Recently, a relative who traveled to Puducherri , decided to drop by the Alamparai Fort on her way back to Chennai, having heard of the place from me sometime ago. But the report of her trip was dismal ! She sounded cheated ! And after seeing her pictures, I was dismayed too. In place of the somewhat respectable remnant of a fort that I had visited a few times ( the last visit in 2003), stood broken stumps of brickwork and crumbled walls. The only part that looked halfway recognisable was the inner stairway .
To begin with, the remains that had survived to this century were not all that strong and majestic , as the fort was not of stone, but of brick and mortar. At best, it was in a state of precarious preservation. Came the Tsunami and chunks of the fort got washed away in a jiffy. And then, the torrential rains (of this season and the last ) seem to have knocked down a few more weathered structures. What remains now, apparently, are sad heaps of wet rubble . Unfortunate that a place which had once been the platform for the colourful foibles of Nobles and influential merchants should face such ravage in its old age. But that's the way cookies and forts crumble, I guess.
ALAMPARAI, is situated between Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry on the East Coast Road, near the village of Kadapakkam. A small road breaking off the highway, leads, via a village, to the Fort standing on the shore. It was constructed in late 17th. Century by the Mughals , servicing a huge dockyard from where, reportedly, " Brocade cloth, Ghee and Salt" were exported . There was also a Mint within its precincts which the French got shifted to Pondicherry later.In its heyday, the Fort was one of the major trading outposts administered by the Nawabs of Arcot . It was a regular port of call for all ships plying the coromandal coast.
Later, though, it was gifted away to the French by Muzaffar Jung , a star-crossed worthy who was "Subedar of Bijapur" , "Viceroy of Deccan" and "Ruler of Hyderabad" all for a period of just one year ! The gift was in appreciation of the assistance Dupleix had given the Nawabs to resist the Marathas. While in French possession, Alamparai thrived as a small, industrious township according to minutae recorded by the Dubash to the French court. However, as soon as the British established their supremacy over the French in South India,in 1760, the fort was sacked and greatly damaged.
After that blow, it became a ghost fort , deserted and reduced to a shelter for wayfarers and vandals . The better materials from it would have been stripped and carted off by locals for their use and what survived to modern times was just a vast sandy wasteland,( about 15 acres) bounded by haphazard stretches of walls and two watch towers.
There never was much to explore in Alamparai Fort even before its recent battering, but the location is very picturesque and pleasant. Among the parts left intact, the structures of interest are the narrow fleet of steps going up to the ramparts and the northern doorway.
The few panels of decorative brick arrangements, the moulded lintels and the turreted walls are all we can take as indications of past glory.
Within the fort lies an unmarked tomb with protective walls of a more recent origin.
Whenever we visited, we took rides in fishermen's boats, rowing along the towering walls, that seemed to rise from the surf. The view of the walls and the palm trees was always enchanting and evocative.
Most of the time, its quiet around there, with just a few picnickers visiting on weekends.
But the ruined fort seems to have a second life as a picturesque "location" , favoured by movie makers . Whenever a vehicle arrives, urchins from the nearby village rush in, expecting a film shoot and promptly offer their services : carrying equipment to the spot , fetching snacks and drinks from the village , arranging boats etc.etc.
( Photos by son.)