Too much expectation leads to disappointment. This i realised on my second trip to Tranquebar.
The very First trip had been a voyage of discovery. And that was when the sense of wonder had still not traipsed away into the Realm of the Jaded,and the stock of stardust in the eyes was still not depleted.We were told nothing except that we were going to a nice beach for a picnic. Curiosity went only as far as the name :
"Tran-ke-baar". what kind of name was that for a tamilian fishing village ?The beach turned out to be quite a tame affair. Nothing like Marina of Madras or Kodikarai( Point Calimere ) near Vedaranyam. Here it was narrow,gray and smelly.
But soon, we " discovered " wonders.
A massive,Norwegian fort called Dansborg ( Built 1622)
An entrance archway to the hamlet, called " Landgate", sporting a coat of arms like what we saw only on the castles in fairy tale books.
Roads of compacted earth, named Kings Road, Queens Road, Gold Smiths Road. Well weathered Bungalows of Colonial architecture.
Curious looking monuments to people with curious names. Ziegenbalg ? Cornelius ?
Some excited talk about some printing press.
A little temple standing dangerously in the pounding surf looking totally unconnected to the general scenery, with the name Masilamaninathar.( 1305 AD. Kulasekara Pandyan)None of that held any charm for the youngsters. We were fully immersed in discovering the "natural wonders" offered by the beach, unspoilt by tourists.
That was the first time ever i saw live dolphins. What a great thrill it was to see those graceful dark curves shooting out and disappearing into the water in a jiffy. It was also the first time we saw starfish, dead of course. And sea urchins. And sand dollars. And a tremendous quantity of sea shells. Most amazing variety. They were cast aside in heaps by the fisher folk, who were laying out fish to dry. A few long humble boats were sunning, upturned, by the ramparts of the Fort.
We collected shells like possessed rodents, bundling them up in handkerchiefs, scarves etc. For denizens of the plateau,like us, the sea and the excitement of beach combing are always high adventure. One fisherman showed us a ray , alive in a tub of water. It would be cooked with pepper and sesame oil for dinner, he said.
Though the fort, rather stark and ugly, did not hold our attention, we were marched through its crumbling insides to have a look at some exhibits in cobwebbed almirahs by a local. I just remember seeing some very old books and maps.
The village behind the fort was very small,very quaint and very quiet.
Tharangambadi.Meaning The Singing Waves.Only after returning from that trip did i start understanding the significance and past glory of the place.Over the years, i read up a lot. The tamil name was changed into Tranquebar by the Danes.
When European fortune seekers sliced up India like a birthday cake,the British got the lion's share while the French, Portuguese and the Dutch managed to grab some decent morsels. Denmark, gatecrashing into the party, had to content itself with crumbs. And that for a very short time.One crumb, Tranquebar, became the nerve centre of Danish holdings in India and bloomed into a busy trading port, positioned as it was, strategically in the navigation lines from spice-rich East Indies. Soon it became a centre of Protestant Evangelism too. India's very first printing press was set up here to publish the Bible in vernacular.The Dane's treaties with the local king Raghunatha Naik of Thanjavur, the enterprises of some buccaneering captains, the misfortunes and final sell out to the English, all make fascinating history.My second visit to Tranquebar was powered by great expectations, soaked in the romance its history suggested. There was this to see, that to savour. And that's when, the Big Let Down occurred.
The Dansborg was still there, now " repaired " with unimaginative, ugly cement cladding. The Entrance Arch was plastered over with political and cinema posters. The Kings Road was potholed and trash laden. The Lutheran Church, though, was whitewashed and in good repair. The little temple by the sea was half collapsed and part of it was being used as public toilet.Parts of its pagoda lay some meters into the sea.No dolphins, no sea shell cornucopia.There were a dozen noisy, diesel fume spewing trawlers clogging the beach. The fort now announced itself as a museum. But the exhibits were locked up and no one knew its timings.Its 13 cannons were embedded in chunky concrete and looked more like crude monstrous plumbing.Some colonial bungalows were acquired by big names, but still looked abandoned. The hamlet had grown larger. There was more population, more cultivated land and more signs of squalor resembling urban slums.
My third visit fully killed off the charm of the place for me. The Dansborg was colour washed. The main street was tarred for better bus, truck and bullock cart traffic.There were loud speakers blaring political speeches and tinny tamil popsongs. The Tsunami had reduced the little temple to a heap of rubble. The Governor's Bungalow, which was decaying, has been spruced up to become a heritage hotel run by the Neemrana Group. thank goodness for that. Another historical building,is now a girl's training institute. Tranquebar of The Danes ? Thats strictly for the history text books.
The rebuilt Temple ( 2013)
The latest visit ( 2013) showed what some earnest desire to cash in on the tsunami misfortune can do. With a sudden influx of well meaning heritage lovers from Denmark, the old town has blossomed into an open air museum of sorts. With Colonial houses restored into fabulous boutique hotels, whole streets reclaimed, dressed up and preserved as "heritage" , the fallen temple rebuilt, the beach with the washed up ruins of the outer fort walls, serving as recreation space. Good to see......but the government museum inside the Dannesborg continues to be dingy and ill maintained its shabbiness , a direct contrast to the shiny new statue to Zeigenbalg right across the street. A lot more books on the history of the place is now available thanks to liberal aid from NGOs from Denmark.
Some CTs :The Tsunami seems to have churned up many old structures that had been swallowed up by the sea earlier due to erosion and the beach is even now littered with old bricks and pot shards. A patient beach comber can chance upon old coins, pieces of danish blue pottery , stuff like that.