What to Read Next

Coromandel Trail - Along the salt pans to Pondicherry

Lakshmi Sharath
17 September 2012

The milestone says about 50 km to Pondicherry when I pass a fish market in Kadapakkam. I take a detour and drive through a lost hamlet surrounded by backwaters. Another detour and enter  the portals of a port lost amidst the ruins, located right next to the seashore. There is no one in sight. Coconut and palm grooves shelter the broken bricks as the rubble resonates with the glory of the past.

This is the 17th century Alamparai Fort, also called Alampara. Built during the Mughal era it was administered by the Carnatic Nawab and later gifted to the French in return for their support. The British eventually destroyed the fort and the dockyard, which was more than 100 metres long.

A rusted ASI board gives us more information. Alamparai, it says, was the ancient land of Idaikazhunadu, mentioned in the literary work Siruppanatruppadai. The sea port was used for trade by the Arcot Nawabs and zari, salt and ghee were exported from here. Coins were minted as well and the mint was later shifted to neighbouring Pondicherry. Built on a highway near Alamparai, the mint even housed a Shiva temple, a choultry and a pond built for the benefit of travelers and pilgrims taking this route towards Rameshwaram.

“Do you want to go boating?” a local man asks me. The sea looks inviting, but the sun sends me a warning though it gets kinder as we drive towards what is left of French India in Pondicherry. The smell of salt makes us pause at Marrakkanam. The stretch is filled with heaps  of salt. Workers extract it and transport it in lorries.

Tourists often wax eloquent of the French connection with Pondicherry but not many speak of the Portuguese, Danish and Dutch who all laid claim to this port, which was another centre of trade. Eventually the French, though defeated by the Dutch, bought it from them for apparently 16,000 pagodas. Pondicherry, or Poudoucheri as it was then called, became the capital of French India. There was a time when Madras, overpowered by the French, was ruled from here. On the streets they still speak French, the clock in the tourist centre shows the time in France, the policeman in his tall hat looks out of the French era, and the streets and the guest houses have French names.

Walking along the beach in the old French town, the statue of Dupleix looks down at me. At the other end is a Gandhi statue surrounded by ancient pillars. “There was once a jetty here, even a railway line with a wagon car,” says Ashok Panda, co-convenor of INTACH, as we walk along the colourful streets painted in pink and yellow. He points to old warehouses, though some of them seem to have found new life as shops and restaurants.

As Ashok explains some of the salient features of the colonial architecture, we see some of the institutions and schools still run by the French. Many private houses are restored and are available as guest houses for tourists. The streetscape is charming. A beautiful park in the midst of them was once the nerve centre of the French regime. I lose my way, but all roads soon lead to the Aurobindo Ashram.

At a quick stopover at the old Manakulla Vinayaka temple, I hear an interesting legend. It is the only temple in the French town, and it is believed that a Frenchman became a believer when his attempts to do away with the deity turned futile. Walking along the French quarter, I stop by to stare at a sketch of a skeleton looking at me from one of the windows. A statue of Joan of Arc stands in front of a church. I walk down to a restaurant and treat myself to some crepes before moving on.

PREVIOUSLY IN THE COROMANDEL TRAIL SERIES:
Part 1 - Journeying down the Coromandel Coast

 

Bad News For Insurance, Great News For Virginia

Virginia drivers, with cars and good driving records are learning that they may qualify for lower car insurance rates. Do you qualify?

Kid sleep troubles email series for moms

We get it. We’ve been there. Sign up for our email track to learn how to handle kids who won’t go to sleep or won’t stay in bed.

Starwood Credit Card

Earn 25,000 Bonus Starpoints®! Use toward Award Nights or Flights.

This $625 Intro Bonus Is Insane

A leading credit card issuer just raised its intro bonus to an industry-leading $500 cash or $625 in travel. And no annual fee the first year.

How Older Men Tighten Their Skin

Men, reduce the look of wrinkles, sagging skin and fine lines with this affordable and effective skin tightening treatment without leaving your home.

Read This Before You Buy Medigap Plan F

Plan F is the most popular Medicare Supplement plan, but there's another Medigap option you should consider.

Men: Tighter Looking Skin In One Easy Step

How older men tighten their skin and reduce the look of wrinkles without cosmetic procedures.

Ever Googled Someone? Do A "Deep Search" Instead

Entering a Name and State on this site could reveal info you thought wasn't available. Have you searched yourself or someone you know yet?

Attn Home Owners Who Never Miss a Payment.

Home Owners who have not missed a payment in 3 years or more need to read this. If you owe less than $625,000 on your home there is a solution.

Banks Are Worried Homeowners Will Do This.

Homeowners are surprised and furious. If you owe less than $625,000 on your home, you better read this.

Insane Navy Seal Flashlight, should it be banned?

The Military has recently released technology that is now available to the public. Get yours before they run out - Limited Supply!

10 Cards for People Who Have Great Credit

What card offers up to 5% cash back? And which one offers 24/7 concierge service? See the best credit cards of 2016. Apply online, quickly & easily.

Do NOT pay your insurance until you try this.

If you drive less than 55 miles/day OR have no DUI's you can get auto insurance for as low as $29/ Month! See if you qualify.

VA Mortgage Rates In 2016

VA Rates as Low as 2.75% (3.028% APR) 15 Year Fixed. Exclusive For Veteran & Military Takes 1 Min!