CHENNAI: “It was at this spot that the incident happened,” says our boatman enthusiastically. It has been three years since a boat capsize killed 22 passengers, including 20 from the same family, in the Pulicat lake on Christmas day in 2011. Even as he completes his sentence, a packed boat zooms past us in the waters with the passengers, some of whom are kids bending down to touch the water, with no life jackets on. The boat we are riding is no better. As the vessel sails near the tumultuous waters where the lake meets the sea, with fear we note that it has no emergency kits, alarms, or floating gear.
“You don’t have to worry about the safety madam. The boating is now managed by the ‘satta’ Panchayat. If anything happens, they will fine the boat owner. They will not let him go free,” claims an agent coaxing passengers for the boat ride after persistent questions on safety. He is among the many who tourists will find riding bikes and chasing them as they near the lake. Just ahead of the lake, one is relieved to find signage promising a Tourist Information Centre, Boat House and a list of tourist spots. But go to the crowded market and nobody seems to know where the Information Centre is. “Tourist Information Centre? I have not heard about it,” says a policeman after a long silence. His colleagues in khaki offer the same response. The Boat House is no different. Follow the signage to the Boat House and you end up in an abandoned road with marsh on either side.
As you head to the end of the road, a narrow path overgrown with thorny shrubs confronts you. Those brave enough to navigate through this will find what looks like a cursed kingdom out of the pages of a fairy tale. There are benches under cement umbrellas, toilets and shuttered commercial buildings, all overgrown with weeds and creepers and decaying paint.
“Boating banned.Whatever boating now happens is illegal,” says an official of the Commissionerate of Tourism.
“During holidays there are thousands of tourists who throng the lake for a boat ride. In fact, we often don’t have enough boats to cater to the crowd,” say the boatman.