114. WEST BENGAL. (3) SUNDARBANS & KOLKATA.

We have returned to Diamond Harbour from Bakkhali and want to explore the Sundarbans in the last leg of this coastal journey which started in Kutch in Gujarat more six months back.

As we explore the options for visiting the Sundarbans we realize that driving into the Sundarbans would not be possible using a car. TheBlueDrive has been a journey by car but for this last part of it we need to change tracks. One can drive up to a place called Godkhali which has parking facilities. From there travel would be mostly by boats. Of course, the purely local transport is taken care of by the three-wheeled vehicles even in the remotest villages.

We also decide not to experiment our travelling skills in this treacherous terrain and engage the services of a tour operator for transport and a two-night stay at a place called Sajnekhali inside the Sundarbans National Park.

We are picked up at the Science City at Kolkata for the road journey to Godkhali. On the way we pass through places called Canning, Sonakhali and Basanti and get a good view of life in the areas surrounding the Sundarbans.

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Canning has an interesting history. It is named after Lord Canning, the British Governor General and later Viceroy (1856 to 1862). The town was established in the year 1864 to be developed as a port. The intention was to create a port on Matla river as an ‘alternative to Kolkata and rival to Singapore’. The planners however did not take into the consideration the unreliability of the terrain of the place. The places of this delta are at the mercy of the mighty rivers draining into the sea. They can make entire villages disappear in a flash flood and bring others into existence at another place.

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Eventually the plan to ‘reclaim’ the Sundarbans failed and caused loss to many investors.

Canning continues to a busy small town, if not a grand port city appears to have considerable trade in Timber.

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Sonakhali and Basanti are the other towns before reaching the ferry point at Godkhali. The only bridge in the area is between Sonakhali and Basanti on river Matla, a distributary of the mighty Ganga.

The crossing of river Bidyadhari from Godkhali to Gosaba in a country craft is an experience one should not miss. We are in early April dry season. Things should be pretty worse in the monsoons. The boat takes many bicycles, a few motorcycles and an unlimited number of human beings.

Food is available even here:

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We land at Gosaba on the other side of Bidyadhari and drag our bags through a long marketplace to reach a auto rickshaw stand to take a three-wheeler ride to another ferry crossing point which will take us into the parts of Sundarbans demarcated as National park. Indian tour operators excel in making life difficult to their customers. Whilst at the market, the guide informs us that this point is the end of civilization. Hereafter your cell phones will not work. (what a relief!!). You will not find any beer or wine shops (what a disappointment!!) and many other things. Buy all that you need for the next two days.

If you want to learn the difference between one zero and two, this is the place.

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The auto ride is fantastic on the narrow mud roads. It is difficult to describe how the drivers avoid collision with the oncoming vehicles. It is here that one gets to view some village life in the Sundarbans:

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This rise is longer and gives us some more views of the life in the Sundarbans. Most of the people visiting the Sundarbans do so with the intention and hope of sighting a Royal Bengal Tiger who inhabits these mangrove forests. The mangroves are also the habitat for a number of other species of mammals and birds. The chances of your sighting tiger are extremely good when you book a tour. Yes, of course you can see him. Why not? Why do you think people come here? By the time you reach Gosaba and engage people in conversation you come to know that sighting a tiger was never easy. By the time you are in Sanjelkhali you are told that only one in ten boat riders are blessed with a tiger sighting. By the time you are on the boat the guide looks askance at you:  tiger? who?.  For most part, the tiger is nocturnal. Yes, he does kill people when he is hungry and cannot find better meat.Of course we are not among the luckiest people on the earth to beat such heavy odds. We don’t get to see the RBT. As a consolation, we get to see the Lesser Adjutant Stork and the King Cobra swimming in the river.

 

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The bird life in the Sundarbans can be better viewed from the land. Boating is not suitable for this purpose. The next day morning we get to see these beauties around the resort we stayed:

The village life in the Sundarbans is not touched with modernity. People live quite a few decades behind their compatriots in the cities. Electricity is solar.

People are dependent on the muddy rivers for their livelihood. One can see people struggling in the mud on the banks of the river for catching fish or collecting the prawns hatch-lings:

Even for tourists the life in the Sundarbans is not easy. One has to approach a boat with great difficulty at low tide.

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The man-eating tigers inspire fear among the inhabitants of this land. The tiger is a strong swimmer and uses the rivers to dominate the territory.

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The deity worshiped in the region is the Banbibi and is supposed to protect the people from calamities.

Flower decorations in water pots is a part of the tradition:

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Here is a religious ceremony in progress on the bank of the river:

In the evening we are treated to some local music by the resort, created by two artists:

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Among the instruments used by the duo is a small drum which can double up as a string instrument:

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The next day we leave the Sundarbans and return to Kolkata,ending a 192 days of travel on the coast of India, covering all the districts of 9 states and 2 Union Territories (split into 5 different units).

Kolkota is not a coastal place but we make a halt for the rest before we drive 2100 kilometers to Pune.  Among the places we see at the great city of Kolkata is the Mullick Ghat flower market on the Hoogli under the Howrah Bridge.

The great flower bazaar brings together a wide variety of flowers for the trade as well as the retail buyers. It offers  flowers in bulk as well as the garlands, bouquets, wreathes etc.

Flowers put together for a possible wedding:

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and being made for a certain death:

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik,     suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Pictures by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik

112. WEST BENGAL. (1) Digha, Haldia & Diamond Harbour, Sagar Island.

The last state of our coastal journey also turned out to be the most difficult. The taste of the things to come is received at the Mahanadi delta in northern Odisha. The same terrain type continues and becomes more muddy and hostile as we proceed to the deltas formed by the Hoogli which meets the sea at various places all along the coastline of the state. Our journey is road based and self-driven. This does not suit the coast of this State. It could better be done using a boat.

Our first stop is Digha, probably the only full-fledged beach holiday location in West Bengal. It is just across the Odisha border and the locals do not seem to be making any distinction between the two states.

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Digha is connected to Kolkata by a railway line and that largely explains the large number of tourists flocking here. The 190 Kms rail distance is covered in less than four hours from Howrah Junction. It also explains the presence of large number of hotels and lodges.

We pass this last temple on the Odisha side and cross into the West Bengal. This is the ‘Garuda’, bird ‘vahan’ of Lord Vishnu carrying his master on his wing. This species has now become extinct, in case you are wondering why we are not using this mode of transport now.

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There is nothing special about the town and the beach except that they give you a taste of Kolkata. The seashore especially at the Old Digha beach seems to be shored up by pouring concrete. It is being attacked by the sea and would have been eroded without this effort.

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The beach is otherwise well maintained and clean and has a lot of monuments:

After a night’s halt and moving around the resort town, we decide to continue into West Bengal. The next town for us to visit is the port city of Haldia. There is no ‘coastal’ road to reach the place. It is 108 Kms. away by the typically narrow roads of West Bengal. It could be shorter if you use a route with a ferry crossing which we avoid. The reasons will be clearer as we proceed with this post. Here is the road out of Digha.

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Raising arches seems to be a Bengali obsession as much as raising statues is a Andhraite vice.

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Haldia is out and out a commercial town, typical of the new port towns with the numerous heavy industries which have come up because of the port facilities. It was only after we left the place that we realized that we had not taken any pictures at Haldia. It is mid-march and it is getting hotter by the day and tiring.

From Haldia we are heading for Diamond Harbour, across the Hooghli, 62 Kms away but through very dense traffic of what are the outlying areas of the great city of Kolkata. Before we reach Diamond Harbour we have two historical places to visit on the way, neither is very far from the highway leading to Kolkata.

The first one is called Mahishadal Rajbari. Mahishadal is name of a place. Rajbari, I presume with good reason, is a palace or a place occupied by a ruler. This particular Rajbari’s available history states that it is an estate established by a North Indian Businessman with a view to establish a ‘Zamindari’.  The businessman, presumably a merchant, with 16th century antiquity is known by the name of Janardhan Upadhyay Garg. What strikes me here is the realization that a ‘Zamindari’ could be ‘established’ by whoever had the means to do so. It was not an evolved, hereditary institution. If true, I don’t blame the English in colonizing India. They just enlarged the concept of the Zamindari into a larger Zamindari.

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History apart, this is a beautiful place. I wonder who owns it now. There are two palaces and many other smaller structures on the grounds and beyond is a place where the boys are training themselves to be cricketers. The one attended to and for which one has to pay an admission fee is in the front and has a nice view. It has some old furniture and some stuffed animals which will rot in the near future. Some old guns used in hunting the animals are hanging on the walls. Photography is not allowed inside.

Here are the grounds facing the palace:

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The Zamindar:

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The old Rajbari at the backside of the one above is not maintained the same way as the new one.

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Done with the Rajbari we drive in the opposite direction along a canal and reach the highway at some distance where we had entered and continue north to see another Rajbari, much more interesting than the one we just left. The past of Tamluk Rajbari is not as modest as that of Mahishadal Rajbari.

We pass through very narrow streets of an old town and at one point decide to stop somewhere and take a autorikshaw.  Driving through narrow lanes is scary.

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Before, during and after the visit to this place I tried desperately to find out something credible about it on the internet . What I have come across is incredible, unbelievable and insulting to intelligence.

The Wikipedia article informs me that this place has been referred to in Puranas and Mahabharata. It is an ancient port, now silted.

‘archaeological remains show continuous settlement from about 3rd century BC’

It is silent on the subject of the Rajbari which is the only major surviving monument. Is the place or the ruins of the building are 2500 years old?

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A brilliant piece of information is provided by Holidayfy.com :

‘ …… these ancient ruins of the Tamluk Palace are a brilliant spectacle of architectural brilliance. The temple is believed to be 2500 years old and was inhabited by a West Bengal King’.

This is absolutely brilliant. To my knowledge Palace and temple are two different things. The writer for the website does not make such silly distinctions.  West Bengal came into existence with the partition of Bengal by the British and no kings were allowed to exist here (except of course the British monarchs) by them or by the later Communist rulers of the state.  Even now the place does not have a King. Having a Queen is a different matter altogether.

We move on to Haldiatourism.gov.in. This is a website maintained at the taxpayers’ cost. It is a government website which states that this place is :

‘……a quiet witness to a glorious history of over 2500 years. Tamluk Rajbari houses rich culture, heritage and legacy’

The only thing this place houses is stray cows and goats. Auto rickshaws drive through it. It does not even have a compound.

The writer continues (and I am sure he has never visited the place. He is sitting somewhere in Kolkata in an air-conditioned room):

‘Believed to be built in the 5th century (BC) by the Mayuradha dynasty, the then king was believed to be present in the Swayambhar Sabha of Draupadi of Mahabharata’

‘the magnificent palace leaves the visitors spellbound’,

perhaps by the smell of urine and cow dung’.

It continues:

‘during Freedom Struggle Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited the place’

Agreeing to visit this place appears to be among the very few things these two great men agreed upon. Even then, I am sure they visited the place at two different times.

The website Holidayiq.com has reworded the above information by someone perhaps sitting in Mumbai or Delhi. The major and exceptionally brilliant change made in the text is to refer to Draupadi  as ‘Lady Draupadi’, stopping just short of calling her Mademoiselle  Draupadi or ‘Draupadi Didi’ to keep in line with the  more recent political climate.

I am frustrated. I am aware of Indians’ disregard and apathy to history and I am shocked that the British sources do not throw much light on this either. They were here. The White Man was very much in this area. The clergy was here, in fact it is said that this place, Midnapore district , is where the Christian conversions started on the sub-continent outside of the Portuguese influence.

I am no Historian or archaeologist by any stretch of  imagination but when I see an arch and when I see a brick I can very well decide if those items are 2500 years old or not. The brickwork and the arches suggest European influence.

Assuming that this ‘Rajbari’ is 2500 old, why are the not ASI here. They are guarding places much younger. What happens to the state Archaeology department. If they don’t do much else they should at least object to the articles on the internet which are misguiding the public.

Not satisfied with what I saw and what I read, I am sceptical. I start talking to the people, including the guy who brought us here in an autorickshaw as we could not locate the place on the narrow road.

‘is this the Rajbari?’

‘Yes’

‘is this the only Rajbari here?’

‘yes, this is the only rajbari’

‘is there any other old, historical place around here?’

‘No, there is none.’

This guy looked educated and could speak Hindi (which is not to be taken for granted in Bengal) and even a smattering of English. He was very sure. I spoke to another person in the town for confirmation. And if you check on the images available on the internet, they are the same as I have posted. I want to rule out the possibility that I drove into a wrong place which my wife always say I do.

My conclusion: This  is a fraud caused by ignorance.There is no significant commercial activity suggesting an attempt to divert tourist traffic here.

The Tamluk Rajbari will remain a mystery to me until I find better sources of information about it. The seeds of doubt about what appears on the internet has been sown in my mind very firmly now.

We drive through the urban areas surrounding Kolkata city with a view to stop at Diamond Harbour, avoiding the inner city.  Our next stop is to be the islands in the Bay of Bengal which are on the western side of the Sundarbans.

Views of the Hooghli from the riverside hotel we stayed at Diamond Harbour:

Diamond Harbour was only a technical halt to reach Sagar Island and places beyond to the southernmost areas facing the Bay of Bengal. I think I decided on Diamond Harbour because the name was ingrained on my mind.In my childhood I used to follow politics and elections. The name ‘Diamond Harbour’ came up every once in a while as the constituency from where Jyoti Basu won with a such and such huge margin of votes.

We actually tried for the Sagar Island on our way back from Bakkali but for the sake of geographical continuity let me take that up first.

The 80 Kms. drive from Diamond Harbour to Bakhali through the lovely Bengali villages is something one should not miss. I heard you saying it would take about 2 hours. Did I?  It could take about 5 times as much. But that is for the next post. Right now we are at a place called Kakdwip which is the gateway to the Sagar island. You can see these places on the map below:

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The red circle in the map above is where you are required to cross a ferry. It will appear in the next blog post.

Our objective is to visit the western side of the Sagar Island so that we sort of connect to Haldia on the other side of the river where we have already been.

Kakdwip is a difficult place, believe me. I have seen many of them on this coastal tour. Finding a place to stay is only a minor problem. When it comes to visiting Sagar, the problems just multiply. There are only two crossing points. One ferry takes only passengers and the other one takes vehicles. The latter one makes only one trip a day. It carries the food supply lorries and one might have to wait in the Q for up to a week.

We park our car in the compound of the lodge where we have put up and go around the town exploring the ways and means of visiting Sagar Island. The obvious places to go to are the ferry points.

We first go to the place from where the passenger ferry operates. There has been some problem. One trip was cancelled and it has resulted in a large number of passengers stranded on the jetty. It is late afternoon and the people have to get across to their homes on the island.

From this point one reaches a place called Kakuberia and then make a road journey of 32 Kms. to reach the main town in the island called Gangasagar.

The main religious attraction of the island is the Kapilmuni Temple. This pilgrimage centre is visited by large number of Hindu pilgrims on the 14th of January every year. This is the day they bathe in the waters of the Holy Ganges ( Hoogli here) at it’s confluence with the Bay of Bengal. In fact this is considered as the end-point of the great and holy Ganga. To think of it, all the sins dissolved in the waters of the Holy river by the Hindus living upstream come up to here to be dumped into the Bay of Bengal and make the river free to bring in more sins in the next season from the northern and eastern India. The waters of the Bay of Bengal further east have a high concentration of sins on which the Royal Bengal Tiger feeds.

It was later afternoon when we reached the jetty where the passengers were waiting for the ferry. There was no possibility of visiting the island and returning that day. We decide to try to cross by the car ferry the next day and go to the car ferry point which is at a different place.

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The ferry operations are possible only at high tide and hence there can be only two trips to and from the island. We roughly calculate the number of vehicles the ferry can take and the number of vehicles queued up for the next trip. We might have to stay in the queue around two days if we park the car in the queue at that point in time. We are not able to calculate the time needed to return.  After considering all aspects we drop the idea of visiting the island. We just enjoy the sunset and return to the lodge for the night halt.

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Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik.

107.ODISHA.(1) AROUND GOPALPUR-ON-SEA

We leave Somepeta and get on the National Highway to cross the Andhra Pradesh border into Odisha. It is not that simple. The highway takes you into Odisha and back into Andhra at least at two places before finally leaving Andhra behind.

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Normally in India one does not feel that one is crossing one state into another. There are a number of overlapping factors in the border areas- language, food, culture etc. The places where the division into states (or the Federal nature of Indian Union) come into sharp focus are the points where the state governments have their Border Check Posts. At most of these check-posts one can see ques of trucks running into miles, waiting for their turn to cross the check-posts, making a border look like a huge traffic jam which it partly is. The reason is that the ques are formed on the road. There is no separate lane for the border check posts. This results in the passenger vehicles not requiring a check also to be stuck in the traffic. This also results in two adjoining states of the Union of India looking like two different countries.

Gopalpur is a village on the Odisha coast and has a passably good beach. Why this place is called ‘Gopalpur On Sea’ is a mystery. I guess this is the creation of some idle Englishman who did not find a better thing to do when in the service of the Honourable Company. The history buffs will tell you that Gopalpur was a big port during the days of the East India Company and was rich and what not. They may also tell you that the Honorable Company used to import rice from Burma through this port. The import part could be true but not the claim of being a big port. Further, Gopalpur that we see now, the resort village could not have been a port at all. It is a flat, straight beach where no ships can be berthed. The possibility is that the area several kilometres to the north of the village had a port in the sheltered waters of the creek. Not Gopalpur on Sea, sir. Even the new port which is being developed is some miles north of the creek, further away from the beach town. Incidentally and surprisingly the new port is on the shore without any protection.

Probably because of the romantic name- Gopalpur-On-Sea, I had great expectation of the place. It turned out to be a damp squib, as the Englishman who christened it would most likely describe it today.

The beach is quite good, long and straight, used by holiday makers, tourists, fishermen and defecators at the same time without any conflict of interest.

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We are put up at a hotel just behind the Gopalpur Lighthouse, right on the seashore. We do not make an attempt to climb the lighthouse.

Forts, the sea forts, happen to be one of the landmarks along with the Lighthouses that we have decided to visit on this journey. The rationale is that we will be able to cover the maximum part of the coast without missing much. Not far from G-O-S there is a fort.

Potagarh is a sizable fort and looks more like a combination of two or three forts or fortresses, on the banks of the Rushikulya river or at the point where the river meets the sea. In Andhra they call it ‘mixing’. I am not sure what they call it in Oriya.

It is a sad reflection on Indians’ lack of sense of history that we are still not sure when this fort was constructed and by whom. And this is not about ancient history, it is about a 17th century  masonry structure which is largely intact. One theory or speculation is that it was built in the 17th Century by a Muslim Faujdar of the Kutubshahi sultans. The reason given in support of this is that there exists a Mosque within the fort complex. The second claim is on behalf of Monsieur De Bussy, a Frenchman. The evidence? Existence of two graves of Frenchmen in the fort. Date? 1753. And then the claim on behalf of the Honourable East India Company represented by Edward Costford, Resident of Ganjam. When? He was the Resident from 1768 onwards.

And here is the graffiti on the walls and the arches, something I deeply hate.

We return to our base just before sunset and on the way, could see a few industrial complexes including one of Indian Rare Earths.

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More interesting is the government built elaborate ‘shelters’ for the people who might be affected by cyclones. It is very interesting. I would have liked to study how it works and the extent of the area is covers.

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Reviewing our progress at the end of the day we realize that as we drove we missed an important geographical formation between Andhra and Odisha. A creek- pure creek without any major freshwater flowing into it – is formed between the two states and the state boundary runs through this creek. This is an interesting phenomenon and we decide to explore it although we have to drive back south on the highway with all the trucks blocking our way and making life difficult. In the event the place is found to be worth visiting. If there was an ancient port in this area, probably this should have been the place. It has everything that a good harbour would need.

If you look at the map of the area, you will see the lagoon-like formation through which the borderline of the two states pass. You see these names of the places on either side of the border: SONPUR, SONPUR BEACH,KEUTA SONPUR & PATA SONPUR. The lagoon is named Bahuda Muhana Sagar.

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A bridge has just been constructed and is named after the first Chief Minister of the State. The approach road to the north is not ready. No, you can’t cross this creek. You can try but…………… We decide not to try to drive through the mud excavated by the construction equipment to the other end. We had crossed the bridge but then decide not to go further.

Just at the beginning of the approach road to the new bridge we find a small lake and the birders in us woke up to spend an hour along the lakeside.

And here are the lakeside Gods.

We return back to the highway and make our way to two places, not very far from each other, which have historical and religious significance. One is a Buddhist politico-religious site at Jaugada where Emperor Ashoka had placed an edict after his conversion to the Buddhist way of life and the other is the famous temple of Taran Tarini, both in Ganjam district.

First we drive to Jaugada and find that the road to the site is blocked by the farmers who are drying their produce on the approach road. The only option we have is to walk about a couple of kilometres through hot sun. the farmers are protected by the very efficient equipment that have designed which provides the shade without depriving their heads of the cool breeze.

 

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The farmer and his cool hat.

 

JAUGADA is worth visiting. It is quite a sizable area covered with granite boulders ideal for inscribing edict in the pre-paper days. The 3rd Century BC edict is in Prakrit language and is written in Mauryan Brahmi script. Of course, so I have been told. The other thing that I have been told is that the edict, among other things, speaks about protection of animals and wildlife. In short non-violence and love of all living things, particularly the animals. I am sure it does not extend to plant life.

What is commendable about the edict is that the way it has been protected by Archaeological Survey of India. Full marks to them for the maintenance of the site.

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Located 32 Kms from Brahmapur, on a hill is the shrine of Maa Tara Tarini. This is a very complex Puranic deity. The shrine is one of four major ones of the Shakti Cult and one of the four ‘Shakti Peeths’. Out of the four two are in Odisha, one in Bengal and one in Assam. I would like to excuse myself from the religious aspects of this phenomena (which is too complex to be discussed here) and stick myself to things like the gate to the town where the temple is located. ( Here are some pictures).

And the efficiency of the cable car that takes the pilgrims to the top of the hill without any effort on their part. Of course, there is a road driving option also available to get on to the top.

The view of the Rushikulya river from here would be much better in the morning and at the sunset. We happened to be at the place in the mid-afternoon. And this is how it looked.

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The temple or the combination of various places which together makes the shrine attract a large number of pilgrims from all over the region and even from far away places.

The farmers at the foot of the hill are not blessed by the Maa with any comforts. They have to live with their drudgery although a few among them are making good money off the visitors selling them various things- refreshments and charms.

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Text: Suryakiran Naik

Pictures : Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

March 2017.

96.TAMILNADU (11). VEDANTHANGAL, SANDRAS MAHABALIPURAM, CHENNAI & PULICAT.

VEDANTHANGAL is not on the coast and therefore it should not have been a part of this tour. But it is not very from the coast either. It is only 53 Kms. from Mahabalipuram. We decided to succumb to the temptation and visit it for its uniqueness and the bird life that one is expected to see here.

In the year 1858 the then British collector of Chengalpattu passed an executive order establishing Vedanthangal as a ‘sanctuary’ apparently without any supporting legislation. In 1936 it was officially declared a ‘wildlife sanctuary’ and in 1962 it became a Reserve Forest under the Madras Forest Act. In 1988 the Vedanthagal Lake Bird Sanctuary came into existence under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. All through these legal tangles the farmers of this area zealously guarded the lake and it’s birds especially the visiting migratory species. It is on record that they even petitioned the government against the British officers hunting in the area.

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The farmers have a good reason to guard the place and the birds. On the opposite side of the lake is a large area growing paddy using the lake water. Because of the birds, free fertilizers are added to the lake water. A Bund separates the lake from the paddy fields and the water flow is controlled by 4 small gates. The Bund is now converted into a beautiful pathway and two watch towers have been constructed. The small sanctuary with a very high density of birds is regulated by the Forest Department of the state.

Many farmers are benefitted by the bird droppings which work as a natural fertilizer. Here at Vedanthangal this same phenomenon has been harnessed to the maximum benefit and very systematically.

The lake and the paddy fields on the opposite side.

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The water level was quite low this year (2016) on account of lesser rainfall and consequently the lake attracted fewer birds. By the time of our visit in early February 2017, most the migratory species had already made their way back to their own countries but a number of them could still be seen.

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Pair of  Painted Storks

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pair of Spotted Owlets

 

 

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Asian Spoonbill

 

 

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An young whistling Dock

 

 

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Rare view of a Painted Snipe.

 

A Moorhen with her chicks:

 

 

We came to Vedanthangal later in the afternoon Chengalput and decided to come back next morning again so we retire to Chengalput and make a second visit the next day ear;ly morning. This lake affords great opportunities for bird photography even for the amauteurs.

Vedanthangal is a place to remember.

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Everyone knows MADRAS. Now it is called Chennai and after some time people will forget Madras as they have forgotten the name SADARS which is 68Kms. south of Madras or Chennai. Sadurangapattinam was the original name before the White Man arrived.

During the Europeans’ race for the colonies on the Coromandel coast Dutch established a post here in the 17th century. The fort or at least the part which exists is in a fairly good condition and free of encroachments. The location is between the Madras Atomic Power Plant and its residential colony. The existence of the power plant and a Research establishment ensures excellent road connectivity to the fort, right up to the doorsteps.

The entrance:

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The Granary:

Sadras was basically a trading post and not a military garrison. It has a lot of space for storing merchandise. The major items traded in the area at that time were grains, ghee, muslin cloth and salt. The view of the sea from the Fort:

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In 1818 the British raided the fort and probably the first war between the two  powers was fought here in 1818 and is called the Battle of Sadras in the history books. The Dutch lost.

The Dutch seem to had been preparing well for their dead. Wherever there were Dutch establishments the graves have survived very well. We have seen them at Surat, Cochin, Pulicat and here. Immaculate graves with proper inscriptions and what is to be noted- extremely good construction which has survived 300 years or more.

When you enter the fort, turn to your right to get a view of the cemetery and the graves.

The ghosts here are friendly:

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MAHABALIPURAM or MAMALLAPURAM is an UNESCO World Heritage site is our next stop. Much has been written about its fabulous sculptures and temples. It is too technical for me to comment on.

Historically this place was also a port trading with Sri Lanka and South-East Asia. It flourished from the 1st century AD under various South Indian dynasties including the Pallavas ruling from Kanchipuram.

Some unfinished work of the sculptors:

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Krishna’s Butter Bowl. is this what they call this stone?

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Among the living things is a tree which has taken this curious shape among the granite boulders as if imitating them:

Mahabalipuram has a lighthouse ensconced in the granitic rocks. It provides an excellent view of the surroundings even from its base.

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The recently started Museum of seashells is a must-see. It is a private museum housing a huge collection of a seashell put together by a single individual. It must rank as the biggest such museum in the country. The only competitor is on the island of Diu in Gujarat and is much smaller.

A fish merchant with a passion for the seashell – Mr Raja Mohammed has spent time and money to collect a vast 2000 species and 40,000 specimen of seashells. An entrance fee is charged but you will feel it justified.

The displays have been arranged in a professional way but need some rearrangement to bring the exhibits in line with the biological classification of the shells.

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CHENNAI  is not on our itinerary. We have been there before. We would have skipped it altogether but we had to be there to attend two weddings. Lighthouses is something we do not skip on this coastal trip. We landed at the Chennai Lighthouse which is attractive as it has an elevator. It happens to be a Monday their weekly off. The only other two places we dropped by is the Fort St George and the Church of St Thomas. The latter because we had met him on our way on the western coast in Kerala.

The Lighthouse:

Fort St George. I must record here that our visit to this place was during the third short-lived Chief – ministership of O Paneerselvam. The security was tight indicating his presence on the premises. A week later he was out.

The Church of St Thomas:

The next day morning we start early and this is our last day in the state of Tamilnadu. The destination is Pulicat.

The 60 Kms drive from Chennai through Thiruvallur district to Pulicat takes you through interesting countryside. The first half is through the areas abutting the new ports that have sprung up north of Chennai and the other half is the typical seaside villages. The roads, by and large, are good though narrow.

Pulicat Lighthouse is an elegant structure and at 50 meters high one of the tallest in India.

Tamilnadu shares the Lake Pulicat with Andhra Pradesh and has only the southern end of it to its share. Fishing activity on the Tamilnadu side is quite high. Probably the fishing takes place mostly in the Andhra waters.

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Pulicat is supposed to have a fort, a Dutch Fort. It is nowhere to be seen. We make inquiries and sent from one corner to another. I understand that the fort was more of a warehouse and a flat building which is now used as a government school and health centre.

True to their reputation the Dutch cemetary survives unscathed.

The gate is closed and we had to take the pictures from the gate. On notable feature of these graves is that there is no Cross to be seen. Instead you can the skulls and bones as seen on the sign boards indicating danger.

In between the above four place that we visited we attended two weddings in Chennai city. Here are some pictures from the weddings:

Late in the day we leave Pulicat and make our way towards Andhra Pradesh. Our travels along the Tamilnadu coast lasted 22 days.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

95.TAMILNADU (10). POOMPUHAR, PUDUCHERY, ALAMPARAI.

In the last post (No. 94) I made an error by omitting a place we visited lying between Karaikal and Cuddalore. Poompuhar cannot be ignored.

The southern Coromandel Coast mostly within the territory of Tamilnadu state is thick with history.This history is not only of the European colonization but goes back to the ancient times when many places along the coast were centres of international trade. One such place which is said to have flourished from 200 BC onwards is Poompuhar. The seaside town which was once the second capital of the Chola dynasty and a major centre of international trade with both eastern and western people. Silk appears to be a major item of exports from here. The ancient port as destroyed and is now found by the archaeologists submerged off the coast for up to 5 Kms. Erosion of land or a Tsunami have been cited as possible causes.

There are no archaeological remains on the shore. A small maritime museum displays a few objects, not very impressive.

  The beach is a major attraction and the tourism department of the state seems to have made efforts to promote the destination.

 Poompuhar has a lighthouse which resembles the one at Mallipatnam in design and the colours.

 There are a couple of temples, quite nice. We did not go into the details. One is of Godess Kamakshi.

One impressive feature of the Poompuhar beach is the fish trading activity. This is of two types. Fresh fish is sold fried in the several small kiosks. Apart from fish Crabs and Prawns are also sold. The tourists seem to be providing the client base.

 The second one is sale of dried fish. This appears to be economically more important. This market has a vast variety of dried fish in sizable quantities. I cannot imagine a tourist carrying dry fish in his bags on his way back home. It is seriously smelly. The market must be for tradesmen dealing in fish for other parts of the State or the local consumers.

 

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 Our next stop after Cuddalore is Pondicherry or Puducherry as it is now renamed. The former French colony was established in the year 1674 and this status lasted till 1954. This is about 280 years and much less than the 450 years’ rule of the Portuguese in Goa. The Portuguese were the First-In-First-Out of the European colonialists in India. One feature of this French territory and also the other three in the country is that they are highly fragmented parcels of land. (There are other two- Chandranagore in present day in W bengal and Musulipatnam in Andhra Pradesh- French territories that did not last till 1954).

 One has to pass through other territories (which were earlier British possessions) to reach another part of the same geographical entity. This situation still continues and is more relevant from the point of view of the liquor trade. When you enter Puducherry from the south, you drive a bit and re-enter Tamilnadu, drive a bit more and get back into Puducherry and so on until you drive past the last little parcel of land and drive into Tamilnadu. It is not at all easy to understand which part of political India you are in. The only determining indicators are the liquor shops on Puducherry territory. In Tamilnadu territory you will not find them. They cannot compete with the prices in the Puducherry territory.

Here is the Google map:

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The only other way to assure yourself that you are in Puducherry is to find a policeman with a red flat cap. They are found only in Puducherry and nowhere else in this country.

Puducherry town smells of Europe. The neatly arranged streets with European names and the design of the buildings distinguishes it from the rest of Tamilnadu.

The buildings:

 The Streets:

The Street Names:

 The old lighthouse near the beach, the Café and the statues makes it look older.

We had a long walk on the beach, north to south in the evening avoiding the main tourist circuit. But then Puducherry is all about tourism. Wherever we went along the seashore it was Tourists , the European tourists. They sustain the place’s existence as an independent entity. The same cannot be said of the other three parts of the Union Territory.

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Early morning the next day we drive northwards with an intention to make the night halt at Mahabalipuram. The territory between Puducherry and Mahabalipuram is very interesting. It has water on both sides. There is a huge lagoon separated by a narrow stretch of land through which the East Coast Road passes. It is early February and there are still some migratory birds seen here in the lagoon.  Before the halt at Mahabalipuram we visit another seaside place.

Kadapakkam is not a famous place but is worth visiting. It has the potential to develop as a tourist destination. It has a pretty beach, a beachside early 18th century fort, a lighthouse and temples, of course.

We leave the East Coast Road and and drive eastwards to come to the Lighthouse. The lighthouse is located quite far from the seashore.

Very close to the lighthouse is a temple of Lord Vishnu.

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It has these figurines which are found at many other Tamil temples. Are they the guardians of the temples?

 

The beach is along the shallow waters of the lagoon. The place also has an active fishing community.

The area we are visiting used to be a seaport in historical times, probably even before the Fort was built. It used to be known by the names of Idaikazhinadu (the name of the region), Alamparva and Alampuravi. Recorded history starts from the rule of the Nawabs of Arcot under the Mughals. The Muslim kings built this 15 acre fort between 1736 and 1740. During the early colonial period the fort came under the control of French as well the English. The trade in Ghee, Salt and cloth because of which the place prospered seems to have declined in the later years and that led to its eventual abandonment. It is said that the fort was in a much better condition before the 2004 Tsunami.

And  the fort. It is being looked after (or not looked-after) by the Tamilnadu Government Department of Archaeology.  I think although the fort is not great in terms of antiquity, it deserves to be looked after.

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Having said that I am aware of the difficulties involved. The sheer size of the place, the salty and sandy terrain, the winds and the heat makes it a difficult task. The masonry work which has crumbled will be a challenge to restore.

It is to the credit of the villagers that the fort is free of trespassers. We did not see any squatters except a few goats and no encroachments.

 

There is an excellent motorable road up to the fort and that is another reason the tourism angle should not be ignored. Going  by the lack of plastic waste, not many people seems to be visiting the place.

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If you are at Alamparai at mid-day, it is extremely hot outside and the only shade is provided by the Palm tree. What will you do?

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Call the barber and have a shave!!

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

94.TAMILNADU (9).TRANQEBAR & CUDDALORE

We leave behind Karaikal with a French past and move towards Tharangambadi with a Danish history. It is only 15 or so kilometres drive and we encounter this on the road.

A man is herding ducklings, very young, on the road as if they were goats. Normally such young chicks are carried in baskets. This looks very strange and we follow this procession for quite some time but could not communicate with the person. The language barrier was impregnable. This scene will remain in our memory for long.

The plight of the ducklings will be clearer in this video:

 

 

 

As we enter the Tharangabadi town which is within the district of Nagapattinam, we see a memorial column erected on the main street. The first reaction is that it should be a Danish monument. No. it is not. It is a column erected in honour of Rao Bahadur Ratnaswamy Nadar by his friends and admirers. This guy must have been a merchant and the inscription omits to mention debtors and creditors.

 

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Rao Bahadur Ratnaswamy Nadar Memorial Column.

We move on after withdrawing money from the Indian Bank branch near this monument. The bank has a huge crowd. Most of the people are here to borrow money against gold and not exchanging the old notes for the new.

Tharamgabadi earlier known as Tranquebar was a Danish Colony or Trading Post depending upon how you interpret it. The Danes (from Denmark, not to be confused with Dutch from Holland, as many people do) were never a major colonial power but they had small enclaves on all the continents. The Asian venture was mainly for the spice trade. They appeared at this place headed by a naval commander by the name of Ove Gjedde in the year 1620 and made a deal with the local ruler Raghunatha Nayak of the Thanjavur Nayak Kingdom. This lasted for 225 years when in 1845 the Danes ‘sold’ the place to the British. The colonial history of India is replete with such incidences wherein the Europeans bought and sold ‘colonial possessions’. Apart from the trade the Danes brought the Lutherans here to compete with other Christian denominations.

To their credit the Danes have not forgotten their tryst with the colonial history and are maintaining the Tranquebar heritage town in Independent India.

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Entrance to Tranquebar

 The picture below will give an indication that someone drove a truck through this narrow gate and damaged the 18th century masonry.

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The small settlement with a small fort and church have been well maintained. The renovation work is still going on and a museum has been set up.

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The main street leading to the Fort and the beach.

Tranquebar has a pretty beach as well, although the port and the harbour where the Danes landed is not to be seen.

At many places on the Tamilnadu coast one can see these ’embankments’ against the sea eroding the land. I hope the sea does not enter from and here and come out somewhere on the Karnataka coast on the east.

We are a bit early to reach the place. The Museum has not opened. We move around the settlement and return for the opening of the Museum. This place is maintained by the Archaeology Department of Tamil Nadu State. It provides useful information about the trading activities of the Danes. All of their ships visiting the place are duly recorded.

Here are the exterior views of the Fort:

And some of the displays inside:

The fort appears to have been well planned, even a room was provided for storing Wines and Beers. Very thoughtful of the Danes.

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Anna is checking the room to see if any bottles have been left behind.

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 On the wildlife side the fort is the bastion of Rose-ringed Parakeets who roam freely.theynhave made appropriate holes in the walls for their activities.

 There is something to be said about the Lutheran missionary who was active in this place as he is credited with many ‘firsts’. They were the first Protestant Missionaries in Inda.In 1713 they produced the first Almanac in India and to top it all they produced the first book in English language to be printed in India in 1716.

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 Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg headed the first Protestant Mission in India and was active at Tranquebar from 1706 to 1719 when he died there.

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 The church built by him is well designed interiors with the congregation divided into three segments all facing the pulpit which appears to be an improvement on the ‘theatre’ type of sitting arrangement.

 Good Bye Tranquebar. We are moving on to another part of history.

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 Our travel plan for this and the next was a bit flawed. We missed something on the way which we will always regret. We missed the Pichavaram Mangroves, one of the world’s largest mangrove forests.

We pass the towns of Sirkazhi and Chidambaram on the way to reach Cuddalore another historical costal town. We put up at a hotel with Air-Conditional rooms.

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In the field of complexities of the colonial world this place takes the cake. It had English Slave Traders, Dutch, French, British, Marathas, Muslim kings from Mysore and just about everybody in the fray at various times. It had its share of naval battles as well. The rivalry of English and French related to Pondicherry also spilled over into Cuddalore which is just 23 Kms. away.

Elihu Yale a Christian slave trader operated from here from here from 1653 AD. He made enormous amount of money some of which was spent in creating the famous Yale University in the United States. Surprised?

Shivaji the Maratha King acquired the fort at Gingee, 90Kms by road now (I don’t know the distance on horseback at that time). Cuddalore fort was also within the ambit of Ginjee fort and became a part of Maratha empire. In 1690 after Shivaji’s death his son Rajaram fought the Moguls from Gingee and it even the capital of Maratha empire for a few months. The Moguls laid a long 7-year siege of the territory but ultimately Chattrapati Rajaram escaped. During this siege, C Rajaram wanted to sell the fort at Cuddalore to the highest (European) bidder. Here the slave trader Yale who was by then the Governor of Madras skilfully negotiated the purchase. In a bizarre agreement, it was agreed that the sale would be inclusive of ‘surrounding villages’. To decide the ‘surrounding villages’, it was agreed that the British would fire cannons in all directions and the boundary will be decided on the basis of where the cannonballs landed!!!!!. This is how the British empire was built.

 For all this history, there is hardly anything left behind in material terms. The fort seems to have been raised by the French when they came into possession. There is a structure which can hardly be called a Fort.

Here is the front view:

And the garden along the riverside. The cross is artistic, should be French.

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The river (or the creak) flowing by the side.

The rear-side looks more respectable though not quite for the kind of history it has.

The Silver Beach not far from the Fort is another feature of the town whoch otherwise has many industries.

A Church on the way to the fort is worth having a look at.

There are temples of course but we are late for the visit after all this history and tired after driving, so we retreat to our Air-conditional room. Tomorrow we have to in Pondicherry.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Photographs :Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com