful symphony. The ecosystem of the mangrove is something one has to feel and experience. This was one of the best kayaking experiences I had since I had learnt how to kayak way back in 2014. We returned to the camp after an eventful 2 hours, refreshed and energized by the crisp clean air and beauty of nature. We thoroughly enjoyed it and were now looking forward to the next morning.
This is me kayaking while engrossed in the exquisite ambience of the mangrove
Since it was backwaters, the water was not as salty as seawater, but we still needed to shower and freshen up. With only two bathrooms and so many of us, it was a while before all of us freshened up. Water activities always stir up an appetite and we were all famished. Thankfully, our choices in terms of veg and non-veg food were noted ahead of time so dinner was served quickly. We spent a relaxed time enjoying some delicious dinner and socializing with other guests. We also spent time at the Gazebo near the tents and lounged in the hammocks. With nightfall, there was pin-drop silence with a few frogs croaking under the clear black sky dotted with stars. It was "me" time for everyone before going to bed. The next day was anticipated to be even more exciting as we had to wake up early and go kayaking before sunrise.
An idyllic morning at Mangrove Bay Eco Camp with sun-kissed golden water
Even though this place is located remotely, the staff does their best to ensure your visit is memorable. Meerann was ready with the kayaks and life jackets and again we set sail amid partially cloudy weather with the sun playing hide-and-seek. To add to our excitement, we were told that we had a surprise awaiting us later. We were fresh and a bit more experienced now. This was a longer journey compared to the one we did last evening.
Me with my GoPro mounted on Kayak capturing the solitude and tranquility of Tamil Nadu backwaters
After about a 3-hour sail we returned to the dock excited for the surprise. Meerann had planned to give us lessons for paddle surfing! He was always with us while kayaking with his paddle and surfing at a breakneck speed while maintaining a perfect balance. Believe me, it's not as easy as it looks. We all took turns to be on the surfboard trying to balance ourselves. I had numerous falls and could barely balance myself while standing. It was an exhilarating and fun experience and we thoroughly enjoyed our session.
My daughter, Prutha picked up paddle surfing quite fast and was able to balance very well
A 3-hour sail and some rigorous paddle surfing lessons, our hunger pangs were on overdrive, we were starving. Playing perfect hosts, we had an elaborate breakfast feast consisting of pongal, idly, dosa, bread and omelet. It was commendable that they managed to serve so much variety even though we were rather far away from the nearest city. It was time to check out and head to Tharangambadi (the land of the singing waves), our next destination, but not before some photo ops near the Gazebo.
Tent and Gazebo right at the Kollidam River, the best place for stargazing at night
My lovely family who are as adventurous and fun loving as me
My daughter chilling in the hammock near the river
It was just the beginning of our winter holidays and we could not have asked for a better start. We felt that maybe we should have spent an additional day at this place and indulged in more kayaking and paddle surfing. I guess when you enjoy something, no amount of time is ever enough. This is reason enough to come back, right?. Content and happy, we loaded our luggage and embarked on another remarkable day at Tharangambadi.
Pondicherry, Pichavaram, and Chidambaram are the most popular places to visit near Mangrove Bay Eco Camp. Within an hour's drive of the eco camp site are a few offbeat places like Kodiyampalayam beach and Veeranam Lake. Cuddalore's Silver Beach is about 50 km away from the eco camp and is a secluded beach with very few tourists.
Kayaking in the mangrove forest early in the morning and evening will allow you to witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Make sure you plan your activities accordingly so you don't miss out. Make sure that the day you choose is not cloudy. I have never experienced anything like this before.
Mangrove Bay Eco Camp is a great place to learn kayak and stand up paddle in Tamil Nadu. Kayaking in the backwaters and surrounded by thick mangroves is an incredible experience. It is located about 80 kilometers from Pondicherry. It would also be possible to plan a day trip from Pondicherry to this place.
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