Timeless Trip Through Tranquebar

Tranquebar is very little not mentioned in the tourist guides talking about South India and so much it allows me to discover it in its most preserved state. I am very interested in history. All political structures, all traditions, all religions did not come about by chance. They owe themselves to certain situations, certain personalities, certain turning points in a development. Before I go on a journey, I always tries to study the history of the place in question.

India poses a certain challenge in this regard, as this country has only been understood as a unit for a relatively short time and did not really have a common history before. Many think of India as the long colonial era, when the subcontinent was the crown jewel of the British Empire.

But before the British, the Portuguese had long since settled in the country and remained even when Britain had capitulated to Gandhi. But also the French and other European powers dreamed of a colonial empire in Asia and formed their own Indian colonies.

Before I was able to devote himself to this subject, I plunged deeply into an earlier part of Indian history to the time of the mighty Chola kings of South India. Thanjavur used to serve as their capital, and here Rajaraja I built the first large Chola temple, the Brihadisvara Temple.

Day 1

I was already able to gain first impressions yesterday in the late afternoon. Today I had to experience this impressive building again in the morning light. At the shoe delivery I was welcomed as a regular customer. The shoe watcher immediately remembered me and even gave me the same slot as yesterday. In the blazing sun, the various buildings of the temple did indeed have a different effect. The tall Nandi in front of the entrance now stood out better,

I enjoyed this second visit very much, because I no longer had to search for the artistic highlights of the temple design for tourist interest. I could simply leave the special mood of this sanctuary and had time to observe the pilgrims on their temple visit. And I wanted more, more chola architecture.

An hour later, the parking lot of the next temple could already be started. In the silk weavers city of Darasuram, the relatively small Airateswara Temple is also a World Heritage Site for the Chola Temples. This mighty dynasty in southeastern India glorified its power mainly through the construction of ornate temples, which were to surpass anything that had been done before.

The temple of Darasuram is the smallest specimen of this category, but I considered it the most beautiful. Extensive sculptural decoration covered both the exterior and interior of the walls, as well as the numerous columns. Unlike the previous South Indian temples lacked the temple towers colorful paint. Their figure-splendor, golden in sunlight, nevertheless made a towering impression.

While I admired the temple extensively, I already organized the next part of the program for a visit to a family silk weaving mill. This really did not turn out to be a road-haulage touristic, but provided a real insight into the hard and tedious work of silk processing. The family owns only two looms, in which pure saris are created with pure handcraft and ancient patterns.

After examining the weaving work, I saw some especially nicely patterned saris. But even the silk weaver knew that I certainly would not need and buy saris. So he showed some silk scarves, which are made of the same materials as the saris.

Also near Darasuram is an hotel, where I enjoyed the great variety and impeccable food. Only a so-called salad proved to be linguistic as well as culinary corruption of the American original. It consisted of a layer of chopped raw food cubes, home-made mayonnaise without any seasoning as a topping and a few walnut splinters as decoration.

At the end of my lunch I was late to Gangaikondacholapuram, a city founded by the powerful Chola King Rajendra I, after he had advanced with his armies to the Ganges, and had brought from there vast amounts of holy Ganges water. Unfortunately, this actually impressive temple was more than a construction site. Everywhere stood scaffolding and hidden essential parts of the figurine jewelry.

This left my visit rather short. Equally short was my visit to the oldest temple in Kumbakonam. It is too modern and rather cheesy extensions or even improvements and much of the old, ornate jewelry was covered. I was disappointed.

After so many explorations in the Indian Middle Ages, there was now a leap in time right into the colonial history of the early 17th century. Not only British, French and Dutch competed for a large and profitable colonial empire, smaller nations wanted to try their luck as well. I take the road to reach the small town of Tharangambadi or Tranquebar located on the coast.

In 1620, a Danish expedition landed in southern India and rented a small fishing village from the Nayak kings of Thanjavur. It is Tharangabadi, whom they called Tranquebar. A mighty Danish fortress was supposed to protect this tiny colony, and at the same time began an attempt to establish Protestantism in India.

That's why Tranquebar even created India's first printing press. 250 years later, the Danes abandoned their colonial experiment and left it to the British. At that time, the British Customs Agency established a residence for its chief local official right on the beach. This historic building now served as an accommodation. It is a magnificent colonial wooden building with a wide wrap-around porch on the first floor.

With only eight, but very spacious rooms, this small, fine hotel, is all named after Danish ship. I booked a sea-view room and enjoyed a fantastic view of the Danish fortress to the right. There is an ancient temple to the left and the surfacing sea right in front of me.

Forgetting the torrential rains that ravaged Tamil Nadu, Tranquebar snorts under a pale sun. On the narrow beach along the untamed ocean, young women laugh heartily when the waves crashing come to lick their feet. Whole families of Punjabi tourists loudly show their happiness to be there.

On Parade Square, the large square separates Dansborg, the imposing fort built by the Danes in the 17th century. The street lamps, a copy of those found in Berlin, Paris or Copenhagen, recall that once upon a time, Tranquebar was Danish.

Only the restaurant disappointed me a bit because it served neither beer nor fish. It only has vegetarian food and non-alcoholic drinks. Nevertheless, this night spent in the expansive bed of a history exhaling building is an unforgettable experience. So history can leave the pages of a book and become tangible.

Timeless Trip Through Tranquebar

Day 2

Shortly before sunrise, I awoke to the sound of the sea and let my gaze wander over the area. The sky was slightly pink, but there was no trace of the sun. Even though the morning light gained strength later, a true sunrise could not be admired. Nevertheless, the views of the sea and the neighboring Danish fort proved impressive.

I could totally enjoy the breakfast. In addition to the usual buffet ingredients there are numerous omelette or Dosa variants. I chose a masala omelette. While the egg dish was being prepared, I chose a table outside near the beautiful swimming pool, where I already placed a bowl of cereal and a fresh pineapple juice.

When I got myself another cup of coffee from the buffet, I had to drive away a mighty black crow, who was just serving my cereal. The masala omelette could be described as spicy but some papaya and pineapple pieces rounded off the first meal of the day in a pleasant way.

I go out to explore the former Danish colonial city. The neighboring temple was unfortunately still closed, but at the nearby Zion Church, the oldest Protestant church in India from 1701, I managed to open the gate that was not locked. Formal rigor awaited me inside and out. I leisurely strolled up and down the 200 m of the main street to the Danish city gate. I roamed around the almost-restored Danish fort.

The main road to Chidambaram had been closed today for an bullock cart race. I endured with composure and helped to bypass the blocked route via Google Maps. Shortly before 12:00, I reached the famous Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram, in which Shiva is revered as king of dance.

According to the guide, the temple was supposed to close at 12:00. So I hastened to catch a few glimpses inside. However, India rarely adheres to written rules. I landed in the middle of noon when a puja, the noon prayer was celebrated with lots of bell and drum accompaniment and loud songs, interrupted by silent fire rites of the priests.

A local beside me filmed the ceremony with his smartphone. Before I could adapt to his behavior, an angry priest rushed at the compatriot and forced him to erase the shot. Even after the puja, there could be no question of closure. All areas of the temple remained well filled with devotees and tourists. I was particularly struck by the myriad colorful mandalas that covered the floor of the temple corridors every 5 meters.

Unfortunately, in Chidambaram a considerable part of the temple was also a construction site. The most complete 1000-column hall of India with exactly 999 columns was currently completely closed. Nevertheless, I found the way to the remote small Sivakami Amman temple. The lobby is decorated with beautiful ceiling frescoes and elaborate columns.

However, there was no separation between the vestibule and the actual shrine. As soon as I held my camera in the direction of the priest in the shrine, I got a loud, angry No! As I had become accustomed to walking on hot stones and rough ground, I almost forgot to pick up my shoes on leaving the Nataraja Temple. Only the resolute cry, Your shoes, sir, that forced me to return in time.

The next destination was Puducherry, or Pondicherry. This city was once the most important colony of France in India, before it lost here too the war against the British. Although politically defeated, culturally their stamp has been preserved to this day. Even the police officers of the widely ramified federal territory Pondicherry wear uniforms in the style of French cops.

The old town of Pondicherry, the so-called French Quarter, also breathed tangible French flair. I chose the restaurant at the prestigious hotel as the venue for my midday meal. In the courtyard of the hotel, I was looking forward to a menu of genuine Creole cuisine, which combines and refines French and Indian components.

As a starter I am served a salad, bite-sized potatoes, egg pieces of the same size and quartered mini tomato in a spicy mayonnaise dressing, supplemented by baguette slices of liquid herb butter. This rather European treat was followed by a pleasantly spicy Creole seafood curry with cumin rice and chapati. It was accompanied by beer and finished with a white coffee.

A digestive walk through the French Quarter led me first to the candy-pink colored Our Lady of Angels Church, past other French colonial buildings to the Gandhi statue right on the sea and along the waterfront. I then go to the magnificent neo-Gothic Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the somewhat disappointing Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

The final destination of the day was the small town of Mamallapuram, also located on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Masses of tourists were still moving through the streets in the evening, but after dark, anyway, I did not want to go sightseeing anymore. Upon reaching the hotel I was greeted with a cold juice. Instead of the jasmine flower wreath, they hung a necklace of shells and sea snails around my neck.

That I had to wait about 10 minutes to get the room ready. The lush tropical garden also had a positive effect and the pool with its dolphin statues and ball lamps could even be described as fantastically beautiful. But all this ended immediately upon entering the semicircular room. It was not actually dirty, as I had feared, but immensely in need of renovation.

In many places the paint peeled off the ceiling, while the light switches wobbled in the wall because the fixings had become loose. However, the management did not seem to care that this impression of the run-down would be talked about in times of the internet and would be devastating. After all, even I chose the hotel despite the many mixed reviews on the Internet, because it simply had the best location in the city.

For today I was just happy to have arrived and to have a bed. My French lunch was still so heavy that there could be no question of hunger. So I was content with one of the smuggled beers. Its sweetish flavor gradually turned into sweet dreams.

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  • Felicity Grace Terry
    Felicity Grace Terry May 25, 2012 at 6:18 AM

    Spectacular images.

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