Friday, September 6, 2013

The land of singing waves...

It was on an impulse that I decided to do a bit of travelling alone. What I wanted was a perfect weekend getaway, It was by chance I hit on Neemrana hotel’s “Bungalow on the beach” and that led me to Tranquebar. After a quick look up about the place and its history, I knew this was it.We have always heard about the French history in Pondicherry, but rarely heard of the little Denmark that’s left behind in this coastal land of Nagapattinam, whose history dates back to the 14th Century.
A bit on the geography!Tranquebar (for the Danes)/ Tharangambadi (for Tamils), is located on the Coromandel Coast in the Nagapattinam District in Tamil Nadu. With its pristine beauty and perennial charm this Danish –British heritage colony easily makes it to must see place (especially if you live at Chennai). Karaikal is the closest town, so a bus/train towards Karaikal and then a town bus from Karaikal would get you to Tranquebar. One could also drive down the ECR , cross Pondichery and head towards Karaikal. Takes about 6 hours from Chennai.

Time for some history! Back in the 17th century inspired by the enormous revenues that were produced in the initial ventures of the British and Dutch trading companies, the Danish monarch too wanted to play a dominant role in the world trade. So this led to the birth of Danish East India Company. The Tanjore king then Ragunatha Nayak, and the Dane King signed a treaty by which the Danes were given permission to erect a fortress at Tranquebar (the Dansborg Fort). The fort served as the capital of the Danish trade. During its heyday the Danes had made huge profits by exporting tea, spices (pepper and cloves), cotton etc. Later in the 19th century the British attacked the Danish shipping and devastated the Danish east India Company’s India trade.   Ultimately the British took possession of the Danish colonies making them part of British India. Tranquebar was a busy port until the new railway lines to Nagapattinam emerged.
What to do at Tranquebar??
Masilamani nathar a Shiva temple is the oldest monument that remains till date. It was built in the  Pandian period. It is said that part of the temple is submerged in the sea, whatever of it is remaining is all restored now. I had seen old pictures of the temple; I prefer the untouched version to the colorful one(&a crowded one ).
   
Dansborg Fort undoubtedly is my favorite spot, the Fort which boasts of its Danish architecture. An interesting place for photographers and is quite picturesque with a sea facing corridor. The warehouse in the fort was later used as a Prison. Today it still smells of a dark past.
King’s street, Queen’s street, Goldsmith’s street, Admiral street…….
In the 18th century two Lutherans from Germany had set foot in Tranquebar to spread the gospel. Since Lutheranism spread to great extent in India from here Tranquebar is also called. Bartholomaeus Ziegebalg was one of them, you can find his statue at the entrance of this town. He holds a special place in the hearts of the people who live at Tranquebar as  well as the Danes who often visit Tranquebar. He was the first to translate the holy bible into Tamil and also started the first printing press. The press is now just a small house and I doubt if it functions. But it is open for visitors. Given the history it is no surprise the king’s street houses the first Zion church, a spiritual center, a Jerusalem church. Walk down these streets to find some colourful homes built the olden way instead of  the morden type compact house, the European architecture houses and also a mosque on the way.  The goldsmith’s street has some splendid Tamil houses built the karaikudi style. This street is now property of ‘best sellers, guregaon’ who are now in the process of restoring these houses as a part of heritage conservation Initiative. There is also a Post Office street where a really old Post office is still functional. There are many houses to visit too Governor's house, Raleigh's house and so on..

Ozone rich beach
Walk a little further down from the temple and you would find the rock beach..I preferred this to the crowded sand beach. Except  for a few fishermen and their children flying kites, this place is ignored by most. Tranquebar is known to have the thickest Ozone layer in India, so no better place to rejuvenate.
Neemrana Hotel
They are quite famous for their heritage hotels. They have properties all over India, going by the pictures I loved their Rajasthan property. At Tranquebar they own ‘Bunglow on the beach’ (BOB)which was once a grandiose governor house. It is renovated and still has a grandeur effect. Their pool is to die for. It’s an extravagant treat to have your rooms faving the beach on one side and the Danish fort on the other. (room rent starts from 5k to 6k)
Closer to the town gate (the entrance to this town) they have another property called the gate house, I loved this property for its glamorous Tamil house style of architecture. Their rooms are more spacious, king style I would say. The rooms are named after districts on Tamil Nadu. I liked Tanjore the best. (room rent starts from 4k to 5k)
Another property of theirs is ‘Tamil Nadu hotel’. Just opposite to BOB. One can choose to stay here and use all the facilities at the BOB. You need to book in advance if you want to stay here. Easily affordable at 1k per night, but there is nothing heritage about it.
First Experience as a lone traveler:
When I started from home I had butterflies in my stomach. I have never gone away on a trip alone. Travelling yes but not exploring a new place. So I was anxious about what I was about to experience, guilty about not letting my husband know about this little adventure of mine, and bubbling with a child-like excitement for doing something that I have been waiting to do forever.
The journey was just fine. Thanks to sites like ‘travelyaari’ that allows single female passengers to book only next to another female passenger. No awkward moments there.
Safety is a big concern given the times we live in, and so a trip that could have been a budget trip came heavy on my pocket. I had to stay at the Bungalow on the Beach, their pocket friendly hotel “Tamilnadu hotel” was more of a lodge. A special note to their staff, they were extremely helpful and were happy to be around for any assistance.
Ofcourse I did sense curious pairs of eyes tracking all my motions. Some ladies came up to me and wanted to know from which town I was, why I was travelling on my own, they wanted to know if I have parents , if I am married, why I wore no signs of marriage like the toe ring, or sindoor? After this first round of interrogation I decided I will tell them I am here on some work maybe that would put their questions to rest.
After going to all of the places(mentioned in detail above) I headed back to the Bunglow. The staff told me I shouldn’t miss the verandah of theirs in the first floor that faces the beach, so I went up there. There was a mystic silence to the night, and the cool wind added to the magic. And it really was a lovely sight to look up at the skies filled with stars, exactly the way we see in fairy tales..Was stunning to see so many stars..I realized I had a great day walking down those colorful streets, exploring on my own and I had some nice pictures to remind me of this little adventure of mine. And after an hour I decided it was time I returned to my home. I had experienced what I was seeking and there was nothing more left.
I went down to announce my decision of checking out early. The manager had already left home and had asked the staff boys to handle the check out formalities. These boys weren't familiar with the card machine and so I had to pay in Cash. I was short of some money and requested someone to drive me to the ATM. I didn't want to be late for my bus , but only when I went out I realized there is no way I could have gone by walk. The streets were pitch dark, no street lights, not even lights from the houses. We reached the ATM only to find there was no cash in it to dispense. This was the only ATM in this place. We had to travel to the nearest town Poriyar. I sat on the bike and went ahead, after a while a sudden thought crept my mind. How can I trust this complete stranger whose name I did not even know. Except for the hotel staff nobody knew I was here with him. We were on a narrow road with fields on one side and canal on the other, in this deserted pitch dark road it wouldn't be a task if he decides to harm me. I tugged the pen knife I had a little more tighter and had hoped the guy doesn't decide to have some fun. I was too preoccupied and contemplating what would happen, to enjoy the drive. After drawing cash from the ATM my next worry was what if he tries to rob me. But we got back alright.. He seemed a nice guy after all..I thanked him and paid my bill , took a taxi to the Karaikal bus stand and boarded my bus that was going to bring me back home safely.
Would I do it again? Maybe if I mastered a martial art and was sure I can wriggle out of any danger. Just maybe..But one must try to travel alone, it’s a soulful refuge and you may discover yourself a bit more! Tranquebar would always hold a special place in my heart, the beautiful fort ,the bright blue sea , the beautiful houses I visited ,the stunning skies filled with stars will all be cherished for a long time to come...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Living Dead


Kerala-God’s own country. That is how tourists worldwide know it. But, sometimes, names can be really misleading. Take for instance, this area in Kasaragod district. It is called Swarga. In Hindi and Malayalam, Swarga means Heaven. Nothing could be more ironical. This is no heaven. This is a place famous for Cashew plantations. Those who live here and in hamlets around the cashew plantations in the state feel they have died many deaths. Swarga is plagued by disease and tragedy.
Why? For 26 long years, the government-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala aerially sprayed a pesticide called Endosulfan in the cashew plantations of kasergoad. Endosulfan is deadly pesticide banned in 33 other countries. As the plantations are in a mountainous area, the pesticide residues settled on the soil and got washed away when it rained into drinking water streams below. Today, villagers who lived close to the plantation are paying the price. Many of them are paralyzed or are seriously ill. Swarga and other villages in Kasaragod district of Kerala have become living examples of how the poison in pesticides could be lethal to our health when used excessively and carelessly. The area is dotted with tragedy struck families battling physical deformities, cancers and disorders of the central nervous system, affects the reproductive system, and apart from deforming people exposed to the insecticide, Endosulfan even attacks neo-natal babies of Padre and Swarg. It not only killed people, the birds disappeared,butterflies and bees were not to be seen,the micro-organisms in the ecosystem ceased to exist-nature was destroyed. A recent survey in 2012 shows 4000 people are seriously ill and 700 deaths are caused due to this drug. 50% of the homes have at least one member physically challenged.
Mohammed Kunhian activist,remembers how he and his classmates used to run out of their classrooms when they heard the sound of the helicopter that was spraying Endosulfan  The spray would settle on their hair and shine in the sun and they would all laugh. “I shudder to think of it now. We used to go and welcome the helicopter pilots and treat them like heroes. We were actually inviting death and disease,”
If you thought kasergod is the only district to use this pesticide then you are wrong. Kerala government did ban the usage of drug in 2005 but since it is readily available in neighboring states, it is easily smuggled into Kerala.It is used all over the country for agricultural purpose-in tea and cotton plantations and many vegetable cultivation too. One of the most toxic pesticides in the market, Endosulfan is a favorite with farmers because it is very effective. India is world’s largest consumer of Endosulfan and largest manufacturer too. Even our less advanced neighbors banned it long ago but our country has failed to do so.
What is really shocking is the apathetic attitude of the central government. At the sixth meeting of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee meeting on October 15,2010 in Stockholm, India opposed the ban on Endosulfan. In May 2011 the Supreme court of India had banned the use of this drug but had allowed usage until the stock exhausts. In June 2011 the central government requested the Supreme court to lift the ban from producing Endosulfan because they had raw materials that could produce 4000 tones. And in Nov 2011 the Ban was lifted. When most countries ban this hazardous drug it is clear India’s leaders prefer killing its own people with a pesticide which kills the environment too.
Nothing will be ever be done in India to stop the modern businessman/government from using harmful drugs. Drugs are portrayed by the industry as problem fixers, money savers and profit boosters. They probably are for the businessman – but they also cause hugely undesirable effects in people, animals and the whole ecosystem. The victim of this is not only the farmers and their families – it is also you and me.From the vegetable and fruits we consume to milk, eggs and meat, we consume cancerous causing drugs in small quantities. Everything is adulterated; we pass this on to the next generation through our genes.We give them an unhealthy life and a disastrous environment to live in.
It reminds me of a speech a very small gal gave in a meet for nature conservation held by the UNO. It goes like-“The reality is that if CO2 emissions do not level off within five years then we are almost certainly destined for a six degree temperature increase, run-away climate change, ecosystem collapse and a mass-extinction event. Instead of taking action on this problem what are we doing? We are fighting wars all over the world, planning the next Olympic games, carbon-trading, bailing-out the bankers, worshiping consumerism, developing more weapons, flying, planning the next election, having everything on stand-by, creating super-states, getting drunk, committing crimes, plundering finite physical resources, having more unplanned and unwanted children, praying to the gods of economic growth and having Climate-Change Conferences.In other words: business as usual. Wake up everyone, wake up Governments, there is a BIG problem and it is not going away, it has no respect for empty promises, targets and resolutions.”
Her audience was awe struck; they all applauded her for the speech. In reply she said “It is not for these applaud and appreciation that I am here today. I and my friends want to have a healthy world to live in and I am doing my bit. “
Unfortunately I can’t conclude by saying we have to do our bit with respect to the ban on Endosulfan and other drugs we consume through our diets.Its impossible to change the government and their policies. But yes as for the conservation of nature and environment for the future generations to come we should do our bit and we all have heard of the ways and methods to do so a millions of times before. Let us all do that and not push the world faster than its intended to go into the big black hole it came from.