Chunnambar ~A slice of heaven on earth

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Travel Features >> Chunnambar ~A slice of heaven on earth

Chunnambar ~A slice of heaven on earth

September 26, 2012

Chunnambar – crunch out the name loudly and let it get imprinted in your memory lest you find yourself in my unenviable position. It is an easy name to forget and trying to recall it may result in all sorts of permutations and combinations – Chumandar, Churamandar, Chumanjar!! Ask me for more as these are just a few of what I have been coming up with trying to remember that elusive name.

I had heard about Chunnambar three days ago when I reached Pondicherry. My friend there suggested that it was a great beach to head to, close to Pondicherry. Soon, she left for a trip out of town and I was stuck in Pondicherry trying to remember that dratted name. The fact that Pondicherry itself no longer has a beach and one wasn’t too sure of getting in at the Auroville beaches nearby made it all the more imperative that I remember the name. I was just contemplating who to ask and what exactly to ask for when the name popped up once again.

Chunnambar – as the name lazily floated in my mind at the breakfast table, I quickly grabbed a pen and wrote it down lest it escape once again. Not sure if buses went that far, and chary of the auto rickshaws crooking me, I decide to take a taxi. A short drive along the sea front Groubert Avenue with its wide promenade, we leave the sea to twist and turn along the Pondicherry- Cuddalore road.

We pass by cemeteries with impressive tombstones – not just the usual stone plaques and crosses but elaborate monuments! Shops flash by, with brightly painted signboards and an amazing array of products – from sanitary fittings to colorful textiles to snacks and groceries. Women sit on the edges of the road, with baskets of colourful flowers busy stringing them to be worn in the hair. Some women have a little gunny sack spread in front of them with an array of local vegetables and greens and of course, the bright yellow miniature bananas.

Before I realize it, the driver turns off onto a dirt track and announces in his limited English “ this beach”. I am totally perplexed, for as far as I can see, there is no sign of any sea or beach! Wondering if I have been taken for a literal ride, I venture down the track to discover, a few paces ahead, a boathouse and beyond it, the backwaters. Cross the blue-green waters in the motorized boat and you get to the beach, finally.

As I wait for the boat to fill up and start, I wonder if my journey to Chunnambar will be memorable. I am told that the beach here is known as Plage Paradiso, and I can’t help but wonder if it is a bit of tourist over-kill. We cross fishermen in their slender palm-tree rafts, balancing like graceful tightrope artists and pass by gently whispering groves of coconut and formidable thorny bramble. Soon, in the horizon, one can see a small sandy bar and beyond it, the most incredible shade of blue, of the sea and the sky melding together! I can feel myself holding my breath at the sheer beauty of the sight before me.

The boat berths against a tiny bamboo pier and the blue waters are full of tiny black fish. A motley collection of bamboo huts greet us, empty for the moment but hired out to groups for the day or night. Fine, shell-strewn sand feels good under my feet, my sandals already abandoned for the sheer sensual experience of the velvety sand between my toes. In front of me, the sea is azure, topped with white foamy waves, not huge but a multitude of them, like some giant confetti spray going crazy. I climb the small bamboo observation deck and the view is simply stupendous – the crescent shaped beach stretching for miles on either side, with no human habitation in sight and the amazingly clear waters of the sea like a swirling gypsy skirt along the shoreline.

Unable to resist any longer, I rush into the sea and as the waves wash over me, it is sheer bliss. Though it is not advisable to swim far out into the sea, as there is a strong under-current here, it is perfectly safe to have fun in the waters close to the shore. Like many others before and after me, I succumb to the combined charms of the Sun, Sand and Sea!! At Plage Paradiso, the pleasure was doubled – there were no crowds, no troublesome vendors or insistent masseurs, no garbage in sight, nothing at all to impinge on your enjoyment of the pristine beach! In fact, you should carry your own food and juices for all that is available here is fresh drinking water.

After I had my fill of the waves, it was time for some beach combing, again a pleasure here as the sea is forever bequeathing some shell or the other. It was fun, darting in and out of the waters, trying to grab whichever shells caught my fancy. As I walked along, I reached the mouth of the lagoon – it was quite astounding to see that such a small inlet from the sea had resulted in the massive blue lagoon we crossed to get to the beach. The sand here was silken and covered with a multitude of shells. A fisherman casting his net in the waters here added to the beauty of the scene – something timeless about the way he unfurled his net repeatedly, stopping now and then to put away his catch in a palm-leaf basket slung across his hip.

Time had really flown - I had spent five glorious hours at Plage Paradiso and the boat had come to take me back to the road-head, back to ‘civilization’ which I wish I could abandon for the solitude and serenity here. That evening, as I looked at my sunburnt face and calculated that I had paid the taxi far more as waiting charges than for the actual 8 km ride to Chunnambar, I had no regrets. For Plage Paradiso had been an incredible experience – just the Sea and me, just me and the Sea. What more could I have asked for???

About the Author: Minhazz Majumdar is a writer, curator, Smithsonian Journeys Study Tour Leader, organic farmer and an avid traveller who likes to take the unknown road as often as possible. She lives most of the year out of her suitcase and loves to share the joy of discovering, be it places, people or objects. Read more on her at Minhazz Majumdar

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