The roar of the sea is all I can hear. Then, the skies open up, and the rain beats a rhythmic tattoo on the roof, adding an element of percussion to the musical note of the waves. Sitting alone on an easy chair, watching the interplay between the sky and the sea, it feels like nature is putting up a show, complete with a musical symphony, just for me! It is easy to understand why, in the local language, Tamil, this place is called Tharangambadi – land of the singing waves!
Tharangambadi, or, in its Anglicized form, Tranquebar, in Tamilnadu, was where the Danes first landed in India. The fort they built still stands, a reminder of the glorious past of this small seaside village.
|Dansborg, as seen from the Bungalow on the Beach|
If the Danes were drawn here by the prospect of trade and evangelism, I came here, fascinated by its history, seeking the solitude it offered, and an opportunity to experience life in an 17th century bungalow, on the invite of the Neemrana Group of Hotels.
The 17th century house, or mansion, that I stayed in, was once the residence of the British Governor, of course, after the Danes had left. The palatial residence is located right on the shore, and is called, appropriately, though rather unimaginatively, “Bungalow on the Beach”. It is ideally situated to truly experience the heritage of Tharangambadi, surrounded as it is, by ancient monuments!
|The Bungalow on the Beach|
On one side of the Bungalow stands the Dansborg Fort, and on the other, the Masilamani Nathar temple, an ancient Shiva temple, which stood here long before the Dutch arrived. Behind, and inland, are more monuments, reminders of the Danish regime – the Danish Governor’s Bungalow, which is being converted into a museum, as well as churches, cemeteries, and most interestingly, the first ever Tamil printing press!!
Staying at the Bungalow on the Beach was a unique experience. There are just eight rooms in all, but their statuesque proportions took me back to another era – a time of high ceilings and huge doors, four poster beds and long easy chairs, not to forget the steel buckets and brass fittings in the bathrooms!!
I spent much of my time reclining in an easy chair on the long verandah which ran along all the rooms, watching the waves and the pouring rain, enjoying the spectacle nature had put up for us, and marveling at the fact that despite the massive Tsunami of 2004, which wreaked havoc here, the place has not just managed to survive, but still tells us scores of stories, about all those who came this way!
|The Verandah where I spent much of my time..|
|The clouds, the sea, and the pool! at Bungalow on the Beach|
At intervals, when the rains took a break, we explored both, the historical as well as natural heritage of Tharangambadi. We climbed the ramparts of the fort, and wondered about the people who had embarked on, and survived, months of a tough voyage, to reach this distant land. Walking about the old cemetery, we tried to imagine the life of these visitors, who tried to create a bit of their motherland, in this remote fishing village that even today, so few know about!
We walked on the storm lashed beach, watched over by the ever-vigilant guards of the property, warned not to venture too far, or too deep, listening to stories of accidents and miraculous rescues! Heading to an estuary, where the Manjaar, a tributary of the Kaveri merges with the sea, we stopped often, to pick up shells, or to look closer at sea anemones and eels which had washed ashore. We talked to fishermen, who showed us how they caught crabs; we watched flocks of flamingoes fly past gracefully, and laughed as we spotted a Brahminy Kite struggle to stay on course, against a sudden gust of wind!
Later, as we walked gingerly on the ancient outer walls of the fort, now partially submerged in water, we remembered the kite, and wished we hadn’t laughed, as the wind threatened to push us off the narrow path!
The local staff accompanied us as we explored the town, from the wide, neatly maintained road, lined with grand houses and ancient monuments, to the bylanes, with smaller, but pretty houses, some well maintained and lived in, other abandoned, and almost falling apart.
|The Gate House|
Tharangambadi has seen its share of highs and lows. It rose from being a tiny fishing village to a prominent Danish colony and port. It welcomed traders from across the seas, and grew as a town, drawing rich merchants and traders. Passing into British hands, it enjoyed a brief period of importance, but soon relapsed to the village it was, at its heart. The tsunami brought with it disaster, but also put it back on the map. It drew people once more, and this time, those who tried to mend the ravages of nature, and restore it to its former glory.
While most of the restoration work is handled and maintained by the Best Seller Foundation and INTACH, the Neemrana Group of Hotels are doing their own work to showcase the heritage of Tharangambadi – both, its Tamilian as well as European aspects. While the Bungalow on the Beach epitomizes the European way of life, The Gatehouse, in contrast, showcases the Tamil manner of living. Its typical Tamilian architecture has been maintained and the interiors have also been designed, keeping in mind the habits and the way of life of its original residents. The two properties, though run by the same group, highlight two completely contrasting traditions, which makes the place all the more interesting.
|When did you last use a bucket and pail like this?|
Adding a third element of interest is Neemrana’s newest property in the town – Thangam House, which hasnt’t yet opened. Located on Goldsmith’s street, the house gets its name from the possibility that it was once the house of a goldsmith. This house is essentially simple, as compared to the other two, but offers a completely different experience – a more local one, if I may use the word!
|The inside of Thangam House|
The Neemrana Group call their properties “Non-Hotels”, and from what we could see, at least at Tharangambadi, they stayed true to the concept. The restoration work on each of the properties is excellent, and though all comforts are provided, in essence, most things have been kept the same. We especially loved the variety of old fashioned study tables (complete with books about Tharangambadi), easy chairs, and huge beds which needed steps to climb up on!!
|I so love these simple old chairs and tables|
The staff was almost completely local, and for us, speaking the same language was a big plus. We had long conversations, from life in Mumbai to the perils of the sea, the local issues, and of course, the tsunami! The food was also completely local and we had simple fare, like rasam and the locally prevalent ‘kaara kozhambu’, of course, made less spicy, just for Samhith, who also enjoyed the continental breakfast, and got all that he wanted from the kitchen staff!!
|And old utensils like these... the one in front is a chopper and scraper, a version of which we still use at home today!|
Greeted on arrival at the railway station by heavy rains and cyclone warnings, I wondered what we would do for two days, that too by the sea. I needn’t have worried…. The two days passed by faster than I imagined, without time to get bored! It was incredibly relaxing and invigorating, whether we were sitting on an easy chair, listening to the waves, walking barefoot on the beach, picking up shells, or walking around the town, imagining the Danish explorers who changed the course of history, at least for this little village!