The road wore a deserted look and puffed dust on a hot afternoon as I drove past the large arch entrance gate into the erstwhile Danish colony of Tranquebar. There were hardly any people on the road and the freshly white painted churches glared under the bright sun. I went past many narrow cobbled roads that detoured from the main road, which had a couple of colonial buildings and a few traditional houses, the front doors of which had locks dangling. The road led further with a whiff of salty air and rolling sands on the tarmac until I reached Bungalow on the Beach, a 17th century heritage property and my abode for next 2 days.
Tranquebar, which is also referred to as Tharangambadi (translates to 'land of singing waves') was earlier called as Trankebar by the Danes and is the most popular colony under the Danish. Ruled by the Cholas and Pandyas, its proximity to the sea made Tranquebar a busy trading port by the 15th century. Arabs, Portuguese, British and Danes frequently traded here and with the establishment of Danish East India company and the construction of Dansborg fort, the Danes took over Tranquebar. Along with the two hundred year presence of the Danish, Tranquebar was also influenced by German missionaries sent by the Danish King in early 18th century.
Until a few years back, Tranquebar almost resembled a ghost town with dilapidated colonial buildings and a few villagers. However, with restoration work and help from various organizations, Tranquebar now has crawled back to normalcy and is quite an attraction for history lovers.
Located adjacent to Masilamaninathar temple, Tranquebar beach and Dansborg fort, the three most popular attractions in Tranquebar, the Bungalow on the beach was earlier a colonial house which belonged to the Danish Governor which has been restored by Neemarana hotel. The colonial architecture is ubiquitous with high ceilings, chandeliers, tall wooden doors, long verandahs and surreal rooms which takes you back a few centuries. All the rooms have been named after various Danish ships that sailed to Tranquebar and the corridors offer gorgeous panoramic vistas of the Bay of Bengal.
As the sun mellowed, I walked across to the 17th century Dansborg fort. Built in 1620 A.D. by the Danish royal navy commander, the fort was one of the structures in this coastal hamlet that withstood the wrath of the tsunami in 2004. Consisting of two levels, the fort was used as a prison, storage area and residences for priests and the governor. Ramparts of the fort wall extends into the sea and I almost mistook them for rocks over looking the sea. The murky yellow on the fort's exterior was getting a fresh coat and there were more restoration work under progress. I would rather prefer to see it with all its ruggedness, dirt and moss. Near the entrance a few canons protruded staring at the dark clouds, the blue waters and the numerous colourful fishing boats. The fort now has a museum which houses the history of Tranquebar, its trade pacts, agreements, trade route maps, portraits of Danish governors, miniature ships and various other antique displays. An ideal place to run through the history lanes of Tranquebar. I strolled around for a while and then went in search of the Danish cemetery, a few meters away from the fort in a by-lane. The gate was locked while the graves looked bright in white paint as I peeped through the rusted grills.
|Ramparts of fort wall
All the places of interest are a short distance away from each other and I decided to walk myself through the colonial lanes (Kings street, Queens street, Admiral street etc.) and beautiful buildings of Tranquebar. Kings Street is the main street in Tranquebar and most of the popular attractions are here. While the fort lies adjacent, Bungalow on the Beach is located on this street. Adjoining it lies the Governor's bungalow, which has been restored by the Denmark national museum after the tsunami in 2004. Visitors aren't allowed inside this beautiful structure with tall pillars which also acted as an administrative office during the Danish rule. Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg monument on Kings street was built to commemorate the social services by the scholar to people of all community. He was responsible for the establishment of the first printing press in India and for printing the bible in Tamil for the first time.
Tranquebar has a couple of pretty looking churches and Zion church built in 1701 A.D. was the first that I visited. Believed to be the first protestant church in India, it has beautiful stained glasses, plaques of Christ and apostles and a few tombstones within its premises. Next in line on the Kings street was New Jerusalem church which undoubtedly is the most beautiful church in this colonial village. Built in German and Danish architectural style in 1718, the premises also houses the grave of Ziegenbalg. I spent some solitude moments inside the church before walking out in search of another colonial structure. Von Theiligen house also referred to as the Pillar house was another attractive building that caught my attention as I walked down the Kings street. I went past a few training institutes, convents and schools before the street ended at the entrance gateway. Built in 1792 A.D., this majestic arch has nice art works and has its doors made of teak wood.
|New Jerusalem church
From the Kings street I trod onto the Queens street, where the maritime museum with numerous displays and Flora cottage, where the members of Tranquebar association stay are located. I walked further to Admiral street where the oldest printing press in India was started. Though restored, the building remained closed and did not seem like it was functional. Ziegenbalg's house which has now been converted into a boy's hostel is also located on the same street. While the Mosque street houses a dargah, the Goldsmith's street has many houses (such as Glorious Illam, Nayak house etc.) bought and restored by Best Seller Foundation and Neemrana hotels.
|India's first printing press
As the sun set, walked back to the beach to take in more salty air, wet my feet and chase some crabs while the colourful boats still stared at the unending pink horizon in oblivion.
Cocooned in Princess Louise, my room, I crept out when the alarm struck at 5:30 AM. It was still dark, but I could see a tinge of orange in the horizon. As the orange grew brighter, the silhouettes of fishermen and their boats made beautiful frames. The panoramic view of Dansborg fort was visible and the colorful Masilamaninathar temple made its presence felt. It got brighter as I stood by the verandah capturing frames and welcoming the bright morning.
Tranquebar has more to it than colonialism and the Masilamani nathar temple is a testimonial to that. Located by the sea, it has withstood nature's wrath along with increasing sea levels over the years and has been listening to the tunes of the waves since the 13th century. Showered with rocks after the tsunami in 2004, the coastline near the temple is well guarded and the waves thrash itself on to them. Built in typical South Indian architecture, the temple was unfortunately closed when I had visited. More fort ramparts submerged in the sea are visible from the temple.
Shortly after I left behind the beautiful buildings and Danish history while taking back some colonial memories as the car went past the entrance arch of Tranquebar.
Getting there: There are frequent buses from Chennai (290 Kms) to Tranquebar. The closest rail head is at Mayiladuthurai (40 Kms) and the nearest airport is at Chennai. The closest major town is Chidambaram (51 Kms)
Accommodation and Food: Bungalow on the beach is the best place to stay, while Nayak house and Hotel Tamil Nadu are the other options. Though Tranquebar doesn't have many options to eat out, Bungalow on the beach and Nayak house have restaurants which serve both their guests and outsiders.