WORDS: FRIYAN DRIVER
PHOTOGRAPH: HASHIM BADANI
GREAT FROM: Chennai, Bangalore, Madurai
GREAT FOR: Complete disconnection
You’re just off a highway and a dusty dirt track, past abandoned factories that look like the remains from the set of a Wim Wenders movie. Roots creep over the brickwork, like they’re reclaiming what was once theirs. On one side, the ocean laps the shore; on the other, salt pans glint like misplaced snow in the sunlight. Then, as the dust clears, a cluster of whitewashed structures with flecks of blue appears, and, suddenly, a Mediterranean vibe overrides the eerie desolation. All of a sudden, Aqua Outback appears where the road gives way to the ocean.
The brainchild of Arjun Motha, Aqua Outback in Tuticorin (also called Thoothukudi) is all about giving back to the local communities and the environment. Arjun aims to educate locals about issues like over-fishing and teach them how to protect the ocean. Which means you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re taken snorkelling by a local fisherman.
You can spend hours at the property, doing nothing other than popping shrimp into your mouth. But the sea is mere footsteps from your door. So close, in fact, that it almost feels like it’s part of your room.
When the laze begins to wear off, sign up for one of the many activities that the property offers. Arjun, a pro kitesurfer, explains how the winds in the area off the Gulf of Mannar are perfect for kitesurfing and offers a trainer kite course for those who want to get a feel of the sport. While snorkelling in the waters around Aqua Outback is included in your stay, the reefs further away deserve to be explored too (even though El Niño has taken a toll on the coral life). If you’re lucky, you might even see a blacktip shark or two, moray eels or – if you’re really lucky – dugongs, which have been spotted in shallow seaweed beds.
Avian life also makes an appearance here. Go on a volunteer-led bird walk around the salt pans that surround the property to see greater flamingos (sunrise/ sunset; free). Although usually migratory, these seem to have gotten used to the good life here and are now residents of the area. Watch flocks of them nibbling on the brine shrimp that give them their pink plumage. You can also pedal around the area It’s also worth forcing yourself out of bed to kayak through the surrounding mangroves.
Food is a big part of the experience here, and thankfully so, because you’ll find yourself perpetually famished. The cook, Muniswamy, can whip up everything from fluffy appams and stew to sushi! He even catches his own crab and shrimp. He’ll also teach you to make your own sushi if you ask nicely.
But perhaps the best thing about Aqua Outback is that you can let your hair down without the fear of scandalising the resident aunty if you crack open a beer. Speaking of aunties, the one here is especially cool. Mama of the house, Rohini, visits occasionally, with her doggies trailing behind her, and is always happy to share tales of the Tuticorin of yore, completing the experience of a place that has much more to offer than meets the eye.