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.

106.ANDHRA PRADESH. (10) Vizianagaram, Srikakulam, Baruva.

The two northernmost districts of Andhra Pradesh, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam are bordered by Odisha state on the western side and the history of these two districts intermingle with that of adjoining districts of Odisha, meaning they have had common ruling dynasties in history. This is quite common among the modern Indian States.

Vizianagaram is not to be confused with Vijayanagar empire although the empire ruled over this place briefly. Vizianagaram is not exactly a seaside town but is 18 kms form the seashore and qualify to be visited by TheBlueDrive which has a 30 Kms range from the seashore permitted.

As we drive towards Vizianagaram, my mind is trying to recollect why this place sounds familiar to me. Vizianagaram………. Late that night I remember it. Rajah of Vizianagaram Vs Commissioner of Income-tax, a landmark case related to the principal of Heads of Income being not interchangeable. That was in 1980, 37 years ago (not the case, my reading of it), when I was in the second year of my law degree.

It is small town. We reach late in the afternoon and intend to spend only one night. The town is typical of the erstwhile principalities ruled by the princes who succeeded to smaller geographies at the demise of the larger empires and ruled till the White Man appeared at their doorsteps and fleeced them. The rulers of this small principality are known to have erected a fountain in the middle of London, England.

This is not a spectacular place and hence there are no spectacular pictures and then there is the short time allocated to this place. We decide on two places to visit. One is the Fort, a modest one which happens to be in the middle of the town, and a temple to Goddess Sarasvati, a rare thing. We do a round of the fort on the day of our arrival and the temple the next day morning before we proceed to Srikakulam.

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The fort and the modest palace within it are now flush with educational institutions of various kinds. Hats off to the Rajus, the erstwhile rulers who have donated a huge amount of space to these institutions. The fort has among it’s deities the Goddess Sarasvati. The rulers seem to have given her the due importance. The last ruler is duly honoured within the precincts of the fort.

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Statue of Shri P V G Raju

 

The Goddess of learning is honoured in the fort precincts.

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Sarasvati carved in stone, Vizianagaram Fort.

 

The flag of the erstwhile principality is still raised in the fort.

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Vizianagaram State Standard

 

The next morning stopover before we proceed to Srikakulam is the Gyan Sarasvati temple. It is not easy to find. It is not very old and temples to Sarasvati are not common either. People have been building temples to all kinds of Gods and Goddesses from the Hindu pantheon but very few of them have found it necessary to similarly honour the Goddess of Knowledge. This temple is perhaps a fallout of the dedication to the Goddess by the erstwhile rules of the principality.

 

From the perspective of an atheist who considers the attainment of knowledge as the supreme human endeavour, paying obeisance to the symbolic manifestation of knowledge does not surely amount to idolatry. Consequently, I enter and fold my hands at the temple with conviction and without remorse.

 

The new students who start their schooling are given a sanctified slate before they start attending the school. With great difficulty I convince the temple trustee to part with one for me. Yes, I am willing to make a small donation. I will preserve this.

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Off we go after a roadside breakfast towards Srikakulam, through the farmland on both sides of the road, greenery all over even at the onset of the summer.

We stop at the sight of this man to make enquiries about what he is carrying and where. He is carrying food for the farm workers who have been working there since the morning. Going by the timings the people may have been working in the fields since the first hints of light.

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Carrying lunch to the farm.

 

And here is a type of small umbrella the farmers in coastal Andhra use to protect themselves from the scorching sun. It reminds one of Vietnam and neighbouring places where such equipment is in use. Here the raw material seems to be the leaves of the ubiquitous Tada palm.

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The Sunshield, Andhra style.

 

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Three rivers flowing down from the Eastern Ghats meet the Bay of Bengal in Srikakulam district, the northernmost of the Andhra Pradesh districts. River Nagavali hosts Srikakulam town on it’s banks. Vamsadhara forms a sandy beach at Kalingapatnam and Mahindra Tanaya forms a spectacular land & seascape at Baruva. This is coastal region in its truest sense.

We find a hotel overlooking the Nagavali in the old part of the town and begin with the Kalingapatnam area. Kalingaptnam is an ancient city and a major port through which the east coast of India was trading with the countries of the south-east Asia. There are no remnants of it to be seen. Incidentally Kalingapatnam is not related to Kalinga kingdom or the Kalinga war. That place is located in present day Odisha near Bhubaneshwar.

Kalingapatnam is a huge sandy beach and here we discover a culinary invention- Bamboo Chicken. Spiced chicken pieces are cooked in a Bamboo on open fire. The bamboo piece is a single use item. We are tempted to taste it but that was the last order he was delivering as he had run out of chicken. The boys who bought the last order are also carrying Tadi, the sap of the palm tree which when heated would turn into a liquor or perhaps that is what they are carrying. It goes well with the Bamboo Chicken, they tell us. We don’t get to taste either.

Beyond Vamsadhara one can see an old Lighthouse. Can we go and see it? ‘ Yes, but not from here as there is no bridge on the river. You will have to go to Srikakulam and comeback from the other side’. We drop the idea and make do with pictures from a distance.

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The current operational lighthouse is closer to the village and far off from the seashore. Perhaps the sand has accumulated since the lighthouse was constructed increasing its distance from the sea.

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The area along the river is a major sand mining area. One can see the tractor trolleys collecting sand, a sight repeated on a large scale on Mahanadi in Odisha.

Apart from rice the farmers here grow a black lentil like Moong but not exactly like the popular green moong.

Salihundan is a hill overlooking Vamsadhara from the south and on which are found relics of a Buddhist monastery. Not much is known about the place except that it would have been active from the 2nd century BC to 12th Century AD. This could have used for the spreading Buddhism to the South East Asia through the Kalingapatnam port. The site is accessible by a good road up to about half a kilometre to the top of the hill. A place worth visiting even if you are as ignorant about the Buddhist architecture as I am.

The view of the river is spectacular from the top of the hill.

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On the way back we come across this temple to the Kurma avatar of Lord Vishnu.

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Srikakulam is more famous for it’s Suryanarayan Temple. No photography is allowed inside and we satisfy ourselves with the outsides.

Srikakulam makes its ladders from the round poles.

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Our last stop in the state of Andhra Pradesh is at Baruva on the banks of river Rushikulya, 105 Kms. from Srikakulam. We drive along the coastal road which goes through a major salt manufacturing area and picturesque countryside. One gets to witness this only if one sticks to the coastal road and avoid the temptation to take the highway which is further west, away from the sea.

We have booked a room at the APTDC’s Haritha Beach Resort. The APTDC has found the most beautiful locations for their properties but they appear to be grossly underutilized and poorly maintained. The areas along the northern coast of the sea does not have any major population centre and that explains the fact there are not many visitors to these beautiful beaches. This is the view of the Mahendra Tanaya river as it meets the see , as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

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Here is a tower which one can see from the Lighthouse at Baruva. We could not find any information about it. Is it an abandoned Lighthouse?

Here is the landside view. The little road is the one leading to the Haritha resort.

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The lighthouse is next door to Haritha resort and we climb up to see the surroundings. Worth the climb.

The life on the beach is very active in the absence of many visitors. One can see a number of live seashells.

In Baruva village we make a discovery. The village has a lake just on the outskirts and a pond near the Hanuman statue on the road leading to Somepeta. Between them these water bodies hold a large number of bird species. They are not just the ordinary species. We could find a rare Baillon’s Crake here!!

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Baillon’s Crake

And here are the lesser avian mortals.

 

Somepeta is the small town, bigger than Baruva where we had breakfast on two consecutive mornings. The roadside eatery serves delicious and fresh south Indian snacks at unbelievable prices. The two of us could eat Idlis and Vadas and Dosas and were asked to pay only Rs. 35/-. We felt guilty. Tea however is not served at the same place. We had to cross the road to find the teamaker.

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The cinema poster between these two eateries is alluring.

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With Somepeta we end our journey through Andhra Pradesh and make our way to Odisha.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

 

100.ANDHRA PRADESH. (4) Guntur-Uppalapadu,Undavalli, Machilipatnam, Challapalli, Kuchipudi.

We leave Nizamapatnam and decide to drive to Guntur although it is not on the coast. The idea was to see the Chili growing region and the sight of red Chilies being dried in large quantities. Added to this was the desire to see Vijayawada-Amaravati. and how the new capital of the state shaping up.

Looking back, it was a disastrous decision. We missed a lot of coast, a Sanctuary and a Lighthouse in the Krishna river delta. In fact, we missed out on the entire Krishna river basin. However, there was the possibility that we would not have made it at all if we had tried to drive in the area. Krishna meets the Bay of Bengal using three different distributaries creating the delta which is marshy and wet. There are hardly any roads in the region. We were warned by an engineer at one of other lighthouses that it would be difficult for us to reach the Lighthouse as it requires a journey of 3 hours by country boat in addition to long road journey.

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If you look at the map above it clearly shows the absence of habitation in the Delta. I am not yet sure if made a major mistake by going up the Krishna and coming back to join the coast at Machilipatnam. One thing is sure, we missed some coastal places and also the bridge across Krishna.

The trip to Guntur was a disaster. There was no scene of drying chilies. It was not the season. We could not manage to get a reasonable accommodation and when we found one it had a horrible parking underground with an incline of more than 180 degrees.

Having come all the way to Guntur we decided to visit Uppalapadu a bird sanctuary located not far from the town. In fact, it is a largish Pond facing a temple which many birds find it convenient to breed.

It is managed by Forest department and they charge an entrance fee. The birds are the usual Spot-billed Pelicans, the Jacanas and a few others.

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Spot-billed Pelican

In short this is the Beginners Guide to birds. I hope the Guntur residents make good use of it.

We have now to get back to the coast and continue with our travel programme. We have to either get back to near to Nizamapatnam and cross Krishna downstream  or cross Krishna at Vijayawada and go south- eastwards. Our destination is Machilipatnam. We decide on the latter.

We decide to visit Undavalli Caves on the way.

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Undavalli caves are dated to 4th and 5th Century. Initially started as a Buddhist Viharas carved into the hill by Buddhist monks, the place was taken over by Hindus later on. It appears to be as a result to change of royal mind of the local kings who initially supported the Buddhist but later on favoured Hindus.

The exteriors:

Some scenes of the interiors:

Most of the statues, idols and images are now Hindu.The reclining Vishnu on serpent is the highlight.

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A part of the cave is a functional temple where Puja is conducted. The carvings are numerous and are in pretty good condition. Lovers graffiti is conspicuous by it’s absence. The place being a functional temple appears to dissuades the lovers-cum-artists.

The surrounding part of the countryside is green and beautiful. The Krishna is not far from here.

As you drive through this part of Andhra you will notice that the grass /hay generated by the paddy is stored in  the fields. In other parts of the country it is carried and stored near the place of farmer’s residence. The cattle who consume the hay is generally kept nearer the residences rather than the farms.

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We pass through Vijayawada but do not stop. Here is the Prakasam in the town. Krishna has a large number of islands in its stream, big and small.

We reach Machilipatnam late in the day to find that all hotels in the town are fully booked till the next day. A big man’s son is getting married and a large number of guests have arrived from other places. The bride or bridegroom seem to be studying or working in US or Europe as we see a number of young white men and women around, most certainly wedding guests.

We make another round of the hotels and lodges trying our luck and at the same time considering other possibilities like getting back on to the highway and look for accommodation. At last we come to a hotel where the receptionist says that they don’t have any rooms but they can offer a suit. This is OK by us. We need to take some rest urgently. They have a basement parking like most hotels in the area do and the entrance to the parking is a steep incline.

Machilipatnam has been a French colony which was subsequently taken over by the British. There appears to be no signs of the French presence left behind. At least they are not known. Before that it also used to be the principal port of the Golconda Kingdom and a major centre for the production and export of the famed muslin cloth.

The people here seem to be big fans of Saibaba of Shirdi, not the one nearer home.

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There is not much to be seen in the town but there is a beach and a Lighthouse about 12 Kms away. We go for it. It is called Manginapudi beach. The stretch nearer the beach is a very pleasant drive.

The beach has an ‘entrance’. Beaches should not have entrances and exits. It is a huge beach both lengthwise (seashore) as well the breadth from the sea to the ordinary land.

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entrance

 

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Religious icons add colour to the flat beach.

One of the visitors to the beach:

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The Lighthouse at the beach is quite tall, among the tallest in India and according to the keeper, people are not allowed to climb it. Every lighthouse has its own rules. Taking pictures? No problem.

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Next day morning we take off from Machilipatnam to visit two small towns. Challapalli and Kuchipudi.

On the way, we again come across a canal. These canals are the lifeline of coastal Andhra.

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Freshwater canal used for irrigation And fishing.

Between Machilipatnam and Challapalli we come across this depiction of Lord Krishna drinking fresh milk straight from the udders of the cow.

Challapalli is the closest that we approached the Krishna river on the Diviseema Island where the last northern distributary of  the river separates the other two parts of the peninsula. We do not reach the river banks.

Challapalli was the headquarters of  Yarlagadda Jamindars who rules this place and the surrounding countryside in the 16th to the 20th centuries. In the 19th century the ruling Jamindar constructed a palace which is the purpose of our visit.

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The Palace or Fort

 

The palace is not seen easily from the main road outside which is lined up with motor mechanics. There is an outer gate. As you enter, a couple of people materialize from nowhere demanding , what else, money. They say there are the caretakers. By the time we return they have disappeared.

The palace grounds seem to start at this entrance but there are some educational institutions inside which can be accessed through this gate.

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Main entrance

The palace, referred to here as Fort’, is a modest building with a few artefacts and portraits in the ground floor hall. The upper floor is not open to public. All in all is not a must-see place.

The palace compound has a number of fruiting trees which invite a number of birds including parrots feeding on the bananas. The descendents of the Jamindars do not seem to mind.

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The next stop is Kuchipudi which gave the name to a famous dance form. The town displays the artistic inclinations of its residents.  The entrance gate to the town has been done artistically:

The town Bus Stand has a small garden!!. The Bus Stand is miraculously clean.

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We make a brief visit to the school where the Kuchipudi dance is taught. It is a residential academy.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

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

92.TAMILNADU (7). Pudukkottai, Sarabendrajanpattinam, Point Calimere, Velankanni.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And the Mongoose, of course.

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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.

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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.

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A species of wild mushroom was also seen growing in the sanctuary.

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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.

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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.

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Text by Suryakiran Naik

Photographs by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik

91.TAMILNADU (6). Devipattinam, Ammapattinam and CHETTINAD.

We start from Ramanathapuram with two items on the agenda. One is in line with the TheBlueDrive charter which is touring Coastal India and the first two places are within its ambit. Chettinad is not exactly a coastal region but we decide to visit it for the importance the place has.

First thing first. We drive to Devipattinam on the coast of what is called the Palk Strait which separates India and Sri Lanka. The only major attraction of Devipattinam is the ‘Navagraha’ Temple which is located in the sea but connected to the mainland. This appears to be a popular religious destination with the pilgrims to Rameswaram making a stopover here. Nothing spectacular. Just a small temple but of ‘Navagrahas’, the nine planets with sun being demoted to the status of a planet and moon promoted.

We are visiting Ammapattinam as it is a coastal place and it also has a lighthouse. This lighthouse is not on the seashore. It must be among those which are furthest away from the sea. I will update later on this. This also appears to be among the tallest lighthouses in India.

Now we turn north-westwards and towards Karaikudi, the heart of Chettinad. The 75 Kms or so give us some idea of the region.

The road has a number of trees cut down to size as they were encroaching on the road.The roadside tree species need to be selected carefully.

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As you drive you cannot miss the large number of Tamarind trees in the region. That perhaps explains the presence of quantity of this fruit in the Tamil cuisine and particularly in the Chettinad cuisine. By the time, we reach Karaikudi it is past lunch time and we look for authentic Chettinad restaurants. We are shocked to know that there are not many. We locate one in the old part of the town and they are sold out on most of the non-veg items. We need to make do with whatever is available. We don’t blame them as we are late. The best place in the world for Chettinad food is Chennai, I know it by experience of 38 years.

What do we do in Karaikudi town? Not much and we are already tired driving all the way from Ramanathapuram with two stops in-between. Most of the attractions of Chettinad are around Karaikudi and not in Karaikudi. All the same this is a well-planned town with broad streets. When the future historians find the buried remnants of this place, they will be all praise for it.

The local vegetable market has a rich variety of greens. Fresh and lovely.

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We get up early and move on towards the ‘tourist’ places. We start with the temple of Muruganswami at Kundrakudi. Interesting place and temple. One has to climb up the stairs to meet God which I avoid, not on medical but on moral grounds. Having declared myself an atheist, I have no right (or obligation) to exert myself to meet the God. If the God is found by the way I can allow Him to meet me. My wife is very keen to photograph Muruganswami and his abode here. She also needs exercise. I am having other interests. Here we go.

The Muruganswami Temple pictures by Veena Naik:

The interiors. Photography is not prohibited here.

The idea of Mannequins was conceptualized here.

The landscape from the temple.k5

I am loitering around and find this lovely artwork.

I am not looking for any medicines but I find this Herbal Doctor here offering cure for all diseases, past, present and future. He also displays all the herbs (mostly green in colour) from which he extracts his remedies. I find it very difficult to communicate with him but I manage to gather that he has oils that can be applied to all parts of the body. This fact is communicated to me by gestures made at various parts of the anatomy. My biggest failure is to connect the ‘oils’ extracted to the vegetables displayed.

After this we become more serious and move towards Athangudi. This is the essence of Royal Chettinad, the Heritage place.

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Chettinad – Sivagangai-Ramnad-Pudukottai – area of Tamilnadu gave rise to a unparalleled    Merchand-Banker class of people. They carved out a niche for themselves, not only in the financial world of South India but also in other countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and others between the 8th and 17th centuries.

As a consequence of their financial acumen the region of some 96 villages became rich as no other part of the country. The palatial houses bear testimony to this part of India’s history and its riches.

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Chettinad House 1

 

Some  are maintained well as above and some are not. Most of them charge an entrance fee.

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It is worth paying the entrance fee to see the rich interiors. There are two things that will strike you inside these houses- the use of teak and the tiles. Let us look at the teak wood first:

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Single-piece Teakwod Pillars

This is a very expensive affair in today’s money. Quite possibly the famous Burma Teak, the best of the Teak . This is explained by the presence of the Merchants/Bankers from this region in Burma under the British regime.

The doors of solid teakwood and the carvings on them are amazing:

Some of these palatial houses have very intricate wooden carvings on the beams and  columns which could be subject matter of  a detailed study.

Let us have a look at the artwork on the exteriors.

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Most of the icons are religious, Lakshmi or Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of Wealth is very prominent everywhere. Given the fact that the Chettiyars were and are rich merchants, this is not surprising. Look at the various depictions of the Goddess in the pictures below at different houses.

Allow me take you back  to the interiors of these houses once again to look at another aspect of Chettinad.

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Athangudi Decorative Tile set.

Athangudi tiles is obviously a fall out of the construction of the palatial houses. These tiles were once handmade and used a locally available clay. They are still being made. We even met an architect from Bangalore who had come all the way to select tiles for her clients’ new house.

Here is a set of designs which were used. I am sure most Indians have come across these. The images used here are of the actual tiles used in these houses and they are not ‘new’

Would you mind stepping out and have a look at the tiles on the roof, sir?

The roof tiles are very basic. Surprising. I was expecting some of these houses to have the improved Mangalore tiles. May be it was a time mismatch.

Apart from the houses, the cuisine,the tiles this region also honours another Indian tradition. It is the Saree, of course. There is a handloom industry here or perhaps they bring the sarees from Chennai and sell them here. Does not matter.

It is time to leave Chettinad and drive down south towards the Palk Strait again. There is a small fort we need to attend to on the way.

Thirumaiyan Fort. The 1687  fort built by  the Raja of Ramnad in the Pudukottai district. A lovely 40 acre complex with confusing gates and temples and narrow streets.

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What catches your attention is that the fortress is built on solid granite rocks and has still survived. The foundations need to be investigated.

And here I am wandering in the past, hoping I inherit one of those properties by way of an old will found accidentally in one of those lawyers chambers………………yes. the telephone is ringing. Let me attend to it.

Thanks for reading.

text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

87.TAMILNADU (2). Around Kanyakumari

Leaving behind the fort at Udaygiri, we move towards Kanyakumari via Suchindram and Kottaram, small but important places on the coast. The landscape of this area is quite interesting and beautiful. It is green all around and the granite boulders of the last hillocks of the western Ghats add a touch of glamour to the place.

Our night halt is at Kanyakumari but before we close the day we find time to look around the place. It is all too familiar. We have been here before. The place attracts a very large number of visitors. It is billed as the place where three seas meet. The Arabian sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. It is not easy as that but let us concede a point to the tourist establishment of the place so that they can earn their living. We do not intend to spend a lot of time here. Just to take some pictures and move on.

The two memorials in the sea are now easily visible. The first and the older one is for Swami Vivekananda, and the taller and the recent one is for Thiruvalluvar. Going by the geography, Thiruvalluvar has a better claim to the rocks, being the son of the soil who did not go to Chicago, US, which Vivekananda did and called there everyone ‘Brothers and Sisters’ which is incorrect. Anyway, everyone in India loves Swami Vivekananda and nobody knows what he did or said except for what I have just said.Not many know Thiruvallavuvar.

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Apart from the Memorials on the Rocks, temples and the church continue to function from the shore. They are doing brisk business like the hotels and lodges around.

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The Lighthouse at Kanyakumari is easily accessible. It is on the roadside. If you are reading this blog, you would have noticed that we make special efforts to visit lighthouses on the coast. It is not that we are studying their functioning or the technicalities. They serve to make sure that we do not miss many places along the coast.

Fort.Vattakottai. Heard of this? Even if they did, most people will casually mention that this was a Dutch fort. No, sir. It was not. It was built by the Travancore kings with the assistance of their Dutch (or Belgium or Flemish) prize captive De Lannoy whom we met in the last post. The Travancore state’s emblem is very much at the entrance.

Vattakottai means ‘circular’ or round.The shape does not seems to be round. However, this fort ranks among the best of the seaside forts of India. One should walk around the fort which projects into the sea and has a good view of the waters all around.

The insides of the fort are well-maintained and clean. You can have very nice view of the seas around. I believe it is the Arabian sea or the Laccadives Sea, not the Indian Ocean and certainly not the Bay of Bengal.

Inside the fort you wil find this ‘windswept’ tree, as they call it in Bonsai. I am not sure if this shape is caused by the winds.

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‘Windswept’ Neem Tree.

When in Kanyakumari, please make it a point to visit this fort. Not many people do. Not even 5% of the tourists visiting Kanyakumari come here.

Having done with the Fort we move on to another place in the vicinity, driving through the beautiful landscape.

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Manakudy is a seaside place which is said to have been badly affected by the 1974 cyclone which destroyed Dhanushkodi.

Manakudy is on both sides of ‘lake Manakudy’ which actually is an estuary and on both sides of it you will find a number of pretty churches.

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St Thomas Church

Cross this bridge and a mangrove forest and you are into the western part of Manakudy.

The western part has a long beach and th St Andrew’s Church. By the time we are here, it is midday and it is very hot. You can see it in the pictures below. We decide not to proceed further up north or north-West and return back to Kanyakumari.

People going up to Kanyakumari please note something important. Most of the people go and see the rock and the memorials and move on. You are missing a land of exquisite natural beauty.

In this area around Kanyakumari you will find this interesting species of bird called Openbill or Openbilled Stork. The shape of his beak has been subject matter of study by many eminent biologists including the great Sir Julian Huxley.

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Openbill Stork

ThWe are almost dome with the places around Kanyakumari and our next stop is Thiruchendur which is in Thoothukudi diustrict. We drive through the district of Thirunelveli without a stopover. I said almost because we have decideed to drive upo north of Kannyakumari and two more places which have come to our attention at the last moment.

The first one is a market. Thovalai Flower Market is one of the biggest in Tamilnadu and a major supplier of flowers to consumers in Kerala. This little village is at the foot of a hill and is a very interesting place.

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Thovalai Flower Market.

We are delayed by an hour or so and miss the auctions. This could have been a bonus, although we would not have understood the language in which the auction takes place. The market deals with the loose flowers brought in by the farmers in early morning ( or perhaps the previous evening). Later on the other, related activities take place. Here are some of the lots already purchased and awaiting packing and despatch.

The packing material is fabricated on-site and is completely natural and enviornment-friendly, fully bio-degradable. Our enviornmentalists and the establishment should recognize, honour and encourage these traditional methods before plastic replaces them.

Apart from the loose flowers there is also a substantial ‘making’ activity on-site. Garlands of various sizes, types and colours.

Just outside of the markets are the retailers. Here you can buy one or two to felicitate the local politician on his son-in-law’s birthday.

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The type of flowers traded here amazed me. The flower below, you must have seen, grows wild all over India and is supposed to be the one to be offered to Maruti or Anjaneya. It is actually being commercially sold!!

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We now have to drive back towards the coast and move towards our next stopover which is Thiruchendur. We move accordingly. A few kilometers on the road, I see the signboard for a Christian shrine. As most things are written in Tamil and most people around do not speak any other language, I have to manage with the visuals.

We take the right turn as directed in the signs and end up at a place called Kottar and to the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier.

And here I come across the Dutch guy called De Lennoy once again. Eustachius De Lennoy was a Dutch East India Company army commander whose forces were defeated by the Travancore kings and he was taken a captive. Later on the Travancore kings appointed him the commander in chief of their army. You will find his grave in the Post No 86 of this blog. Now, this guy has another dimention to his personality. He was a devout Christian and converted the locals to his faith. One of those converted happened to be an official of the Royal Court by the name of Neelakanta Pillai. Records show that the Royal Court did not like this at all and Mr. Pillai was put to death for the crime of sedition. In course of time Mr. Pillai became the Blessed Devasahayam Pillai who is a step or two away from being St. Devasahayam Pillai of Kottar. I am sure I will benefit from this unplanned  visit in the remaining part of my life. Mr. Pillai has been credited with a number of miracles.

Before I close this post I would like to make a candid confession. When I saw the above picture I thought it was Jesus Christ of Nazareth. When I was driving back I started wondering if I had at anytime seen JC in chains. On Cross, yes but not in chains like this. That led to further reading. I must thank Mr. S C Kumar (9842184558) for the above catchy painting.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

86.TAMILNADU. Nagarkovil, Padmanabhapuram & Udaygiri Fort.

The last place we visit in Kerala is not Kovalam. It is Poovar which is coming up as a competitor to Kovalam with a lot of water sports facilities and boating on the backwaters. Watch that place.

We have planned our first overnight stop in Tamilnadu at Nagercoil or Nagarkovil the district headquarters of the first district abutting Kerala from the southern end. Tamilnadu has as many as 12 districts facing the seas, excluding the city of Chennai. Tamilnadu also has the longest coastline among Indian states after Gujarat.

The distance from Kovalam to Nagercoil is only 66 Kms. by the nearest route but in keeping with TheBlueDrive charter we take the coastal road and spend the entire day to reach Nagercoil of Nagarkovil.

The day is well spent. Poovar came in as a by-product.The Churches and the related statuary here and in other parts of the region are very impressive as we will see as we move along the coast. This is the sample at Poovar.

 The next place we enter is a massive seaside confusion for a visitor. The Google map that my wife and Navigator to the expedition is using shows us to be in Kerala whereas the signboards are declaring the places as Tamil territory. The boundary runs in one direction and the road in another, causing the confusion. The locals, however are not bothered. They can always buy their whiskey from Tamilnadu and drink it in Kerala where it is not legal. Language? I suppose they speak both. Religion? Don’t ask me. It is a big jumble of temples, mosques and Churches. In the event the Churches come out the winners,at least visually.
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Kollemcode is the name of the place. It is spelt differently at a local Christian establishment. The churches above are within a range of about 15-20 Kms, not exactly in this village.

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The proposed Kasargod-Kolachel National Waterway passes through here. It would be nice to see people and goods moving cheaply through these channels as in the good old times. Before we reach here there is a massive cemetary on the roadside.

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Cementary at the Kerala-Tamilnadu border, near the sea.

 We don’t stop to make enquiries and drive on with the help of the Google map. This map seems to ignore the fact that roads can be washed away completely in these coastal areas by cyclones and Tsunamis. We face this scene and have to return back to take another road, losing an hour or so in the process.

Back on the road, it is all pleasure once again to drive through the countryside. In one roadside village we see a crowd and stop to see what is happening.

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Fishing in the village pond.

 

It happens to be the day for picking the  fish from the village pond. Pretty site.

We also come across a village engaged in the extraction of coir from the coconut husk using the traditional methods which involves soaking  the husk in water.

We are not yet in Nagercoil as planned and we are hungry. We have lunch served on coconut leaves at a roadside restaurant. It is delicious. At the end we are asked to fold the coconut leaves and put them in a container before washing our hands. You should have manners.

We move on towards Nagercoil and come across a water body which has a large number of birds even at this late afternoon time. We stop to have a look and decide to return the next day morning.It is winter time and such congregations are expected.

Nagercoil or Nagarkovil is a big Railway junction and southernmost large commercial town of Tamilnadu if we consider Tuticorin as an Eastern town.

By way of places to be visited in the town, we did not find many. W were directed to this temple of the Nagadevata, the Serpent God.

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Nagaraja Temple, Nagercoil, Entrance.

 

The deities worshipped here are Lord Krishna and Vasuki the serpent king.

This local young man has bought a new scooter just now, The first stopover is at the temple. A lemon is crushed under the front wheel to ward of bad things happening. Insurance is not required.

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The worship of Nagas, the serpents is a part of the pre-Aryan traditions in the peninsular India.It is a part of ‘Nature Worship’ culture. Snakes are important to the agricultural communities. They control the vermin rat populations that can wipe out crops if not controlled. The Gods from the north are imposters in these temples.

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The next day we move out of the town and visit two places. The first one is a Palace and the second one is a fort.

The Western Ghats come to an end around this part of Tamilnadu. The foothills seem around here are called Veli Hills.

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Veli Hills

Nestled in the Veli Hills is a palace complex called Padmanabhapuram Palace. The palace was built by Venad’s king Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal. His kingdom became more famous later as Travancore. The palace, at least the first part was built at the beginning of the 17th century and rebuilt later in the 18th. Although the location of the palace is in Tamilnadu, the Kerala government maintains this complex for historical reasons.

The palace is worth visiting. The exteriors are typical Kerala architecture with the tiled roofs.

Some European influence is also seen. The kings here did have European connections including a Dutchman leading the Army. We will come to that a little later. Here is the colonnade.

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The interiors are done in teak wood. The artistry is simple but adorable.

Use of  Oyster Shells in the window panes is seen here. Probably an European influence.

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Window panes done with Oyster shells.

The palace complex is in a granite fort. Not much is left of the fort, but the palace is well-maintained.

There are some artefacts displayed in the palace itself and many more in the Museum at the back. The museum does not have much to write home about. The Malayalis are fond of Museums. We have mentioned one earlier in this blog which ends as you enter and count five.

One notable part of the palace complex is the Oottupura. This