112.ODISHA. (6) Chandipur, Bichitrapur & Chandrabali

Our last stop was at Chandbali and the next one is Chandipur separated by a road distance of 130 Kms. via the town of Bhadrak. Chandbali is not connected to Chandipur by a coastal road. Consequently, we travel by a road which is under repair or reconstruction from Chandbali to Bhadrak. A difficult and tiring drive through a number of villages. On the way, we attend to a tyre ‘pumcher’ before we reach Bhadrak.

DSCN5554

Bhadrak is a sizable town, a District Headquarters. What attracts one’s attention is a Dargah on the road as one approaches from the Chandbali side. The Dargah is the final resting place of two Sufi saint brothers.

This place is called Gulshan-e-Ghouspak and consist of a Mosque reportedly built by Allaudin Khilji and the Mazaars of the two saints. The Saints do not claim any antiquity. They came to Bhadrak in the ‘dark days’ (according to the shrine’s website) of 1960s and spread light and relentlessly performed miracles mostly on the medical side. The younger brother who appears to have been more popular died in the year 2013 in Delhi, followed by the elder brother next year. The magnificent edifice of the Dargah came up thereafter.

The importance of these saints lies in the claim that their lineage is through Shaikh Abdul Qadri Jeelani of Baghdad (who was a direct descendant of Prophet Mohammad) and hence they belong to the Sufi order of Quadriyya.

Outside the shrine one can see various shops selling the offering to be made at the shrine as well as the take-aways. The business appears to be brisk on both departments.

We continue through the town of Bhadrak and move towards our Chandipur. I will remember Bhadrak forever for one simple reason : at a fuel station they put diesel in my petrol tank and then started suggesting that I am a fool to buy a petrol driven car when diesel is cheaper. I realized my mistake and continued driving with about 6% diesel in the tank.

Chandipur is also known as Chandipur on Sea. It is known for two things: firstly, it is a major military establishment involved in the missile testing facility of the defence department and therefore out of bounds for the general public. The other claim to fame is that the beach here has the longest inter-tidal zone. The sea recedes five kilometers at low tide. This allows the visitors to walk up into the sea as much as they can during the low tide.

It is said that this feature allows a wide range of marine organism to live in this range, especially the shellfish and crabs. One can find a few varieties in the food stalls on the beach and around the village.

DSCN5941

There is not much else at the place to be seen. There is a Lighthouse but it is located in the military area and cannot be visited. This one on seen from the beach was initially mistaken by us for a lighthouse but turned out to be a watch tower or a radar.

DSCN5947

The most convenient place to stay the night at Chandipur is the Panthnivas, the OTDC facility. The tourism department has built a large visitors area with an amphitheatre overlooking the beach which is always crowded by the day visitors brought in by various tour operators. Our Late President presides over the place gracefully with his rocket station not far away.

DSC_3001

As we were looking at the fishing harbours, we are directed to another village called Balaramgadh which is on the banks of the river Budhabalanga, a few kilometres north of Chandipur. The river which meets the sea here has spurred a boat-building industry, perhaps the only one in Odisha.

We visited the place at low tide and hence did not witness any fishing related activity.

We stay the night at the beach and proceed the next day to another seaside place called Chandrabali, again hosted by the OTDC Panthnivas overlooking the ocean and a river. This resort has made the best use of the empty egg shells.

As we approached Chandbali from the Highway to the west, we could, for the first time, see this tall grass being carried around and wondered what it was and the purpose for which it would be used. Upon enquiry it was explained to us that these are the stems of the Jute plant. After removing the fibre for making the gunny bags and other jute products, the stems are sold. The main users are apparently the growers of ‘paan’ who use the stems to make the covering for the paan growing areas as we had shown in an earlier post.

Chandrabali is near to a border place called Chandaneshwar where the state of Odisha ends and West Bengal starts. Chandrabali is on the bank of river Subarnarekha where she meets the Bay of Bengal. The meeting point of the river has created a huge sand bar and a longish lagoon which can be crossed on foot during low tide but needs a boat at high tide. Most tourists prefer to cross the bar and approach the sea. It is worth doing it for the sake of witnessing one amazing creature.

The beach hosts a large number of shy red Ghost Crabs which dot the landscape until you approach them up to about 10 meters when they disappear in their nests under the sand. This is not the only place where this crab can be seen but among all places we saw it, this beach has the highest concentration of numbers.

Here is a short video of the crab at lunch:

The beach looks beautiful at sunset. This place deserves better attention than it gets.

The little forest between the river and the OTDC Panthnivas where we stayed attracts several bird species.

 

Green Barbet:

DSCN6041

Chandrabali village has a Shiva temple and substantial number of pilgrim visitors but despite its beach has not developed as a tourist place. This is largely because the town in West Bengal just across the border called Digha offers much better facilities and connectivity from Bengal side.

The only other place one can visit with Chandrabali as the base is the Bichitrapur Mangroves which the Odisha Forest Department is trying to develop as a sanctuary. The sanctuary area is a depleted mangrove forest facing the Bay of Bengal which hosts numerous mangrove-oriented  species of marine life and birds. The Forest Department hires boats. The people who accompany you are not trained in wildlife viewing and understood only Oriya language, seriously affecting our purpose in visiting the place.

We still manage to see a few crabs and birds.

DSCN6077

Fiddler Crab in display.

DSCN6065

Hermit Crab  with a rock growing Barnacles.

The Red Ghost-Crabs are found here as well.

 

DSC_3131

Stork-billed Kingfisher.

The locals use the mangrove forests as their firewood stores which perhaps lead to the depletion of the mangroves. However, the efforts the people are making to haul the dead (killed?) trees through the muddy waters is indicative of extreme poverty of the people.

DSC_3021

Apart from the firewood, the locals also depend for their livelihood on the other products of the mangroves. Among them would be the edible crabs and shellfishes.

The Bichitrapur Mangroves are approachable and may afford opportunities to study the ecosystem closely from the nearby villages.

 

With this our coastal travel in Odisha comes to an end. Tomorrow morning we make an entry into the state of West Bengal.

Text : Suryakiran Naik suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Photographs: Surayakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Videos: 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.

v3

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.

DSC_7956

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.

DSCN2475

Pair of  Painted Storks

DSCN2399

pair of Spotted Owlets

 

 

DSCN2291

Asian Spoonbill

 

 

DSCN2440

An young whistling Dock

 

 

DSCN2450

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.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXx

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:

DSC_7599

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:

DSC_7642

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:

DSCN2169

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXx

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:

DSCN2112

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

DSCN2141

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.

DSCN2108

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.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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.

DSC_8422

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

93.TAMILNADU (8). NAGAPATTINAM, NAGORE & KARAIKAL

 

 

Velankanni to Nagapattinam is a short distance. Nagapattinam to Nagore is shorter still. They in fact are twin towns. From Nagore people go to Karaikal to have their drink. That makes the entire belt from Velankanni to Karaikal one single continuous stretch of coast, closely interlinked.

Velankanni has Christian miracles, Nagore has Islamic miracles and in-between there are plenty of Hindu miracles. No miracle worked when thousands of people died in the 2004 Tsunami. Probably the only real miracle in the area is the difference in the prices of liquor. Just cross the bridge from Nagore into Karaikal and it is reduced by almost 50%. Thank the French for this miracle. We will look at this ‘French Connection’ a little later.

The port town of Nagapattinam was badly affected by the Tsunami. It is trying to get back to its earlier position. It is quite interesting to note that if a port loses its pre-eminence another one quickly jumps in and takes the place. Velankanni was a great port before Nagapattinam gained importance and so one.

Nagapattinam looks like a shrunk town. Something which was important once but no longer. The Tamil Nadu Hotel, the government run property is no longer functional. We drive up north and find a reasonable place to stay between Nagapattinam and Nagore. The seaside is separated from the town by a railway line which runs close to the sea and runs into the port.

There is a Lighthouse at Nagapattinam which perhaps was very important once when the trade was brisk.

The beach is somewhere between Nagapattinam and Nagore. They charge you Rs. 50/- to park a car. The beach is one of the dirtiest I have seen and has more plastic waste accumulated than sand. Otherwise it is a pretty good beach.

There is not much else to do in the town. We go back from the beach and sleep. Early next day morning we visit the dargah at Nagore. Before that we have breakfast at this roadside eatery somewhere on the Nagapattinam- Nagore road.

I am making a note of this  eatery as a representative sample of such places all over coastal Tamilnadu and Rayalseema in Andhra Pradesh where this ‘tiffin’ cuisine is served. Probably the dough/batter is made at home by one of the elderly ladies and that makes it different. It is probably the tastiest and safest food in the world at the price it is sold. Only thing these guys should imporove on is the cleanliness. That would not cost them a great deal to affect the prices.

Our post-breakfast encounter is with a Dargah and I wish I should have had a heavier breakfast of eggs and meat to face the onslaught of this place on my senses.

The Dargah at Nagore is a miracle by itself.  It is said that Saint whose resting place this is performed numerous miracles during his lifetime and continues to help people with miracles even now. The principal set of miracles performed here at this time is blessing childless women with child/children.  In effect Nagore Dargah is India’s biggest Infertility Clinic.

DSCN1862

The Saint who came from the North blessed many a women with children. Among them were Kings. I am quoting here from a book written by a prominent authority on the subject Dr. A S Mohamed Rafee (Nagore Rumi) in his book The Ocean of Miracles: Life of Qadir Wali’,  (Kathavugal, Chennai, 2014).

‘The Queen became very happy over the recovery of the king. She bent down and touched the feet of the saint in gratitude. And she was wise enough to request the saint to bless her for a child’ ,

which the saint promptly did.

The saint seems to have performed this miracle quite often in this area. He was a celibate.  According to the Wikipedia article :

Since Shahul Hamid was a celibate, he is offered a Sehra (head dress), and not the customary flowers as at other dargahs.

This Sehra is a major source of income for the traders in and around the Dargah compound.

DSC_6903

The site of the dargah has 4 minars the tallest of which stands at  40 meters and was financed by a Hindu king. This fact is told to you several times to drive home the ‘secular’ nature of the shrine. You will also be told that majority of the people visiting the Dargah are non-muslims. That , I believe, does not reduce the content of stupidity.

DSCN1865

Some external pictures:

Let us have a look at the Holy Man who has been laid to rest here after performing innumerable miracles. he is variously known, according to the authoritative source quoted earlier. Nagore Rumi: (page 5).

  1. Abdul Qadir
  2. Qadir wali
  3. ganja sawai
  4. Ganja Baksh
  5. Nagore Meeran
  6. Meeran Sultan
  7. Shahul Hameed
  8. Nagore Andavar
  9. Nagore Andagai
  10. Baadusha Nayagam
  11. Nagore nayagam.

I am deeply suspicious of a person having more than two names. Only people with criminal records have large number of names.

Giving the benefit of doubt to this guy as the names were  given by others and not by himself as he was busy blessing queens and commoner women with children.

Let us go back and find out where he belonged to and I will again seek the help of Nagore Rumi. This is for a reason: this book is well-written in faultless English and in legible type and generally well presented as compared to all local Islamic literature in English that I have collected on my journey along India’s coast.

Kabir, the great Saint-poet, according to Nagore Rumi predicted this to Sultan Sikandar Lodhi:

‘In every century a true slave of God will appear. We all know this. This time we will come from the Islamic community and he will be born in the lineage of Prophet Muhammad. he will be born in Ajodhya , which was the ancient home of the Men of God India. many miracles will continue to happen around the baby to be born. he will be one of India’s greatest Saints. He will show the right path to those who go astray. Even after his physical disappearance, his shrine will be the last sanctum of those who aspire for knowledge’.

I know Kabir well. I can guarantee you Kabir never said this. Kabir was a wise man, not a commercial advertisement writer. And even if Kabir said this, he was totally wrong. His shrine is not ‘sanctum of those who aspire for knowledge’, it os the sanctum of those who aspire for children and wealth.

In any case there is no denying that this man was born, in the year 1504 AD to, according to Nagore Rumi to a couple described as:

Syed Hasan Guddus came in the 22nd generation of Prophet Mohammad …………….he married a woman named Fatima, the daughter of Hamiduddin who also came in the lineage of Prophet Mohammad’

This makes this saint all the more venerable.

Here is an important extract of the Wikipedia article about the administration of this dargah. This will give some indication about the financial importance of this shrine.

There is a hereditary Khalifa, from among the descendants of saint Yusuf. He performs all the religious duties of the dargah. A central parliamentary committee deputed to verify the implementation of the Wakf Act of 1995 was informed in 2008 that the Nagore Dargah was not administered as per the provisions of the Act. The committee found that it is against the spirit of the provisions of the Act as the dargah is a surveyed and notified body under the Tamil Nadu Wakf board. The administration and maintenance of the dargah was henceforth governed by a committee which operates under a scheme decreed by the Madras High Court.[24][33][34]

Now who are these ‘hereditary khalifa(s)? when the saint was celibate.  Again I am seeking help from Nagore Rumi. He throws a lot of light on this. The saint appointed an heir from a noble family from Lahore. Nooruddin ( a descendent of Hazrat Abu Bakr) and his wife Zohra (who was a descendent of Hazrat Husain ) were childless. The Saint agreed to bless the couple with children under the condition that the eldest one will be adopted by the Saint and will be his Heir. The couple agreed. The son was duly born and was named Syed Mohamad Yusuf. The descendents of Yusuf are now sitting on this treasure trove.

In the picture below you see a man keenly watching you. He is the one who will persuade you to go inside the Dargah even if you don’t want to:

DSC_6891

Once you are inside you will be subjected to various rituals -plenty of them and at each stage you will be asked ( virtually forced) to donate money for ‘feeding the poor’. They don’t ask in hundreds, they want the money in thousands. For each and everything there is a demand for money. It is shop, most certainly not a dargah.

If you want to make a wish, you put in a lock here and put the key in the container.

DSC_6893

Here is a Coconut hanging which has a curious shape.I don’t know if this is a miracle attributed to the saint. I believe there is no mention of Coconuts in the Holy Koran.

DSCN1875

There are superstitious beliefs all over this country. There are superstition-supporting institutions in all major religions and they are making brisk business.  The USP of this shrine like many others in the country is that the saint helps you to beget children.

One interesting aside of this Dargah is that it has ‘branches’ in  Singapore and Malaysia. May I remind you that this place is a Dargah-the place where the Saint has his grave. This must be a rare instance of a grave having ‘branches’ like the banks have.

‘XXXXXXXXXXXX

KARAIKAL

The French were given a drubbing by the English in their quest for the colonial possessions in India. They were badly defeated but still managed to cling on to small pockets on India’s shores. Very complex geographically, the four French ‘territories’ are located inside three different Indian states. Mahe in Kerala, as I have highlighted in an earlier post is practically a pub for the surrounding areas of Kerala which has imposed severe restrictions on alcohol. Karaikal is a very convenient drinking spot for the area I am talking about in this post. Pondicherry has some size and landmass and Yanam in Andhra Pradesh does not have any identity to separate it from the surrounding Telugu culture. Overall there is no distinction between these small parcels of land – of language or culture or any other factor except the history and even that is not very strong. We made it a point to spend at least one night in each of these ‘pockets’ to get a feel of the place. This Union Territory does not appear to have a reason to continue. The reorganization of the states was done on linguistic basis and if this criterion is applied to this Union Territory, it should cease to exist promptly.

During the travel which is the subject matter of this Blog I tried to ascertain factors and reasons which justifies the continuance of this fragmented ‘Union Territory’ over three states. I could find only one – Liquor Lobby. May be another one would be the IAS Lobby as these four pieces of land sustain quite a number of senior civil servants enjoying themselves.

I tried very hard to find the French Connection in all four places. Barring Pondicherry which (politically is a bastion of AIADMK which rules in Tamilnadu) has some weak French institutions, there is none. There is no influence on the language, culture, cuisine. At least I could not find any. Perhaps the last 60+ years have wiped out all the influences. The same applies to Daman & Diu. These places are merely drinking joints for the people of Gujarat. They involve an enormous cost to the Taxpayers.

There is another aspect of these territories which is intriguing. The French government considers many of the people in these territories as French citizens. Whenever there is a presidential election in France, these guys travel to the French consulate in Chennai to vote. I will not be surprised if the very same people come back and vote for the members to Indian parliament. Somewhere somehow some people in the Indian bureaucracy (apart from the liquor lobby) are benefitting from this fraud and are keen to continue it.

We need to have some photographs, dont we? Probably the only place where we could find some action is the Karaikal Beach and the adjoining harbour. I am ignoring all religious places irrespective of faith as I have developed a nausea for them- they are simply too many. ‘Faith’ is strangulating  the people of this country and nobody has faith in anyone.

We found a beautiful sunset at the beach.

The sunset is accompanied by the music created by a huge flock of Rosy Pastors or Rosy Starlings who migrate from Europe. In this case, I will not be surprised if they have come from France.

The decoration the vendors make out of vegetables and fruits on this beach is fantastic. ( We could see it bettered much later on Odisha coast).

DSC_6971

The beach has Lighthouse which we first thought was operational. As the sun set we realized that it was.

Karaikal is supposed to be separated from Tamilnadu by the river Arasalar. However if you have a look at the Google map of the region you will find a creek with a bridge on it and the dividing line running through it.  If you want to know where the real boundary lies, look for the liquor shops. They are profuse and blatant on the Karaikal side. I am sure nobody buys the stuff on the Tamiulnadu side. One can see the fishing harbour on the Karaikal side and I am just wondering if the other shore is in Tamilnadu or Karaikal.

DSCN1886

I guess it is Karaikal as the first bridge which is divided by a line on the Google map is a few hundred meters beyond. Anyway this does not matter except in one important aspect- Liquor prices.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

89.TAMILNADU (4). Tuticorin, Vembar,Periyakulam,Ervadi & Kilakarai

We had stopped at Thiruchendur in the last post. We now drive towards Thoothukodi or what is better known as the port town of Tuticorin.
The coastal road from Thiruchendur to Tuticorin is about 38 Kms. and the area is sparsely populated. Perhaps because of the uncertainty caused by the cyclonic weather. It also appears to be low lying and unsuitable for agriculture as there is ingress of seawater. This makes it suitable for the salt pans and perhaps for some fisheries. One can see a number of salt pans on the road. Salt manufacturers here include Gandhi and Irwin of Gandhi-Irwin Pact fame. Google for more details.


Tuticorin is a port of considerable importance as it is the only major port between Kochi on the west coast and Chennai on the east. It also has some beaches. We landed at the harbour beach to watch the landing of a Naval Hovercraft.

4

The port has spawned a number of industries including a power plant with imposing view on the horizon.

The area around Tuticorin has two light houses within the vicinity of each other. They can be seen together and photographed in one frame. I guess this is not a very common occurrence anywhere.

8

Our day in Tuticorin was a Sunday and without much activity except the visit to another beach. The Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Snow is an imposing and good-looking monument in the town.

We resume travel the next day morning towards Ramanathapuram.
The first stop is a brief one caused by a large herd of goats crossing the road. The area we are driving through is arid and sandy with hardly any agricultural activity. Goat rearing is viable in the presence of a widespread growth of salt-tolerant species of Acasia shrubs.
15

15a

The next stop is to see how this same species of Acasia is burnt down to make coal.

The next stop is at a Tamil shrine, probably pre-Aryan. In the absence of any inscriptions that I can read, I can only make a guess. There was no one to explain what it is and even if I found someone, there would be the problem of finding a language understood by both.

We move on and stop again at this small village on the roadside to witness this practice of using highways to process grain. Here the farmers are using the road which happens to have a cleaner and smoother surface than any in the villages. This practice prevails in many parts of India. At many places the harvest is laid on the road for the passing vehicles to do the process of chaffing. The grain is a coarse millet.


Our next stop is a planned one. It is called Vembar. It is planned because it has a lighthouse. We turn right on the state highway at Surangudi and approach the seaside. The road is a beauty. If you are in the area, please drive along it. Vembar has a beach, a Lighthouse and a nice little Church on the seaside. There could be more in the town which we do not visit.
It is not the visitor’s time at the Lighthouse. Thank you.

Here is the church.
26

And here is the newly built fish auction place.

After a brief stopover, we return back to the road and after a nice little drive return to the seashore again. This time in search of an island called Nallatanni which appears on the google map. The place is called Periyakulam.

80

Periyakulam  fish market

We make inquiries if we can hire a boat and make a landing on Nallatanni.
‘Yes, you can’.
‘Is it inhabited?’
‘No. It is barren’
‘Can you help us with a boat?’
‘Sure, but you will have to get the permit’
‘Permit? From whom?’
‘Forest Department’
‘From where?’
‘Madurai’
‘No, Thank you’.
The above is a transcript of a conversation which involved a few languages and a large number of gestures in sign language.
I know to get that permission will take several months and I will have to fill up forms in Tamil.
I fail to understand what the Forest Department is doing on this island. There is no way one can argue with Government. The grey hair in the picture below are mine.

30

From the looks of it, the island should be a beautiful place. I will not be far off the mark if  I say that this is used as a private picnic spots by the politicians and bureaucracy. That explains the need for the permit. As we go around the beachfront and among the fisher folks, we find that this is a Christian community. The names of the boats make it clear.

And then something strikes me with great force. There are no fishing nets around as one would expect. There are the boats of course, the people are obviously fishermen but then where are the nets?
The island brought us here. Something else is keeping us here. Serendipity is the English word invented for this.
Closer scrutiny of the fishermen’s activities reveal a different method of fishing and one extremely Eco-friendly and viable in the long term. It eliminates waste and catching of very young fish.
This perhaps is not the only place where this method of fishing is practiced. We have done more than half of India’s coast by now but I did not notice is elsewhere. I am sure it is being practiced elsewhere. I sincerely hope so.
What these fishermen do is as follows.
They take long fishing lines and attach hooks of large size (size 14). Baits of large pieces of neatly cut fish are attached to the hooks.

This is a laborious and time-consuming process.
The results are spectacular. All fish caught is of large size. There is no wastage and wanton killing of young fish. The catch brought to shore was uniformly of large fishes-nothing less than 250-400 gms apiece.

Periyakulam experience will always remain in my memory. I am sure it is sustainable and economical otherwise the folks have no reason to adopt it. It can succeed only when all of them in the community adopt it.

Ervadi.

After we are done with this place we take another beautiful road up north-east and join the highway to drive to Ervadi.
Ervadi is known for its ‘Dargah’. Dargah is an institution which is generally reserved for Muslim , more particularly Sufi, saints. Dargah and Tombs need to be distinguished. Dargah has a spiritual-religious connotation. Ervadi is a place which is out and out political. It has nothing to do with saints but the place is still called a ‘Dargah’
Al Qutbul Hamid wal Gausul Majid Badhusha Sultan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed is said to the ruler of Madina in Saudi Arabia and the 18th direct descendant of Prophet Mohammed. He left Arabia somewhere in the 12th century and came to Erwadi. Erwadi was then ruled by the kings or princes from the nearby place called Ramanathapuram. The Sultan demanded that the ruler of the place embrace Islam which the king declined to do. Following the Islamic tradition, the Sultan waged a war and killed the King and established his own kingdom. The descendants of the king in course of time come back and kill the descendant of Sultan, making him a Martyr and Shaheed. This Middle-eastern concept of ‘martyr’ and ‘shahid’ being foreign to the rulers of Ramanathapuram, there are no such entities and monuments at their place. The complexities of history are not something that can be handled in this humble travel blog. Some pictures, however, would not be out of place.

This place is said to cure mentally deranged people. Highly unlikely. It should be creating a lot of people in that class. Until 2001 they used to chain people of unsound mind here ( I guess they were ‘believers’) who died after a fire broke out, most probably caused by a person of ‘sound mind’.

We now drive on to another Islamic place with a very different character and history. If you can look at this place and compare it with the last one we saw, you will find that the unnecessary violence of the former was not at all necessary.
It is not surprising that Islam had reached the eastern coast of India during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammad. This is thanks largely to the commercial contacts between the people of Arabia and India during the pre-Islamic days. The merchants brought Islam to southern parts of India about 500 years before the conquerors came with it in the northern parts of the sub-continent.
Kilakarai or Keelakarai. Does it ring a bell? The claim to hosting the first mosque in India is successfully defended by the Cheraman Juma Palli at Kodungalur in Kerala. We had a brief look at it in an earlier post on this Blog. The generally accepted date of establishment of this Mosque in Kerala is 629 AD. However, it is quite possible and probable that an year before this, in 628 AD a mosque was functional at Kilakarai in Tamilnadu. The Palaiya Juma Palli built in the Dravidian architectural style and almost resembling the south Indian temples in their interiors, still exists in this small seaside town. There are doubts about its continued functioning as a mosque since then but the structure has stood here continuously over the centuries. The Kodungalur mosque was built in the Kerala style of architecture. The Kilakarai mosque was built in the Tamilian temple architecture style. To-day nothing short of the Arabic style would do. Islam has reached its intolerant best.
Arabian merchants, mostly of Yemeni origins have been trading with Indian coast throughout recorded history. They appear to have had a settlement at Kilakarai or whatever name the place was known by at that time, in the Pandian kingdom. They adopted Islam as everyone did those days in Arabia (which includes Yemen). It was logical that they brought it to India and established a mosque here. This was a good 5 centuries before the ‘Dargah’ we saw earlier.
Here are some pictures I took of the place.

The history of the mosque is shrouded in mystery but the generally accepted story is that Bazan ibn Sasan the governor of Yemen ordered its construction. Plausible theory given the fact the place had long standing trade relationship with Yemen and that there was a settler Arab trading population here. The graves of some of the Arabs associated with the Mosque are in the forecourt as seen in the above pictures. The interiors with the Dravidian influence are seen herebelow:

Kilakarai also has a small fishing harbour and a Lighthouse.

We move on towards Ramanathapuram but intend to skip the place. We want to cross the Pamban bridge and get into Rameshwaram for the night halt.
We again take a smaller and narrower road towards our destination keeping close to the seashore and avoiding the better roads away from the coast.
In the process, we come to see some interesting places in the countryside. First we see a cluster of villages very prosperous and a lot of water around. We see the village ponds with a lot of greenery, signifying a lot of water resources.

And then we come to places, closer to Ramanathapuram and the highway which look green but have a significant problem of lack of potable water. We could see a number of women with plastic containers walking long distances to fetch water.

This has been a long post and covering a longer distance than the normal. Allow me to stop it here and resume with Pamban in the next.

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.

dscn1087

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.

dscn1080

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.

dsc_5742

‘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.

dscn1154

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.

dscn1162

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.

dscn1144

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.

dsc_5781

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.

dscn1205

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!!

dsc_5843

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.
img_4817

img_4822

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.

dscn0897

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.

dscn0895

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.

img_4824

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.

1

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.

dsc_5184

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.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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.

dsc_5570

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.

dsc_5572

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.

dsc_5532

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 is a single -storeyed structure where the king dispensed food to 2000 people every day, a 1000 on the ground and another thousand on the first floor.

dsc_5516

Oottupuram- dining hall

You can see some equipment is preparing and storage of food on such a large scale.On top right side are the pickle jars.

The king sat in the niche below to watch the processions on the road below. The women had their own enclosure.

dsc_5562

King’s observation place.

Whoever has done what is in picture below deserves to be shot. He has left his phone number behind, or of someone else he wants to be shot.

dsc_5554

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

When the Padmanabhapuram where the above palace is located served as the capital for the Travancore kings, the military establishment was located about 16 Kms. away at a place called Thuckalay.  A mud fort was built here in the 17th century and rebuilt in the 18th century in masonry under the supervision of an European who is subject matter of an interesting story. First have a look at the picture of the fort which is not very impressive.

Here is a brief summary of the Fort’s history.

dsc_5628

The fort is currently occupied as a Bio-Diversity Park. In a few minutes you can tell that it is a misconceived venture of the Tamilnadu Forest Department. Some mammals and birds are kept here in enclosures and cages, respectively. They are certainly not enjoying the confinement under unhealthy conditions.

The fort is spacious and partly occupied by the Archaeology department. It is said that it contains the remnants of a foundry used for casting guns. I could not see any.

Now the story of the European.Eustachius Benoit De Lanoy was a Belgian man employed by the Dutch East India Company. He was defeated in a battle by the army of Travancore then ruled by Maharaja Marthand Verma. This battle happened at a place called Colachel, now in Tamilnadu State and it happened in the year 1741.  In a very rare occurrence of this type, the captured commander was employed by the Travancore king as his Commander In Chief. He seems to have contributed substantially to the new job with his knowledge of European warfare techniques. He died in the service of Travancore kingdom and his tomb as well as those of his close family are found in the Udaygiri fort, well maintained.

dsc_5630

Here are the graves or the tombs.

The huge grounds within the fort appear to be used for various purposes.Do you see a man on the tree? Can you guess what he is doing?

dsc_5648

He is cutting down the ripe tamarind, which are collected for sale by his wife standing down below.

dsc_5647

Text by Suryakiran Naik suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Photographs by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik