The erstwhile French colony of Pondicherry is a well loved travel destination for all and sundry owning to it’s leisurely pace, bright colonial buildings, quaint cafes and broad seaside promenade. However, few ever venture further south to visit the remains of the erstwhile Danish settlement of Tanquebar/ Tharangambadi situated in the Nagapattinam district, 120 kms away from Pondicherry.
Established in 1620 as the first Danish trading post in India and subsequently sold off to the British in 1845, Tranquebar was a busy port in it’s hey days eventually losing it’s prominence with the emergence of the railways. All that remains now are a few churches and colonial houses cordoned off by the broad wall of the settlement.
Not much seems to have changed in the tiny walled settlement of Tranquebar since the Danes left. Sparsely populated with most it’s residents being either fishermen or missionaries, the settlement is still largely impoverished. But undoubtedly, Tharangambadi’s most enduring structure is Fort Dansborg, the citadel standing erect on the golden beach like a sentry left behind to protect the Danish legacy against the ever ferocious waves of the Bay of Bengal till the end of time.
Tranquebar was to be the first stop in our ambitious four day trip down the coast of Tamil Nadu in late 2015 but unfortunately a freak accident and a cut lip did not let us venture too far. Infact, we could not even explore the settlement properly. We had to leave in a hurry as I could not get anything beyond basic first aid around there for my cut lip. Surprisingly not one full time doctor could be found in the entire settlement. However, in the little time that we spent there I was impressed by it’s desolate beauty. I still fondly think about the tranquil morning spent on the wicker chairs on the porch of Tranquebar’s only hotel listening to the sound of waves crashing on the shore with not a soul in sight. While the photos are all mine, I would be relying heavily on the internet for the content as our trip to Tranquebar was all but incomplete. So if you are looking for some idyllic time by the sea, scroll down to read about Tranquebar or Tharangambadi that very aptly means “the land of the singing waves” in the local language of Tamil.
Getting there and around:
Tranquebar is situated 270 kms down south of Chennai. One can take the East Coast Road to reach here. We drove down to Tranquebar from Chennai and it took us about 5 to 6 hours to get there. To reach Tranquebar by rail or public transport, please check here.
The settlement is quite small so once there all the places of interest in Tranquebar can be easily explored on foot.
Places of interest:
The main places of interest in Tranquebar include:
- Fort Dansborg: The sand coloured Danish citadel which also houses a museum displaying artefacts of the Danish empire. The fort is open to public from 10am to 5:45pm from Saturday to Thursday and remains closed on Fridays.
- Masilamani Nathar Temple: The 700 year old Pandya temple dedicated to Shiva build by combining Chinese and Tamil architecture styles.
- Danish Governor Bangalore built in 1784
- Zion Church built in 1701
- New Jerusalem Church built in 1718
- The Town Gateway built in 1792
The broad Main Street extending from the Town Gateway to the beach (a total distance of about a km) is further lined with a number of beautifully restored heritage houses.
Where to Stay:
The only hotel in Tranquebar, Neemrana’s Bungalow on the Beach is a stunning vision in white by the sea shore. True to Neemrana’s legacy, this 17th century restored colonial house combines heritage with hospitality. Situated between Fort Dansborg and Masilamani Temple, the house with a high ceiling and wide verandahs with a clear view of the sea from every angle has a swimming pool, a restaurant serving Chettinad and Continental cuisine and only eight rooms. Don’t expect extreme luxury here but the setting and a friendly staff make it an experience worth remembering.
Besides the main house on the beach, Neemrana also has a host of smaller restored heritage houses around walled settlement that serve as alternate options of accommodation for guests. However, only the main building has a restaurant. Guests staying in the annexe buildings, need to come down to the main building for all their meals.
Honestly speaking, it was the picture of the Bungalow on the Beach on Neemrana’s website that had motivated us to make the trip so far south to this forgotten Danish settlement. A perfect weekend getaway by the sea.
If you have the will to give up on your precious time spent counting waves in Tranquebar’s serene silence, trying visiting these places around:
- Velankanni Church or Basilica of our Lady of Good Health situated 40 kms further south is one of country’s biggest Catholic pilgrimage centre.
- Pichavaram Mangrove Forest – the second largest mangrove forest in the world situated 60 kms north of Tranquebar offers boat rides through the islands and trees of the forest inhabited by a variety of carbs, shell fishes and birds
- Chidambaram situated 10kms west from Pichavaram renowned for it’s temple dedicated to Nataraj – the cosmic dancer form of Shiva.
That’s all for now folks! Happy Exploring!!!
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P.S. : This is not a paid post. Just an effort to spread the word about lesser known weekend destinations.