Having done with the short visit to Chettinad region, we get back to our main programme of travel along Indian coast. Obviously, we need to get back to the seashore and for that we drive along the small coastline of two districts- Pudukkottai and Thanjavur. The latter is steeped in history. Most of this history is housed at Thanjavur which is not on the coast. We decide to skip it and stick to what is available on the coast.
In the village at Arimalam-Keelanilakottai area in Pudukkottai district is an old fort in pretty bad condition. It has split into two, the middle portion being used for constructing a temple. There is not much information available about this fort and its significance. According to the Wikipedia article it was constructed in the 16th or 17th century. It is currently used for painting hoardings indicating that it is not within the control of the Archaeology department.
In between the two parts of the dilapidted fort one can see a colourful temple. Devotional music is played from the temple and is heard everywhere in the vicinity. It appears to be dedicated to God Vishnu.
Our next stop is the small seaside town of Sarabendrajanpattinam. Historically this used to be a part of the kingdom ruled by a Maratha dynasty based at Thanjavur or Tanjore. King Sarfoji II of this dynasty built a monument at this seaside place which is indicative of the way our pre-British rulers bent and knelt to please the British.
This massive and beautiful monument was built in 1814 to commemorate the British victory over Napoleon!!!
Serfojee Rajah or Raja Serfoji II Bhonsle appear to have owed much to the British who were responsible for his education. Serfojee II was proficient in 4 Indian and 6 European languages including Latin. The 4 Indian languages did not include Marathi, the language of his forefathers.
The king is credited with widespread reforms and support to education and arts.
It has all the trappings of a fort including a moat and considerable money must have been spent to erect it as the construction is of high quality and the entire monument is fully intact 202 years later.
Mallipatnam lighthouse is in the vicinity of the monument and can be viewed from it.
The place is popularly known as Manora after the word used for this tower which in turn is derived from the Arabic word ‘Minar’, meaning tower. The king is reported to have started a shipyard at this place but nobody seems to be knowing about it now.
We drive on, on the narrow coastal road but in the beautiful countryside and make a brief stop at a Ayyanar shrine on the way.
This part of southern culture appears to be overrun by the Vedic gods and religion. These shrines now have only secondary importance and at many places have mixed up with the Vedic/Puranic deities creating huge confusion.
The icons of Dogs, Horses, snakes etc predominate at such shrines. Particularly visible are the clay horses which are offered to Ayyanar.
We intend to spend the night at Point Calimere which has a wildlife sanctuary. By the time we reach Thopputhurai ,we are tired and decide to stay here and go to Point Calimere early next morning. The distance is only 13 Kms.
Thopputhurai is a very small town and with difficulty we find a clean room to stay. Early next morning we drive to Point Calimere. The gate is closed and will open at 8 and actually opened close to 9. The Forest Departments in many states of India are insensitive to Birding and Birders. Birding is an early morning activity and I suppose they know it. Bureaucratic timings simply do not serve the intended purpose.
Good thing about this place is that one is allowed to drive through the sanctuary. The bad things is there is hardly anything to see here. The migratory birds seems to have returned back to their hometowns because of the excessive heat this year ( 2017). However we can see some locals.
The sanctuary is also a home to several species of mammals, the most significant of whom is the majestic Blackbuck. It can be viewed very easily here.
The Wild Boar is another species seen.
And the Mongoose, of course.
One interesting feature of this sanctuary is the presence of feral horses. Horses which escaped from some stables in the past have made this place their home and they have adapted well to the environment. I don’t know of any other wild place in the country where horses are found.
The shallow waters of the small lakes within the sanctuary is home to a variety of shrimp, very pale in colour and people do some manual harvesting.
A species of wild mushroom was also seen growing in the sanctuary.
And then there are the lighthouses. This place boasts of three lighthouses, two within and one outside the sanctuary.
A lighthouse was built here by the Chola kings. The sanctuary information board at the gate says that it’s ruins exists within the sanctuary. We did not find them and as there are no guides in this sanctuary, there was no one who could tell us about it. Language is another serious barrier.
The existing lighthouse is a cute little one. It is called Point Calimere Lighthouse.
The one outside the sanctuary but very close by is called Kodikkarai Lighthouse.
From the Sanctuary we drive straight to our next destination which is Velankanni. We return to Thopputhurai from where we have a choice of two roads. One is the East Coast Road and another one which is smaller but goes closer to the sea. We choose the smaller one with the hope of seeing the countryside. It is nice to travel and see the ways of the people in the villages. On this stretch of this road we found this plant growing at a few places and we stopped at one to enquire about it. We were told that the small fruit is edible and is used in cooking. So far we have failed to identify its name.
We reach Velankanni for a late lunch. This small town was once a port having trade with ancient Greece and Rome. The port eventually got shifted to Nagapattinam to the north. Velankanni was compensated with the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. This is a major Christian shrine in the country and has over 20 million visitors in a year.
The 16th century church became a Basilica in 1962. The Church is credited with many miracles and has a wide following.
You get your wishes fulfilled if you cross a certain distance on your knees.
Velankanni was badly affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 despite the presence of the shrine. A memorial to the victims of the Tsunami has been erected outside the town and is attracting tourists.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Photographs by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik