One of the nine new wetlands in Tamil Nadu to get the sought-after Ramsar tag in the past fortnight, the Udhayamarthandapuram/Udayamarthandapuram bird sanctuary, is not far from the state’s first such site — Kodiakkari (Point Calimere) — which was accorded the status way back in 2002.
Udhayamarthandapuram was one of the six wetlands in Tamil Nadu that got the Ramsar tag on 3 August, just a week after three other sites in the state received the recognition.
30 December Chennai rains: Why we should protect our wetlands
Remember the heavy rains along the Tamil Nadu coast at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 that brought Chennai to a standstill?
My friends and I visited the 44-hectare Udayamarthandapuram bird sanctuary and various parts of the extensive Point Calimere Ramsar site (38,500 hectares) on December 30, 31 and January 1, 2.
While my colleagues in Chennai were trapped in the office due to the freak rain in the Tamil Nadu capital on December 30, there was no flooding problem near the Ramsar sites despite the heavy precipitation. Credit must go to the wetlands for taking in the excess water.
Part of River Cauvery delta
The Udayamarthandapuram bird sanctuary consists of man-made irrigation tanks surrounded by agricultural fields. The caretakers who accompanied us said the land that now forms the sanctuary was donated by the villagers.
Jayshree Vencatesan of the Care Earth Trust told South First that the Ramsar Site Information Sheet (RIS) application requires a lot of data and that it is an extensive process. She should know, for her NGO was involved in preparing the RIS for six of the nine new Ramsar sites in Tamil Nadu.
The RIS for Udhayamarthandapuram, one of the few in which the Care Earth Trust was not involved though the NGO said it took part in preparing the wetland action plan for the bird sanctuary, is certainly detailed. It notes that the irrigation tanks in Udayamarthandapuram are fed by the Mettur dam on the Cauvery river through the Koraiyar canal.
There were hundreds of birds in the Udhayamarthandapuram sanctuary at the time of my visit. Many of them were migratory, said the caretakers. Some of the migratory birds that visit Udhayamarthandapuram include the open-billed stork, white ibis, oriental darter, and the black-headed ibis.
Snail shells on the way in Udayamarthandapuram
As the long straight path on one edge of the waterbody finally curved towards the right near the agricultural fields, my friends, who are avid birdwatchers, and I couldn’t help but notice the numerous empty snail shells littered along the way.
The molluscs were consumed by the birds and only the shells remain, explained the caretakers.
As we walked along the other edge of the man-made lake and reached an elevated platform, the rain became heavier and we had to turn back. The Udayamarthandapuram bird sanctuary is part of the vast Cauvery delta and drains into the beautiful Muthupet mangroves, which we were blessed to visit later in the day after the rain intensity decreased.
The Udayamarthandapuram bird sanctuary is less than 10 kilometres from Muthupet, home to the most extensive mangrove forest in Tamil Nadu. One can combine a trip to Udayamarthandapuram and the state’s oldest Ramsar site, Kodiakkarai (Point Calimere) — which includes the aforementioned mangroves, Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary, Panchanadikulam wetland, and the Great Vedaranyam Swamp.
Also read: Tamil Nadu now has 14 Ramsar sites
Udayamarthandapuram Ramsar site: Where to stay
While we stayed in a comfortable hotel in Kodiakkarai (Point Calimere) when visiting Udayamarthandapuram, a look at Google showed there were decent lodges in Vedaranyam and Muthupet.
And if you do stay in one of these places, don’t miss the Kodiakkarai (Point Calimere) beach.
Dolphins can be seen from Point Calimere beach
The Tamil Nadu coast takes an almost 90-degree turn at Kodiakkarai.
As we walked along the sands with the extensive sea both to the east and south, we could see dolphins right from the coast. This is a sight that my friends, who originally hail from Assam and have travelled extensively all over India for decades, said they had not seen anywhere else in the country, not right on the beach.
Sri Lanka is not too far from the coast. In the Tamil novel Ponniyin Selvan, now being made into a film by director Mani Ratnam, the Chola prince Arulmozhivarman (who later became Raja Raja Chola), the protagonist Vandiyathevan, and others would have gone from Kodiakkarai to Lanka.
The Kodiakkarai or Point Calimere beach has a Chola lighthouse, which was badly hit in the 2004 tsunami. Its remains can now be seen.
According to my friends, who have visited Kodiakkarai many times, the beach is best visited in the early morning, and we were also able to witness a fish auction.
Here is an award-winning documentary by Shekar Dattatri on the amazing wildlife of Point Calimere.
Udhayamarthandapuram bird sanctuary: Don’t be misled by Google Maps
And a note of caution, don’t be misled by Google Maps while going from Muthupet to Udayamarthandapuram, which lies in Tiruvarur district.
At the Muthupet forest office, we were told to go via the main road that goes northeast and take a left after crossing the lonely railway line to reach the bird sanctuary.
In my infinite wisdom, I followed Google Maps, which showed that the Udayamarthandapuram bird sanctuary was to the right of the road, instead of heeding the words of the forest staff, and missed the left turn.
We had to retrace our path and take the turn. This time, my sports editor friend — who had good reason not to trust me or Google Maps anymore — didn’t listen to me as we followed a stream (he had the right instincts and proper sense, the wetland would of course be near a waterbody) and went beyond the sanctuary.
We had to take a U-turn and what was supposed to be around a 20-minute journey took more than an hour. We could have spent more time at the bird sanctuary before the heavy rains had I been a better navigator.
So learn from this sad tale, check with the people there, and be careful with Google Maps near the Udayamarthandapuram Ramsar site, though it does appear to point towards the correct location now.