As we cruised down from Chennai to Puducherry on the high-tech East Coast Road, we passed by a medley of tourist attractions like the Artists’ Village, the Crocodile Bank, Dakshinachitra, the world renowned Pallava temples of Mahabalipuram, the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation’s boating centres at the backwaters of Muttukkadu and Mudaliarkuppam. En route, we had fleeting glimpses of amusement parks, food courts, and surf breaking on endless coastline, interspersed with stretches of casuarinas groves.
After we drove past Mahabalipuram, and just 50 km before Puducherry, a rusty signboard heralded us to the nondescript fishing hamlet of Kadapakkam. From the main road we took a 3-km detour passing through tiny fishing villages and still backwaters docked with boats. We stumbled upon the ruins of Alamparai Fort, an unknown treasure left behind by the Mughals along the Coromandel Coast.
As we reached the portals of the fort, an eerie silence greeted us. Images and sounds of gunshots, artillery and soldiers of a bygone era flashed across our minds, filling us with a sense of fear and wonder. The splashing of the sea waters added to the mystery and awe of the crumbling edifice. Against the breathtaking backdrop of the sea and the backwaters of the many beaches that run through Mahabalipuram, the ruins of the brick and lime mortar fort are splendid to behold. Its earthy colours against the blue sky and the ocean make for a stunning sight. The intricate steps and watchtowers conjured visions of intriguing battles fought for the supremacy of trade.
The place resounds with history and abounds in several scattered ruins of the imposing historical monuments that transport one to the glorious past, to a time when Alamparai was a busy outpost for the Arcot Nawabs, before they shifted their operations to Puducherry. Alamparai was an important trading centre on the Coromandel Coast for the spice trade, enticing enterprising voyagers, seafarers and traders from around the world. It also finds a mention in the great Tamil literary works. We could visualise how the waterfront had looked. During 1760, the English had destroyed the 100-metre long dockyard in front of the fort, where silk, salt, ghee and condiments were exported abroad.
An Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) board mentions that Alamparai Fort was built by the Mughals in the 18th century and served as a port in ancient Tamil Nadu. The Nawab of Carnatic, Dost Ali Khan, had commissioned its construction. The Mughals subsequently bequeathed the fort to the French, who were under the commandership of Dupleix, the Governor General of the French establishment in India during the 18th century. In 1760, the British destroyed a major portion of the fort. The tsunami of 2004 further ravaged the fort. Now only a few cannons in good shape can be seen.
As I clambered up the intricate steps leading to the fort’s watchtower, I thought of how majestic it appeared, with its red bricks and limestone coating, typical aspects of Mughal architecture. The view from the top of the watchtower was fabulous. We could see the backwaters, fishing boats, palm trees and other little beaches in the distance, on our left. The remnants of the fort looked like laterite cliffs with deep fissures in some, protruding into the sea. Gnarled trunks and roots of trees clung to the fort’s crumbling walls. We found disintegrating rocks and boulders covered by overgrown shrubs and dangling creepers scattered everywhere.
The vast expanse encircling the fort was beguiling and spectacular. This picturesque place is also a popular filming location. We hopped on a fishing boat and the boatman ferried us to a shallow stretch where we tried our hand at some net fishing. Soon, we approached a small section of sand in the middle of the waters. The men docked the boat on its shores. At low tide, one can dally in knee-deep waters for hours on end and wade across to this stretch of land.
We returned after spending blissful hours watching the waves play hide-and-seek with the shore. I was tempted to run along the glistening white beach which is uncontaminated by madding crowds. We watched the fishermen head out on their boats and turn into tiny silhouettes on the horizon, their nets flying over the water. There are no shops or vendors to hassle visitors and the absolute solitude it guarantees is the beach’s main charm. On the way back, we stopped by the fish market to buy some prawns and crabs which were fresh and quite cheap.
Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer, and photographer based in Bangalore. She has contributed content, articles and images on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum, including guide books, brochures and coffee table books.