Thursday, November 6, 2014

A place where the waves sing

Centuries of colonial rule have undoubtedly left an indelible mark on India. There are pockets where the remnants of the erstwhile colonial masters are more pronounced than the rest of the country - Pondicherry, Mahe, Chandannagore, Lutyens Delhi etc. India certainly had her share of European masters - the British, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese and even the Danes. The Spaniards are conspicuous by their absence. Maybe Columbus' voyage in the wrong direction had something to do with it. :D Anyway, I digress. 

In a corner of South India is one such town - Tharangambadi or the 'Land of the Singing Waves'. An erstwhile Danish colony it is also referred as Tranquebar, the name bestowed by its European masters. Approximately 120 kms south of Pondicherry Tharangambadi lies along the Tamil Nadu coastline, a little before the port city of Karaikal.

The Neemrana property - Bungalow on the Beach - where I had booked myself is located right by the Bay of Bengal and next to the Dansborg Fort. Checking into the hotel was sheer pleasure after the long road trip from Chennai (more about the property in a later post). 

A little background on the town

In the 17th century, Tharangampadi was part of the Tanjore province ruled by King Raghunatha Nayak. He gave the Danes permission to build a trading centre here. According to a booklet I picked up at the hotel, the original agreement document, a gold sheet with the king's signature is still around and preserved in the National Archives in Copenhagen, Denmark. The rent was fixed at Rs. 3,100 per month, approximately.

The Danes, soon, bought Tharangambadi from the King and set about establishing their presence in the country. In 1845 AD they sold Tharangambadi to the British. Soon after, the British opened up other trading routes in the area and the town became relegated to the pages of history.  

Tharangambadi lies in Nagapattinam district, one of the worst affected areas in the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck India in 2004. Since then the people of Tharangambadi have painstakingly rebuilt their lives and livelihoods with support from various associations, NGOs and governments

The Danes continue to have a presence in Tharangambadi today by supporting restoration and maintenance of some of the colonial landmarks constructed by them.

Some of the sights I visited: 

Dansborg Fort - Tranquebar

  • The Governor's Bungalow
  • The Town Gate
  • Masillamani Nathar (Shiva) Temple 
  • New Jerusalem Church
  • Old Danish Cemetery

Tharangambadi is a small town with all its major landmarks within walking distance of each other (I wish I had found this really cool map by INTACH before my trip). The streets retain their old names - King's Street, Queen's Street, Admiral Street etc. and houses their colonial architecture. 

A quaint town, it doesn't get many tourists and is relatively quiet and pleasant. Traffic is zilch (literally!) when compared to other places. You can hear no honking, barely a bike or two and the air is clean and pure. Incidentally, Tharangambadi claims to have the thickest ozone layer in India. :) 

The beach is beautiful and stretches as far as the eye can see. If you spend enough time by the beach either early in the day or in the evenings, you can see the fisher-folk with their boats, repairing the nets or sorting fish. 

It was with some reluctance that I left Tharangambadi. I could have sat there day and night by the sea listening to the waves soothing my city woes away. The waves truly sing.

Note: You can drive down from Chennai (like I did) - Approx 300 Kms away. If you plan well you can make brief stop overs at Dakshina Chitra (like I did) and Mahabalipuram (like I did not!) on the way. You can even combine it with Pondicherry, its more popular neighbour and a tourist hot-spot, approx 120 Kms from Tharangambadi. 

The nearest airport, an International one, no less, is at Thiruchirapalli (Trichy), approx 145 Kms away. Jet Airways and Air India ply domestic routes but it's best to check before planning since flights to non-metros are constantly at the mercy of the powers that be. 

All photos posted here were shot on my MotoX (Google) phone camera. Even I am amazed at how well they have turned out. :)

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