Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Showcasing Pichavaram

Showcasing Pichavaram - The Hindu


The Dawn Fest seeks to place the vast lake and its mangroves on the global eco-tourism map.

An exercise in harmony: At the Dawn Fest 2008 at Chinnavaikkal.

Rajendra Ratnoo, the Collector of Cuddalore, is a man with a mission: to put Pichavaram on the global eco-tourism map.

Ratnoo’s strategy is simple — and brilliant. “The aim is to showcase the potential of Pichavaram to relevant and concerned stakeholders — the administration, policy makers, the tourism industry, media, and the locals,” he says. The Dawn Fest was a conference with a difference: a weekend of thoughtful, passionate and creative showcasing of the tourism potential of Chidambaram and Pichavaram; bringing together the history, the cultural heritage and the ecology of the place.

Fittingly, the highlight of the event was a visit to the island of Chinnavaikkal, flanked by the backwaters on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. This was the leitmotif of the Dawn Fest: to watch the sun paint the sky at dawn — to strains of mellifluous music and to the salute of suryanamaskar on the beach… This was eco-tourism, bringing together the students of Annamalai University with their music and their yoga and knowledge of marine biology, the people of Killai Panchayat, with their boats and their knowledge of the island and the mangroves and the water, and us, the practice-run tourists…

Later, as we drifted past the mangroves in boats, students of marine biology briefed us on the mangroves and answered questions. Considered one of the healthiest occurrences in the world, the Pichavaram mangroves cover an area of over 400 hectares in the Vellar-Coleroon estuarine complex. An intricate system of canals, channels and creeks create myriad islands, and a unique ecosystem that spans three mangrove wetland Reserve Forests : Killai, Pichavaram and Pichavaram Extension area. We floated past vast stretches of brilliant green rooted firmly in shallow water, with their strange aerial roots growing down from high above us, and their unique reproduction system that enables the fruit to float away to colonise new areas — and, when the time is right, put down roots and send out shoots…
Increased awareness

The water was clean and bright, much cleaner than the mangroves we had seen in Goa or in the Andamans. Ratnoo is happy that we noticed. Yes, we had a cleaning drive and we are educating the local people, he beams. There is still much to be done, but the beginning is encouraging.

Led by the dynamic and forward-thinking Ravichandran and inspired by Ratnoo, the people of Killai Panchayat are extremely enthusiastic and hopeful about the concept of eco-tourism in the area. The cultural evening they hosted for us was an eye-opener, showcasing the wealth of talent and skill in native dance and martial art forms, as well as the effort that went into making the show memorable. Karagam, Kolattam, Kalari, all seem well and alive among the people of Killai. The accompanying commentary was also telling. “You can bind our feet and chain our hands and burden us with a load on our head, but we will master the load and dance with it, that is the nature of Woman,” proclaims the voice on the mike with vehemence as the girls dance the Karagam without a care in the world.
Hope ahead

Only the tsunami boats are a grim reminder of their struggle to remake their lives. But they are hopeful: Ratnoo is confident that eco tourism can supplement their income substantially through revenue from serving as guides, taking tourists boating and other allied opportunities, without taking them away from being fishermen.

Dawn Fest comes to an end, but the wheels have been set in motion. And if Ratnoo has his way, Pichavaram will soon be one more place where everybody understands the meaning of low-volume, minimum impact, responsible travel.

No comments: